As soon as we enter the hospital, everything is a mad dash. I give them my first name and my age. That’s it. It’s all they need to know. The dim hallways feel intimidating. Dirty footprints appear on the wet floors as soon as a woman finishes mopping them, undoing her hard work. The doctors office has a piece of fabric in lieu of a door, and as we enter, someone comes in behind us. Privacy doesn’t exist here. The doctor asks me two questions, and before I can even finish answering, he assigns me to get an x-ray, blood tests, and a stool sample. I’m to report back to him in a few hours with the results.
I can’t help but laugh as we walk up to the x-ray department, and they immediately take me inside without any appointment. The room is dark and filled with old machinery, some of which looks appropriate for torture. The metal is rusted and old, and I’m reminded of vintage horror films. I’m pushed against a machine and two seconds later I’m done. $9.49 and a short five minute wait, and I have a copy of my chest x-ray in my hands.
Next is the blood sample. There’s a line waiting to get in, except the line is more like a mass of people pushing each other to get through a doorway. A foreign name gets called, and everyone stops and looks at me. “I think they are calling you,” a man says. I’m the only tourist here. I walk inside hesitantly. It wasn’t my name. The nurse looks for my paperwork and tells me to have a seat. I watch as a syringe in unwrapped and the plastic is thrown into a garbage bin, the contents of which are spilling over onto the floor. The nurse inserts the needle into a local man’s arm across from me. I look away and notice a bloody cotton ball on the floor near his feet.
Last is the stool sample, except that I took anti-diarrhea medicine yesterday, and I don’t have to go. My other two tests will have to suffice. The tests are processed so fast that we have the results before noon and are able to see the doctor at 12:30pm. I can’t help but be impressed by the speed here. A mass of people form outside the doctors office ‘door’ waiting to be called.
When my turn arrives, the doctor looks at my x-ray. I figure he’ll tell me I need some antibiotics and will send me on my way, but his face looks concerned. He speaks Nepali to Kalu and then turns and says “chest infection.” Maybe I’ll need a few more drugs than I thought. “We need to admit you for two days.” I turn to Kalu who says ok. I turn back to the doctor. There must be a mistake. Maybe ‘being admitted’ means something different here. “Admitted?” I ask. “Yes, you will need to stay here for two nights. Maybe longer. You have pneumonia.” I wish I could explain what it felt like to hear those words, but I don’t know if I could.
Tears began to fill my eyes, and all I could think was that I’m in a third world hospital in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language. I’m halfway across the world from home, without my family. I’m in one of the world’s poorest countries, and this hospital isn’t sterile. For the first time in my travels, I feel like a total snob. I can’t stay here. I can’t be treated here. It’s not safe. And for a second, I feel utterly alone. My stomach begins to ache, my mind begins to race, and my heart feels like it might stop. Just breathe. It’s okay. Just breathe.
It isn’t until they are done poking and prodding me and I’m settled in my room that I see the humor in it. I did say I wanted to see EVERYTHING Pokhara had to offer. Here I was having the third world hospital experience. I take a look around my new luxury suite. At $60 a night, it’s the most expensive place I’ve stayed all year. The wall closest to my bed has a smeared fingerprint on it that looks suspiciously like blood. Abstract art, I tell myself. A small cockroach, that I named Timmy, scampers across the floor. My new roommate. Short of inserting the IV into my vein, Kalu is responsible for administering all of my drugs like a nurse.
Everyone is speaking Nepali. I couldn’t tell you what is being put in my veins or what the pills I keep swallowing actually do. The only thing I do know is that I need to watch my IV and tell a nurse before it runs out because if it does, oxygen will get into my blood stream. They reiterate that that is bad. I’m in a DIY hospital. On the bright side, there’s toilet paper and soap in the bathroom which is more than I can say for a lot of the hotels I’ve stayed in. Plus, there’s TV, including HBO in English. The lengths we go to for a little TV.
From the bed of my dingy hospital room, through a slightly moldy window screen is the most spectacular view of Annapurna (part of the Himalaya). In the morning, the sun rising hits it, creating periwinkle and pink hues. A cascade of soft colors that looks more like an oil painting than reality. The snowy peaks light up forming a brilliant white in the crisp morning air.
The amusing aspect of this little adventure wears off by noon on day two. I’m hungry and thirsty, but my stomach feels full. Like if I eat anything else, I’ll vomit. My wrist with the IV begins to ache like a nasty bruise. Every time I move, a shooting pain goes through my entire arm. It’s so painful that I have to resist from crying out. The nurses take forever to come and change it, and by the time they arrive I’m having a full melt down.
My eyes spill over with tears as everyone around me speaks another language. I don’t understand what is going on as they attempt to change the IV to my other arm. I’m crying from fatigue and hunger, yet they decide to let a new nurse try to insert the IV and he fails. When he has to pull it out, he angrily tosses the unsanitary needle onto my bed with me, covered in blood.
They order a new needle, and an experienced nurse puts it in. She asks if I’m crying and tells me to eat more so I don’t feel so much pain. I try to explain that my stomach hurts, and she asks where. I tell her it’s not a specific place, I just feel full even though I haven’t eaten anything. Not understanding me, she asks me to point to the pain. The pain is everywhere, and I can’t find the words to make her understand. I just want to go home. I want a doctor who understands me. I want to be somewhere familiar. I want my family. I’m tired of this adventure. I curl up in a ball and cry, not caring if the nurses see.
Hours later, the doctor arrives and prescribes something for my stomach. My appetite comes back, and I’m able to eat some light food. My spirits are lifted as I read through all of the ‘get well soon’ comments on Facebook, most of which make me laugh. My heart feels full from all of the love I receive from afar, but the feeling of serenity doesn’t last long.
At night, I have a coughing fit so strong that I think I’ll throw up again. A nurse rushes in and gives me more drugs. I can’t breathe, so she rubs my back while I bend over with my head between my legs. In that moment, I’m so thankful to her, but I can’t stop coughing long enough to express my gratitude. I try to slow my breathing, but the tickle in my throat won’t stop, and I continue to cough violently. It takes several throat lozenges, medicine, and an hour before I’m able to breathe somewhat normally.
Day three arrives, and I’m utterly exhausted. A nurse takes a blood sample as I watch the sunrise through my window again. I swallow more drugs and another IV is hooked up. This routine begins to feel almost normal. It’s not so scary anymore, and I’m starting to feel at home. Another x-ray is taken and now the rusty machines barely register as odd. The doctor checks my x-ray and says it’s improved which means I can be discharged. Paperwork is completed, and my IV is removed. Relief washes over me, and yet, I feel a little sad to say goodbye. I think I’ll miss this place and the people who took such good care of me. I honestly can’t thank them enough for making me feel at home in a place so different from my own.
How would you react if you were admitted to a foreign hospital? Share in the comments!
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.