This has taken me a long time to really put down in writing. My son can talk about this event like it was nothing, yet for me, it was traumatic and still brings tears to my eyes.
Phuket, Thailand had been on my radar for years, between the wild backpacking stories, and the crazy beach cocktails and parties my friends had talked about, to the insane stories my old boss told at meetings, I was geared up to have a chilled out beach vacation.
Soon after touch down, my husband was down with some sort of virus, he was hit hard. We thought nothing of it. My son and I left my husband to be sick alone in the hotel room, while we explored, hit the beach, pool and eat our way through the area. What quickly hit my husband, then hit me with a quick boom, then it slowly burned onto our son with a slow and intense creep. Always travelling with a major pharmacy supply of everything, I quickly began administering Graval and Tylenol. I knew it would be o.k. I had everything we needed, he would be fine.
We spent a better part of a couple of days locked up in the hotel room, trying to get him better, cleaning sheets in the shower from vomit, before calling housekeeping. I thought it was food poisoning, so we didn’t think much of it. He quickly got better, and we spent a beautiful day at the beach. The next day, we were moving to a different part of the island to stay in a remarkable hotel/apartment. We were grateful to have the extra space and the kitchen.
We moved to the next hotel smoothly, spent the afternoon at the pool, happily eating and enjoying the turtle sanctuary we found.
2 days of warm sun and gorgeous orange glows of sunsets, we thought illness was behind us. I sat on our balcony, and I heard a scream out of the bathroom. My son didn’t make it to the bathroom, he had left a stream of diarrhea all over the bedroom floor into the bathroom. He had all his clothes off, crying softly as he sat on the toilet. He sobbed as he looked up at me, and asked me what was wrong. He had never had diarrhea.
I told him to keep sitting on the toilet as I cleaned everything, trying to sooth him as best as I could. It was coming out of him like water, it was a horrid sound. I told my husband to run down to the corner store to get soap and windex to clean everything. I got my son off the toilet, flushed. He then started to vomit. He kept crying. This was bad. All the hairs on the back stood up, I started to gag, but tried to keep calm. I was scared.
My husband came running into the room with a bag full of stuff, then looked around. He asked how bad it was. I told him to watch our son, I ran to the front desk and asked if there was a nurse. Trying to fight the tears, I knew that this was not a 24 hour thing. We had run out of medication.
Within 10 minutes a nurse came up, she barely spoke English, the woman from the front desk came up to help translate, but it was minimal, we clearly couldn’t communicate with each other. She gave him more Graval and tylenol. As I watched my son barely hold his head up to take the liquid, I saw his fragile frame, gaunt from having barely eating for a week due to his last bought of illness. A weird voice kept on coming into my head, telling me to pack for the hospital, we only had a few hours of this before kidneys start to shut down.
I told my husband to look up a hospital.
I quickly grabbed clothes and a toothbrush and stuffed them all in a bag.
My husband told me it would take an hour to get to the International Childrens hospital. We called down and asked for a taxi with airconditioning.
My husband grabbed our son, holding his limp body closely. I had a folding portable wash basin we were using for vomit and i was armed with wipes and paper towels.
The taxi driver took one look at our son, and stepped on the gas. We didn’t have that much time.
We got to the hospital, the driver shouted out the window, and 3 nurses came running out with a translator. Our son started vomiting at the entrance, and the staff seemed to descend out of nowhere, not only cleaning up, but alerting the pediatrician at the other end of the hospital. We were ushered into the children’s emergency ward where they weighed our son, and checked his vitals. We were then put into a room with a slight Thai man with a British/Thai accent, barely introducing himself as the doctor, but quickly explaining that a bed has been made available, and our son needed an I.V immediately, as well as a blood test to see what he has before giving him any more medication.
The whole time, my son was held by Andrew, my husband. Our son, cradled in his arms, telling him to never let go of him. Andrew held on for dear life, looking scared. I was signing and doing all the paperwork, looking up embassy numbers just in case. I didn’t want to go to the worst case scenario, but I knew if we needed help, I could call on some old colleagues.
We were quickly told by a nurse “so sorry, only have shared room right now.” As she rolled Russell in on a wheelchair, and helped him into the bed. The room was filled with a whole Thai family crammed into one section. They were all eating Curry, and yelling at each other, Grandma was snoring on the bed, with a little girl curled up beside her. There were at least 9 people, eating. The shower was going. It was like walking into a family party. The nurses all kept coming in with more stuff, and the I.V hookups, they looked at the Thai family, and kept apologizing to us. My son was turning green from the pungent smell of seafood and curry that clung to the humid air. This was not going to go well.
Once our son was hooked up to the I.V, Andrew got an audio book we could all listen to. My husband started to nod off, our son with his glazed eyes, was trying hard not to throw up again. I went in search of a bathroom, since our shared bathroom had become a bathing area for not only the whole family and extended family to take showers in, but for their curry dishes to be washed in. If I wasn’t so tired, and our son wasn’t the one admitted, I would have laughed. They were treating the hospital stay like it was a hotel. I went down the hall where I found a women’s washroom. As I came out, I noticed a whole other wing, it looked like a hotel, not a hospital. There looked to be some cleaning crew was coming out of a room. I went back to our shared room, where more people had appeared and some Thai music was thumping. My son was whimpering for them to be quiet. He had thrown up while I was gone. My husband looked exhausted. We hadn’t really slept much.
I told my husband that I saw a private wing. We needed to see if there was another room that has been made available. He looked at me and said “I doubt it, wouldn’t they come tell us?” He went anyway. I stroked my sons hair, and told him he would be getting medication as soon as we figured out what was wrong.
My husband came back really quicly, with an orderly and a nurse. My son was whisked away so fast, I grabbed our bag and asked where we were going. My husband said “to that private wing. There is a suite available for us.”
We were ushered into an airconditioned room with a dining room, 2 full sized couches and full private bathroom, and a bed with a flat screen t.v. I was a little blown away. Our son was put in the fresh bed. He sighed with relief, as it was quiet.
The doctor came in shortly and told us that Our son had caught not only a virus, but a severe bacteria infection. He would be put on an I.V drip of a strong cocktail as well as graval and tylenol. The doctor told us quietly that we were smart to bring him in as quickly as we did. With that, we were left with a staff of nurses who didn’t speak a word of English. We just had to trust them.
More bags of medication was brought in, and attached to the I.V. our son looked at the T.V and asked if he could watch something. At that point, I walked out to walk the halls and stretch my legs, it was then, I discovered a little boy from Russia had passed away from the same combo virus/bacteria infection, apparently caught in Shanghai airport. The same airport we had flown through. I was a little startled, and watched the sobbing mother, terrified, not understanding what was going on.
I came back into the room, there were 2 nurses changing our wee man into a gown. Andrew and I hugged. Both of us were exhausted, and grateful that we had gotten him to the hospital.
The stay was a blur, we were woken up ever 2 hours by a sea of staff coming in and out to administer medication, and to ask if he had urinated. When he had finally urinated, we were to press a red button, they needed to mark it down for the doctor. It took 10 hours, from the time to he was hooked up to the I.V to when he finally urinated, one of the nurse came in and blessed our son, she was so happy. When he finally needed to go, we had to move his I.V and lift him up to get to the washroom, it was awkward, he whimpered, and cried out as the I.V pulled a little, the doctor came in and told us we had to stay for 36 hours, for I.V and monitoring. They were actually testing his urine. The process seemed so foreign. My little baby had never been this sick, and I never expected this to happen in a foreign country. I tried not to cry. It was just so hard to see him so fragile.
As much as I had been terrified, I was beyond amazed and grateful to all the staff, the swiftness and the care that we received. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, the compassion and love we got was something I have never seen in a hospital. Nor will I ever forget.
When we were finally discharged from the hospital, we took an hour long taxi back to our hotel. The staff all saw us come in, holding our son. He still had no energy to walk himself. We got into our room, to find not 10 minutes later, dinner was delivered to our door. With a bowl of steamed rice for the wee one. I cried. It was so thoughtful, and lovely. Andrew and I were starving. We hadn’t had a thing but tea for a good 60 hours.
The next day, we were due to leave, we had booked the plans far in advance, we had decided to head to an all inclusive resort. which was actually a good thing in the end. It was a Swedish owned resort with about 10 pools. The ride there was a little stressful. Our poor little man was still not feeling fabulous, and was still taking a wild amount of medication, and all tasted terrible apparently. We arrived at the hotel, and found ourselves on a first floor suite, that walked right out to a pool shared by another 5 rooms. The resort had a small shop that imported a whole bunch of European treats, including cereal.
It was hard to find any food that our little man felt remotely like eating. But we did find $6 chocolates that he started eating 2 at a time. We just went with it. He swam for a bit, would then lay down on the bed, while we sat outside reading by the pool, just off of our sliding doors. He stayed in the air conditioning during the hottest hours, sometimes sleeping with cartoons on. When he felt like swimming he did, and when he felt like eating, well, we just let him pick at his food. Whatever he ate, was a victory, it had been a long 8 days total of him being sick.
We got home, and we filed the paperwork with our insurance provider. We weren’t really sure they were going to cover it, after all, the actual bill was less than $600 with all the medication.We were lucky, our stay wasn’t that expensive and we could afford to cover it if the insurance didn’t. It made me think, I never wanted to stay anywhere longer than our insurance would allow us, we had talked about extended traveling and taking off for a couple of years, but nope, after that experience, nope, just nope.
Then I thought of my Mother, and the many many diplomatic families I knew. I got to come home, and got to have followups with our family doctor in Canada, I got to speak English and could ask for a 2nd opinion. My Mother was stuck in foreign countries, not knowing the language with 3 kids. Her stories of giving birth, being pregnant, having all of us sick somewhere, often times alone and scared, with no one even in the embassy to call on, must have been lonely, frightening, and a horrible culture shock.
I don’t know how my Mother did it for 30 years. I am so grateful that she was smart and resourceful. It was her voice in my head that made me pack up and take my son to the hospital.