11 Months, 22 Days, still sober
I am breaking a rule of a lifetime in this blog, as for the first time I am publishing photos of people in my life. In this blog you will find a few pics of Noo and her family as I cannot see any harm – given that neither she nor her family nor anyone who knows her, will ever read any of my blogs.
No, this is NOT Noo….
Last Sunday, we packed our bags and rove up to Bangkok for a couple of nights before heading off up to Nong Khai for a few more, leaving our three lovely pooches in the capable hands of our trusty gardener/pool cleaner.
The purpose of my stay in Bangkok was to see my two specialists at Bumrungrad Hospital.
Amazing though it may sound, even though Noo once worked as a fork lift driver in the Bangkok suburbs, somewhere out in the boon-docks of Bang Khae, she had never set sight on central Bangkok. So it was with an ‘ooh’ and an ‘ah’ at the sights of the towering, fanciful skylines of one of the world’s most exciting cities as I drove into Bangkok and along Sukhumvit Road to check into my regular Bangkok lodging – the Honey Hotel, on soi 19.
I have been using this hotel for the best part of 35 years, and I think all my wives, bar one, have slept with me there on one occasion or another through the years, to say nothing of the countless long term, short-term and even ‘one night stand’ lovers who have shared my bed there through the years. The Honey Hotel is like a favourite pair of old slippers – it may be a bit worn out and past its best, (like me), but it always feels so comfortable to me.
The room rates are extremely reasonable, the rooms are clean and have everything I need – air conditioning,TV, fridge, and hot water ; the coffee shop serves up excellent Thai and farang food at reasonable prices, and there is convenient covered car park, where the long serving security guard always gives my car a wash without having to be asked, even if I haven’t been there for over a year.
I rarely use my car in Bangkok as taxis are cheap and plentiful and the ‘sky train’ and underground are just five minutes’ walk down soi 19 to Sukhumvit. I don’t mind driving – the problem is parking. Years ago, when I lived in Bangkok, I employed a driver, purely so that he could stay with the car and find somewhere to park whenever I went out anywhere.
So on Sunday afternoon, I took Noo out for a walk along Sukhumvit Road, from Soi 19 down to soi Nana, fighting through all the street vendors that cram the side walks. Then across the road for a quick ‘looksie’ at the Nana Entertainment Plaza (NEP) bar scene, (she had never heard of it), before jumping on a Sky train to go to the massive MBK shopping complex, where we spent an hour or so wandering around to buy a few bits and pieces for her folks in Nong Khai.
I had a bit of a ‘bad turn’ in MBK and realised that my forthcoming medical check-ups were not before time. Anyway, after a good rest I felt better and we retraced our steps to Nana, where Noo had to collect a wheelie bag that we had bought earlier and then we walked back up Sukhumvit to the hotel, where we both collapsed from exhaustion on the bed!
Later, after we had recovered our energy, we took a walk to Soi Cowboy, where I showed Noo the ‘sights’ and before having a meal nearby. On the way there we passed the newest addition to the Bangkok landscape, the towing ‘Terminal 21’ shopping complex at the corner of soi 19 and Sukhumvit.
Xmas Tree outside Terminal 21
The last time I was in Bangkok, this latest addition to the Bangkok Skyline was still under construction, and a year or so before that, the corner was the well known location of ‘Country Roads’, a live music bar with loads of whores for hire. For many years, in front of ‘Country Roads’, was the site of ‘On & Off‘, a street beer bar, owned and run by On, the wife of my friend Rob – the one who passed away a few weeks back.. On was a very lovely lady from Korat, who I referred to briefly in my recent ‘obituary’ to Rob. (‘Death of a Salesman’).
Bangkok’s skyline is forever changing, and over the decades I have come to expect the unexpected but it was quite a jolt to find the glitzy hi-tech 21St century ‘Terminal 21’ where – only a few blinks of my eyelids ago – was the seedy ‘Country Roads’ and the even seedier ‘On & Off Bar’ with its third rate hookers and drunken, often impecunious farang customers.
The next morning, (Monday), it was up with the dawn chorus to drive down to Bumrungrad Hospital at the crack of dawn to have my ‘fasting’ blood tests.
