Confessions of a Nomadic Hypochondriac, Part 2
Pain + anxiety + a sexy doctor = My happiest ending in Bangkok.
Pain is a four letter word — Ouch! — that normally sends most hypochondriacs straight to another one: Help!
But once upon a time in Southeast Asia, not this one. Considering that I’m someone who is almost comically vigilant about my health, whose life flashes before my eyes on an almost-daily basis, due to some fleeting ache or twinge, I can’t believe how long it took me to seek medical attention.
This particular in-sickness-and-in-poor-health saga began in Bangkok in September of 2011, weeks before I finally went to the see a doctor for the first time since leaving Buenos Aires that March for, first, Melbourne, Australia, and later, Thailand. Several hours after a grueling workout, I felt a sharp pain in my lower back, site of one of my over-trained muscle groups that day.
By the following afternoon, I was experiencing intermittent periods of agony. That evening, while buying dinner at the shopping center next to Anantara Bangkok Sathorn, the hotel/apartment complex I was calling home, I was certain my legs would give out, and I’d tumble, embarrassingly, to the floor in the middle of the food court.
Instead of getting myself checked out or giving in to my other usual impulse and consulting Google for self-diagnosis, I turned to Facebook to see what advice my friends might have to offer. The general consensus was that I could be suffering from a kidney infection or, worst case scenario (gulp!), kidney stones (double gulp!).
The general consensus was that I could be suffering from a kidney infection or, worst case scenario (gulp!), kidney stones (double gulp!).
“Damn Facebook!” I shouted to no one in particular as I decided that I would take a few days off from it.
At first, a Facebook hiatus and a trip to Malaysia turned out to be exactly what the doctor ordered but didn’t. A few days in Kuala Lumpur — and off Facebook — helped me forget all about my lower back, until an hour of foot reflexology changed everything. After 60 minutes of delicious rubbing, pressing, and squeezing, the man who had been the source of such intense pleasure looked at me and asked, “Do you have gastric problems?”
Cue dramatic silence. I looked at his poker face, searching for a clue in his blank expression. I felt like the next of kin facing one of those all-purpose doctors on a daytime soap opera after my beloved wife lapses into a coma following a tumble down a flight of stairs.
Was he waiting until after the commercial break to start talking? Say something… anything, I pleaded on the inside.
“Oh, I was just wondering.”
Confessions of a Nomadic Hypochondriac
Discovering the world, one hospital and one doctor at a time.
I tried to squeeze more information out of him, but he wouldn’t give me a straight (or intelligible) answer, just a few short mumblings. He took my cash and left me alone with my suddenly morbid thoughts.
I had no idea where the gastric question had come from. I hadn’t felt a peep out of my stomach since leaving behind Buenos Aires’s questionable tap water, but I’d heard that sometimes reflexology in one part of the body can pinpoint problems elsewhere. Suddenly, my lower-back pain came rushing back, though with somewhat less intensity than before.
But wait! What was that strange feeling in the pit of my stomach?
First, I convinced myself I had appendicitis. Then I remembered all that talk about kidney stones. Next to cross my mind were the various forms of cancer that originate in the abdominal area. Was I too young for pancreatic cancer? I hoped it wasn’t an abdominal aneurysm or some kind of intestinal malady.
Maybe it was early stage liver failure. Speaking of which, the only thing that made the fear and the pain go away were liver-compromising nights out at Frangipani and Market Place in Kuala Lumpur. Jack Daniels can cure pretty much anything, if only for one night. Then tomorrow comes.
Once I returned to Bangkok, following weeks of denial and anxiety concerning the state of the middle portion of my body, back to front, a dull ache in the upper left abdominal quadrant finally sent me to BNH Hospital — a five-star private medical facility with custom bottled water — to get checked out.
Situation: Not Critical
I won’t bore with the details of my treatment over the course of three trips to BNH in the next three days except to say that I received low-cost care; fast, friendly, and efficient service; and a battery of tests (urinalysis, an ultrasound, and an EKG) that all came back normal.
The only distressing information given to me during my first round of BNH appointments was my weight: I was seven kilos heavier than I thought! Damn that lying scale!
In the end, it turned out that the cause of my abdominal discomfort may have been a combination of growing-old pains, psychosomatic syndrome, anxiety, and months of spicy Thai food. Translation: gas. Once I received my less-than-sinister diagnosis, my inner voice calmed down. I didn’t even panic much an hour later when the dull ache in my stomach moved a little lower.
