We have been in Bangkok for almost a month now, and I spent a third of that time in the hospital. Two weekends ago, I set out to the grocery store on our golf cart. Normal. I bought some items for sandwiches and returned home. Normal. I had an annoying itch/pain on the back of my right leg for about two days at that point. Within normal limits. However, on that fateful Saturday, I took another look at my leg. A large pink ring had formed around the affected pore. Not normal! I knew then that I needed some professional help. It’s funny how stubborn we can be when it comes to receiving medical care. There may be various reasons such as time, cost, dealing with insurance companies, etc. On the other hand, I believe our bodies know when it’s time to get serious. This is what I experienced. My spirit told me that I needed help, so I listened.
I told Angie that I wanted to visit an international hospital nearby and have them examine my leg. I figured an international hospital would be a good place to go with doctors who can probably speak English. I walked out to the back gate of our community and asked a guard to help me get a taxi. We hadn’t taken any taxis yet, so my first cab ride was to the hospital. The World Medical Center ends up being on the opposite side of a busy street, so I needed to hop out of the cab near a pedestrian overpass. I climbed the stairs, up and over the street, and exited on the proper side. Then I needed to backtrack less than a block to reach the hospital.
Entering the main lobby, I noticed a counter for international patients. I approached the woman at the counter and was pleased to find that she spoke English very well. She took care of my registration and guided me towards the waiting area to see a doctor. A few minutes later, a nurse took me to the examining room where a doctor came in to check my leg. I was expecting to receive topical cream or ointment along with some antibiotics. The doctor took one look at my leg and said, “Oh, you will need to receive antibiotics through an iv for this type of infection. You will have to stay in the hospital for this treatment.” I was shocked. “Uh, how long are we talking about? Overnight?,” I asked. “No, probably about three days,” the doctor replied. It took my brain a few moments to get a grip on the severity of the situation. I told the doctor that I needed to call my wife and sort things out. Angie had just started her new job, and the coming week was vital in preparing for the start of the school year. I realized the vulnerability of our current situation. We have no backup for child care if something happens to me. I had not given thought to the possibility of me being hospitalized.
I called Angie from the examining room and filled her in on the situation. She, too, was quite shocked and probably expected me to be home shortly. She even had a sandwich waiting for me! We agreed that I should accept the offer to stay in the hospital if that was what the doctor recommended. Angie would now have to get working on finding someone to watch Dorian for a day or two. She reached out to our community of teachers and received several offers to help out in our time of need. People were very sympathetic to our situation and their response was amazing. We had only been in town for two weeks, and we had a support group ready to reach out and help us. We are lucky and blessed to be a part of such a great community.
Also, I was lucky to have the support of a childhood friend, Lane, who lives in Bangkok. I called and told him of my situation. He left work early to get Angie and Dorian, then brought them over to see me. Lane could only stay for a few minutes, but his help with bringing my family to me was huge. So there we were, the Wongs, just hanging out in an amazing hospital suite. On the 7th floor, I had a room with 12-foot high windows, a view of the surrounding cityscape, two HDTV’s with cable and internet access, a refrigerator, microwave, sink with dish rack, dishes, and an assortment of beverages at hand.
Angie and I were still in shock of what was happening. There was a bit of sadness because our family was going to be separated for the first time. Little Dorian didn’t know what was going on, but I was already missing him as he sat on the hospital bed with me. The nursing staff had started a dose of iv antibiotics about 15 minutes before Angie and Dorian came in. At some point shortly after their arrival, I began experiencing pain in my left hand. It got worse and worse, feeling as though someone was turning a corkscrew through the back of my hand. I experienced that point of pain where I was desperately trying to breathe through it. Angie went to call for help, and a nurse came in and stopped the iv. We waited a while, then the nurse came back and started the iv again. I felt no pain, so we thought I was okay. Several minutes later, the pain came back with a vengeance. I pressed the nurse call button on my bed and asked Angie to press the stop button on the iv machine. I also closed the iv tube on my wrist (I had watched how the nurse did it the last time). The nursing staff came in and turned the iv machine off, then consulted with a doctor. The doctor believed I was experiencing a bad reaction to that particular antibiotic, a rare, but possible condition.