I had to drive as, through the years, I have come to realise that no taxi will take me from Soi 19 to Soi 3 in the morning rush hour, ostensibly due to traffic jams. I always find this a bit of an enigma, as it never takes me more than 20 minutes, max, to drive there at that time of the morning. From Soi 19, I take a right into Soi Asoke, which, I admit is a bit of a traffic night mare, but once I have edged my way up Asoke to Petchburi Road– a distance of about half a kilometre which takes about 15 minutes, I am home and dry. Straight down Petchburi and a left into Soi Nana and then a right into Bummers. Easy peasy! These taxis don’t know everything.
An account of my marathon 10 hour stint at Bumrungrad hospital can be found below, under a separate heading.
After driving back to the Honey in the late afternoon, we had a brief rest before driving to Soi 22 to meet up with an old friend kin Washington Square. (Ye I know I said I use taxis, but Washington square is one of the few places that you can easily park – albeit for an extortionate fee.)
We met up at the Hare and Hounds, one of the very few bars still open in what was once a thriving area of Bangkok bar and restaurant-land. The square is now a total dump and seems to be getting worse.
All the long-term tenants have been thrown out by the Indian owners of the land, but they have yet to do a deal with potential property developers. Apparently, the Central and the Beer Chang people have come and gone after failing to come to an agreement. Meanwhile, the enormous square is a blot on the landscape. I wonder how much longer it will stay like this?
We didn’t stay too long; my bar days are behind me – particularly with Noo in tow, and it was noticeable how pissed my friend and a few others were becoming with a consequent deterioration in the quality of their conversation. In any event, we planned to rise early and it had been a very long day at the hospital.
No, this is NOT Noo…
So on Tuesday we set off for Nong Khai, and in spite of the morning rush hour it wasn’t long before we were heading Northwards on the express way for the 7 hour drive to Nong Khai.
The trip was pretty uneventful, with the only item worthy of note was the quite extraordinary number of police road blocks throughout our journey. A combination of luck, and possibly having a dark windowed beamer meant that we succeeded in sailing, unsullied, through all the check points; but I did notice that it was not only trucks and pick-ups that were being stopped; many decent looking cars were also being ‘waved over’, by the swarming, officious-looking traffic cops.’
This is by far the largest number of police check points I have ever seen on the roads of Thailand – even during such festivals as Songkran – and in Nong Khai itself, the roads seemed to be teeming with cops who were stopping and checking vehicles of all kinds..
I am not sure if this phenomenon is due to the police coffers being unusually empty, prior to the New Year season, or is it due to something a bit more sinister? Is there something going on? Are they looking for something or someone in particular? Who knows?
We checked in at my pre-booked guest house – a charming little complex over-looking the Mekong River entitled Mut Mee. The views and ambience are excellent, So far so good, but the good stops there.
The rooms are charming but very basic. There are no TVs’ (no problem), no fridges, and believe it or not, no water or glasses. They have a strange system; something that I have never come across before. Meals can be ordered by writing your order in your ‘room book’ and leaving it in the kitchen, and similarly water and other drinks can be obtained by helping yourself from a central fridge in reception and writing the details in your room book. Coffee and other hot drinks also can be obtained like this but you have to make them yourself. All meals and refreshments so obtained are to be consumed in a communal outside area. So there is no free water and not even a glass in your room to wash down your late night pills.
‘Room with a view’ – the Mekong River and Laos beyond.
Morning coffee outside my room
You know who…
Sorting the Mobi provisons
The Mut Mee complex. Mobi’s room straight ahead.
To make matters worse, they even charge you for toilet paper!
I confess that I seriously considered moving, but in the end it was all too much hassle. In any event we got round their silly system as fortunately I then had the foresight to bring with me our own coffee and breakfast supplies (cereal, milk, orange juice etc), together with mugs, bowls cutlery , tissues etc and we also had a cool chest. So we made a quick trip to the 7/11 and bought some water and ice and we were in business.
We resolved not to partake of any of their additional catering services and have dined out every day for lunch and dinner and catered for our own breakfasts, coffee, and so on.
Yesterday morning drove to Noo’s home village, near to Tha Bo where we went to her home and met up with her family, including her parents and her two children. This was my third visit to her home and I am now treated as one of the family.
