I suppose to keep with tradition, it wouldn't be a year in the life of Ken without an extended hospital stay. And come to think of it, I escaped last year with just one emergency room visit, so I was well overdue.
I arrived in Gunung Mulu National Park on the Island of Borneo (part of Malaysia) with the intention of doing some hiking and caving. The area is filled with limestone tunnels, and has the largest cavern in the world, although I never got a chance to see any. When I arrived in Mulu, I had a small infection from what appeared to be bug bites on my left ankle, so I vistited the local clinic and got some anitbiotics before I set off for an overnight hike.
To do Mulu Summit in two days, a climb of over 7,000 feet covering 30 miles took 13 hours the first day and 12 the second. Evidently not the best thing for the ankle. By the time I made it back, my ankle and foot were swollen, some parts turning a reddish purple. The right foot now also had an infected toe, and the left knee was starting to go... time to get to a hospital.
In an ironic twist of fate after Report #5 where I made a couple of comments about health care in Asia, I got a taste up close.
In all fairness, the hospital was clean and the doctors seemed to be OK. But there was a lot to make me nervous, the least of which was the fact that the infection was getting worse regardless of the IV antibiotics. The nurses started my pulse at 93, and each subsequent recording it would get better by 3 or 4. The problem was they never actually TOOK my pulse. They had it settle out at around 82 which was actually where it was; normal to them, but 25 too high for me.
For temperatures, the nurse would ask if you had a temperature. I found if you said yes, they'd take it. If you said no, they wouldn't, but would write down a reasonable looking "normal" temperature on your chart, making sure it was different than the previous one. For some reason, the doling out of pain medication and anti-inflamitories was related to having a fever, which I luckily (???) had for most of my two day stay, so I usually got some pain relief.
Kenny, the ex-pat in the bed next to me with the flesh eating virus that took out a good portion of his leg, didn't have a fever. He had had his temperature taken 2-3 times in the previous week, but had 24 readings on his chart. And he wasn't getting pain killers... I told one of the nurses that my temperature and pulse data was being faked- she laughed and walked away. Couldn't get anyone to tell me what medication I was on either.
Needless to say, my confidence in this hospital, regardless of the outside appearances, was not stellar. Adding to the panic was the fact that none of the phones in the hospital would let me call out, direct, credit card, or collect. What saved me was a nameless woman who took pity on me, and called my parents from her home.
They were able to call in, call the US Embassies in Malaysia and Singapore, and contact some doctors for advice. All told me to get the hell out and fly to Singapore, which I did. The Singapore hospital took bacteria cultures (turned out to be basic staph, nothing exotic) and cut open both the ankle and toe to get at the infection which wasn't draining on its own. Some stitching a week later, and after a total of two weeks trapped in hospitals, I'm out.
There are a lot of people to thank, but most of all my parents, followed by the US Embassies for helping me to escape. It's probable that I would have been OK staying in the Malaysia hospital, but the chance of having to pedal a mountain bike with my hands makes me very happy with the decision.
A big thank you to all who've pledged support, be it financial or otherwise. We've gotten a little over $1000 so far, which is enough to get the building constructed, buy the basic supplies, and start the teachers. I'm thinking I'll sell girl scout cookies, dressed as a girl scout, when I get back to raise the final bit. That'll scare it up!
Nothing else much to report, besides a side trip to Cambodia to see the jaw-dropping Angkor Temples, and other hikes among the wild monkeys in Borneo with my friend Annie who was out on vacation. Looking to kill some time up the coast of Thailand, while my feet heal up enough to get the sutures removed and I'm able to backpack again (about a month). Then FINALLY I'll head off to Pakistan.
One of the very interesting cultural aspects that seems to be consistent from Loas down to Borneo is the open hospitality of the people. Not the people in the tourist areas, but the ones who are more "untouched" by the hectic city life. These people don't seem to hesitate to open their homes to unknown visitors, be they from another village or another country.
I had to laugh thinking about it. I imagine living along side some river in the US. One day a guy from another country who speaks no English comes floating down the river on a home-made raft. He's wet, dirty, and smelly and pulls over next to my house. Would I rush down to meet him and INSIST, even after he refused twice, to stay for dinner and sleep at my house with my family? I think not.
Yet this is apparaently not unusual in these countries; when I was hiking alone inThailand, the hilltribe village I passed offered for me to stay with them, which I had to politely refuse numerous times before moving on. And apparently the longhouses in Borneo are the same, although I was not able to see this first hand.
I can't say that my experiences here will have me inviting every guy hitching along Highway 101 over for the night, but it does give one a lot to think about.
That's all for now. Unfortunately the hospital stay got in the way of any good adventure. I'll try my best to have something a little more exciting in the next report.
Leeches made a valiant comeback:
Ken: 23 (jungle days)
Leeches: 19 (blood donations)
The following web pages have been updated or added to www.kenzemach.com since my last email:
Page Revised 7/13/00