So it finally happened: my first real experience with Cambodia's healthcare system.
I got into a pretty bad motorbike accident on Sunday (long story short: his fault, not mine -- which means that naturally I ended up with the injuries while he gets to go merrily on his way. If this were Twitter, we would hash tag this Classic Cambodia) which I thought left me beaten up, but not broken. Being a true badass, I decided to stay at work to finish my story before heading to the hospital. And the only reason why I went to the hospital was because my friend took one look at my ankle and said, "Dude, that doesn't look good." These words came from the guy who just traveled for two months to the Arctic, so I figured the injury wasn't cosmetic.
So I rocked up to the clinic, and the doctor on duty told me that it's probably just a sprain. I was given anesthetic for all my scraps, my foot was very nicely wrapped up, and I rented crutches. All in all, my bill came up to $58, which is expensive for Cambodia, but cheap if we compare it to healthcare in the US.
Three days passed, during which Congress decided to shutdown to defund Obamacare, which also went into effect on Tuesday. Shenanigans in the great USA was pretty entertaining, if I was watching the Daily Show, but very frustrating if I consider that it is actually, in fact, reality and not some elaborate farce.
Anyway, Wednesday cames, and it's the day before a major Cambodian holiday. My foot was still massively swollen, yet all my friends/colleagues who've had their foot sprained said, "Nah, that's normal. Mine was swollen for three days!" But I decided to just head back to the hospital to see what's up.
And yea, something was totally up. The doctor took one look at my foot and said, in broken English, "We should X-ray this." Oh, really? Why didn't we do that Sunday? "It looks bad now, and I just want to be sure about it." Really? You want to be sure now? But not before when I came to you Sunday? Gee, Doc, that seems a bit backward, but whatever let's X-ray it. "Oh, we don't have X-ray facilities here. You have to go to this other hospital to get it X-rayed." Sigh. Fine. Whatever.
I hobbled over to Hospital Number 2, which was open 24/7 and the staff seemed awesome. A radiologist (I'm gonna just assume he's a radiologist even though he was wearing T-shirt, shorts and flipflops when he X-rayed me) shuffled my foot around and asked me where he should X-ray it. Well, it hurts here, so maybe X-ray around the ankle area?
Then they told me, the gimp on crutches, that I had to come back tomorrow to pick up the X-ray and bring it back to Hospital Number 1. Couldn't you send it there since... I'm on crutches? "No, you have to pick it up here so that your doctor there can see it." But... couldn't you just -- Never mind. Yes, I'll be here tomorrow to pick it up.
The wait next day for the X-ray was a bit long (like two hours, because the Cambodians consider their lunch hour sacred, and thus cannot be disturbed for any reason whatsoever. I'm just glad I wasn't suffering from an emergency, and merely an ankle sprain). But I got the X-ray and the radiologist's analysis en français which basically said that I actually had a fracture.
When I got back to Hospital Number 1, I was chided by the receptionist for not coming back the day before because the doctor stayed until 8 pm on a holiday weekend for me to come back so that he could see the results. She's right -- what was I thinking, inconveniencing the very doctor who could not get his diagnosis right the first time?
A new doctor was assigned to me, who told me that I had to get a cast put on my leg. "How long do I have to wear it for?" I asked. "3 to 4 weeks." "... Can I go without the cast?" "Sure, but you will suffer."
A third doctor was assigned to put the cast on me, but he wasn't at the hospital yet, so I had to wait again. Meanwhile, my assignment editor is texting me, "Are you coming to work today?" Yes, I'll be in; I just gotta get a cast on. "Ok, see you soon. We have an early deadline so come in quickly."
Doctor Number 3 finally rushed into the room like a typhoon into Taiwan. He seemed like a very, very nice man, but man, was he a blusterer. He shuffled and stumbled and did a clumsy sidestep just to get around the room. When he cleaned my open wound on my foot, he sprayed alcohol and iodine on it like he was trying to get every inch of his American-style lawn.
"Don't worry, I've been a surgeon for more than 20 years."
I never know why doctors feel like saying that would make patients feel better. There are writers who've been working for more than 20 years who are still shitty writers, just like there are surgeons who've been surgeoning for that period who can be shitty. Especially in Cambodia. Especially in Cambodia. But thanks for that reassurance. I feel so much better, as I am lying facedown on a bed with a stranger tugging at my fractured ankle.
He finally got it on, and -- I feel like repeating this is necessary -- was very, very nice and helpful and seemed like an overall good person even if his clumsiness made me glad I only had a fractured ankle and not something worse. He said that I am to come back on November 3 to get my cast off. That's more days than I can count on my fingers.
Then they tried to charge me $200, to include the new doctor's consultation fee to which I said, "Hey guys, it's your fault for diagnosing me wrong in the first place." I guess they didn't want to start a scene with the girl in crutches who looked like she was about to cry, so they very generously only charged my $150.
As I was leaving the hospital to get back to the office, it started pouring. Then it started flooding on the streets of Phnom Penh. But I got a tuk-tuk, so no worries, except that when I got out of it outside the office, the floodwaters were up to my shins, my pretty dress was getting drenched, and I was struggling to keep the cast out of the water. As one colleague helped me out, another snapped photos of me. Just to document the happy memories, I suppose.
When I hobbled into the office, my assignment editor said, "Didn't you get my text message? I said you don't have to come in, no rewrites for you." Ah no, I didn't see it. Of course I didn't see it. "Well, you can go home." In this fucking typhoon? No thanks, I might drown. I'll stay here for a bit instead.
So I'm off my feet for a month, and while I can go into work, I really can't move around easily. The cast looks a bit like a giant sock and everyone keeps commenting on how cool it looks. It's true -- this sock cast would really go really well with the preppy look I'm gonna cultivate for myself during my gimp month. If only it felt as cool to have it!!
Right now, I'm in between feeling sorry for myself and making fun of the entire situation. Yes, I'm aware that the little over $200 I spent on my medical bills is nothing compared to what I would spend in the US. I'm not comparing the healthcare here in Cambodia to the (lack of) system in the States. Apples and oranges, man. All I'm saying is be glad you got your health! And don't get into moto accidents in Cambodia. Ever. Wear a helmet, kids.