Hanoi Hilton… we mean Hospital

Disclaimer here: Nat decided to write this one from her perspective since well… you’ll see…

After two nights on bunk bed mattresses clearly filled with cement, we were looking forward to a good night of rest and recuperation in our now favorite hostel in Vietnam. Our plan when we arrived was to eat as much tasty food as we possibly could in the limited time we had left in Vietnam, a food lovers paradise, or at least mine. Of course the only thing on my agenda was to get pho one last time, oh and I’m not sure if we mentioned in any of the other blog posts but another great part of Central Backpackers in the Old Quarter of Hanoi was that every night they had free Bia Hoi for an hour on the rooftop bar. So our original plan was to grab some free Bia Hoi and then head to a pho place we had discovered on our first day in Hanoi, or at least to the street since most places didn’t have names but just vague locations where they would set up a few plastic chairs and tables.

We headed upstairs and Nina (our ring leader from HaLong Bay) was already on her A-Game behind the bar and the free beer was flowing freely. Excited that we had finally given up our sobriety now that beer was again cheap to partake in the celebrations, Nina quickly set up some drinking games. Flip cup quickly morphed into beer pong which turned into rage cage, a game I had played once at Stagecoach (a country music festival) with Ross’ friends where you have rotating ping pong balls and stacking cups with beer in them – pretty much the setup to any modern fraternity inspired drinking game. Nina decided that this Rage Cage game should be amped up a bit and decided to put a grenade in the middle of the playing field – a vomit-inducing concoction of gin, tequila, rum and a smallest splash of coke. It was an accident waiting to happen. I will spare the gory details but our casual restful night turned very quickly into a night out due to my inability to be coordinated with any sort of game involving a ball. Thankfully the brown liquid in the cup I was forced to chug, did not cause me to puke but it did loosen our reins for the rest of the night. Shortly after, we were convinced to go out with our fellow drinking game friends for a night of dancing at a local bar/club.

The next day we finally got our pho (at breakfast – the only appropriate time for pho according to any Vietnamese person) and while we were eating with our new friends from the night before, we decided that we would head to a water park for our last day in Hanoi. Ben had said that the waterpark was a ton of fun, cheap and free of tourists. After grabbing our suits, our new group of friends headed to the water park. OK: second disclaimer here – about two years prior to this trip I had just started dating Ross and we joined his family at their country club; I was over-excited about the giant blow up slide they had installed for summer going into the pool and on my maiden voyage down the slide (made for children, but surprisingly steep) I jumped, an error I would regret for the next two years. Instead of sliding down the wet plastic like a sane adult, my jump on the top of the slide had caused me to catapult myself about nine feet to the bottom of the slide and miss the entire slide. The fall caused two compression fractures in my spine. If you don’t believe me, watch the video below.

Needless to say since the accident I was a little bit hesitant to go down anything even remotely resembling a waterslide but if you don’t concur your fears, you’ll never get over them. We all piled into a van taxi cab and headed to the water park on the other side of town. The driver took a super round about way to get to the water park and for the first time in a while we felt like we were definitely getting ripped off. Annoyed but not annoyed enough to argue with the driver, we headed into the water park. Soon we realized that it was exactly as Ben had described it – uncrowded, cheap (it was about $10 USD per person; almost cheaper than the cab ride per person) and not a tourist in sight, besides us of course. What he failed to mention was that parts of the park looked like they were straight out of a horror movie. Certain attractions looked like they had been abandoned shortly after completion or in the middle of construction. During a float around the lazy river, where we were sure keep our feet from touching the ground due to the missing pool tiles, we floated upon a part of the park that looked completely desolate – among the scary movie scene was a park bench with only three legs, a rusted jungle gym set, empty pools and dilapidated ruins of what probably used to be a snack shack. Other than the unkept nature of the park, we could not have had more fun – we went on every slide at least twice and only got told off once for Ross’ board shorts; we aren’t quite sure why they didn’t like the shorts but they kept pointing to the shorts and then Ross and then back to the shorts while shaking their head. We had no idea what they were talking about and once again the language barrier won in the game of charades.

To commemorate one of the most fun days we had experienced in Hanoi we climbed up a little bridge to take a group picture (below) above the lazy river before heading back to our dinner reservations at a super fancy (but also cheap) restaurant we had been told about where you would be served seven courses of traditional Vietnamese food. The bridge was up three small cobblestoned stairs that crossed the lazy river. After we took the group photo (below) I called out to our friends one stair up to say, “Be careful, these stairs look slippery.” In the next movement, I took a triumphant but careful step down and took only what can only be described as a comical fall and I caught myself with my left hand/wrist and left butt cheek. I looked down and in shock and pain knew that my wrist was broken. I called out to Ross to get help and by the look on his face, there was no doubt that he knew it was broken as well. Ross ran off to get help while I sat bewildered on the steps trying to talk myself out of my imminent fate, going to a hospital in a developing country. Ross was busy pantomiming to a lifeguard who was in return looking at him dumbfounded. He kept repeating to the lifeguard, “My girlfriend broke (mining and pointing to his wrist) her wrist – we need help!” Clearly his strategy was not getting him very far but thankfully an Australian man and his Vietnamese wife heard Ross’ struggle and came to the bilingual rescue. The pair quickly jumped into action and asked Ross if he spoke any Vietnamese. The answer was obviously no so they followed us to the med-tent at the water park. By this time shock had 100% set in and our four friends, Ross, the Australian, his wife and the lifeguard were all yelling at me to do different things. The next 40 minutes were a blur to me but in short, the triage team splinted my arm, put me in my matching pineapple jumpsuit and told me what hospital we were gong to. My only wish is that I could have gotten the Australian’s number or email address to thank him after the fact because he told Ross that the water park staff was trying to send us to a close hospital and they insisted upon taking me to an international hospital further away instead, big shout out to the French Teaching Hospital in Hanoi.

