I was released from a Bangkok hospital yesterday, 11 days after what had started as a disturbing but not overblown incident in Vientiane, that wound up swelling to enormous proportions involving general anaesthetic and something the insurance companies like to call “medical evacuation.”
I woke up Tuesday, April 4th, with a strange swelling on the trunk of my penis. It wasn’t very large, the swelling, I mean, in the sense that it wasn’t the size of a baseball or anything. But it might as well have been, considering it was on a part of my dick that generally stretches north, instead of west.
When parts of your body that you’re particularly protective of have bad things happen to them, you tend to get a bit panicky. I’d never had a sexually transmitted disease, although the fear that somehow I’d mysteriously contracted one, despite always being safe if not entirely monogamous, suddenly burned through my head.
Just for the record, the FMA and I have not cheated on each other, you gossiping grannies. The fear of having an STD sometimes can far outweigh the reality of not having one. The swollen area was painful to the touch, but not crippling so; I decided to see how the day went and if it got worse, I’d go to the doctor.
It got worse. Good grief, did it get worse.
So we went to the doctor recommended in the guidebook, at the Australian Embassy Medical Clinic. It turns out I was very lucky to have the FMA with me, since they’ll only see people from Australia or other Commonwealth countries. Dr. Ben Burford was a bit horrified, which wasn’t very comforting. The last phrase you ever want to hear from any doctor is, “I’ve never seen that before.” The only thing worse than hearing that phrase once, is hearing twice.
In the first 10 minutes I was in the examination room, I heard that three times. I nearly smacked him for the last one. I got the point: my putz was fucked.
He suspected some kind of bug bite received either in the shower the previous evening or, more likely, afterwards while I was sleeping. Burford advised strongly against sleeping in the nude ever again in Southeast Asia, and prescribed oral antihistamines and steroids.
The next day, the swelling had gone down a bit. He was happy with the progress, if still horrified, and I was still worried. If it didn’t get better fast, he said, he’d send me down to Bangkok for treatment.
By Thursday night, whatever improvement the medication had affected had worn off. Friday morning came and the FMA and I went to the Chinese Embassy, since that’s where we’d taken our passports on Tuesday to get visas. We both knew that there was a strong chance the day would end in Bangkok. Interestingly enough, the Chinese visa is the same cost for 30 days as it is for 60, so we had gotten a 60-day visa, good as long as we entered China within the next three months. It was a comforting thought that if I could get healed in Bangkok, the effort to get the Chinese visa wouldn’t be wasted.
We went straight from there to the Australian Embassy and its clinic, and Burford didn’t stand around, sputtering about once I got into the exam room. He took one look at the thing on my Thing and said, “It’s time to go.”
He notified the insurance company that he was approving a medical evacuation to Bangkok’s Bumrungrad Hospital, and then one of his secretaries kindly arranged for plane tickets that afternoon from Vientiane to Bangkok. Technically, I think, it’s called a “self-evacuation,” which sounded scarier than it was. I simply get myself onto a commercial flight to the city the hospita is in, as opposed to a chartered medical flight or getting shipped in a box or something. The flight was at 4:30, and before eight that evening I was in the Bumrungrad emergency room.
On the one hand, I was extremely glad that I was being sent somewhere that I could get this scary alien thing growing on my penis taken care of and obliterated. On the other, and as preposterous as this sounds, I was really pissed off about this trip ending. It was a no-brainer and yet a tough decision to temporarily abort the trip, like being stuck between a cock and a hard place.
It’s a strange feeling, to be so worried about something as logically mundane as travel, when something far more serious was going on. As the taxi wove its way through the stop-and-go Friday night freeway traffic, though, I was far more concerned about resuming the trip than I was about my johnson. Does that make me a putz?
All that changed by Saturday afternoon, as I was wheeled into the operating room. One nurse asked me if I wanted a local, regional or general anaesthetic. She didn’t have the best English-speaking ability, but all it took was one raised eyebrow to communicate: “You’re sticking a scalpel into my penis, fer Chrissakes! What the heck do you think?!” A few minutes later, staring at the bright lights and the bright ceiling, I saw a gas mask descend towards my face.
