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Vietnam Day 10: The worst ending ever

VIETNAM | Saturday, 29 December 2007 | Views [795]

Lianyi had been sniffling and coughing a lot and suffering from an on-and-off fever since Halong Bay. That was Tuesday. We thought nothing of it, just kept plying him with Panadol and Strepsils and their Vietnamese equivalents.

On Saturday I found out my grandma was in hospital with water in her lungs. We were on our way back to Hanoi from Tam Coc when I got the message. He was sleeping because at that point the fever was on. I cried quietly in the dark unlit bus, fearing the worst. I asked my mother if I should go home sooner. She said no need.

Back at the hotel room that same night his temperature was very high. We didn't have a thermometer but I could feel it. I rubbed his back. We looked through the list of clinics in Hanoi in our Lonely Planet. SOS International sounded like a good bet. But he said he didn't want to go to the doctor yet, maybe we could wait until the next morning.

On Sunday we were supposed to go home. He didn't have a temperature anymore, but he was still feeling very weak. Every hundred metres he asked to sit down and take a breather. But still I pushed him on, asked him to walk with me in the cold polluted air to get the most out of our last day there, do some last minute shopping.

In the taxi on the way to the airport he slept while I kept my eyes open, absorbing every last detail of Hanoi. The overcrowded streets and bus stops, the haphazard buildings, the beautiful but moulding architecture. He said he was feeling very bad. I said ok, don't worry, we'll be home soon.

At the airport I walked around finishing up all my Vietnamese dongs. He sat down. Every twenty minutes he would say he was feeling very bad.
What can I do?, I asked.
Nothing, he said.
Half an hour before boarding he said, walk around with me. I feel pins and needles throughout my whole body and my head.
So we walked.
Is this making you feel better, I asked?
Not actually, he said, I think I need a doctor.

We asked one of the shopkeepers, is there a doctor in here?
She said we'd have to go back out to get one.
We sit back down. Five minutes to boarding.
I don't think I can get on the plane, he said. I need a doctor. Take me to a doctor.
We went to an aiport official.
My friend is sick, I said, can you get a doctor?
She barely spoke English. She talked to her colleague in Vietnamese. She told us to sit down.

When we sat down that was when it began. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't feel his fingers, then his arms, then his legs. Mucus was running down his nose and I had to wipe it away for him.
I asked the airport woman, where is the doctor?
She told me to wait. She asked if we could board the plane.
I said no, I need a hospital. I need an ambulance. Where is the doctor?

A Singaporean man came over to us and asked us what was wrong. I said, my friend is sick.
He asked if we'd done any jungle trekking.
I said no.
He asked if we had gone to Sapa.
I said no.
He said, I'm afraid that maybe he caught one of their viruses. You sure you didn't go to Sapa? You better report this to the Singapore embassy.
I asked him to help me find the number. I handed him my Lonely Planet. I was busy wiping Lianyi's nose and holding his hand and making sure he didn't lose consciousness. Everytime his eyes stayed open too long I would snap, Blink! just to make sure he was still alive. When he closed his eyes I would shout at him, Wake up! Don't sleep!

The Singaporean man couldn't find the embassy number in my guidebook. He said he would try his. He went away and the last I saw of him, he and his daughter were thumbing through a guidebook.

The airport doctor still hadn't arrived. Where is the doctor? I yell at the airport woman.
She told me to wait some more.
It's getting worse, Lianyi said, I think I'm going to die.
No you're not, I said.
No, you don't know how I feel right now, he said.
Then his face froze up. He couldn't move his mouth. He couldn't talk properly. Saliva was starting to appear in bubbles at the corners of his mouth. His eyelids flickered crazily.
Oh my God I'm calling your mum, I said, swallowing back my panic tears.

If I die, he said, I love you.
You're not going to die, I said, Oh my god oh my god oh my god.
I'm sorry, he said, I'm sorry.
No, I'm sorry, I said, I shouldn't have made you walk around Hanoi with me today, or let you eat ice cream. I should have forced you to see a doctor.
In my head I also thought, I'm sorry for being a whiny little bitch. I'm sorry for all the times I ever got angry with you. I'm sorry I wasn't a better person. Please don't die. I'm not ready.

I called his mother. The moment she picked up, the words rushed out in an unintelligible mess: Lianyi is very very sick he can't breathe or move and he thinks he's going to die. I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do.
She told me to calm down and get a wheelchair. She told me to put him on the wheelchair and board the plane. She asked me what she could do.
I said I don't know, I don't know, I don't know what to do.

