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Wednesday, 01 May 2019

How They Patched Up My Head in Luang Prabang, Laos - Page 3

Written by Paul Michelson
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As I lay there, I noticed a series of charts on the opposite wall that spelled out step by step how to administer an x-ray. It looked like an on-the-job refresher course for someone who might be shaky on the details. X-rays, I gathered, were not as routine in Laos as in the U.S.

The nurse finished stitching, and she and the doctor helped me over to the desk. I was to leave the stitches in for ten days and avoid exercise and washing my hair during that time.

Mardena and I thanked everyone profusely. I had no idea how my ribs and wrist were, but I deeply appreciated how quickly they’d got to me and patched up my head.

A young woman assistant in jeans and a smock appeared and ushered Mardena and me out into a dim hallway and down to a reception window. We waited a few minutes while the window receptionist disappeared. When she came back she handed our assistant, who spoke a little English, two vials of pills and an invoice. I was told to take the pills for ten days until they were gone.

The assistant handed me the hand-written invoice: 240,000 Lao kip, about 30 U.S. dollars. Was I reading it right? I wondered. “For everything?” I asked, spreading my arms to indicate my surprise. She nodded. She looked a little sheepish.

I was pleased, but inwardly I was shaking my head. It was no secret that Laos was poor and that health care in the U.S. was miles beyond exorbitant, but still, the inequality of it all—the negligible cost of the treatment and medicine, the absence of fancy medical equipment (the electric razor was the closest thing to high-tech I’d seen), the careful, quiet efficiency of the nurses and doctor, and the likelihood that none of them got paid much—seemed pitifully unjust.

Mardena and I walked out into the huge, dimly lit parking lot to wait for a tuk tuk. “You look like you have a cigarette on your head,” Mardena chuckled as we stood there. She took a mirror out of her purse. Sure enough, the tightly rolled gauze cylinder on my head looked like one of those candy cigarettes I used to buy as a kid.

Back at our guesthouse we talked about continuing our travels or cutting them short. I resisted awhile but finally gave in. I knew if there was some sort of delayed reaction to my head wound we’d be no more able to communicate with the medical people in Phnom Penh than we were here. We flew back to California the next morning.

I spent a good portion of the next couple weeks contriving how to hide that cigarette whenever I went out. Finally, ten days after we got back, I went to my doctor to have the stitches taken out. “I’ve never seen it done like this,” he said as he unlaced the stitches. “But it works.”

A year later, my wrist, ribs, and head are fine. Sure, I’d probably have felt more secure if they’d taken a couple x-rays back then, but my own doctor didn’t think they were necessary, either. As for the low-tech, high quality work those nurses did? I have nothing but admiration for that.


©Paul Michelson





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Last modified on Wednesday, 01 May 2019

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