While this scene of nurses tending to my painful iv was going on, Angie was holding Dorian in one arm while trying to hold my free hand to comfort my pain. Add to that, the food runner showed up with my late lunch (when I checked in to the hospital, I had asked for some food because I skipped lunch to see a doctor!). Part of me was hoping that he would just drop the food off and go. But he was hanging out for a bit. I felt a little embarrassed because I was in pain while the food guy was watching me. Then I learned he wasn’t there just to deliver my food. He also needed me to select what menu items I wanted for the next day.
Angie and Dorian stayed on for a couple more hours before heading home. We asked one of our neighbors and fellow newbie, Stan, if he would be willing to pick them up from the hospital. He was very kind and glad to help us out. After what seemed like a very long afternoon, I was finally alone in my hospital room, on my hospital bed, with my right leg propped up on a tower of two sofa cushions. The nursing staff returned that evening and began a different type of iv antibiotic. I didn’t feel pain like before, though the iv still felt a bit uncomfortable in my hand.
On the second day, a doctor came and visited me to check my progress. He was not pleased, as the last 24 hours had shown no improvement. I was given a second iv antibiotic, except this dose was once daily, while the other was three times a day. There was nothing to do but wait and see the effects of this combination of antibiotics. Later that evening, I had a problem with my iv again. I noticed slight swelling on the back of my left hand. There was a leak. The nurses then removed that catheter and inserted a new one into my right hand instead. I was a bit nervous, as I hoped I would not have any problems with the new iv. Turns out the new iv was awesome, as I had no pain or discomfort at all. It led me to believe that there was probably something wrong with the first iv because the two experiences were so different. I made sure to handle the new iv with care throughout the rest of my stay.
The third day, I received a visit from a third doctor, who ended up being my ‘regular’ doctor for the rest of my treatment. He was a very nice man; friendly, always with a smile and hearty laugh. His English was great, and his spirit was kind. I was told that the two antibiotics were still not performing well enough to show any improvement. So, there was a third antibiotic thrown into the mix, except this one was in pill form and taken twice a day. The doctor said the next 24 hours would guide us in what treatment would come next. He asked the nursing staff to trace my infection with a pen to see if the condition was better or worse the next day. The diameter of the redness was about 5.5-6 inches! I was told if the infected area was worse, they may have to cut into the site and remove the infection surgically. A better result would be for the antibiotics to start working and we would see a reduction in the redness surrounding the infected pore.
So the fourth day rolled around, and to my surprise, the red circle had diminished in size. It was only about 2.5 inches in diameter. I was happy because that meant the meds were working and that I escaped a visit with the scalpel. The doctor was happy, as well, and he said we would hope for a similar reduction in redness the following day. The nurses again traced the outline of the reduced area of redness. I was cautiously optimistic.
The fifth day was the big day. I woke up and checked my leg in the mirror. The redness did decrease in size, but barely so. I was hoping for a miracle, that in some way my leg would improve throughout the day before the doctor came to visit me. This wasn’t to be, as the doctor confirmed my lack of progress. He was apologetic in giving me the news that the best option now was to go in and have it cut open. Part of me shared in his disappointment, while another part of me was desperate, willing to do whatever it took to get better faster and home to my family.
It was difficult knowing that Angie was having to care for Dorian all by herself. They were able to visit me a few times, but I knew it wasn’t easy. One of the things that we learned from this experience is how important we are as a family, and missing just one of us is a big loss. I also missed being a part of the parental team, and with each visit, I swore that Dorian felt different every time! There was also a feeling of guilt or responsibility in not being there for my family. The best I could do was be a good patient and follow every recommendation the professionals gave me.
I okayed the doctor’s decision to cut my leg open. A couple hours later, I was taken by wheelchair down to a room in the surgery ward. I hiked up my right pant leg and laid, stomach down, on the table. The doctor came in and reassured me that the surgery would help me heal faster. He gave me three or four shots to numb the area. They sure hurt, as the infected area was already tender from being red and swollen for several days. We chatted for a few minutes while the numbness set in. The doctor pressed on different areas of the wound to check my sensitivity. We were ready to begin the process. He talked me through the procedure; making an incision to cut out the main point of infection, then going deeper into the tissue to remove further infection. The doctor did not close my wound, as he mentioned that I still had some infection surrounding the main site. He had removed the worst of it, and the plan was to let the meds finish off the surrounding redness. The nurse covered my wound with gauze and tape. I was in and out of that room in about 20 minutes.
