Saturday 3/23/13 - A Trip to the Hospital, Back to Hanoi

At 11 p.m., Craig woke up suddenly and ran to the bathroom to get violently ill. I felt his forehead and he was burning up. Sweat was pouring from his body and collecting in puddles on the bathroom floor. He tried to drink some water, but each sip would just cause him to get sick again. At this rate he was rapidly dehydrating, and it certainly felt like he had a fever.

Though I hated to wake Cuong, we had to tell him about this. We were several hours from civilization, anchored near Cat Ba island. I knocked on Cuong's door and asked if he could please come to help us. He immediately ran into our room, soon followed by "Sea Canoe Cuong" and the captain, who had heard the ruckus.

Cuong checked Craig's temperature and pulse, and got quite concerned. This seemed like more than mere indigestion, and I believe Cuong was worried that it could be his appendix. Cuong took decisive action immediately. He told me that we would head back to the Halong City marina. He made a few calls and arranged for an ambulance to meet us there. He didn't want to take any chances. Craig was in no condition to make any decisions whatsoever, so we wisely deferred to Cuong's judgment. After getting cleaned up, Craig went back to bed and the rest of us sprung into action.

It would take two and a half hours to get back to the dock. Craig tried to sleep but he was very uncomfortable. I gathered an overnight bag full of necessities to take to the hospital. I had to push all worries out of my mind and concentrate on the task at hand. I would meed to bring Craig's MS medication, passports, changes of clothing, and anything else we might need. Craig usually does all of the pre-work for our travels, and I am the run-time operations person. I had to focus on my role now, and Craig was too delirious to offer any feedback or suggestions.

It was stiflingly hot in our cabin, and at times I had to go out to the deck with the crew to get some fresh air. Craig could probably deal with some fresh air as well, but he was not really able to move. Cuong brought me his cell phone to talk to Allie and Jen at Myths and Mountains. They were very concerned and told me to hang in there and just make sure to get copies of all medical receipts for our travel insurance.

We were suddenly even more grateful to be on a private trip. What would we have done if there had been other guests on the boat? We wouldn't want to interrupt anyone else's trip for our emergency. We would most likely have to wait for another boat to come and get us, doubling the amount of time it would take to get to the hospital. Once again, we had the flexibility to change up the itinerary as needed, and it was a blessing.

At around 1:30 a.m. we arrived at the dock area in Halong City. It was quite a difference from 12 hours earlier. There was no one to be seen, and we didn't need to take a shuttle boat. Our big boat pulled right up to the ghats. The captain and crew helped to prop Craig up and walk him off the boat. He couldn't support his own weight and walk under his own power. The song "Walking Spanish" by Tom Waits came to his mind. He also felt like Pink in the movie of "The Wall," when his handlers carried him to his concert during "Comfortably Numb". But Craig was neither comfortable nor numb. To get him off the boat, they had to carry him down a steep, narrow set of stairs. Two people could not fit side-by-side, let alone two people carrying a third. So they went down sideways, still carrying Craig. He was amazed at their ability to carry him through such an obstacle, with Craig being a much larger person than either of them.

But of course they were strong and well-trained and got him to the mini-van ambulance which was waiting for us. The EMT's loaded him onto a gurney. Always thinking about documenting our experiences for the web site, Craig asked me "Do you have your camera?" Yes, I had it with me. "Make sure to get a picture of me!" he said. He referenced "Deadliest Catch," a reality TV show about crab fishermen on the Bering Sea. When Captain Phil Harris was on his deathbed, he pleaded with his camera to keep filming - to finish documenting his story. It seemed that Craig's life was flashing before his eyes, and various pop culture references were surfacing as a way to process his current situation.

Cuong rode in the back of the ambulance with Craig and the EMT's. I rode in the front seat next to the driver. The streets of Halong City were deserted so there was no need to turn on the sirens. I took a picture back through the glass at Craig. I'm sure the ambulance driver must have thought I was absolutely crazy. I felt almost guilty taking the photo, as if it was somehow exploitative. Like a stereotypical tourist thing to do. But we do document every part of our travels, so it was the right thing to do, even though the last thing I felt like doing was taking photos of Craig in such a vulnerable state.

Within a few minutes we arrived at the hospital. They wheeled Craig into the Emergency Room. I followed along behind with the overnight bag. Cuong talked to the doctors and nurses as they took Craig's blood pressure and temperature. Cuong asked me for Craig's MS medication, and I handed it to the doctor. They poked around Craig's abdomen. I stood awkwardly feeling like despite my best efforts, I was always in the way. Nobody seemed to notice, though.