After all these years, I think I can tell the good folk from the ‘not so good’, (or shall we say mercenary), and I can equivocally state that these folk are amongst nicest, friendliest and most caring I have ever met out here in Issan-land. I speak precious little Issan but with my bad Thai and their Thai/Issan, we managed to communicate quite well. Of coursed it goes without saying that a lovely good hearted girl like Noo would also have a lovely, good hearted family.
Some alternative forms of transport at Noo’s home.
The ubiquitous ‘family table’, situated underneath the home on stilts.
Noo’s youngest – couldn’t resist sharing this with you.
Then I took the family to visit a nearby Wat where they did all the usual praying for ‘good luck’, as well as ‘freeing’ some terrapin-type creatures in the river for extra good luck. This was a variation on a theme I had not come across before. Usually, you pay a few Baht to let birds free from tiny cages.
Loadsa luck for Noo and her family…
Buy your terrapin’s freedom here!
The river behind the Wat.
When we were all ‘prayed out’, we drove down to the nearby Tha Bo Market, and did a bit of shopping. I bought myself some Adidas trainers for 450 Baht!
Tha Bo Market
Then we took a 25 kms drive along a picturesque road that borders the Mekong river, to Nong Kai City, where we are staying. The family went to look around Taa Sadej market – a famous riverside market, while I stayed back at the room.
Today, I have sent Noo off to spend the day with her family in the village near to Tha Bo, and I am spending the day at the guest house.
I am writing this blog, outside my room, which looks out over the Mekong river, and I am quite content and at peace with the world.
It really is very pleasant here, and I am quite sure that I would be a regular guest at this place is it wasn’t for the silly, unnecessary, mercenary-like catering arrangements, which have been invented by its misguided farang owners. But there again, they seem to have plenty of guests, so who I am to say they have got it wrong?
But it’s just not for Mobi.
Tomorrow we will head off into the wilds of Loei province to check out some recommended sights and will stay the night somewhere en route, before heading back to Pattaya on Saturday – just in time for Christmas!
Mobi’s medical miscellany at Bumrungrad
I was reluctant to go back to this hospital as it is very expensive. I can manage the consultant’s fees, meds and blood tests – just about – but if I need to have any ‘procedures’, God Forbid, you are talking big money.
So what with one thing or another, I hadn’t seen my diabetic specialist for a year, (should be every 3-6 months), and its about 3 years since my heart specialist saw my ugly countenance.
But in the end, I decided to bite the bullet and do the necessary. Why don’t I go somewhere cheaper? Well the plan fact is that I really don’t trust hospitals and doctors in Thailand. From my own, and also many other farangs’ experiences, it is very obvious that most Thai Doctors just treat their profession as a business and they are out to maximise their profit/income.
This is the reason that most of the best doctors practice in the major Bangkok private hospitals. This is where the big money is. Sad to say, it is largely the ‘dross’ – the medical light weights – who go to work the provinces.
Over the years in Thailand I have had many experiences of countless doctors in all manner of hospitals , including expensive and cheapo ones in Bangkok, to hospitals in places like, Chon Buri, Sri Racha, Bang Saen, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Sa Kaeo and goodness knows where else.
So I think that I do possess a reasonably objective view of the state of play here, being a long term out- patient (and in-patient) who has kept himself well informed about his own medical conditions, and the latest treatment options.
In particular, excluding the major private hospitals in Bangkok, the Thai medical profession’s attitude to diabetes is stuck somewhere in the 1980’s. Apart from the aforementioned,elite hospitals, you will never find a Thai hospital where there is a specialist whose full time speciality is diabetes. Diabetic patients are always referred to the regular GP or ‘internal medicine’ doctor, whose knowledge and treatment of the disease is woefully lacking.
I was once admitted to Samitivej Hospital in Sri Racha with Dengue fever., Samitivej is on the top rung of Thai private hospitals and the specialist who treated my dengue fever was first class, I couldn’t have wished for more expert and caring treatment.
Yet the doctor responsible for looking after my diabetes couldn’t understand why I was taking 4 insulin shots a day, instead of only one! I won’t write an essay here on the advances in diabetes treatment through the years but I can assure that his knowledge was decades out of date. This was by no means the first doctor I have come across, outside Bangkok, who seemed to know less about the treatment of diabetes in the 21st century than I do.
