My First Visit to a Thai Hospital (And Why You Should Not Play With Fire)

Let us back up for just a moment to two weeks ago, when my sister came to visit.  She was very excited to see all of the sites and experience all that Bangkok and the southern islands had to offer.  Of course, this means the infamous fire shows on Phi Phi.

Me, practically being a veteran now, was more than happy to take her and show her the ropes during our one night stay on the island.  After all, I had done the fire jump rope, flaming limbo, and various other pyro activities numerous times during my stay here, so I figured I was immune to the potential dangers of it.

Well, I’m a dumbass.

After polishing off a bucket or two, we decided as a brother/sister duo to tackle the jump rope and make a great video to send back to mom and dad  (I apologize for not including that video, I never got a copy of it from her – so a previous one had to suffice).  What I didn’t anticipate was that halfway through our escapades, she would would run away, leading the “fire masters” to let the rope drop – directly on to my foot.

At the time I didn’t think much of it, aside from, “wow, that is going to hurt in the morning.”  We went on about our night mingling with Scandinavians and watching “Maui Sunrise” try to work his game for the evening.  Everything should have been fine…right?

Fast forward to yesterday.  I have a festering burn on my foot the size of a half dollar that is slowly eating into my skin.  I’m asleep, and all I can think about are the prospect of gang green and an amputated foot.  Hmmm, I think its about time I get this looked at.

On the plus side, thanks to multiple people on twitter, I’ve decided that “Festering Burns” would make a great name for my new band.  All I need is that guitar, which has been difficult to come across thanks to the red shirts blocking half the city.  But that’s a different story entirely.

You don't want to see what it actually looks like....

You don't want to see what it actually looks like....

Anyway, yesterday I hopped on a motor bike, and thanks to my trusty language guide was able to spit out the word “rong payabarn” or hospital.  Who knew there was one a mere 2 minute ride from my apartment?

I arrive and walk inside, and it didn’t take long to realize this wasn’t one of those medical-tourism-expat-hospitals you hear all about.  Oh no, this was about as local as it gets.

Generally speaking getting around Bangkok is quite easy, because almost everything is in English.  Well apparently someone decided that English wasn’t necessary at the local hospital.  I walk in and the only thing I can recognize a big sign that says “triage”.  Hmmm, ok. Lets try that.

I stumble my way through a conversation with the nurse, and finally it wasn’t until I showed her the aforementioned festering burn that she understood what I was doing there.  She walked me through some paperwork in Thai and told me to go to section “song” or two.  The surgery center.

This isn’t going to end well.

I sat and waited while they prepared my documents and finally asked me to come sit down so they could take my blood pressure and weight and such.  I noticed on the paper work that I was no longer Sean Ogle, but I will now forever be known as Shwon Gole.  How they got that is beyond me, but I suppose it sounds pretty close?

When they asked how to pronounce my name and I told them, there were about four nurses that just laughed, and said “no, your name?”

Gotta love a good language barrier!

Yes...I totally deserved what I got. Lesson learned.

Yes...I totally deserved what I got. Lesson learned.

I finally got to the point where I was able to see a doctor, and he did, luckily speak a little bit of English.  He didn’t believe that my wound was in fact a burn, but rather he was convinced that it was the work of a jellyfish.  I don’t know which would have been worse.

He sent me over to have the wound cleaned and dressed, and as soon as the nurse pulled out the hydrogen peroxide, I knew I was in trouble.

Guess I deserved the pain of that for not having done a proper job cleaning it myself in the previous days.

A few minutes later they sent me back into the main lobby to collect my three prescriptions and pay.

Oh right, this costs money.  At that point, I was afraid.  If you were to walk into a hospital back in the states and have the exact same thing done, it would cost a few hundred dollars at the very least.  I was unsure of how things worked in Thailand.

But then something incredible happened.  As I was being ushered out, she said a word that I didn’t think was possible to say in a hospital.

She told me the dressing of the wound was…..free?

Free?  Free.

In a hospital.

I love this country.

I would soon find out that it is a flat 300 baht ($10) fee to see the doctor, and then from there I just had to pay for my prescriptions.  This included burn cream, antibiotics, and pain relievers.

All in all the entire expedition cost me around 600 baht.  I am amazed, especially considering some of the horror stories I’ve heard recently about the expat hospitals charging an arm and a leg for basic services.

So, should you find yourself in Thailand with a minor ailment of any sort, you should definitely consider going to one of the more local clinics.  A big smile and a willingness to look a little clueless for awhile is all it takes to get fantastic health care.

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Karol Gajda April 8, 2010 at 4:27 am

Ahh damn dude.

Well, like we talked about, it’s good to have a burn story. :)

Ton April 8, 2010 at 4:32 am

Great story Sean. Sorry to hear about the burn but without it you wouldn’t experience this super local (and friendly?) hospital. As a Thai, I never ever think about going to a private hospital unless the injury is extremely serious.

I however find it a bit disappointing to know that we are a bit behind when it comes to English. I certainly hope that this will change, as a growing number of the next generation Thais are more equipped with the skill now.

Just a great story from home finally, after all those sad stories we keep hearing lately about the protests.

Colin Burns April 8, 2010 at 4:34 am

Hey Sean,

We had the same hospital experience here in Malaysia (although ours wasn’t the result of a drunken night :) ).

