Eye Saga Act II: The American patient

Trip Start Oct 30, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
River House guesthouse

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

December 01, 2007Day 11 with Bacterial Conjunctivitis and my condition is getting worse. My left eye is covered with gooey film and my sight is the worse it's ever been. I start the day by going to my eye doctor and she suggests that I should be admitted to the local hospital. I go back to my guest house, pack my stuff and head to "Poo's Restaurant" where I've been hanging out a lot this past week. The owners, Poo and Luc, have become friends, so I ask them for their advice. I question whether I should go to the local government hospital or maybe head to a private hospital in Bangkok. Turns out that my current eye doctor, who will also be my doctor at the local hospital, has an excellent reputation, so I decide to stay in Sukhothai.

Luc drives me to the hospital on his motorbike and helps me with the check-in process. It feels good to have him around. This is a government hospital and any Thai citizen can be admitted here for only 30 baht (less than $1) a day. Your bed, however, will be in a giant room with at least 30 other patients and only a couple feet between the beds. The farang (me), however, is admitted to a private room with a private bath and a balcony for about 1,500 baht ($50) a day. This will include the room, the care, and all the medications. A bargain!
The two nurses in charge of my care are Nok and Eeu. They giggle a lot as they struggle to communicate with me in broken English. They ask me to put my clothes in the cupboard and give me light blue hospital pajamas. The room is clean and sunny and I decide to focus on enjoying the experience no matter what. My nurses inquire about my marital status (it's always the second to fourth question I'm asked here, either by women, or men who have a woman they want to introduce to me). An American husband is a dream come true here in Thailand and their faces light up when I say that I am not married. I can't wait to show them Sean's picture when I check out.
Throughout my adult life I told my doctors that I was allergic to Penicillin. My eye doctor here tells me that since I did not respond well to the last antibiotic the only other treatment she'd recommend is Penicillin. I tell her that I'm not 100% sure about being allergic. My mother told me I was allergic when I was 18. She did, however, have eight children and past experience taught me that she confuses us frequently ("I made this dish especially for you. It is your favorite!", "No mom, it's not MY favorite. It's my brother's favorite"). We decide to do a test to find out for sure and I'm thrilled to see that I'm not allergic after all. I wonder which of my brothers is allergic to Penicillin and does not know it. The treatment is an eye patch, eye drops on the hour, antibiotics and a bunch of other anti-itching pills. I have not taken any Western medicine in years now and in the past I've done anything possible to avoid them. Right now, however, I gladly swallow.

Dinner comes twice. First is the one provided by the hospital. The second dinner is provided by Luc from his restaurant. He does not want to be paid. We have a lovely conversation and I am very grateful for his kindness and generosity. While I'm not experiencing any loneliness being here, as I enjoy spending time alone and thinking, it is very sweet to have his company.

December 2ndEye still getting worse under patch. Hourly eye service begins at 6AM. Breakfast is served around 7AM, lunch around noon, dinner at 5:30 pm. I spend most of the time in bed practicing Sukasana (simple cross legged seat, a yoga asana). I'm having difficulties with balancing in my standing yoga practice. Knowing that body and mind mirror each other I wonder if there's uneasiness in my mind. I inquire inside and find calmness, almost numbness. I wonder if it is the pills I'm taking. Then I remember that balancing with closed eyes has always been difficult for me. Now, with no sight in one eye, I guess it is like practicing with one closed eye. I venture outside my room and wander around the hospital. It is pleasant here. Lots of open spaces and gardens. Lily ponds, lawns, shade.

December 3rdSlight improvement and eye patch is removed. Vision is still blurry , as before, so I do some more seated yoga asanas and more walking around the hospital. Bought myself a pack of cigarettes and resumed an old hobby. Yes, I know it is "bad for me" but I do it anyway. In the evening Luc and Poo come to visit. Then the owners of my guest house, Nan and Jacques, stop for a visit. I'm not alone here.

December 4thDays pass by and no improvement is visible. My initial excitement for this new experience is beginning to fade. My intention to stay calm and relaxed is tested as days pass by and my condition remains the same. I'm tired of not being able to see. At first I don't realize it, as I maintain a relaxed and calm facade to the nurses, but when I talk to Sean I find myself complaining and worried about the lack of progress in my condition.

"Can you stay calm in surrendering to the unknown?" my friend Sharone asked me when I shared my frustrations with her over the phone. I would have liked to, I think. And in a way I'm disappointed that I got so anxious and worried about "my condition" after only two days in the hospital. I thought this entire trip was about embracing the unknown with love and acceptance. The journey, it seems, has only just begun.

I'm taken for an eye exam. Earlier today I talked with my friend Keren who is a doctor and she provided me with a clearer understanding of my condition and what kind of questions to ask my doctor. The exam takes place in a small room with a long line of chairs. All chairs are occupied by Thai people with various eye injuries. At the far end of the row of chairs is the examining equipment and the doctor. Each patient is diagnosed for a few minutes and then leaves the room. When its my turn, however, the doctor takes about 30 minutes. Even though it looks like very little improvement took place, she claims the condition is much better and that I'm ready to resume my traveling. "Go complete your recovery on the islands", she suggests, "just make sure to wear sunglasses in the sun and goggles in the water". I'm thrilled and head back to my room to pack.

I take the late bus to Bangkok and from there take an early morning bus-plus-ferry-combo to Koh Chang to meet Sabrina. I'm armed with eye drops, penicillin, eye ointment, and sunglasses. It will take about two more weeks for the eye to completely heal and the eyelid to recover to its original place. While this completely delayed my plans it turned out to be the best blessing of all, as these two weeks in Koh Chang have turned out to be the best in my life so far.
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