The doctor finally came. She was an old woman and didn't speak a word of English. She put a few drops of something in his mouth. It worked, he could feel his limbs again. He could talk. He calmed down. But only for a while. Ten minutes later it started all over again.
I need a hospital, I said.
They put him on a wheelchair and took him out. I carried our bags and his shoes and walk out with them. At the border between the departure gates and the public part of the airport a guard took away our passports.
Why are you taking our passports? I asked.
Yes, said the guard.

They wheeled him to a first aid station. On the way there I called Adr.ian, U.ma and Joon to ask for the number to the Singapore embassy. The first two didn't pick up and Joon had no access to the Internet. I gave up.

The first aid station had a bed and a table and two chairs, nothing else. Another doctor came in, this time a middle-aged man. He also didn't speak a word of English. He injected something into Lianyi's arm and hooked him up to an oxygen tank. Lianyi felt better again for another short while but soon he was telling me that it was getting worse again. By this time a flock of airport officials were in the room shouting at each other in Vietnamese. I wanted to cry very badly. We were fucked. But I had to keep holding it in.

Can I have our passports back? I need to go to a hospital now, I said.
The airport woman who was with us from the beginning said ok, we will get it for you.
It was a 2-minute walk from the gate where the guard took our passports to the first aid station but five minutes later the passports were still not there.

Where's my passport? I said.
Wait, ma'am, we are getting for you, she said.

Then the Singapore embassy called my mobile.
My name is Mr Pang and I'm from the Singapore embassy, he said. Mr Ho's mother called me. I understand you have an emergency.
Yes, yes, I said. I told him everything.
He said, ok go to a hospital.
Can you help us with that? I asked, thinking the embassy might have an ambulance or an emergency vehicle of some sort.
He said no.
How about afterwards, could you help us get home? I asked.
He laughed, he fucking laughed, and said no.
I wanted to tell him to fuck himself in the ass but I didn't.
He said, you better go to an international hospital like SOS or the French hospital. The Vietnamese hospitals are not very good.
I said ok and hung up.

I called our insurance company. The woman said, when you get to a hospital call me again.

In the meantime Lianyi was getting worse. He was clutching my hand and saying, It's getting worse, I can't breathe.
I tried to make him calm down but it was impossible since I was also panicking and the room was full of Vietnamese yelling.

Then the embassy guy SMSed me the numbers of the two hospitals he had recommended me. Why couldn't he have called them for me? I had difficulty saving the numbers because my hands were shaking so badly and I had to read it over three times before I could remember one of the numbers, my brain was so wonky. Eventually I managed to call SOS International.

I said, I need an ambulance please I'm at Hanoi airport and my boyfriend needs help.
Well we can't just send out ambulances you know, the French bitch at the other end said. This is a private hospital not a public one. First you have to tell me what's wrong.
I told her what was wrong.
She said, The ambulance will take an hour to get there.
I said An hour?!
She said, yes we are in the centre of Hanoi and the airport is far away. So what do you want to do now?
I said, I don't know, I don't know, ok send an ambulance here please.

Our passports were still not there.

Where is my passport?! I yelled.
The woman told me to wait some more.
I asked, where is the nearest hospital?
Nobody seemed to understand the concept.
One of the airport people said, you want to take taxi to nearest hospital?
I said yes.
They shouted at each other some more. Then they asked, are you using our ambulance or are you calling for one?
I said, you have an ambulance here?
They said yes.
Ok then take me now! I yell.
The woman said, we have ambulance here but must pay 35 US dollars.
I said ok, can you take us to the nearest hospital?
They still looked blank.
You want to go to hospital? they asked.
Yes. Take. Me. To. The. Nearest. Hospital. Please. Where's my passport?!

I thought, maybe I could take him to the nearest hospital for basic care and then transfer him to SOS International afterwards.

Finally our passports arrived. Our luggage came too. We took everything into the ambulance. It was spartan. No lights even. For some reason the doctor sat in the passenger seat in front with the driver. I sat behind with Lianyi and an airport official, a man. Five minuts into the ride they stopped to get more oxygen tanks. Then Lianyi had to pee. There was no bottle to pee in. The airport guy, Dong, rummaged around and finally got a plastic bag. He wanted to help Lianyi pee but Lianyi kept pointing at me and pushing him away. I helped him pee and when he was done I handed the bag to the airport guy but he refused to take it. He pointed out the window instead.

You want me to throw it out the window?! I said.
He nodded, took the bag and threw it out the window.

Joon messaged and asked what was wrong. I told her.
She said oh my god shit, I'll ask Zat to help.
I asked her to maybe google his symptoms and find out what's wrong with him.

I remembered that I'd called for an SOS ambulance, so I called them back and canceled it.

