We all need a break from time to time. That’s why we take vacations. But sometimes a vacation becomes an adventure. This is about one of those times.
In February, my fiancé, Kathy and I visited Thailand. We toured grand palaces and Buddhist temples and floating markets around the sprawling capital of Bangkok, then traveled north to mountainous Chiang Mai where we walked with elephants and learned to make Thai food. Then the plan was to finish with beach time on the island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand. It was the kind of trip you look forward to for months. A dream vacation. And indeed, most of it was a dream. Most of it.
After a few days in Bangkok, we headed north to the jungles near Chiang Mai and the Elephant Nature Park where we got up close to these beautiful creatures who are allowed to roam free and heal within the confines of the huge park. We learned that elephants can eat as much as 600 pounds of food a day. We fed them bananas and walked through streams with them, helping them bathe in the mud. It was remarkable how an animal so powerful could be so tender.
We also learned how to make authentic Thai food at a wonderful little corner of the world called Benny’s Home Cooking. Of course everything tastes better when Benny, the proprietor includes her sweet smile in the recipe. In our time in Thailand that’s one thing I never got tired of – the smiles.
I have a rule that when someone says, “Look at that,” It’s a good idea to have your camera ready. We took a lot of pictures.
For a week and a half, everything had gone just as we’d pictured it. And then it happened.
On Friday, February 15, while we were enjoying a meal in a rustic beach town called Bo Phut on Koh Samui Island in the Gulf of Thailand, I noticed something odd. My right index finger had begun to swell up. At first I thought it might be an insect or a spider bite but I hadn’t felt anything. And while the finger was slightly swollen, it didn’t look like anything to really worry about. I bought some anti-histamine at a local pharmacy to address the swelling, returned to our hotel and went to bed.
At 1:30 in the morning, I woke up in pain. The throbbing in my index finger was so intense I couldn’t sleep. We went to the hospital immediately. Concerned doctors in the emergency room doctors evaluated my finger and while at first I thought it might be some kind of bite, they diagnosed it as a bacterial infection that entered my bloodstream, possibly through a tiny cut. I was checked into the ICU. Then the finger really began to swell up. It turned blue and a line of infection spread up my forearm and soon turned my arm, red. They feared it would soon go to my lungs.
Saturday morning, the digit had now swollen to almost twice its normal size. One of the doctors said there was a “small, very small chance” the finger would have come off. Not funny.
Fast forward through a series of smiling nurses and frowning doctors and a fiancé who was growing more and more concerned with each passing day. Finally, after four days, surgery was scheduled to get the infection out and essentially drain the finger. The operation went on far longer than I thought it would. But after an hour, the surgical team, led by Dr. Kreingsa at Bangkok Hospital Samui was wrapping me up.
After five days. I was released. Doctors let me recover on an outpatient basis on this sun-drenched, laid back island. And finally, I got to enjoy the warmth of the sweet Thai sunshine I’d missed for almost a week in the hospital.
Looking back, the time in the Bangkok Hospital Samui (BHS) went from tedious to boring. Not knowing more than a handful of words in Thai meant watching my hospital TV was a challenge. But a couple wonderful things happened. The hotel manager actually came to visit me in the hospital. The next day, another manager came to check in on me. These weren’t just quick visits. Each of these folks stayed almost a half hour. They just wanted to check up on me. They weren’t just doing their jobs. This was honest concern. I got to know the staff at the hotel very well.
And I got to know many of the BHS nurses too, who endured my endless butchering of the Thai language, smiling through my mistakes. One nurse in particular, was named Aree. One day while checking my vital signs Aree asked me what I did for a living. “I work at a blood center and research institute back home in Seattle called Bloodworks Northwest.” Through her charming Thai smile she said, “I give blood four times year.” I smiled and told her we had that in common.
So what are the takeaways from what became my adventure in Thailand? Well, I can tell you that the Thai people are sweet. They have a rich culture that seems to naturally embrace travelers in distress. I came to discover that Thai food is some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life and that Thai hospital food is not. But in the end, it’s humbling to be on the receiving end of a warmth and generosity that seems to come as naturally as their smiles.
And it’s good to know that the mission of giving blood can be as lifesaving as it is universal.
Travel tip: Travel to certain countries may prevent you from donating blood. Donate before your next planned travel to ensure a safe and stable blood supply for our community. Learn more here. Donate by April 30 and be entered to win Bold for Blood and Adventure prizes.