Four Hospitals and a Possible Funeral

Health - Saigon/HCMC: Nov. 1, 2016
Upon waking up one Friday with a vicious headache and a swollen right lymph node, I had no idea what turmoil was going to proceed throughout the next 48 hours as I navigated Vietnam’s bewildering hospital system.

What started as a headache, had, throughout the course of the morning turned into a full body fever. As my temperature grew in intensity, my body was radiating heat, my bones and joints started to feel like they were being broken, and I was slowly drained of all energy.

Hospital 1: Benh Vien Benh Nhiet Doi

Knowing that I didn’t have health insurance, the energy nor the Vietnamese skills to tackle this alone, I asked my friend to help me find a suitable hospital. Considering the main problem was clearly a dangerously high fever, we headed to Benh Vien Benh Nhiet Doi, as they specialise in fevers and tropical diseases. As I entered they immediately said that they did not treat foreigners as their facilities were not suitable. However, seeing my current state they proceeded to take my temperature anyhow, which had risen to 41°C. About 20 minutes later a doctor appeared who checked my throat and quickly diagnosed me with tonsillitis. I was then given pills to reduce the fever, and pushed out the door to the hext hospital.

Hospital 2: The Infamous Cho Ray Emergency Room

I arrived at Cho Ray’s emergency room around 9 p.m. and walked into a frazzled and packed emergency room. They directed me to a spot in the back, where a nurse motioned me over to a bed already occupied by a very sick looking man. As I looked across the scene of the ER, people were getting angry at the long waits. Two men had ripped out their IVs in frustration as blood squirted everywhere. Nurses pushed beds into door frames and other beds, IV lines were hooked and yanked out of place. It was a hospital bed bumper car scene. As one doctor walked past, he noticed me sitting on the edge of the shared bed and informed us that the man beside me had HIV. He advised me that if I wanted to see a doctor I would have to wait in the ER until the morning which was about eight hours away.

Hospital 3: Colombia International

Around 5 a.m. the next day I checked into Colombia International in Phu Nhuan, expecting this to be my last stop. They carried the typical money first or die on the floor attitude. I paid my VND3 million for a bed, a paracetamol drip and then more to talk to the doctor. He took my blood, which was highly infected with bacteria. They told me I had to stay for three nights and that I was looking at surgery when the swelling went down. After three hours they asked me to pay more if I wanted to stay in the bed. After I said I would check out, the doctor got extremely angry, all staff members’ facial expressions changed, and their overall attitude toward me turned sour.

I refused to leave at that moment, as the IV I had paid for was not finished. So they adjusted my drip to empty it faster. Upon checkout they charged me again for the bed to compensate for the time it took the IV to empty (which I already paid for). I checked out, still sick, with VND5 million less, and no idea of what to do next.

Hospital 4: Van Hanh

In the morning I went to Van Hanh Hospital, and this is where I will go from here on out. I was diagnosed, treated and out of the hospital within an hour. Everyone spoke English, was extremely knowledgeable and treated me with genuine care and concern for my health. The doctor gave me new meds and said if I wasn’t better in two days he would be very surprised.

The facility was spotless, traffic was low, English was great, medical technology was modern, and the patient care was exceptional. My fever was back to normal within hours, and I returned two days later for a checkup to find everything was fine, and my health was back on track. My hospital nightmare had finally ended.