My wife picked up my 2 year old daughter off a stool and it fell over on her big toe. The toe bruised so much that we decided to get it x-rayed the next day. The total cost of the doctors consult and the x-ray etc was about $20. Incredible!

In Australia we have most of this type of thing covered by our medicare system, but if your weren’t an Australian citizen or within the reciprocal health agreement I am sure you wouldn’t walk out with much change from $300 (that’s a guess but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t that much).

The cost of living in SE Asia really is a fantastic thing.

I’ll be in Bangkok in a few weeks, would be keen to catch up for a beer one night if your free.

Cheers,
Colin

Sean April 8, 2010 at 4:39 am

@Colin Yeah, it was definitely a pleasant surprise! I’ve also heard that Argentina is another country where health care is very, very cheap, if not free in many cases. I am definitely up for a beer or something, just let me know your schedule once you get to town!

@Ton, Thanks for the comment! Yes, it seems that there is a lot of negative news coming out of BKK these days, so its always nice to be able to share a more lighthearted story.

@Karol Absolutely! Hope that guitar is still treating you well :)

David Damron April 8, 2010 at 5:13 am

I love foreign health care despite what Fox News preaches.

Congrats on being very lucky this time. I remember when I was traveling that I thought I was invincible. I was often wrong. Be careful while having the time of your life.

David Damron
The Minimalist Path

Courtney April 8, 2010 at 5:55 am

I can’t believe you had to go to the hospital for your burn!! I will try and send you the infamous video of the actual occurrence for all of your interested fans. Again, I wish my nursing skills had helped me with addressing burns like that..apparently not. haha Hope you are feeling better! It’s good to know that it didn’t cost you an arm and a leg..or a foot :)

Moon Hussain April 8, 2010 at 6:26 am

Amazing you walked away without hundreds of dollars. I can’t believe our healthcare system screws us over so badly.

Is your foot getting better? Sounds like you’ve got a raging infection or something..? Be careful!

Kirsty April 8, 2010 at 6:32 am

Buckets and fire don’t mix. Good to know… although I suspected it all along. Glad to hear your foot is ok. It’s always interested to head about medical care abroad so thanks for the report! Smiles and free are always good but all too rare.

Matt April 8, 2010 at 8:18 am

Shwon, I have to admit this title caught my attention and I couldn’t stop reading which caused me to be late to work. But it was worth it. What a great read! Hope your foot is well on the way to recovery.

tate April 8, 2010 at 8:43 am

haha I’m sure Marty really appreciates the link…

Glad it all turned out alright, now just remember to actually take the meds and keep it clean! Oh and btw you sound a lot like your mom in this post.

Mike Stankavich April 8, 2010 at 10:28 am

Hey Sean, hope you’re feeling better soon. I got a really good look at the medical system in the Philippines a couple years back when my Filipina sister-in-law was having some heart problems. Everything I saw was cash and carry, walk in and wait to be seen. Fees ranged from $10-20. The cardiologist office visit and exam was around $16 if I recall correctly. A full set of lab work with EKG was less than $100. But again, it’s all cash and carry. No insurance, no billing, just show up, get seen, pay on the spot.

By the way I think we met in passing at Pam Slim’s seminar in Portland last year. I was reading about your exploits on Dan Andrew’s blog and wondering why your name sounded so familiar. Then when you said you used to live in Portland it clicked.

Thanks for sharing your experiences – I’m glad I finally found time to circle back to your site and see what you’ve been up to.

Poul Stefansen April 8, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Haha, Maui Sunrise!

Didn’t know it was going to be such a bad injury! Glad to hear you’re doing better though Mr. Gole. Keep that thing clean..

Ross April 8, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Wow, nothing like a trip to the hospital to highlight the ol’ expat experience. I spent Christmas in a Korean hospital ejecting fluids from both ends. An IV, shot in the ass, and a bed-side show of the Korean ER only cost me about 8,000 won (about 8 USD). It’s amazing that a health care system can thrive charging those prices. No wonder everyone back home is so batty on the issue.

Ash April 8, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Oh.

My.

Christ.

That is all, until I can stop holding my breath.

You crazy animal.

Sharon April 8, 2010 at 7:24 pm

I knew about the burn, but glad you told me all the infection details after the fact. I love your new name, Shwon. Why didn’t I think of spelling it that way when you were born? Tate, I love you for your comment. Yes, Sean learned all his writing skills from moi, including the satirical prose. :o )

Josh Sager April 9, 2010 at 7:33 am

Sean,

If you are willing to pay for shipping, I will give you – FOR FREE – an old Steinberger electric guitar that I don’t use. It needs a tiny bit of setup, but I haven’t played it in years and honestly have been looking to get rid of it. I would much rather give it to you than sell it for peanuts on eBay.

If you are interested, email me and we’ll work it out.

Wilson Usman April 11, 2010 at 5:49 am

Dude that video was KICK ASS!

Makes me want to move now! Thailand its starting to look of my favorite places to visit soon.

Lis April 12, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Ha ha extreme jump roping, extreme limbo…gotta try those:) I’m just a little pyro.

Financial Samurai April 12, 2010 at 10:13 pm

That’s one fat foot!

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