Welcome to Catching the Travel Bug, Gadling’s mini-series on getting sick on the road, prevailing and loving travel throughout. Five of our bloggers will be telling their stories from around the globe for the next five weeks. Submit your best story about catching the travel bug in the comments and we’ll publish our favorite few at the end of the series.
SARS. The subject was worked into every conversation amongst the expats and long-term tourists in Vietnam. The government claimed that the virus had been contained in several northern provinces, far away from Sai Gon (Ho Chi Minh City to Communist Party officials and fresh-off-the-plane tourists). Still. There were rumors about people’s neighbors being taken away in the middle of the night to be quarantined because of a persistent cough. Mostly, that was just speculation, fueled by one too many beers or one too many years in country.
Nonetheless, when I came down with a cough and fever, I had thoughts of gasping for breath in a hidden away hospital ward guarded by CP officials who didn’t want their SARS secret to get out. I wrote my illness off as a regular flu bug I’d picked up from being in a classroom teaching eight-year-old Vietnamese kids how to speak English. When my chest started to tighten and my cough to turn into a wheeze, I started to worry a bit more.
I confided in my girlfriend who took me to a doctor who had an after-hours private practice in his home. I was assured that he spoke English. He spoke great Russian because he’d been schooled in Moscow, but only a bit of English (like “Injection” and “Infection”). Between my modest Vietnamese skills and miming and his pidgin of Russian, English, and charades, I was able to get started on an IV of antibiotics. But he wanted an x-ray to rule out the unspoken disease. He kept asking me if I had been up north, to the areas that were hit by SARS. I said no, but he casually slipped a surgical mask on before starting me on the IV.
I got into the x-ray at a hospital the next day. It took two hours in the waiting room, which was not the best experience. Radiology was located by a nurses’ station and there were several people on hospital beds just parked in the hallway. I found out from a smiling but nervous lady in a neighboring seat that they were on a death watch. The nurses could keep an eye on them until the end.
The x-ray technician was unfamiliar with practicing his trade on someone of my height. It took 5 tries to get it right. I paid him 150,000 dong ($10 US) to hand the pictures directly to me instead of putting them up with the others.
My next antibiotic session consisted of me and about 4 others, sitting in plastic lawn chairs in the doctor’s back room with drips hanging from hooks in the wall. One guy smoked the entire time, but no one said anything.
A few days later, I went through the x-ray ordeal again. This time a smiling technician got it right on the second try. Through my girlfriend the doctor said that he chalked it up to a chest infection.
“No SARS?” I asked.
“No SARS.” He chuckled, said something in Russian, and patted me on the shoulder.
Check out the past travel-bug features here.