The ride was bumpy, which made Lianyi worse. He kept saying, it's getting bad again, my chest is tight, I can't breathe.
I knew part of it was panic that was making it hard for him to breathe but it was so hard to try to make him calm down when both of us thought he was going to die.
I told him, calm down, you're still breathing, you're still alive, it will get better and worse from time to time, it's just the cycle, don't worry. As if I knew for sure.
I kept calling out to the doctor in the front seat to ask him for help but he kept saying, no problem, no problem.

Then Adrian called. He asked what was up. I said Lianyi is dying and we're in an ambulance, it's ok now. I hung up quickly.

Then I got another call. This time it was the manager of Tiger Airways in Vietnam. He said, don't go to the nearest hospital. Vietnam's medical system is very bad even I don't use it. Go to SOS International ok. I will meet you there. Give the phone to your driver.
I did that, and the Tiger guy told him in Vietnamese about the change of plan.

And then SOS International called me. The woman said, we have sent out an ambulance with a doctor.
I said, oh but I'm already in an ambulance going there.
The woman said, Listen to me, listen to me. Ok? We've sent out an ambulance and we will meet your ambulance halfway and transfer your boyfriend to our ambulance. Give the phone to your driver.

So halfway there, we saw another ambulance speed past us in the opposite direction. We stopped by the roadside and waited for them to come to us. I whispered to Lianyi, It's going to be ok now, the SOS people are here. He just looked at me and blinked.

The airport ambulance driver asked me for 40 US dollars. This was no time to be fighting scammers, of which let me tell you, Vietnam has plenty. So I just gave him the money.

When the SOS people came I knew everything was going to be ok. The doctor was a Vietnamese woman who spoke English. She asked me a lot of questions, then she and her nurse took charge. They took his blood and ran a test on the spot, hooked him up to an IV drip, scanned his vital stats. Then they transferred him into their ambulance. It was a world of difference. This ambulance actually had lights and equipment.

This time I sat in front with the driver, while the nurse and doctor sat behind attending to him throughout the whole ride. It was my first time in an ambulance. On the dashboard were several buttons. There were three sound buttons that said, "Yelp", "Yeowl" and "Wail". The driver hit Wail.

Ten minutes into the ride I called to the back, How is he?
He's fine, the doctor said.
Then he began vomiting. A lot.

Half an hour later we were at the hospital. The moment the ambulance stopped the nurse rushed out and gagged, ran into a toilet and threw up.

The manager of Tiger Airways was waiting for us outside the hospital. He was already at home when the airport called him and told him about our emergency. He didn't have to come all the way to the hospital but he did. I suspect he was the one who had called SOS and told them to meet the airport ambulance halfway and take over, even though I'd cancelled on them. He made sure everything was ok and when there was nothing else he could do, he left.

The doctors spent about an hour attending to him behind closed curtains while I sat outside calling the insurance company and messaging his mother, my mother and our friends. Each time I flipped open his phone I saw my own damn face looking up at me. It was the worst, knowing that someone loved me and that I didn't deserve it.

At about 1 am the doctor came out and told me what had happened: He'd had hypokalemia -- low potassium in his blood, which caused his heart to misfire. He also had low blood pressure. Now he was stable. He was hooked up to an IV drip injecting potassium into his body and he just had to rest.

After they were done I went in to see him. I spent the night sitting by his bedside except for 3 hours, when I slept on a bed in the adjoining room. He was discharged the next morning and we booked the first flight home. This time on the taxi to the airport I slept the whole way. I'd had enough of Hanoi.

The moment I got home I put down my bags and went with my parents to visit my grandmother. Turns out she has heart and kidney failure, water in her lungs and deep vein thrombosis. At the hospital I wanted to cry again but again had to hold it in in front of my family. And again there was the guilt -- of knowing that I was her favourite granddaughter and had done nothing to deserve the position, that I don't spent enough time with her and that now I might lose her before I could make up for it.

When I got home I spent half an hour in the shower letting go of three days' worth of bottled up panic and tears.

In the hotel on Sunday we'd seen a documentary about how scientists have found that your brain is only fully adult at 25. On my 25th birthday I think I was made painfully aware of my entry into adulthood. I almost lost the 2 people I loved most in the world and for the first time had to sign a hospital legal consent form as someone's guardian.

Then this morning I realised that our insurance policies had expired the day BEFORE Lianyi got hospitalised, because I'd forgotten the date of our return and had only bought insurance up to the 15th of December. That's over 2,000 US dollars in hospital bills and plane tickets that can't be claimed. I am such an asshole.

Tags: hanoi, vietnam

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