Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Adventures in Hospital

For the biggest hypochondriac on the planet, it sure took me long enough to get there.

My latest in-sickness-and-in-health saga began a little more than a month ago when, a few hours after a particularly brutal workout (cardio, abs and back), I started to feel a sharp pain in my lower back. By the following afternoon, it had gotten so intense that I was certain my legs would give out, and I'd tumble, embarrassingly, to the floor in the middle of the food court in the shopping center next to Anantara Bangkok Sathorn, the hotel/apartment complex that I'm currently calling home.

I know how dangerous self-diagnosis can be, so instead I turned to Facebook to see what 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!).

"Damn, Facebook!" I shouted to no one in particular as I decided that I would take a few days off from it.

At first, that and a trip to Malaysia turned out to be exactly what the doctor ordered but didn't. After a few days in Kuala Lumpur -- and off Facebook -- I forgot all about my 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 sternly asked, "Do you have gastric problems?"

"No. Why?" I asked several times, and not once did I get a straight answer. I hadn't felt a peep out of my stomach since leaving behind Buenos Aires's questionable tap water in March, so I had no idea where this was coming from, but I'd heard that sometimes these procedures can pinpoint problems in other areas of the body. Suddenly, my lower-back pain came rushing back, this time with somewhat less intensity. But wait! What was I feeling in the pit of my stomach?

Before I go on, I must reveal that along with being a hypochondriac, I also suffer from panic disorder. I've had it since the '90s, but I wasn't diagnosed until less than a week before I moved to Buenos Aires in September of 2006, when two panic attacks in a 24-hour period sent me to the ER of New York City's St. Vincent's Medical Center, once in the middle of the night. Hypochondria and anxiety do not make a good match, by the way.

"What was this new pain developing in my stomach?" I asked myself. At first, I was convinced that it was 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.

Or maybe it was early stage liver failure. Speaking of which, the only thing that made the fear and the pain go away were nights out at Frangipani and Market Place in KL. Jack Daniels and coke (or Jack and ginger ale, as I discovered last weekend) can pretty much cure anything (until the morning after). But following weeks of denial and anxiety concerning the state of the middle portion of my body -- and the flooding threatening Bangkok -- last Friday afternoon, a dull ache in the upper left abdominal quadrant finally sent me to the hospital to get checked out.

When I walked into BNH Hospital, which is in a lovely modern building near where I'm living in Bangkok, I almost forgot all about my pain. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was definitely something with a bit more Third World non-charm. This, however, must have been the nicest hospital I'd ever been in. It's run almost like a 5-star hotel, and the ridiculously gorgeous nurses even wear those sexy uniforms with the pointy hats that I don't think nurses in the U.S. have worn since the '70s.

I won't go into 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, efficient and friendly service; and a battery of tests (urinalysis, ultrasound and an EKG) that all came back normal. They even have specially packaged drinking water for guests -- I mean, patients. The only downside of my BNH experience was finding out that I'm 7 kilos heavier than I thought. Damn those lying scales!

In the end, it turns out that my problem might simply be growing-old pains mixed with psychosomatic syndrome, my old pal anxiety and months of rich Thai food. Today I didn't even panic much when the discomfort in my stomach moved a little bit lower on the left side.

"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 -- not so much to be on the safe side, but for another round of five-star medical service with a smile and nicely packaged drinking water.
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