The morning finally came when we were to be transported to Bangkok. An ambulance brought us directly to the tarmac by the plane the doctor arrived on. I was taken through security while the doctor from Bangkok hooked Ben up to all kinds of medication. The world had never felt more surreal.
Boarding the plane was somewhat difficult as the only way up was via the stairs. Ben attempted walking up, but the flight attendants and medical staff had to help lift him.
It was the same on arrival at the significantly busier Bangkok airport. I was sped through immigration while Ben was lifted off the plane. The ambulance picked me up on the other side of the airport and twenty minutes later, we arrived at Bangkok International Hospital. Ben's mum had arrived the evening before us as well as her cousin who had flown from her home in Malaysia. After all the uncertainty and worry in Luang Prabang, we finally dared to think that everything might be okay. Despite everything feeling thoroughly bizarre, it felt as though we had returned to the real world. We were nothing short of ecstatic at the sight of the modern, electronic monitoring devices. Several doctors attended to him and told us within minutes that they would take him for an MRI scan. Luang Prabang was now a distant nightmare.
Ben's room had an en-suite and balcony with a view over the city, it was worlds away from where we had came from. It was overwhelming. Less than 24 hours before, Bangkok had seemed like an impossible, faraway dream. It was only thanks to the kindness and concern of people we met in Luang Prabang that we had made the journey which saved Ben's life.
The relief didn't last long. When Ben got back from the MRI the doctors appeared solemn, he had been booked in for surgery that night. We still didn't know what was wrong with him, the diagnosis in Luang Prabang had been Cellulitus, but it seemed to be something more serious. Ben went into surgery at 10pm, during the following hours the concerns I had been tormented with in Luang Prabang came back with a vengeance.
When we finally met the surgeon, who was armed with a large DSLR camera, he didn't seem able to tell us that Ben was okay. He began to explain what had happened during the surgery, illustrated in gory detail by the images on the camera. This was the first time I heard mention of 'necrotising fasciitus', I had never heard of it, but the words sent a shiver down my spine.
During surgery, the entirety of the infected area had been removed. It was a small relief to us, as full amputation had been a very real possibility. "It was necessary, to save his life" the surgeon told us apologetically, gesturing at the exposed flesh and bone. They told us Ben had severe sepsis and was at a high risk of lapsing into septic shock overnight.
The next day the doctors still appeared to be very concerned. They told us 'it' was in his kidney's. Again we asked if he was going to be okay, and this time they did show a tiny bit of positivity. "He is young, he is strong" is all they would say to comfort us. His final diagnosis made for a horrific read. Septicaemia, advanced necrotising fasciitis, gangrenous wounds.. and so on.
Later, when the doctors seemed fairly happy that Ben was stable (although kept informing us of their many concerns) did I finally feel that I could do a little research into the condition. On typing 'necrotising fasciitis' into Google, I quickly realised that I had been far better off coping in oblivion to what had really been wrong. "Flesh eating bacteria" was the first thing the search engine racked up. "Rare", "extremely dangerous", "often results in amputation or death". Everything finally fell together, it had all been related to this one, invasive infection. The vomiting, the excruciating pain despite it being such a tiny cut, Ben's confusion, the constant struggle to diagnosis anything.
The stories from previous cases were astounding, survivors of the infection seemed to relay complaints of undiagnosed symptoms lasting two or three days before diagnosis and immediate surgery. Mortality rates after this are unnervingly high. It seemed, in spite of everything, Ben had actually been incredibly lucky. He had been suffering with symptoms for seven days before we reached Bangkok.
In the days that proceeded the operation, the doctors became increasingly positive. After around four days, the infection doctor looked at Ben's leg and for the first time smiled. "Look here", he said. He showed us a black pen mark above Ben's hip, where the inflammation had spread to, the redness had receded a couple of inches. "It's getting better," the doctor smiled. The same day the kidney doctor came in smiling with some paperwork, "his kidney's are clear, the antibiotics have worked".
Once it was apparent that the infection appeared to be leaving Ben's system, the doctors began reinforcing how serious Ben's condition had been. They revealed that the infection, which had just reached the kidney's on our arrival, had been on the brink of progressing into his internal organs. If he hadn't had the surgery when he did, he wouldn't have survived the night. The infection doctor told us on one of his visits that another patient had just been admitted with necrotising fasciitis, he had only had it for three days before being admitted and they were preparing to amputate the following day.
Three weeks later we finally boarded the plane back home. Ben was still on a stretcher and we had an air ambulance waiting for us in London, but in spite of everything we had made it through. At that, our three years in Asia came to a close.