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     This is what I submitted to the publisher. I think it sounds more like me, but that is probably why it had to be "polished"!
     I still prefer my title.

A Minor Operation in Vietnam

      Seven of us, three solo travelers and two couples, got together at the hub of backpacker's Saigon, the Prince Hotel, to rent a van. We had eight days with an itinerary of our choice until we were far up the coast in Hue, guide and driver included. It wasn't long before we began to gel as a group, the initial bond being our common disgust of our guide. "Guide", we quickly realized, was a much too charitable description of his function. While our driver seemed to know a girl in every town at which we stopped, our worthless guide seemed to be capable only of getting drunk and being a malcontent. When we ran into other travelers and they excitedly asked if we had seen a particular sight, our standard response was: "Don't ask us; we have a guide."

      In the provincial capital of Nha Trang we spent some extra money on a boat trip, so our guide took us to an ugly island with an ugly beach where we ate some little fishes for lunch while he got drunk.



Dr. Hoa
Trying to make the most of it, we took one last swim before it was time to head back. We were all frolicking in the cool water when Anniken, an athletic teenage Norwegian, tried to jump on my back. Normally I welcome athletic teenage Norwegians on my back, but with her weight on me I was pushed down to the ocean floor and on to some sea urchins. Their needles shot up into my feet, ending the frolicking. I contracted into the fetal position, but I managed to dog-paddle to shore and walrus myself on the pebbly beach. While sandflies swirled around me, Mike and Marie examined my foot. I was fortunate that these Brits were anaesthetist and nurse, respectively. Although the initial pain had subsided it was determined that I had to get the needles out for fear of infection. I had ten in one foot and three on the other. Mike tried pulling at one with tweezers and I tried with my fingernails, but it wasn't working. I resigned myself to a hospital visit. Mike and Swedish Ola decided that they couldn't miss this spectacle, so they helped me along.

      Apparently no one outside the hospital was preoccupied enough to ignore the sight of a Westerner wearing a huge, pink, happy face t-shirt gingerly ambling along with his entourage; therefore it was under hundreds of eyes we went in to find seats and to wait. Our guide eventually appeared and wobbled to the back of the room, hoping we'd forget about him. Dr. Hoa entered and sat at a desk. I swallowed. He looked like a kid, tall and gangly, but totally expressionless. Steadily and stone-faced, he said, "Please tell me what I should do for you." he followed this up with some unintelligible gibberish that our guide, unable to emerge from his brandy cloud, didn't bother to try and translate. I could see this was going to be an ordeal.

      The doctor finally said from behind his desk and without looking at my feet--if he even knew my feet were the problem--"You need minor operation". That last word wasn't softened by the previous word, but nevertheless we trudged down to the operating room. Operating room, like guide, proved to be a misnomer. It was unenclosed with a cement floor and had a sad, metal operating table with rusting legs. Next to it was a small table and a lamp. The bottom half of the walls were bright green, the top blue, and all of it was peeling. To ensure maximum bleakness, the windows were painted over in green.

      There was some animated discussion about what should be done as we struggled to understand Dr. Hoa's English and soon the ordeal metamorphisized into farce. Mike asked how he was going to take the needles out and the inimitable doctor seriously replied, "With medical instruments." Oh. While we were waiting for these "medical instruments" to be sterilized we had a chat with the doctor. I immediately stuck my foot in my mouth when I asked if Ola could take a photo of us because I'd never seen a doctor wear rubber sandals. He agreed but added that he wore sandals because he was poor. I felt nauseous, it was such a stupid thing for me to say. Somehow I got out of this abyss as Mike distracted him with questions about Vietnamese medical training and he even got him smiling over some remark.

The inimitably laconic doctor had
me in stitches--no pun intended.
      I was still a little unsure if I really needed this "minor operation", but Mike thought it would be OK and the alternative, waiting, might bring infection. And hey! For me, they'd go out of their way and use medical instruments. (Was farm machinery an option?) How could I pass that up?

      Zero hour came and they laid me on my stomach on the cold table. An incredibly evil nurse, I'd soon learn, started putting alcohol on the wound with a used yellow and red cotton ball. She then moved a light and it went out. We all turned to the outlet. Instead of a plug there were two open wires. Ola, an electrician, cringed as she took one of the wires and tried to push it through the outlet hole to make it stay. I thought it was funny at the time but Ola later told me if she grabbed the hot wire, put it in the hole and touched me on the metal table, we could have both been shocked.

      I wanted to avoid any injections, so instead of novocaine they decided to use some kind of fluid that numbs the wound and feels like ice. However, it wears off after a short while and they have to reapply it. The nurse was to do the work while the doctor supervised. The doctor came over to my end of the table so I could see him. He leaned over nearer to my head and again with this absolute poker face said slowly, the English trickling out, "Call me when you have pain." I assured him I'd call him all kinds of things he's never before heard when I had pain.

      The nurse put on some of this numbing fluid and began the incisions. I believe the idea was to cut a little around the dark spots, the embedded needles, to get at the tips and then pull them out. However, not much time would pass before the magic fluid wore off. "Pain!" I'd yell, and the doctor would dutifully pass on my message to the nurse. This worked for maybe two repetitions, but then the pair became oblivious and ignored me. I had to have Mike tell the doctor to tell the nurse to stop and put more fluid on. For some reason this was funny to me. In fact, the whole time I was either laughing or yelling.

      By this time they'd sent away our useless guide and would-be translator because he was being obnoxious and smelled like a distillery. I was developing deep feelings of vindictiveness each time this nurse kept digging away in spite of my yelling. She was in her own world, impervious to any audio from me. Several times I shrieked, "Pain! Pain!" and the nurse would continue knifing away like she's paid per cut. The doctor, engrossed in her work, eventually came around to me to say, "Ah, I know. You're calling me in pain," and then the nurse would begrudgingly apply more fluid. (At one point Mike asked if Vietnamese patients were as loud as me. The doctor said that Vietnamese yell much louder. Emboldened by this--anything to try and get the nurse to respond--I raised it an octave.)

      The nurse began to put the fluid on one spot and cut on another, sending me through the roof. I was writhing on the table, convulsing in excruciating pain, but my ranting, "PAIN!! PAIN!!" went unheeded several times until Mike felt compelled to intervene and show her where to put the fluid. Dr. Hoa thought to come by. "You're calling me in pain," he confirmed. "YES! I'm calling you in pain! Stop that witch!" I was expending so much energy, tightening my body, clenching my fists--but then I look up and stultifying my rage is this solemn, innocent face.

      At another time the doctor came over again, showed a smile and with raised eyebrows said in his even slowness, "I think you are in terrible pain." I spared him some choice words, I couldn't help but laugh--until the butcher began again. She was unstoppable. Ultimately, we decided to forego the fluid and resort to novocaine injections for the remaining needles. As this was being prepared, we suddenly noticed four scruffy guys with ragged clothes--cyclo drivers, I'd thought, standing in a row, silently enjoying this free theater. Mike asked who they were and the doctor, eternally undisturbed, looked over and said, "They're patients." Was it a stupid question? Is observing agony a Vietnamese right? I couldn't handle it and they were ushered out, not that they were any less sterile than the room. The novocaine had to be injected next to each place to be worked on. They did a practice jab on my arm to see if I had a bad reaction. Dr. Hoa said, "Now you have AIDS." Yeah, very funny, Doc.

      The novocaine injections were the worst, resulting in pure, unbridled screaming. It was quicker, though, and near the end the doctor came over one last time to this sweaty, palpitating mass I'd become, let out a little smile and said slowly, "I think....this is impressive experience for you."

Hue, a few days later
Hanoi, a week later

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