Livin with Salmon-ella Ella, Ella, Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay.January 16, 2014
Morning 5, Koh Rong aka Paradise: I woke up, mid-dream about my cat back in America, to groggily feel a warm being next to me in bed.
OH FUCK IT’S A COBRA. OR A GIANT ANIMAL. OR A POISONOUS SNAKE. SOMETHING IS IN MY BED WITH ME.
I leapt out of bed, grabbed my phone and searched my death trap of a bed for the culprit. I soon discovered it was not, to my great relief, any sort of poisonous being, but a small cat. A small, flea ridden, bed hog of a cat. Had I known the physical agony this cuddly monster would cause me in the coming days, I would have tossed it out the window, back to the roof from which it came. Unfortunately for my future modeling career (jk), I allowed the beast to stay and unknowingly share its free-loading, biting pests.
I had been drenched in fever sweats for hours, having weakly climbed into bed at 7:30pm and cursing my former self for not wearing a proper quantity of sunscreen. As luck would have it, this fever did not appear to be the result of a sunburn. By morning, I knew I had to leave paradise, the ever-present fear of tropical illness growing as I foolishly googled the symptoms of malaria. Sudden fever: check. Fever that lasts 6-10 hours and then goes away, only to recur a few days later: check check. Rash: check? I was certainly covered in red bumps (it only gets worse with these damn bumps).
And, as usual, my stomach had been in permanent knots and prevented me from eating most the delicious foods available in paradise.
I caught the ferry back to Sihanoukville, some awesome British girls I’d met earlier taking to the top deck to sunbathe while I curled into a ball on the lower deck, begging my immune system to hold out just a little longer.
Insert a montage of various persons (myself not included) becoming severly sea sick, a painfully long boat journey, a tuk-tuk to Otres Beach and back to Sihanoukville, and the façade of a PolyClinic.
I gingerly walked into the clinic, unsure of how to assert myself as a potential patient. Luckily, the friendly nurse at the desk not ONLY spoke English, but beckoned me inside the exam area. I listed my symptoms, had my blood drawn and was promptly hooked up to an IV.
A little while later, they moved me into another room (carrying my IV bag as blood began to run into the tubing, the first of many semi-alarming occurrences) and delivered the bad news: I did not, infact, have malaria, but I was playing host to not one but TWO types of Salmonella, which had made themselves so at home over the last month in my intestines that I developed an infection and my stomach was being burned with an overproduction of stomach acid. So thattt’s why my stomach had been hurting for a month! Awesome.
Highlights (lowlights?) from my luxury vacation in Sihanoukville’s PolyClinic:
1. Food and drink not included. Generally speaking, a patient’s loved ones bring them food and water and the comforts of home. For the poor, solo traveler, however, this is not the case due to being poor and solo. Everyday the staff would come in bright and early, and ask “You eat yet?” to which I would awkwardly shake my head. No, I have not eaten. I have not moved in 24 hours. I am attached to an IV and have no way to transport myself. Do you not think you would have noticed if the ONLY patient in the hospital suddenly left? Luckily, they brought me a take out menu from the Cambodian version of Jack in the Box, and I was able to ask for food, that was kindly fetched by a nursey-type person. Chicken Nuggets, raw onion and tomato sandwiches, and garlic bread were some of the delicacies to which my poor, infected and extremely infected stomach was subjected.
2. Being given mystery medicine and suddenly not be able to see or think properly. Mystery medicine=morphine, but, unlike their western counterparts, I was given no warning as to what was being injected into my IV. I was attempting to read the sheets of warnings accompanying one of the antibiotics, when I suddenly couldn’t see. “My god,” I thought, “they’ve killed me. They didn’t ask anything about my health history, and this is the result. Death. At least it doesn’t hurt. And this bed is extremely comfortable. Somewhat like being on a velvet cloud underwater.” I would, as it turned out, live to die another day. I asked a nursey-type person in slurred speech what the medicine was, and they pointed to my head “for headache,” he replied. Right. Morphine for a headache. Remind me to tell my doctor about this new medical innovation.
3. Having a nursey-type person stab a syringe into my arm, not into my vein, but just arbitrarily into my arm, and inject yet another mystery medicine. Incase you have only been treated by medical professionals with whom you share a common language; this may come as a surprise. Evidently, this is how one tests for allergies to antibiotics. A moment after my frantic yelp, said nursey-type person returned with a pen, circled the injection site, and wrote, “test.” Ooooooh I see, just testing if I’m allergic. Nice.
4. Blood going up into my IV every time I went into the alarmingly unsterile bathroom. Don’t get me wrong—I’d found the Hilton of Cambodian hospitals, having heard horror stories from friends. But the difficulty of trying to pee and hold an IV bag at the proper angle all while in a bathroom designed for those persons half my size was very frustrating. Ten out of ten times I did not hold the IV at the proper angle, and blood began oozing up into the tubing.
5. Demanding to leave the hospital because it was too expensive. In total, staying 3 nights and being constantly injected with various medications, plus a suitcase-sized bag of pills to take over the next 5 days cost me $403USD. A downright bargain in the USA (incase anyone has been hiding under a rock for the last few years, healthcare in the states is outrageously expensive. I dream of the NHS.), but as I usually aim to spend between $3-7 USD per night, this was slightly out of my price range.
After handing over a precious month’s wage, I shoved my disaster of a backpack into one piece and thanked the kind people who had kept me company/alive in the last few days. I hopped on the back of a motorbike, finally having earned by traveler Foreign Hospital badge, and sped off into the sunlight, eager to rejoin my friends at Otres Beach, and catch some rays before moving onward towards Phnom Penh and, ultimately, home.