I sat in a Thai hospital waiting room on the party island Koh Phangan.
My arm stung from the blood test. I glanced at the clock on the wall. The ferry for the mainland would leave in an hour. If this wait took much longer, I would miss it and my flight to Bangkok.
The doctor reappeared and sat down next to me. In a low voice he said, “we need to hospitalise you”.
I was shocked — I felt sick, but nothing serious. And I had a plane to catch! I started arguing, but the doctor cut me off.
“Our tests indicate that you probably have contracted dengue fever in Thailand.”
I didn’t even bother looking back at the clock.
Dengue fever in Thailand
I lay in the hospital bed, with a drip in my arm.
The ward was new and modern. It had ten other beds in it, half of which were occupied.
A lanky patient limped over to my bed and introduced himself. His name was Sam, and he was in for a foot infection he’d got in Goa and never had treated. In opposite bed was Rob, an English lad who’d stood on a sea urchin.
Rob went off to the bathroom, whistling. I remarked that Rob was in good spirits for a patient. “Yeah, he enjoyed the FMP last night”, Sam told me.
“He was at the party???”
“Yeah, the doctors let him go, on the condition that he didn’t drink and only took drugs.”
I waited for Sam to laugh.
It took me a moment to realise he wasn’t joking.
Dinnertime. The nurses went around taking food orders. As I thumbed through the menu, I heard Rob order a pizza, two hamburgers and a smoothie.
“That’s a lot of food”.
“You gotta make the most of the travel insurance”, Rob replied.
Sam chipped in, “that’s why I love it here. There’s free food, accommodation, wifi, a clean bed, and nurses on call. If this hospital was on TripAdvisor, I’d give it 5 stars.”
The food arrived, delivered by an enthusiastic Burmese migrant, who everyone called “Superman”.
“Very cool sunglasses”, said Superman, pointing at the Ray-Bans on my bedside table.
“Thanks”, I replied, glancing sheepishly at the cheap knock-offs.
“You eat up and get strong again”, he said in broken English, beating his chest with a fist. Then he was off to save another patient from their hunger.
I had another blood test. The doctor had bad news. My platelet levels were dangerously low — a sign of dengue fever. He told me I’d probably have to stay awhile.
“But I need to meet my friends in Bangkok”, I protested.
“That’s unfortunate. Rest up and drink lots of water”, he said. “We’ll do more tests tomorrow.”
Depressed, I messaged my friends in Bangkok the news that I’d probably got dengue fever in Thailand.
Half an hour later, a new patient was wheeled into the ward. She had bandages covering her entire face. You could only see her eyes and nostrils. The sign at the end of her bed read, “scooter injury”.
I decided to stop complaining.
I woke up the next day to the sound of Rob and Sam composing a poem of appreciation to the nurses.
In the bed beside mine, a patient who was leaving was settling his bill. The cost was $3,000 for his two-night stay. I was relieved my travel insurance had agreed to cover me.
In another bed was an old Englishman, a veteran of the 90s rave scene. He was saying goodbye to a young Danish girl who was leaving. He handed her a bag of small round pills. “For partying”, he winked.
The nurses sat there, looking bored. Clearly this was nothing unusual.
Later that day, the doctor told me that more tests were needed. The results would be back tomorrow. I was frustrated at the thought of staying another night.
That evening, Rob and Sam went out on the ward’s balcony. After ten minutes they returned, giggling and smelling of marijuana. They started watching a movie on an iPad. Superman brought them two hamburgers each.
I was beginning to appreciate why they liked this hospital so much.
I woke up on my third day in the Thai hospital. The doctor approached me after lunch with the test results.
“You don’t have dengue fever and your platelets have increased. You can leave tomorrow.” Thank god, I hadn’t got dengue fever in Thailand. I slept easy and woke up the next morning in high spirits.
Superman brought in breakfast. He asked to try on my sunglasses. I told him I was leaving and that he could have them. “No, I would feel too bad”, he replied. “You paid money for these, I can’t take them off you”.
I insisted that he keep them. One of the lenses was falling out, and the other was covered in scratches. Despite this, he was beaming. A pair of knock-off Ray-Bans meant that much to him.
It made me a little more appreciative of everything.
Deaprture from the crazy Thai hospital
An argument was happening in the ward when I left the hospital.
I heard the hospital manager say to Rob, “you are taking the piss now, we discharged you five days ago. You can’t keep staying here — this isn’t a hostel!”
As the doors swung shut behind me, I wasn’t sure who was right.
Have you had dengue fever in Thailand? What’s your worst travel mishap? Leave a comment below