Emergency Surgery in Vietnam

I will always remember my Vietnamese adventure three years ago, I had left England a few weeks before in search of a new life and was stopped dead in my tracks.  Let’s start with my first thoughts on landing in Hanoi, the city was very busy and the roads were chaos. The streets were hot and dirty, people laid on the ground selling their wares and scooters blocked every walkway. The most unnerving part of it all was the shameless stares from locals, being very tall for a female and having light blonde hair, I found children giggling and even the odd attempt to touch me as I tried to explore the city.


It was my first day as a backpacker in Hanoi and I had started to feel slightly unwell as if I was coming down with a kidney infection. Having had several before so was no stranger to the symptoms, so had decided to head to the pharmacy. Upon googling what they had given me I found, to my horror, that one medication had a side effect that caused internal bleeding in cats and the other could cause kidney failure (thanks, Google!). By the morning I was on the floor screaming in agony and throwing up continuously, sheer panic had washed over me and I prayed it was just food poisoning. By lunch (and despite the thoughtful offers of Band-Aids from the hotel staff) I was only getting worse so called a cab to the nearest hospital.


The thought of even being in a Vietnamese hospital was making me feel awful and what followed was only going to be worse. After some scans, I was advised that I would need emergency surgery immediately or I could risk losing my kidney as a stone had become lodged and was making my kidney swell. I thought that this was it, my life was over- I would die in this hospital in Vietnam.  They needed $6000 up front to operate and I only had half of that. I was in agony and did not have time to call my parents or friends before I was prepped for surgery. The hospital, as a last resort, confiscated my passport until the money was paid up otherwise my kidney was going to rupture and I would lose it. Luckily I had travel insurance for the first time in my life although they were not prepared to help until afterwards and only covered half.

The experience was horrific, I had to climb onto the operating table myself, completely naked. There was an unconscious patient next to who they had just finished operating on and when I laid down I could see missing tiles in the ceiling above me. My anaesthetist who looked like a teenager giggled at my naked body and I felt so exposed. Upon waking I was still naked and covered in large mosquito bites.



The person I was travelling with was more interested in sightseeing and I could not believe the lack of compassion from another human being.  I was, however, lucky to have met the amazing staff at my hotel who were really supportive, they even made me a get well card and bought me flowers. A week later I had my stent removed which was another terrifying experience and then I flew to Borneo, twice the woman I was when I landed in Vietnam.
My experience in Vietnam made me stronger and a more independent person, I continued to travel afterwards only returning home to England for a visit a year and a half later. The experience has gotten me through a lot of tough times and I always pull on the tremendous strength that I found to carry on. I have some scarring on my kidneys from the surgery and I get pains from time to time but apart from that everything went well. I have not really shared my story with people as I used to be ashamed of what happened especially because of the person I travelled with but I would love to inspire others and remind you that you can find the strength to carry on in your darkest hour and that nothing should stop you from following your dreams.
I would love to hear about your experiences that have made you a stronger person!

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