It’s time to take my stitches out, so join me for a stroll back in time to the Cold War. The cheapest hospital in Vung Tau is the Soviet-era Russian hospital – the VietSovPetro – and I think the name says it all.
It starts with the Grab driver yelling in Vietnamese and using google translate to tell me YOU ENTERED THE WRONG PLACE. Perhaps he thinks I meant to go to a fancier clinic. I’m still feeling fragile after the surgery so I cry a little bit and get out of the car. I’m in front of a bleak concrete building fronted by an empty car park. There’s no-one around. It looks abandoned.
There’s old writing above a doorway that says OUTPATIENTS and when I look to the right, I see an ageing red and white emergency sign. I hobble across the uneven concrete and into an empty room. The lights are off. There is a row of chairs, and a service window that looks like it’s been closed for decades. In the corner, a small door is open, letting a pool of fluorescent light spill onto the floor.
I follow the light and find myself in a crowded vestibule. There’s a desk, a nurse, a gurney, and a sick child. I can see a vintage examination table through bent aluminium shutters. This place hasn’t been renovated since Gorbachev.
We launch into sign language, which basically involves me pointing at my bandaged leg and miming pulling something out of the skin. The nurse deduces that the bandage needs to come off and ushers me onto the old table. It is constructed with the same kind of heavy engineering as a 1950s refrigerator, and a surgical light hovers above me; I imagine how many lacerations have been stitched here over the decades.
I am delighted when the nurse breaks open a proper sterile wound kit. This might look like the set for an asylum horror movie, but within minutes this lady’s professionalism leaves the international hospitals in Ho Chi Minh for dead. She gets to work and sterilises the wound thoroughly; she calls a doctor to verify that the stitches can come out; and then they’re out, all seven, lying in the kidney dish like bits of old fishing line. Another minute later I’m sent on my way, wound precisely dressed. The bill comes to $2.31. Long live socialist healthcare.
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Apparently the Russian hospital was still staffed with Russian doctors right up until the Ukraine war. Immediately, they were summoned back to Russia. You can fill in the blanks.
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So as you may have noticed, I am still alive, although only kicking with one leg at present. The other is coming along.
For the first two weeks after surgery I really felt ordinary; leg hurt, wanted to cry, didn’t want to eat. For the first time since I came to Asia five years ago, I really just couldn’t stomach local food. All I wanted was spaghetti bolognese and a hug.
Or maybe not a hug, because my mood was uniformly vile. Probably better to just toss food from six feet away.
But what better time to do paperwork than a time when you know you’re not going to have any fun anyway? It’s a zero opportunity cost scenario. So my accounts are looking pretty hot right now.
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My friends tell me that the way to recover my spirits is to eat well and get some sunshine, but I have another magic method – planning motorcycle adventures. There are a few in the works. I’ve just finished putting up the itinerary for next January’s epic 14 day dirt bike trip into far northern Laos. We’re going to start in Chiang Mai, ride trails all the way to the Laos border, and then trace the Mekong up through the Golden Triangle. These are the tracks I went exploring last Christmas. You ride off the map and into a world where navigation is by word of mouth, and single track is the only road. It’s pure magic.
Well, my kind of magic. If you like your beds to be soft, your chicken to be succulent and your motorcycle to be clean, you won’t like this tour. This is a place where the beds are kind of hard, the chickens are boney and you can write stories in the dirt on your fender.