Barbeque and Blood Work: My Adventure through the Cambodian Healthcare System

posted by Maura Friedman

It’s been a few hours since the nurse tightened her strap around my arm, slipped a needle into a vein on the top of my hand and I first felt the cold medicine seep through each of my individual fingers. It’s only been half a second since the last drip of my IV. “Plink. Plink. Pause. Plink. Plink. Plink. Pause. Plink. Plink.” This has been the beat to my morning and it was the beat of my yesterday too.

I’m in the Royal Angkor International Hospital because I have a parasite. More specifically, I’m in the hospital because the parasite medicine the doctors here doled out had me so dizzy I couldn’t sit up. Appropriately, this episode of “When Bad Things Happen to Stupid People” is so jam-packed it may as well be the season finale. But I know it’s not because I’m still traveling.

To qualify, my guide is the person who recommended the restaurant that made me sick to our group and all the Cambodian employees here at the Bed and Breakfast love that specific place to eat. We wanted a really authentic Khmer barbeque experience and were told that, with no other tourists at the restaurant, that’s exactly what we’d get. Meagan and I mainly pushed to go there.

Ready for adventure, our entire group piled into tuk-tuks that took us in the opposite direction of town to an open-air building that glowed under strung lights. Our group shuffled towards it together in the kind of coagulated form a gathering takes when each individual wants someone else to go first.

My stomach is literally turning as I write this, but that may just be another side effect of this medicine. Authentic Khmer Barbeque consists of rows of meats (many of which come from inside the animal), vegetables, and noodles, all of which you cook yourself on a sort of perforated metal dome that is placed over hot coals. A slab of lard goes at the top of this dome, presumably to aid and flavor the cooking. There’s also a place for water to rest above the coals where the noodles and vegetables are cooked. Sauces are also available to garnish the food. All this is laid out buffet style in un-refrigerated rows. You could start lecturing me here, but, at this point, it’s too late to save my stomach.

Our group figured out all of this through trial and error, by watching other patrons and through the example of one waiter who took pity on our ignorant souls and tried to give us a wordless demo. There were no actual instructions because we don’t speak Khmer and, aside from “chicken” and “beef” (which the waiter used in pointing to only two plates of raw meat that sat among many, many more), no one spoke any English. And yet, we persisted.

The Khmer barbeque restaurant really was an interesting and fun cultural experience but my weak American stomach just could not handle it. Only two of us got sick: ironically, Megan and I, the two who’d been most insistent on the restaurant choice. We laid in bed for the next day and a half writhing with stomach cramps, nausea, and other symptoms too indelicate to describe before we went to the hospital. Nurses in tailored white skirts and jackets with matching high heels took our blood pressures as Megan and I tried to remain calm on identical hospital beds next to one another. Blood tests came next, then a visit from the ER doctor. Both confirmed a parasite.

Because Megan’s symptoms consistently plagued her about eight hours before mine set in, she was in far worse shape than I and had to stay overnight. I was released, but we were both given the same antibiotics and ended up on bed rest for the next few days while the side effects of the medicine set in. All we did for those days was sleep and watch hopelessly old CSI episodes. We were too dizzy to walk and had absolutely no appetite to eat.

Megan began to make progress. I began to get worse. Because it’s pretty hard to convince your professor that medical attention is unnecessary when you can’t sit up in bed and you have a hard time remembering your mother’s phone number, I ended up, once again, in the hospital, this time thanks to the incredibly strong side effects of the medicine I was taking to combat the parasite. This scenario was problematic. If any of you have ever had an antibiotic, I’m sure you can attest to the fact that general medical protocol is to finish the medication in full to make sure your ailment is completely flushed out. I had two days left of this particularly evil medication to go.

My doctor wasn’t messing around this time. He admitted me for two nights in the hospital to ensure constant IV fluids and steady supervision. I received the rest of my antibiotics via IV as well, mixed with a cocktail of pain and anti-nausea medicines. My healing was slow, painful, and not aided by the consistent knowledge that I would only truly recover once the antibiotic was completely out of my system.

My ever-present language barrier consistently compounded these frustrations. The staff was kind and helpful and did speak English, but it was often confusing trying to understand one another. When I told the nurses I was dizzy, they brought medicine for my “headache,” but the Advil really didn’t help me. I still don’t know what happened to my IV that made it leak more of my own blood then I’ve ever seen before. A lot of questioning was required on my part to figure out how I was being treated. A game of medical charades often helped me describe my symptoms.

The facility itself was clean, modern, and I had a private room, but there is only so much bedrest one study abroad student can take. I’m ecstatic at my looming release. Although I spoke as much as possible to friends and family using Google Voice and had plenty of hospital visitors, inevitably most of my time was spent watching National Geographic (I can safely say I know more about the Dog Whisperer, stem cell research, and swamp logging than anyone reading this). A fair amount of the specials playing were actually about Asia and, chained to my bed via IV, I watched those too. The irony of experiencing the region I was currently in through a screen was not lost on me.

Advertisements

1 comment so far

  1. Rachel on

    White Flower Oil (http://embrocation.50webs.com) was introduced to me by my mother. During one of my headaches, she gave me this tiny bottle of oil and told me to massage it on my temples and forehead. Amazingly, it worked! Somehow the oil penetrates into the affected area and relieves the pain.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: