A NIGHTMARE SCENARIO

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We travelled to the hospital by tuk tuk. By this stage, the pain was excruciating for Ben and he could hardly walk

The doctors didn't seem very concerned about the swelling of Ben's thigh. Their focus was on his sickness (which had surpassed). They said the infection was controlled, yet they couldn't seem to explain why his thigh was so swollen. We were in the hospital until midnight, when they gave us more medication and said he could go.

Ben was becoming confused. He was weak and struggling to think coherently. Something was seriously wrong, and nobody seemed able to diagnose it properly. After a minimal amount of sleep Ben called me, he could feel something on the back of his thigh. I shone a flashlight on it and saw big, purple, blistering wounds which had appeared, there was blood on the sheets and the air in the room was thick with the smell of rotting flesh.

As it was around five in the morning, I knew there was very little that could be done. I alerted several family members back home and asked for advice. My cousin, who is a doctor, advised that he needed to go on intravenous antibiotics.

As soon as day broke, we went back to the hospital. I asked for an ambulance but the owner of the guesthouse (also called Ben) said it would be quicker to get a tuk-tuk there. I despaired at this, as by this stage Ben could barely hold himself up. However the driver and Vietnamese Ben helped us to the tuk-tuk. I could see the purple bruising spreading down Ben's thigh and it was streaming with blood.

The doctor's look of shock when they saw the sores on his leg didn't do anything to make us feel better. They put him on I.V. antibiotics and took him into a ward. The room was shabby, there were insects on the floor and there was no bedding or pillows. Shortly after our arrival, the old man (and apparently his entire extended family) left, and a young local man, around the same age as us, was stretchered in accompanied by his girlfriend. To further my destain over the state of the room, I realised that there was an en-suite bathroom, which was a squat with no apparent plumbing system.

I sat with Ben for a few hours, hoping that the antibiotics would take effect. He seemed stable, but his leg wasn't improving. I knew I would have to leave at some point to collect our belongings from the guesthouse and get in touch with family at home.

After a quick trip out and having touched base with everyone at home, I returned with our luggage. The bandage on Ben's leg had been changed and it was now covering an even greater area. It seemed the antibiotics weren't working.

I resolved that the best thing to do was to focus on small tasks. After sitting with Ben for some time, I decided to go to the hotel that we were supposed to stay in that night to get pillows and clean bed sheets. I needed to do something, however small, to improve this increasingly desperate situation.

On arrival into town, I went into the first coffee shop with wifi I saw. I had no idea where the hotel was, and after the first of many sleepless nights desperately needed some caffeine. Sitting in the coffee shop, surrounded by holiday makers and backpackers, I had never felt so alienated. The realisation had set in that we were completely alone, we were so far away from our family and friends. This was the first time the thought came to me that he might be dying. Even though we didn’t know exactly what was wrong with him, I could see him weakening and the infection appeared to be slowly consuming his leg. I remember watching the hordes of tourists and locals coming in and out of the hospital, mostly sporting various scooter related injuries. I envied them. At least they knew what they were dealing with. 

I knew that they couldn't help Ben in Laos, the hospitals just weren't equipped. I had researched the best medical care in Southeast Asia. Thailand. We needed help and we needed to get to Thailand. Two things which at the time seemed impossible. Sometimes, when you ask the universe for help with enough desperation and sincerity, it does comes. 

We were supposed to stay in a hotel that night, although I knew that wouldn't be happening, I headed there to ask to borrow bedsheets and pillows - as there were none in the hospital. The owner overheard me explaining what had happened. I vaguely remember her saying that she would follow me to the hospital, but it didn't really register in my distressed mind. Later on when I was back at the hospital, I was walking through the entrance on my way to get some water, I did a double-take when I walked past the hotel owner. She had come to help, she had come to see Ben. “You must go to Thailand”, she told me straight away.

By some miracle, help had come. Pathana called the director of the hospital, a doctor from Bangkok, who said the same thing. “You must come to Thailand, we can help you."

Unspeakably relieve that we had finally found a solution, we could now focus on somehow getting to Bangkok, which was to be the greatest challenge. Pathana and Sirirat looked after us both so well for the remainder of our time in Luang Prabang. Sirirat gave me a mobile phone with a Laos number, and she had portable wifi so I could keep in touch with everyone at home. Angela, Ben's mum, booked out a flight to Bangkok from Belfast leaving that night.

Although we were uplifted by this new source of support, once darkness fell all the worry came back. Ben was still in a lot of pain and his condition certainly wasn't improving.

We received bad news the following morning. It takes a day to clear a patient to fly. The thought of another twenty four hours in the hospital was excruciating. Ben's leg needed to be seen too, there was no denying that the infection appeared to be spreading and he was weakening. I called the British Embassy but there wasn't anything they could do to speed it up.

We got through the day one way or another, Pathana came to see us a couple of times and sent her assistant to bring us food. Although the young couple in the room couldn't speak much English, we all shared food and bonded over our situation. From watching this couple, it became clear that in Laos the family members were to do the nursing. The nurses didn't appear to be trained correctly as they didn't seem to know how to put the I.V. in Ben's hand. The young guy in the room with us thankfully was a student doctor, so when the nurses came in, the guy would shout over instructions as to how to put the I.V. (which kept falling out) back in Ben's hand.

Even amongst the despair, there were many touching moments. Like when a young girl (also a patient of the hospital) spotted Ben and excitedly asked her mum to wheel her in. She had been learning English for several months (and spoke very well) and had never met a westerner before. When Ben told her he was an English teacher, she nearly passed out with excitement. It was as though she had met a rockstar.

Pathana's assistant (who couldn't speak English) dropped in and asked me to come to reception with him. He had brought another hotel guest along with him who appeared very confused. Eventually, we figured out the problem. The lady, also British, had been bitten by a cat. She had asked the guy to bring her to the hospital so she could get a rabies injection. She told me he had first brought her to a vet. I didn't know what I was supposed to do about this, but eventually I realised he wanted me to phone Sirirat - the only fluent English speaking doctor there.

Although I was beside myself with worry about Ben's condition, he seemed strong. We both believed everything would be okay when we got to Bangkok. Sirirat did show concern, the day before we flew to Bangkok she told me that Ben had developed symptoms of septicaemia, however she ensured me that he would be treated immediately once we got to Thailand. Another doctor told me they would probably remove Ben's leg. I tried to ignore this.. We had to hold on to our hopes of Bangkok, it was all we could do to get us through the long hours of waiting.