Sidelined in Pakse

The bus ride to Pakse was smooth and finally we were back on the map! In Pakse we’d spend a few hours until boarding a long-journey bus to Vientaine and they were even honoring our original tickets. When I left the chilly AC’ed bus and hit the wall of heat outside, my stomach rolled. Suddenly all of the Sprite I'd been drinking was no longer my friend. At this point I just lost it and sat down on some steps crying. I attempted to cover my face with my hair but must looked like a looked a total mess and a few people came over to see if I was okay and offer help. Someone found James (by the bus with our luggage) and told him I wasn’t doing so well in the back. He helped me to the front where strangely there was a covered platform/lounge area where I could lie down. At this point James already knew that we’d be staying in Pakse but it took a bit longer for me to realize that I wasn’t going anywhere. 

James spoke to the bus company to postpone our departure and walked around till he found a decent place for us to spend the night. I was so relieved to climb into a proper, clean bed and we both hoped that I’d wake up feeling better. Despite a good night's rest, the next morning I still wasn’t able to eat or keep anything down – including medicine. James researched the very limited nearby medical options.  We could go to the main hospital but the online accounts by fellow travelers of “treatment” there sounded pretty scary, alternatively there was a VIP Medical Clinic that specialized in treating malaria and dengue that had better reviews.  Being the VIP that I am, there was really no debate on where to go.

James flagged down a tuk-tuk to take us to the Medical Clinic and it was a painful, bumpy ride, breathing in the exhaust fumes of the cars around us.  We pulled up to the clinic which was in good enough condition to inspire me that help was on the way.  James filled out the paper work, dealt with the language barrier (barely a word of English) and the nurse took my temperature, blood pressure and three or four attempts later, a blood sample.  They were kindly enough to start an IV with antibiotics and some much needed fluids.  For some reason I recall being stabbed several times (in various parts of my arms and hands) before the IV was in place but at the time my only concern was that a NEW needle was being used.  Eventually the tests established that I did not have malaria or dengue (woo-hoo!) but was indeed sick (there was not enough communication to establish an actual diagnosis) and I was wheeled up to my own room upstairs (this was the VIP part).  The room consisted of hospital gurney/bed, bedside table and a sort of futon sofa on the floor.  I did have my own bathroom, which I should have been grateful for but rather was angry that the toilet seat was not attached to the toilet and there was no soap. 

James went out to get things from our room at the guesthouse and food for him, when I perked up enough to notice my raging thirst. Though I was on the IV it seemed like it wasn't dripping properly and I hadn’t had anything to drink in a long time.  The door to the room was shut and the IV was attached to the bed, so I negotiated getting to the doorway while still attached to the bed.  I managed to get the door propped open and looked out to a very empty corridor. I started shouting out for “help” at a low pitch (in case there was a nurse station just beyond my sight) and after the silent response, worked my way up to as loud as possible for my sore throat. Eventually someone did appear about 10 minutes later but did not speak any English, so someone else (who appeared to speak even less) was brought to me and somehow, miraculously, there was an understanding that water was needed. When I finally got fluids they helped to restore some sanity but also made clearer the pounding pain in my head, which was not from the fever (that was starting to come down) but from a raging sinus infection. I’d never had a bad sinus infection before and had no idea what was going on. I was really scared that something was very wrong with me and the doctors/nurses at this clinic were going to miss it.

James not only had to deal with me deliriously ill but also with my frustration at being in a clinic with no one who spoke English and aside from the room and bathroom, no basic western medical facilities.  I just kept replaying in my mind American hospital rooms with call buttons, ice buckets, reclining beds, anti bacterial soap and nurses checking in regularly. Whenever I could feel the fever coming back or the IV ran out it was James who’d have to find a nurse and get them to help.  In truth I think the doctor and nurses at the clinic reserved dedicated care for people with extremely serious infections, and my really bad sinus infection did not warrant the type of care I wished for. Lying on the futon across from me, James watched as mosquitoes buzzed around the room and he nervously wondered if people with malaria or dengue were in any of the rooms near ours.

After 24 hours I tested myself with a fruit smoothie and able to keep some down, I requested to check out of the clinic.  I left armed with antibiotics, acetaminophen, and vitamin D. Once back in our guesthouse the reality that I wasn’t close to recovery set in.  I still was only able to keep down water or soda (no more smoothies) and was in a lot of pain.  James kept track of my pills (iPhone!) and kept bringing food despite my refusals.  48 hours later I felt strong enough (or just willed myself) to take the night bus to Vientiane.  Once on board and in our bed compartment, I took a sleeping pill and passed out. I was ready for the relief of being in a city again – ANY city!