I’m sure it’s nothing, I told myself, and ordered the extra-spicy fish-and-rice combo from a place called Eat, one of my favorite lunch spots in the city. Afterwards, I almost ended up going back to BNH — less to be on the safe side than because I was already craving another round of five-star medical service with a smile and nicely packaged drinking water.
As a general rule, I’m not particularly fond of having my eyes wide shut while sliding into cold, enclosed spaces — especially when I’m stuck inside of them for 30 minutes as a machine inspects my body, looking for abnormalities and deadly growths.
But no pain, no gain, and it was a headache that was heading into its third week and made turning my head from side to side nearly unbearable that brought me back to BNH Hospital Bangkok, four months after my first round of outpatient visits.
The experience there was just as I’d remembered: polite, smiling employees; sweet, reassuring nurses who looked like they’d stepped out of a time machine from the 1950s; and, of course, BNH’s custom bottled water. For a moment, I couldn’t feel the pain in my neck that had been extending all the way up the sides of my head.
After one of the nurses weighed me (81.6 kilos, down nearly three from my last BNH weigh-in) and my blood pressure (surprisingly, normal), she sent me into the office of Chakraphong Lorsuwansiri, MD. Was my eyesight deceiving me (and possibly even causing this blinding head pain), or did Dr. Lorsuwansiri look like he couldn’t possibly have been born before I graduated from high school in 1987?
The tall, handsome doctor with the runway-ready build and dark, dramatic features worthy of a billboard hovering over Siam Square looked like someone I might be flirting with at DJ Station on a Friday or Saturday night. Was this the man I wanted to entrust with my medical well-being?
That I could make out his English only occasionally added to my unease. I started pointing to the places on my head that hurt most, just to be sure we were on the same page and the same body part.
Eventually, we settled on a three-part treatment: Arcoxia for the head pain, amitriptyline to help me sleep (I suggested that lack of shut-eye due to chronic insomnia might be the culprit), and a 9am appointment for an MRI the following day. The latter was my idea, since I knew I probably wouldn’t rest in peace until I knew my brain was tumor-free.
“It’s sleepy time,” a too-cheerful-for-a-single-digit-hour nurse announced to me the next morning once I’d changed into a hospital gown and was about to enter the frigid room containing my scanning chamber.
I thought about calling off the whole thing. The medication that Dr. Lorsuwansiri had prescribed was working wonders. Although the tiny 10-mg amitriptyline pill had kicked off my bedtime with a few waking nightmares, I’d woken up only once over the course of eight hours of sleep, and for the first time in more than two weeks, there was no pain in my head.
But the nurse made “sleepy time” sound as enticing as napping on a cloud. I must have been still under the effect of the amitriptyline because I already was feeling a bit drowsy anyway. I figured I’d doze off immediately and sleep until it was over. So I laid down, and in I went. Seconds later…
Who could fall asleep with that cacophony assaulting their sense of hearing? Not even the plugs that the guy operating the machinery had inserted into my ears helped. The noise coming from the MRI machine sounded like the introduction to a song by The Strokes that kept getting interrupted by one of David Guetta’s deplorable techno beats.
The noise coming from the MRI machine sounded like the introduction to a song by The Strokes that kept getting interrupted by one of David Guetta’s deplorable techno beats.
Every time I tried to shut off my mind, the rock-n-techno symphony jarred me and kept me from my reverie. Just when I was about to squeeze the ball the earplugs guy had given me in case I needed assistance, it was over.
Thirty minutes later, Dr. Lorsuwansiri delivered the good news: The MRI was clean. My brain was in perfect working order. He suggested that I try to avoid stress, eat well, and continue to take the amitriptyline until I finished the prescribed supply of 10. If I didn’t die another day, it would have nothing to do with anything in my brain.
As I later told my concerned Facebook friends via a status update, I suspected from the start there was nothing in my head that wasn’t supposed to be there, except for the odd and occasional dirty thought. I had a feeling that for the next several days, a few of them might involve Dr. Lorsuwansiri and his healing hands, which, after two weeks of nearly non-stop pain, finally had given me more relief than any $10 hour-long Thai massage ever did.
And that was the only happy ending I needed.