Not so, my wonderful specialist at Bumrungrad, who I have been seeing for over ten years. She always keeps herself bang up to date with frequent trips abroad to learn and discuss with her peers the latest advances in drugs and techniques and treatment.
(She is also very cute, and maybe I am imagining it but I always feel she has a soft spot for me…)
As for heart specialists – well I am sure there are hundreds of good ones around – but how can you tell a good one from bad one? Or how can you know for sure which one will only recommend a certain procedure because there is money in it for them?
The lady I have been seeing at Bumrungrad, (yes, you’ve guessed it, all my doctors are female), once thought my arterial stenosis was serious enough to justify a ‘stent’ implant. But just to make, sure she arranged to do a confirmatory angio-gram, to be immediately followed by the stent procedure.
I was required to make a very large monetary deposit in advance of this ‘operation’ and you can imagine my surprise when I was subsequently awoken from the anaesthetic to be informed that she hadn’t after all gone ahead with the stent as the narrowing wasn’t sufficiently acute to justify it. Subsequently, about 90% of my deposit was refunded.
For those of you who know anything about such ‘cash cows’ as Bangkok Pattaya hospital, I will ask you, in your wildest dreams, can you ever imagine anything like that happening there?
So I fell in love with my ethical cardiologist and was broken hearted, (excuse the pun), when I learnt she was leaving Bummers to go to live and work in the USA. Hence no Mobi heart check-ups for the past three years.
However, I recently heard through the grapevine that my lovely lady of the heart was not only back in Thailand but was back at her old job at Bumrungrad, so I needed no further inducement to have a long overdue check-up. It was about time too as the meds I have been taking for years no longer seem to keep my blood pressure under control, and when I was in Bangkok Pattaya last year with my smashed wrist, the heart doctor there told me that I had a dodgy heart valve.
I had to be at the hospital before 8 a.m. for my blood tests and then had to hang around till noon for my first appointment with the cardiologist. Unfortunately the results were not too promising.
My blood pressure was so high that the nurse actually took it twice as she didn’t believe the first reading. Not a good portent.
It turns out that the reason my blood pressure is so high, despite the mountain of medication I take, is because my heart is struggling to pump blood through my partly blocked aortic valve.
The doc arranged for an echo cardiogram stress test in the afternoon which confirmed her diagnosis. The echo cardiogram showed that my aortic valve was quite bad and she actually cancelled the stress test part of the procedure, which involves running on tread mill, as she feared what might happen to my heart!
The bottom line is that the damage to my aortic valve is just below the ‘danger limit’ of 40% in ‘lack of functionality’, (mine’s about 38%); but rather than jump right in and put me under the knife, she has proposed a programme of treatment for the next three months to see if I can arrest or slow down the disease progression and delay the need for surgery. She as good as admitted that surgery will be necessary at some point, but the longer I can postpone that time, the better.
Replacing a heart valve entails major open heart surgery, involving a week in hospital and several weeks of after-care/recuperation, and also involves a moderate degree of risk, especially in diabetic patients. It is also bloody expensive – the doc said around 700,000 Baht (15,000 pounds, give or take) for the op, (not sure if this includes everything), at Bumrungrad.
I guess I’m going to have to do a bit of shopping around.
So the current plan involves a continuation of my efforts at daily exercise, which will help to make the valve stronger, some fine tuning of my medication, and re-doubling of my efforts to lose weight.
These steps might ameliorate the state of the valve, but my condition will have to be monitored very closely. She has warned me that any major re-occurrences of my recent symptoms, such as chest pains, breathlessness and feeling faint will be a signal that surgery needs to be carried out sooner rather than later. If some or all of these symptoms re-occur, she told me to go back and see her straight away for a further assessment of my condition.
Finally, more doom and gloom from my diabetes doc. My weight gain has resulted in dangerously high blood sugars, although the few kilos I succeeded in losing over the last week or so have already resulted in a slight improvement over the last few days. Again, some adjustments to my medication, plus more exercise and weight loss will help to put things back on course.
BUTT…BUTT…I don’t give a hoot…