Stranger than Fiction

April 21, 2011 - Ha Noi, Vietnam


I've had the run of the Infectious Diseases block in my last week (the B'ham students have moved on to the ED), and I've been getting stacks of teaching. The nice thing about having been on the ward for almost a week now is to see some of the patients get better and leave (yes, they do recover). On my way to visit the Stephen-Johnsons patient, I was passed on the stairs by the Penicilliosis man, on his way home, munching on a chunk of sugar cane which he waved cheerily at me. The S-J man was sitting up in bed, completely alert when before he had been barely conscious, and smiling, his skin now a new pink and not raw red. One of the doctors excitedly took me to see an 18-year old with swollen testicles from the mumps, and I was quite relieved when the boy told him it had all gone down and there was no need to gawp at it. There is an outbreak of Rubella at the moment in the city, and some of the in-patients are now being treated for rubella having been admitted with something else... I visited the Paeds ward, and the situation is very similar, lots of sick babies in the same beds (even neonates are mixed in with toddlers). A tiny baby admitted with pneumonia now has rubella too. I don't think I can really do justice to describing how cramped conditions are, even in the largest hospital in North Central Vietnam.

I realise now that I haven't said much about the madhouse which has been my home for the last 4 weeks, so I thought I should catalogue a few of the stories we've collected... Apart from the manager, who is a good sort of chap, relatively honest, the other young men who work there (clearly his mates who were employed as a favour) really are a motley bunch of weirdos. My next door neighbour has complained about the one we have labelled the "sex pest", who mooches about looking half stoned and giggles unnervingly whenever you ask him questions. He asked her if she wanted "birth" the other day (she's too scared to leave her room when she's here alone now), and once she caught him watching pornography in the lobby. In full view of the street. Odd. Very odd.

One night, lying in bed, I was awoken by the sound of someone trying the doorknobs all along the corridors of the hotel, looking for an unlocked door. Scary stuff. I imagine they were trying to find unlocked doors! I was grateful I'd wired up a security system using tape and my rape alarm. Paranoid? Perhaps. Safe? Hell yes. Today I found a bag of dried leaves in the back of my cupboard. I sniffed it and it doesn't smell of anything funky, so it may just be a bag of tea leaves. I've left it out on the stairs, just in case there is a random police raid on the building and it is in fact not "just tea leaves". Not to mention the disappearance of some of my clothes from my dirty laundry... Before I scare the life out of my parents, I should say that I have never felt in any danger, despite the above, and I've had a good laugh about with the other medics staying there.

We were invited to the English Club by the Vietnamese medical students on Monday night. Their energy was infectious; they were so overjoyed to speak to native English speakers and would ask us questions in a stream, not even pausing for breath, or even, sometimes, an answer. One guy almost swallowed his own tongue with excitement when he discovered which University I was from- he couldn't get his questions out fast enough- I was told that my uni is very famous out here! The club was run by an extroverted 21 year old who held court from his seat, gesturing grandly as he dished out criticism of his fellow students' grammar and accents... He obviously thought very highly of himself, and his own English. The icing on the cake came right at the end. By this point I was getting hungry and I'd drifted off a bit whilst their Leader gave some sort of speech, but my ears did catch "burbleburbleburblesongburble burbleburble I Had a Dream burbleburble" and then, to my utter amazement, he started to sing. And I mean not the first line. No. It was the whole 4 minutes of "I Had a Dream" by Abba. And in an earnest, eyes closed, arms outstretched in angelic pose, sort of way. I couldn't quite believe it; I caught the eye of Jen across the way, then of Emma, Harry, Jamie and Liam in turn, who all had the same expression of amazed disbelief and amusement. I'm afraid I can't quite convey how wacky this whole evening had been. Nice, but wacky.

Today is my last day in Hanoi. I'm sad to be leaving (despite the weird hoteliers), since I've grown accustomed to the crowded streets and noisy, polluted air (although I've started to wheeze like an 80-year old smoker), and of course I'm going to miss the fabulous food. Oh the food. I'm also going to miss my new medic friends; Birmingham isn't too far away from Bristol. Dan has arrived from the UK; I think he's had a bit of a shock, poor thing, I'm looking forward to taking him to Hoi-An, which I suspect may be more up his street!




1 Comment

April 22, 2011
What great & wonderful experiences! Have fun!
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