To say the healthcare in Laos is inadequate would be wholly over appraising the whole situation. My advice for those who get sick in Laos – don’t get sick in Laos.
I, unfortunately, was not able to heed my own sage words of advice and I was the begrudging receiver of Dengue fever. At first I thought it was just a case of the flu; my intention was wait it out for a few days and head on my merry way in renewed health. However, after 3 days with no respite from the most hellish fever I have ever had I decided to seek ‘competent’ medical attention. I staggered out of my hotel for the first time that day, it was already 6pm, and made my way to the nearest tuk-tuk driver. Surprisingly, he spoke English well enough to know I needed to go to the hospital; although I don’t think it would have taken much verbal communication to convey that I desperately needed medical attention at this point. While on the way he recommend a ‘better’ hospital to me, although I originally made no request for a specific hospital. We arrived at the prominent Chinese medical facility on the edge of town and I expected to be greeted by a white-coat, medically trained professional. I don’t think this idea could have been more from the truth. My experience with the hospital staff left me feeling that a chimp with a slightly above average intelligence could have provided better medical care.
Upon arrival, I was ushered into an examining room expecting the standard gamut of medical questions from any one of the many medical staff. Little did I know that it is the custom at this particular hospital to inform the staff that you are sick, would like medical attention and provide them with the most useful, initial course of action. I broke the main doctor’s staring match with the floor and informed him that it would probably be best to start with taking my temperature. This was translated by my tuk-tuk driver – who would have thought that in a room full of trained doctors the best English speaker would be a cab driver? At the mention of temperature readings the doctor produced a delightfully old, Mercury filled thermometer – I thought they had gone out of fashion with the advent of the digital age… He stuck the thermometer under my arm and resumed his death stare with the floor; I believe my intrusion had been an unwelcome interference in the doctor’s occupation and had given the tile some hard earned headway in the match.
After ten minutes I still was not quite sure why the floor had captured the attention of every medical practitioner in the room, but I knew there was work to do, namely stave off my own death. I made the indication that my temperature reading had probably stabilized. The thermometer was taken from under my arm, the reading written down in a book and the staring match resumed. Maybe they were all deep in thought, deciding what could possibly be wrong with me and the best course of action? To confirm my hopes I asked what my temperature was and what might be wrong with me, to which I received merely a shrug. I looked at the book and saw my temperature recorded as 40.5°C (104.9°F) and proceeded to freak the fuck out. I needed some sort of guidance for at least mental comfort and was receiving nothing at all, just blank stares. After gesticulating and yelling I received a slip of paper for medicine and was guided to the pharmacy adjacent to the examining room. I was given miniature bottles of a strange liquid with Chinese writing and told to take 2 in the morning and 2 at night. Thanks for the help Lao!
The bottles of strange goop helped marginally and allowed me 2 more days of sticking with it in my hotel room. Unfortunately, my fever had increased, my joints began aching so painfully it was almost impossible to walk and the pain behind my eyes was severely limiting the enjoyment of my favorite pastime, watching TV. I decided it was time to throw in the towel and fly to Thailand for actual medical care. I checked on flight prices to Vientiane and found a plane departing in 6 hours for only $100. I walked to a booking agency next door and without consulting any resource at all the agent informed me that there were no seats available on the plane. I guess the act of actually checking would have been too much of an inconvenience for him and he decided that I would be easily discouraged and leave – gotta love the Lao. I informed him that I had just checked online and he begrudgingly booked my ticket.
After 5 hours of taxis, planes and more taxis I had made it to a proper medical facility. I had no less than 3 nurses hovering around me at all times and was given a private room with AC and an excellent view. I stayed for 3 nights and a week after it all started I was fine. Sunday morning I paid my medical bill to the tune of $754 US and made my way to my motorcycle. I’m now feeling 100% and better yet, only I’m only 500′ from a beach!