Monday, July 05, 2010

In Which I Explore Thailand's Health Care Systems

Ah, hubris. You're a crafty, crafty creature.

Sometime on our way to the beach wat, everyone started comparing mosquito bites. As Eunice and I showed off our red-marked ankles and arms, Sean bragged about how he "never gets bitten."

Within two days, his feet were covered in flea and mosquito bites and his legs were red and bumpy with heat rash. Or food poisoning. We're not sure which.

I told him it was because of his hubris.

But then, being Mrs. Pot, last Friday morning I thought, "Hey! I've been in Thailand for a month and I haven't really been sick. That's great!" I realized, a moment too late, that I was dooming myself. And, indeed, I had.

I woke up at 4:00 in the morning on Saturday with a very urgent need to get to the bathroom. After a few rounds, I broke out the prescription stuff my dad was kind enough to provide for me, especially since we had a big day planned and my having to be perpectually near a bathroom wasn't going to cut it. Fortunately, the medicine seemed to kick in pretty quick, and I've been alright since then, gastrointestinally speaking.

But there were other health adventures going on.

Friday night I reached up on top of the little refrigerator in the Trina House to get something. I felt a very sharp sting in my hand. I pulled it down and there, on my pinky finger near the webbing between that finger and my ring finger, was a huge black-and-red ant-looking thing. It was big enough that I could see its head and I could see that it had its teeth dug into my finger. I shrieked, "Oh, bad bug! Bad bug!" and ran for the sink. I tried shaking it off, but it wouldn't bug. It didn't release my hand until I ran it under the facuet full blast for a few seconds.

Now, I've been carefully avoiding the fire ants that are all over the grounds here. I've still gotten a couple of bites from them, mostly when one's hiding in my shoe or when I'm not careful about where I step. They hurt, but not like this one did, and it didn't look like this one did.

By Saturday morning, my finger was swollen, bloodlessly white, and there was a tingly numbness spreading to my ring finger, too. As the day went on, the whiteness gave way to redness as the swelling grew. I texted my parents for medical advice (as one does), took some Aleve, and went to bed, curious to see how it would be in the morning.

Sunday morning my finger was red with a couple of white patches, sore, itchy, and so swollen that it stuck out to the side of my hand at a 30 degree angle. I showed it off at breakfast at the wat, and asked Sean how to get to the pharmacy at the wat (he'd been there the week before when he had his own dose of Buddha's Revenge).

Sean explained that the pharmacy was kind-of open for about 10 minutes a day. Basically, the monk in charge of it walks past it after he's finished eating lunch. If someone's there, he helps them. If not, he goes about his day. "There's the pharmacist monk now, in fact!" he said, pointing to one of the monks who had just walked out of the door.

Seizing the chance to explore another part of the local culture, I hopped up and caught up with the monk at the door of the pharmacy room. Phra Boy and I introduced ourselves, and I showed him my finger. In broken English between the two of us, I communicated that it was a bug bite, it was itchy, it hurt, and that I had not washed laundry since the bite (I think he was asking to see if any chemicals were affecting it).

He asked me to write down my name and age in a log book on the desk, then rummaged in the cabinets and the fridge for a few minutes. He then handed me an ointment labeled "Dermaheu" ("Put on morning and night, after bath. Keep doing for 1 week after better."), and two bags. Each bag had five doses of a pill with instructions written on the front ("Take 1 pill after lunch. Only 1 time.") I was confused by the instructions, but when I tried to clarify them, Phra Boy just said that they were for allergies and will make me sleepy.

And that was it. No records, no insurance information, I didn't even have to pay a cent. He handed me the drugs, and I was on my way.

Very strange.

I decided to forgo the pills, since I wasn't clear on what they were or how to take them (if I only am supposed to do it once, why did he give me five of each?), but I have been using the ointment. My finger's better today. I can almost close my hand into a fist again, and the redness has subsided into more of purple-bruise just between the two fingers (as opposed to all over the pinky and down the top part of my hand).

It probably would have healed anyway within three days, but I couldn't pass up a chance to try out a pharmacy in Thailand.

I'm keeping an eye on my finger, still, just in case. I'm also watching out for any sudden manifestations of great powers. You know, better vision, incredible strength, and such.

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