I went back to my room where the feeling slowly returned to my leg. It hurt pretty bad, but I was handling it okay. The next two days were spent taking meds and waiting around for the doctor to be available to clean and inspect my wound. This was the worst part of the entire hospital experience. I was foolish in thinking that the surgery itself would be the most painful part. Nothing could be further from the truth. The doctor would have to clean my open wound with alcohol. I swear it felt like someone was setting my leg on fire. My incision was around 3-4 centimeters long and between 1-1.5 centimeters deep, so when that alcohol entered the wound, it was difficult to remain still on the table. I tried having my spirit leave my body, but I have not mastered that art yet. Instead, I was forced to rely on intense inhaling/exhaling, grunting, and gripping the bed rails as tight as I could. The good news was that the doctor said I may be released soon, even if I still had some residual redness. The wound itself, he mentioned, looked like it was healing well.
Finally, on Friday evening, after spending seven days in the hospital, I was allowed to go home to my family. The only catch was that I needed to come back to the hospital every day to have my wound inspected and doused with alcohol. I dreaded that moment each day, but I made myself go and do it. The doctor said I would probably have to come for cleanings until the following Friday, a week later. This presented a new set of problems. I had to find someone to watch Dorian while I ran off to the hospital every day. Otherwise, I’d have to take him with me. Once again, we were saved by a wonderful friend and neighbor, Dee Dee. She loves Dorian, and he is very comfortable with her. Dee Dee was able to watch Dorian for a couple of hours while I took off to see the doctor each day.
I received some outstanding news on Monday. The doctor said my wound was healing so well that I could have it stitched up the following day, a full three days ahead of schedule. How was this possible? I can’t say for sure, but I have to mention what happened when I came home from the hospital the previous Friday. I knew that I was hurting, and I knew that I wanted to get better faster. I decided to resume performing my Qigong exercises, a series of movements and breathing that are designed to stimulate your Qi (aka Chi), or life force (energy). I figured if I could cultivate my qi, it would help in my recovery process. Every night, I would go through the sequence of movements. I suppose it is debatable why my healing had a boost. Some might say it was the medication. I believe it was a combination of medication plus my focused concentration on using my life force to heal my body.
All that aside, the main point is that I got stitched up Tuesday, with a positive follow-up on Wednesday. I don’t have to go back to the hospital for one week! The stitches should come out then, and I believe that will be the end of this journey. I am responsible for cleaning the wound at home for the next week. Luckily, the alcohol doesn’t burn like it used to! Having cleaned my wound for the first time at home yesterday, I was relieved to see that it was of significant size. I had a fear that it would be tiny, barely visible, and that the nurses were all disgusted with my lack of pain tolerance. After seeing the incision, I felt like it was okay that I showed pain during the first few days of alcohol cleanings! I should also mention that after the stitches are removed, I will have to apply a cream on the wound for a while to minimize scarring. This cream was the only thing our health insurance didn’t cover because it’s purely for cosmetic purposes. Turns out, it was inexpensive, so I figured why not?
What was the cause of this whole disaster? No one knows for sure. It may have been a clogged pore, ingrown hair, or an insect bite. What is known is that no matter the cause, what happened is that it became open and allowed bacteria to enter the site. The doctor mentioned that because I just arrived to a new, humid environment, I have been exposed to a foreign bacteria. Unfortunately, my body wasn’t able to fight it off right away and I suffered from an infection. He also told me that if I were an unhealthy individual, I would have had a more serious problem battling this type of infection. If I had been in Bangkok for a while, there would have been a better chance that my body had adapted to the new environment. I am ready to move on and get back to normal, whatever that means anymore.
I have become quite popular among the people in our school community. It was nice to have so many people welcoming me back when they saw me hobbling around our apartment complex. The other wonderful gesture that several families did for us was to bring us meals my first few days home. It was so helpful for Angie and I to not feel worried about what we were going to eat that day, knowing that people were thinking of us and providing us with amazing food! We will have to do our part in giving back to the community when others are in need.
Below are some photos of the infection. Some images may not be suitable for all viewers. Use your best judgement and view at your own risk. I know there are readers who are interested in seeing what happened.