Bangkok Blitz: Bummed Out In Bumrungrad

For the past two weeks I have been having mild chest discomfort. I chalked it up to heartburn or gas and just ignored it. However, it got worse over the past few days in China and led me to be concerned enough to see a doctor.

My travel insurance company sent me to the best hospital in Kunming, Yunnan, China. This is the nearest major city to Tibet; it’s in a relatively poor and undeveloped part of China. Unfortunately, this hospital is a dirty place where a *fist fight* broke out in the lobby in an argument over money. Nobody there spoke any English either, so nobody could help me (my Chinese is far too basic for medical stuff). Basically, I didn’t feel safe even being there, much less being treated there, so I went back to my hotel last night and booked a flight to Bangkok, the nearest place with a developed healthcare system. It was expensive (at $280), but I was worried enough that it was a worthwhile expense.

Today, I went to Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, straight from the airport. It is a world of difference from Kunming. This hospital caters to wealthy people from the Middle East, as does the neighborhood I am in. These are people who expect good service and tasteful style. The lobby is like that of a five star hotel. A concierge brought me water. They said “it’s probably just heartburn, but let’s make sure.” I was immediately seen by one of the top cardiologists in Thailand, who poked and prodded me, ran an EKG and then, wanting to be doubly certain, did a test called a “stress EKG.” This is a machine that took 3 people to run, and basically it made a video of my heart in operation both prior to using a treadmill and afterwards.

The result? My heart is in great condition (although the doctor warned me that I had better pay attention to my eating habits and get more exercise) and my digestive system is *really* pissed off. Too many countries in the past 2 months and too many different bacteria, viruses, and whatever other stuff I’ve introduced into my digestive system has given me a monster case of traveler’s diarrhea and a nasty helping of heartburn to go with it. The heart doctor knew what kind of stomach problems cause what I’m experiencing, so he wrote me a prescription for some medicine that should help.

The entire hospital visit, including more than a hour of a cardiologist’s time and multiple tests, cost $445, approximately 10% of what this would have cost in the US. My insurance will cover this, although it will not cover the travel to Bangkok. So, a happy ending. If anything this is a wake-up call that I must not continue to take my good health for granted.

Moscow Medical Mayhem

I have written before about flying Aeroflot, and how doing so can represent an incredible value versus the competition. This is particularly true traveling between Aeroflot destinations in Europe and Asia. Although Aeroflot codeshares on a number of flights, the best values are on flights where they offer their own service. However, as I have written before, there isn’t much help available along the way if anything goes wrong. You’ll pretty much have to wing it.

Picture of Aeroflot Airbus A319

Aeroflot Airbus A319, my aircraft from Zagreb to Moscow

I flew yesterday on Aeroflot from Zagreb to Beijing, and I’m pleased to report the service is still surprisingly good in economy class. The flight was on a combination of new, modern Airbus A319 and Boeing 777 aircraft. Service on the short-haul segment was similar to other full-service intra-European carriers. The seat pitch was comparable to other airlines and a pretty generous snack was served.

Seat pitch, Aeroflot A319

Seat pitch on the Aeroflot A319 was very reasonable.

Economy class Aeroflot meal.

Aeroflot cold snack, economy class. This was served on a 2 1/2 hour intra-European flight.

Overall, a very nice and pleasant flight and I didn’t have any problems. Those started after I landed in Russia. Shortly after arriving at Sheremetyevo one of my feet began itching like crazy, almost as if I had been bitten by an insect. I finally stopped at a comfortable part of the terminal to have a look, and was shocked to discover a sudden, extremely nasty infection literally eating a hole in the bottom of my foot! That explained the itching. I felt around the wound, squeezed it, and a nasty glop of bloody pus squirted out.


Obviously, I needed to immediately get this looked at, but I was stuck in a Moscow airport with no visa. This could get awfully interesting. I was in Terminal E and followed the signs to a First Aid room, which is adjacent to the capsule hotel and mother’s room (a free quiet room for nursing mothers).

Capsule hotel and mother's room, Sheremetyevo

Sheremetyevo First Aid is theoretically to the left of this door.

Unfortunately, First Aid only exists in theory. There is a sign posted on the door in Russian that includes an emergency contact number, and another sign in both English and Russian says “Pharmacy in terminal D near gate 28.” It looked like the pharmacy was my best bet, so I headed to Terminal D.

I eventually found the pharmacy, but all of the products were labeled in the Russian language and the pharmacist couldn’t speak English. Eventually, almost in desperation, I sat down, pulled off my disgusting and bloody sock, and squirted some more pus out of the wound in my foot. The pharmacist gave me what is quite possibly the iciest, coldest Russian look that ever was. She frowned, said “Antiseptic!” in a deep voice reminiscent of Natasha Fatale, and then immediately sprang into action pulling various stuff out of drawers. $30 worth of gauze and bandages and wrap and some gloopy antibiotic paste later (the prices seemed about 7 times what I’d pay in the US or anywhere in Europe outside of Norway) the pharmacist showed me what to do. First, squeeze the wound until nothing but a little blood and clear fluid was coming out. Next, apply Dettol a few times (which turned the itching into some serious stinging), and let it dry each time. Next, apply the gloopy paste. Finally, cover the whole thing with a bandage, and wrap the bandage in gauze to hold it in place. Through a now-familiar game of International Charades, I understood that I was to repeat the process, changing the bandages, 3 times every 2 hours. After that, it wasn’t clear what I should do, but that would at least get me as far as Beijing.

Somehow, all of this hadn’t killed my growing appetite. I hadn’t had lunch before boarding my flight in Zagreb, so I went to Burger King in Terminal E. In keeping with the inflated prices at the pharmacy, it cost me $21 for a simple meal. Sheremetyevo is definitely one of the most expensive airports in the world.

Burger King, Sheremetyevo Airport

The most expensive Burger King in the world?

Burger King meal pic

This simple meal cost me $21 at Sheremetyevo Airport

Lacking any better ideas, I followed the seemingly-sensible instructions from the Russian pharmacist during my flight to Beijing. Fortunately, they worked! After I landed in Beijing, the infection was basically gone and the wound had scabbed over. Medical emergency averted.