I looked up and saw Mr. Giang standing there looking at us through a window. It was comforting to have him there. "Look who came to see you!" I said to Craig, and Craig was just as excited as I was. We felt a pang of guilt for causing him to be awakened in the middle of a night he was supposed to have off from work. But we were sure that he wouldn't have had it any other way. He flashed a big smile at Craig. They took Craig's sandals off his feet and Cuong handed them to Mr. Giang for safekeeping.

Cuong was able to pull up the medical forms we had filled out for Myths and Mountains on his phone, so the doctor had all of the pertinent information about Craig's medical history at their fingertips. Technology is wonderful that way.

It was quite hot in the ER, and there was a Vietnamese man sitting on one of the beds waiting for his wife to return from some procedure. There was no privacy, and the atmosphere was a little tense, as hopsitals tend to be. They performed an EKG on Craig, but had trouble getting the bulbs to stick to his hairy chest. This broke the awkwardness a little and Craig, the doctors, and the man waiting for his wife shared a chuckle. The doctor mixed up some rehydration salts in a water bottle and they gave Craig 3 small yellow pills and two large white ones to take with the water.

Soon afterwards, Craig was feeling like he was going to get sick again. He asked for a bucket and it arrived just in time for him to vomit 5 times in rapid succession. So much for those pills. He was clearly still not able to hold down any fluids. They gave Craig an IV to start the rehydration process. Cuong asked me for Craig's passport and he gave it to the staff. They filled out all the paper work and I didn't have to do a thing.

They decided that they wanted to do an ultrasound to rule out any kind of major problem. They told me to have a seat in the office, while they wheeled Craig off. Cuong went with him. They arrived at a very small room. The doctor psyched himself up for the procedure by doing a pull-up on a metal bar protruding from the wall. Despite his deteriorated physical state, Craig still found this amusing and unexpected.

I found myself alone in the shabby admit area. Most of the paperwork seemed to still be done on actual paper here. A couple of computer terminals were the only hint that we hadn't stepped into a hospital in the 1960's. I had a Vietnam Heritage magazine in my pocketbook, and I distractedly read through it, trying to pass the time without worrying too much. A large clock similar to the kind we had in our school classrooms moved slowly from 2:30 to 3 o'clock in the morning. I was so tired, and I had no idea how long I would be sitting on this faded black and white vinyl chair. I had a view into a room where patients in rows of beds were hooked to dialysis machines. I wondered if we would be placed in a similar room, with dozens of other patients and no privacy. A doctor came in, glanced at Craig's paperwork, and then sat at one of the computers, taking no notice of me.

Shortly after 3 a.m., they wheeled Craig back into the ER area. Cuong told me that they didn't find anything wrong,"Except he's a little fat," he said with a smile. I was relieved to hear this. "They will now put you in a room where you can both rest." This sounded great to me. We had been up for almost 24 hours (this infinite day had actually started with a 4:45 a.m. wake-up on the train) and we were both exhausted. We followed them upstairs, down an open-air hallway, and into a private room with air conditioning, overhead fans, two beds, and a private bathroom. Both Cuongs came in to help get us settled. They said they would be back with breakfast in the morning, and they both left.The doctor told me to lock the door behind everyone. This seemed a bit odd (was it really necessary?) but I wasn't about to argue. I locked the door behind them.

I found clean sheets folded under the pillows on the beds, and I made up the two beds. I brought a plastic bucket from the bathroom to put next to Craig's bed just in case he needed to be sick again. There was fresh bottled water in the room, and even a little refrigerator. We decided that we should inform folks at home as to what was going on, since we were no longer on our scheduled itinerary that we had left with them. I tried calling Steve on my cell phone, but the call wouldn't go through. So I texted him to please call me. At 3:20 a.m. Vietnam time (mid-afternoon at home), the phone rang and I was able to tell him what was going on. We asked him to inform our parents, and we told him that we would keep him abreast of further developments. Then we drifted off to well-deserved sleep.

Craig in the ambulance

Craig in the ambulance

Craig in our private hospital room

Craig in our private hospital room

Our version of the Apocalypse Now ceiling fan in the hospital in Halong City

Our version of the Apocalypse Now ceiling fan in the hospital in Halong City

Hospital in Ha Giang City

Hospital in Ha Giang City

Room service at the Metropole

Room service at the Metropole

Room service at the Metropole

Room service at the Metropole

Room 318 at the Metropole

Room 318 at the Metropole

After only around 2 hours asleep, Craig got up to go to the bathroom at around 5:30 a.m. He was obviously still not well. Afterwards the two of us laid on our separate beds, awake, listening to the beeping traffic. Really, on a Saturday? At dawn? But when we thought about it, the weekend is probably this town's busiest time, since local and international tourists come to town. It was quite warm in the room despite the air conditioning, and we dozed on and off.

There was a metal-bladed ceiling fan above the bed that we wished we could turn on. It was very old-school looking, and we couldn't help evoking the opening scene of Apocalypse Now as Martin Sheen laid in a bed in a Saigon hotel. "...and for my sins they gave me one," we quoted. Another pop culture reference to break the tension. I took a photo of the fan. There wouldn't be many photos for this hospital visit, so we took what we could.

At 7:45 a.m., the Cuongs arrived and knocked om the door. They came in with a full-fledged picnic brunch. They seemed to have taken all of the food and coffee from the boat and brought it here. They even brought an electric coffee pot. Clearly they were hoping that Craig would be feeling better, and that perhaps we could even resume the boat trip. We really appreciate that they were willing to take us all the way back to Cat Ba island to resume the trip if that's what we wanted to do, but they were being overly optimistic. They clearly were not aware of the fact that in Craig's current condition, there was absolutely no chance.

They made me a nice cup of coffee and tried to convince Craig to eat sticky rice and pork. Once again...overly optimistic. Craig told them that he still hadn't even successfully kept down any water, so he was not up for it. I ate some bread but I was too distracted and worried to eat much. At Cuong's urging, Craig ate a small sesame cookie and some mouthfuls of bread.

A cleaning woman came in several times to clean our bathroom. Doctors and nurses were in and out, and one changed Craig's IV. He had been working off the same bag of saline all night, so the drip was pretty slow. They upped the flow to try to speed up the rehydration process. After assessing the situation, Cuong realized that there was no way we could resume the boat trip with Craig in this shape. It was disappointing to face up to this fact, but it was the right call. Cuong told us that he thought that we should really do our best to try to make it back to Hanoi today. We could stay at our beloved Metropole Hotel, and there was an international clinic around the corner if Craig needed further medical attention. Nothing sounded better than leaving this loud, hot, busy area behind and retreating to a world of comfortable luxury, where Craig could truly get some rest and start to recover. But would Craig be able to make it through a 3-hour drive without getting sick? It seemed like a daunting prospect. But the more we thought about it, the more determined he became.

The doctors came in and gave him a dose of pills. We don't know what any of them were, but we had to take their word for it. Meanwhile the Cuongs sprang intro action trying to get Craig discharged. While they were gone, a doctor came in with a packet of rehydration salts. He went to pour it into Craig's large water bottle. I tried to stop him and explain via hand gestures that the water bottle already had a dosage of rehydration salts in it. He smiled and nodded... and added an extra dose anyway. Those things taste bad to begin with, so I made a mental note not to let Craig drink that double dose. We had brought Gatorade packets with us, and would use those instead, as they were much more palatable, and not twice as strong as they should be. We appreciated how crucial it was to have had Cuong with us to translate, because obviously I wasn't getting the message across on my own.

Mr. Giang arrived with Craig's sandals, which he had been given to hold last night. Cuong came back with a discharge waiver for me to sign. "They want to hold the handle, not the knife," he explained metaphorically. I asked how much we owed (considering that it included a private hospital room and an ambulance ride), and Cuong said, "It is all taken care of." We didn't quite know what he meant or who had taken care of it, but we were certainly grateful.

A doctor came in to remove Craig's IV, and by 10:15 we were leaving the hospital. Craig's pills and tiny bit of breakfast were still in his stomach, so that was a good sign. We thanked "Sea Canoe Cuong" for all he had done, and gave him the tips for the crew that we hadn't had time to distribute in last night's chaos. We made sure to give good tips to the entire crew. Being a private group of only 2 people, we always try to tip generously, because we know that with larger groups come chances for larger tips. We appreciate the service that we get on a private trip, so we like to compensate accordingly. Now that we were no longer on the boat, they were no longer working today, which possibly means no paycheck. We didn't want then to suffer due to our misfortune, especially when they handled the whole situation so expertly.

Cuong handed me his cell phone to talk to Toni, the owner of Myths and Mountains, who was worried about Craig and wanted to check in. We really appreciated how much support Myths and Mountains was giving us during this stressful time, and a pep talk from Toni was just what I needed. I told her that Cuong had handled the entire situation expertly. "He's the best!" she agreed.

We got into the car and got Craig settled and as comfortable as possible. He didn't have enough room to lay down, but he laid his head on my lap for a while before sitting up and leaning against the window. I could tell he was uncomfortable by how restless he was. We both tried to get a little extra sleep on the ride. Craig mostly just zoned out, willing himself not to get sick.

Mr. Giang made great time getting back to the city, and we arrived at the Metropole Hotel at 1 o'clock. Cuong had called ahead and explained the situation, so we didn't even need to stop at the check in desk. We were brought to room 318 in the historic wing. Cuong had suggested freshening up and then heading down to Nhung's restaurant (Spices Garden) for a light lunch. Again, Cuong was over optimistic. Craig did not feel he was in any shape to attempt his first meal in public, but we were taking one thing at a time. We thanked Cuong for all of his help, and for motivating us to come back to Hanoi. The Metropole is so lovely and comforting; it felt like a homecoming. Luxuries are always appreciated even more so when you are sick.

We got settled in the room, and Craig got into one of the fresh terry cloth bathrobes. We were able to dial in a comfortable temperature on the air conditioning, and we turned on an overhead fan for air movement. Craig got snuggled in under the puffy white duvet. The duty manager of the hotel called the room. He had been informed by Cuong that Craig wasn't feeling well, and wanted us to know that we could ask him for anything we might need. Craig and I joked that the Metropole Hotel was like the Houses of Healing in the Lord of the Rings books.

I hopped into the shower after spending a hot and sticky night in the hospital. While I was in the shower, Cuong came up to the room to check on us. Craig explained that he wasn't up to eating in public. He wasn't confident in his ability to keep food down. The few mouthfuls of cracker and bread back at the hospital had not come back up, but we didn't know what would happen if he tried to eat a proper meal.

Cuong agreed and suggested that we should just order room service. Tomorrow was our last full day in Vietnam, and we were supposed to have a farewell dinner at Cuong's house with his family. We had been looking forward to it for the whole trip. Cuong told us that he was really hoping that Craig was feeling well enough to attend. We hoped so too! Cuong said goodbye and we made sure that we had his cell phone number to get in touch with him.

I was confident that Craig would recover, given time, rest, and hydration. But the day after tomorrow we were scheduled to fly home. It was a miracle that he had survived the three hour car ride. How would he ever survive air travel halfway around the world? That wasn't much time to recover. If he was still sick, it would be up to me to try to change our flights and get us home again. I tried to push this thought out of my head as it was too overwhelming. I needed to just think positively, and go one step at a time. Luckily I was sure that Cuong would help me in any way he possibly could, and that Toni, Jen, and Allie at Myths and Mountains had our backs back in the States as well!

We looked at the room service menu and picked out a couple of items for Craig to try. In 20 minutes, it arrived on a nice tray. For Craig, we had ordered a nice bowl of chicken pho (the closest thing to chicken noodle soup on the menu) and a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. I went for comfort food: spaghetti bolognaise with garlic toast. We also got two big bottles of cold water, and I got a Coke. I used the nice cold water to mix up a packet of Gatorade for Craig. He was so dehydrated that he swilled half the bottle immediately. That probably wasn't the best idea, given that he had so little in his system from the past 12 hours. I tried to get him to slow down, but his body was on autopilot and he couldn't stop himself.

He started to eat the pho and then proceeded to vomit 5 times in rapid succession. We know that it was from drinking too fast. Dehydration is so tricky. Craig was determined not to let this setback deter him. He needed to fuel his body, so he decided to try the open-faced toasted ham and cheese sandwich. He had much better luck with that. He forced himself to eat very slowly, and over time he ate the whole sandwich. We decided that he should continue his course of antibiotics, just to be safe, so we gave him his daily dose.

We were both still exhausted, so we napped for around 2 hours, waking up at around 6 p.m. Craig went to the bathroom, and though his system still wasn't perfect, he had managed to keep his food down. It was a definite step toward recovery. Craig got into the shower now that he was feeling a bit stronger. He was thrilled with the unlimited hot water and the water pressure. While he was showering, a hotel employee came to turn down our room and bring us our nightly French pastry treat, a macaron. This hotel is amazing.

I called Cuong to give him an update on Craig's improving condition, but there was no answer. Cuong immediately called me back. He was thrilled to hear some positive news and told us that he would meet us at breakfast tomorrow morning and we would play it by ear from there. He wished us a good sleep. Craig went to bed at around 8 o'clock. I stayed up a bit longer, getting the journal up to date.

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