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Day 136 – Adventures in (Cheap) Vietnamese Medicine

July 17, 2010

Dateline: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – Saturday, July 17, 2010

“Far East” medicine evokes images of acupuncture, acupressure, heated rocks applied to the body, herbs, roots, and tiger penises. People come from around the world to learn alternative techniques. To explore non-scientifically derived ways of curing what ails you. Back home, people pay good money to have an “Oriental” mix them up a black, sticky concoction to cure a sour throat or remove warts.

Not me. Not today. In the midst of a bout of pink eye I wanted the most Western Far East medicine possible. I wanted sterilized halls, doctors in white coats, a whiff of ammonia, antiseptic wipes, and latex gloves. Most of all I wanted drugs. Lots of drugs. Drugs whose names I couldn’t pronounce. Drugs not derived from weasel testicles.

With that, I headed off to Victoria Healthcare International Clinic. Their website promised American/Western quality healthcare. One of their doctors even looked White. They were also nearby, a big plus since it was pouring rain.

The xe om (motorcycle taxi) dropped me off in front of a smallish office building at the side of a busy street. Inside, a receptionist had me fill out a small form. None of the questions asked about my medical history. From there, she ushered me upstairs for a visit with a nurse.

In the course of running through my basics, the man nurse settled an ongoing debate amongst my readers: Have I gained weight?

The scale provides this answer: Since I started this trip I’ve lost at least seven pounds. I say “at least” because I got weighed in rain soaked clothes.

So there. Turns out the camera does add 10 pounds.

My visit with the doctor was brief.

“What’s wrong?” she said.

“Well, last night I was wearing my contact lenses when I felt something in my eye. When I took out the lens, my eye. . .”

“You should see an eye specialist.”

Just like that, our visit was over. This annoyed me. When I’d called for an appointment, I’d specifically asked whether I needed to see an eye doctor. The receptionist assured me that the hospital could handle all my care.

In the end, though, the staff was quite helpful. They gave me the address for an “eye hospital” and made sure that someone there spoke English. They also didn’t charge me for my visit.

I again braved the rain and hopped a xe om.

The “eye hospital” really was a hospital specifically for peoples’ eyes. It was also very Vietnamese. I learned both these things when I wandered the building looking for a bathroom. While trying not to piss myself  I learned that (1) no one spoke English and therefore could not direct me to a restroom and (2) most floors were filled with patients with eye patches. Pirate central.

The reception and waiting area was actually outdoors. In what would normally be a first floor open air entrance, the eye hospital had put out chairs and set up a receptionist area and pharmacy. At the front of the waiting area, patients filed into examination rooms with two or three doctors inside, all simultaneously seeing patients.

The place had a factory assembly line feel. Patients were processed with cool efficiency. Name, sit, examination, jot down notes, quick talk, patient out the door.

None of the signs were in English so I bumbled my way from window to window until I found the receptionist. She handed me a booklet to fill out. I couldn’t read any of it so I just put my name on the first line. When I handed it back to her she handed it right back and pointed at three blank lines.

“I have no idea what this means” I said, and dutifully put down whatever came to mind–birth date and address in Saigon. (A friend at the hotel later told me I’d guessed right.)

I handed in my book. The receptionist processed it then called my name over the loudspeaker (“Mem Dehno”). I picked up my book and filed into one of the examination rooms.

There, I received a rudimentary eye exam. My lack of Vietnamese forced the nurse to stand by the eye chart and point to lines with her finger. I think I came out legally blind on the pinked eye.

When it was my turn, I plopped myself down on the stool in front of the doctor. She spoke English (yay!). I explained my problem which she first thought might be contact lens irritation. I told her that I was a filthy, filthy person and that I thought it was an infection.

A dab of dye in the eye, a machine, and a bright light later she confirmed that I had conjunctivitis (doc talk for: an infection). She then prescribed me a drug regime to rival an AIDS patient cocktail: eye drops (10 times a day), more eye drops (three times a day), pills (four times a day), and a cream (right before bed). Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

I had no trouble finding the pharmacist. Even though there were (still) no signs in English, I knew mounds of drugs when I saw them.

A cost breakdown of my little medical adventure:

Ride to First Clinic 30,000 dong 1.58 USD
First Clinic Visit No charge 0 USD
Ride to Eye Hospital 20,000 dong 1.05 USD
Eye Hospital Visit 60,000 dong 3.16 USD
Drugs 188,000 dong 9.90 USD
Ride Back to the Hotel 20,000 dong 1.05 USD
TOTAL 318,000 dong 16.74 USD

Surviving a disease overseas and feeling better later that night: Priceless.

GALLERY: Click through to see a slideshow of bigger, better versions of the pictures you see above.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. sally permalink
    July 22, 2010 12:01 pm

    I can tell by your regimen that you ARE a filthy filthy person . Filthy. Dirty.

  2. Irene permalink
    July 26, 2010 5:54 pm

    I had a pink eye like 3 months ago…

    cost breakdown of my hospital visit:

    Total: $680.00 U.S.
    Insurance covered: $440.00 U.S.
    Out of pocket from me: $240.00 U.S.

    The worst part was, after I went through 1 nurse and 2 doctors, they concluded that it’s just pink eye (web MD told me the same thing the night before by the way) and that I should just go home cuz it’ll go away EVENTUALLY…they won’t even give me any eye drops…I did leave the hospital with a $680 bill. You should consider yourself lucky. Ugh.

    • July 27, 2010 3:28 am

      God bless America. I bet it also took longer than my run through two hospitals (1.5 hours).

      Out of curiosity, how long did you have to go without wearing contacts? The Viet doc said 15 days, which seems excessive to me. Please tell me it’s less.

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