In the cab besides trying to tell myself that my arm might just be sprained, we called our insurance company and Ross tried to calm me down… not an easy feat. When we arrived to the hospital, which happened to be the number one rated hospital on TripAdvisor for tourists, we were led calmly into the ER room where a mother and daughter were waiting to be seen as well. The daughter was not in good shape, soon after we got there she started throwing up and all of the nurses put on masks. We motioned to our faces and they handed us masks as well. After about two of the longest hours of my life, I was finally rolled into have x—rays. After probably another half hour or hour, a man in his late 60s dressed in Crocks and a Hawaiian shirt with a heavy French accent came into the room. He introduced himself and first asked me if I had eaten anything in the last ten hours – I confessed that at the water park Ross and I had split an ice cream cone. That damn ice cream! He calmly told me the results of the x-rays, my wrist was indeed broken and I would need two small pins. When I asked if this meant that I would need surgery, the doctor shrugged his shoulders and said, hummmm a little surgery. I was verging on the edge of a nervous breakdown by this point and broke down into silent but obvious big puppy dog tears. I was going to have surgery for the first time in my life in Hanoi, Vietnam, in the morning because of my ice cream. Breaking my wrist at this moment was like shattering a kid’s favorite toy in front of them. Next Ross was asked to pay for everything upfront before they would give us a room for the night: the estimated damage came out to just over 60,000,000 Dong, the rough equivalent of $2,800 USD. It turns out my casual Crock wearing doctor had 28 yeas of experience as an orthopedic surgeon and was only in Vietnam to teach for three months, I could not have been luckier (given the circumstances).



After we checked into our room, which was very nice and I got hooked up to an IV, we had to do something that I was absolutely dreading, almost more than surgery, we had to call my parents. We decided that FaceTiming would be the best idea as not to alarm them too much so we set up the video chat so that it was not obvious that we were in a hospital room. When my mom picked up the phone, she was beyond excited to chat to us because in just under a week, we were planning on meeting up with them in Japan. We asked if Dad was there too and probably due to our nerves Mom must have thought we were getting engaged because she grinned at us and smiled as she went to get him. Once dad was on the screen as well, Ross’ tripod (aka his knee) for the phone moved and the IV pole came into frame. Mom, not one to miss a beat looked at us and asked if we were in the hospital. Our cover was blown. Following the conversation with my parents (who were surprisingly calm about everything – I thought Mom was going to fly out right then and there to be with us) came one of the scariest parts of the whole day. I met my anesthesiologist and he didn’t know what penicillin was. I had taken a test before our trip for this exact scenario and the doctor had proved that I was not allergic to it but just in case, I thought I would keep it in my chart. Finally when we spelled out that word, he said, “oh penicillin,” Ross and I joked later (much later) that it was just that small drug that took us out of the medical dark ages!

After a Valium drip induced sleep (with little sleeping) it was time to roll me into the OR. Before surgery, I was asked to rub betadine all over myself and as Ross helped me get undressed, I began to notice that not only my arm hurt, but also my butt, it turns out that my arm was not that only thing to take the blow of my body weight (which was a lot less since Asia) in my fall. A bruise the size of a small watermelon had developed on my booty. Once clean, Ross got to come as far as the OR doors with me. Like a small child who’s parents had just left on a trip, I cried silently as I said goodbye to Ross and counted the stained ceiling tiles above my bed. All of the nurses kept asking me in French and in English to calm down and that everything would be fine. When that didn’t work, they strapped on an oxygen mask and told me to breath deeply – after being in Bangkok for so long, I knew it was not just oxygen but laughing gas which gave me a small chuckle to myself. To me, just a second later but to Ross, over two and a half hours later I awoke in the recovery room and asked if Ross had been notified that I was ok; most of the nurses ignored me while one was sweet and said that he had been told. I found out later that he had not. About a half an hour later I was wheeled back into our room and a couple hours later (after declining another night in the hospital), we made our way back to the hostel.

After many talks with both of our parents we decided that my health and arm were both more important than continuing the trip and making it to Japan. We spent the next couple of days napping and hanging out in our room (retrospectively enjoying some much needed downtime) and discovered that Vietnam has quite possibly the best Dominos delivery pizza. Not wanting to completely give up on the idea of our fancy dinner, we made reservations for Duong’s Restaurant, the fancy restaurant in Hanoi that served seven courses for $15 USD and Ross helped me slide my only “relatively fancy” dress on over my sling and cast. It went above any expectation we could have ever had for it. Not only did we have our own server but each course was more devious than the last. We both agreed that if I hadn’t broken myself, that the day at the water park paired with Doung’s would have been one of the best days of the trip so far. The next morning, we woke early and headed for the airport, this time I got my own chaffier in the form of a wheelchair driver who took us to our gate.

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