The next thing I remember was an incredible burning pain in what had been my unnaturally-swollen nether region. I gingerly lifted up the sheet covering me, worried that they’d mistaken me for one of the many pre-operation transsexual patients in Bangkok and had cut off a lot more than they’d should’ve. Those fears shrank to nothingness as I saw what looked like a massive plastic tube sticking out of a short, thick white wrapping of gauze, gone yellow with iodine, where my dick once was.
As my head – the uninjured one, folks – cleared of the anaesthetic, the pain grew sharper and the fumbling jumble of words spilling from my mouth grew clearer, at least to me. A nurse came over several times before she realized I was trying to get her to take the catheter out out out. For the next 30 hours or so, any kind of urination was obscenely painful, enough to force me to hold on to the wall with one hand.
I like to think of myself as a modern guy, with modern-guy sensibilities. Tolerance towards body alterations is simply part of growing up in a city. If you don’t know someone these days who’s had a tattoo or a piercing, or even artistic scarification, you’re just not the hip dude you thought you were. Us young and wild kids’ll do anything for self-expression. Heck, some of my friends had gotten penile piercings in various places.
But even back then, I had no idea how they could manage the discomfort. This experience hasn’t made it any clearer.
By Monday the 10th I was able to walk around the room without too much pain, and they took me off the saline drip. On Tuesday they removed the drains they had placed in the sub-cutaneous skin of my penis, two pieces of some kind of surgical plastic or some thing to keep the incisions open as the fluid causing the unnatural swelling dripped out of my body and into the gauze blanketting the area.
By Thursday they’d taken me off intravenous antibiotics, and the doctor hadn’t discharged me only to make sure that I could walk about without pain. Overall, the week was an utter bore, filled with crappy TV and crappy movies, and feeble attempts to read, write and otherwise distract myself.
The insurance company provided some distraction, in the rage-seizure-inducing way that insurance companies always entertain the insured. At one point, we were shown a fax by the hospital administrators saying that we weren’t allowed to be in a private room; only semi-private was covered. After two calls, one involving angry yelling, the other calm raciocination, the insurance company swore that the info sheet was meant only for the hospital, not for me to see. It seemed that it actually was okay that the FMA was sleeping on the couch in the room, saving them the cost of a hotel. They just forgot, or something.
And towards the end of the week, my insurers provided quite a few panic attacks as they debated what they were going to pay for, and how much to allot for per diem expenses, and the whole ridiculous charade that these people insist on going through as they take your money with a smile. I don’t regret having gotten the insurance, though: US$550 for the year covered pretty much any kind of accident I could get into, including this one, which will probably come close to US$3000 when all is said and done.
The early-morning doses of pethadine, the secret identity of Demerol, did make things a lot of sleepy fun. Apparently, I kept needing the painkiller in the morning because my erections were straining the skin around the wound area. The doctor chuckled as he told me this, and said it was a good sign.
I kept my mouth shut. A good sign would be not having four additional holes in my dick. A good sign would be not having to wrap my shlong in gauze before leaving the house, like a snake with a broken jaw. A good sign would be drinking sweet Laos coffee by the gallon in some random small village north of Luang Prabang, not choosing between CNN’s news re-runs or the Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper.”
There’s a little voice in the back of my head saying, “All will be well. You must be feeling better if you’re out of the hospital, walking around and fuming at suffering from trippus interruptus yet again.”
I’m quite glad to be on the mend, out of the hospital, swollen things swelling where and when they should be swelling, and generally functioning as normally as could be expected. Leaving the hospital today was like being born again, seeing daylight unfiltered by thick glass for the first time in 11 days. It’s an appropriate analogy, I suppose, seeing as how the whole experience was like having a second circumcision.
I can’t believe that all that happened to me, and I’m damn lucky that there was no tissue damaged, either. I should be able to continue travelling after my follow-up appointment this Friday, all healing as it should.
Still, the dicking rifuckulousness of it all is hard to swallow.