My Central Vietnam Hospital Experience

I've seen the sights and eaten the food... and now I can say I've experienced the healthcare.

You're about to read the story of the 'I told you so' moment my parents told me they never wanted to have to say.  Well, touche Mom and Dad.  You win this round.  

Like most 23 year olds, I think I am invincible.  Can't you tell?  I left the comfort of my home in Pittsburgh to spend 2 months alone in Southeast Asia.  This story starts on October 17th, 6:07 PM UTC when I texted my dad, "My eyelid is swollen and sensitive."

At this point I wasn't taking it seriously.  The fact I even took the time to text my dad is far more than I would have ever expected from myself.  

However, that evening I looked in the mirror and was shocked. A monster stared back at me. My eye had gotten so much worse and looked terrible. I looked like a blistered, inflamed raccoon. I started taking the antibiotics I had packed with me. 

Of course things had to get worse before they got better. By the next day I couldn't open my eye.  I was in pain, and people were in pain looking at me.  For the record, it is impossible to make friends when your eye is covered in blisters and you're slightly crying.... you know, in case you were wondering.  

When you look in the mirror and a swollen face is starting back at you, you kinda freak out. I felt like complete shit.  It hurt to move my face or look around.  I couldn't apply topical cream without inducing tears, which induced more pain, which induced more tears... you see the cycle here. 

On top of all of that I also felt guilty for not exploring Hoi An.  So I hopped on my bike and went to see the city, promising myself a milkshake if I made it through the day.

I made it through one day.... and then this morning happened.  I was disappointed when I woke up because my eye actually looked worse than it had the night before.  I expected to be getting better after 36 hours on antibiotics.  I was still in pain, but I had to go to the cooking class I booked the night before. 

I made it to the class. The first hour was fine.  I tried to pay attention but my eye hurt and I was worried about it.  My instructor mentioned the city of Da Nang.  I used the in.  

"How far is Da Nang? I may need to go to the hospital there,"  I asked. 

"For your eye?"

I guess it was that obvious. I had decided to go to the hospital if my eye didn't look significantly better by the following morning.  Da Nang was the nearest legit hospital, and I needed to figure out how to get there. I confirmed.

"Yes... I think you should go to the hospital.  My dad had that once... we waited too long and he cannot see in that eye."


Record stopping sound. What???

"So, you think I should go to the hospital?" I asked. 


"Do you think I should go now?"


"Right now?"


"We should cancel the class and I should go to the hospital?"


And that is how my cooking class got cancelled. At this point we were on the "scenic" bike tour of the city, visiting local markets and getting ingredients. He insisted we turn around and I go to the Da Nang eye hospital.  

So we turned around and started biking back to my hostel.  He rode in front of me and kept shooting panicked looks back at me.  

He also kept asking me if I was hungry.  Despite my panic, I couldn't not find humor in this. Believe it or not, food was not on the top of my mind.  Still, despite the extreme urgency of the situation, he made us stop so he could buy me a sandwich.  Oh, you're going blind?  Here is a sandwich.  

At a red light he asked, "How long has it been like this?  My father waited too long."

"Four days."

"Oh... my father waited a week and it was too late."

Suddenly, my eye became a time bomb. 

He looked at me, tears filling his own eyes and said, "You are just so young.....I don't want that to happen to you."

And that is how I found myself in full on panic mode in the middle of a rice paddy in central Vietnam, sweating profusely and holding a banh mi sandwich. I had thought I was getting better.... but holy shit. Holy shit. Holy. shit. 

When I pulled up to my hostel the staff was surprised to see me so soon.

"Everything alright?" they asked.

I fought back tears.  "I need to go... to the hospital... in Da Nang."

Within minutes the hostel threw me in a private car.  The driver didn't speak any English.  Alone in that car I was left to my own devices.  I started imagining drastic situations.  Full. On. Panic. 

30 mins later, the car stopped in front of the hospital. Apparently.  It looked like a completely nondescript building to me.

I turned to the driver and asked, "Hospital?"

He stared at me.  Guess I am not getting a response. I got out of the car and walked in.  The place looked like a complete madhouse in the way only an emergency room can. 

I looked around.  There were two reception desks covered by glass and a large waiting room. No English signs, just posters of Vietamese children with extreme eye deformities.  

At one of the reception desks I spotted a young girl on a cellphone.  I figured this was my best bet. I walked up to her.

"English?" I asked. 

She didn't even look up.  The lady next to her nudged her.  She looked up at me.

"English?" I asked again.

"Oh yes. What are you here for?"

Pure relief swept over me.  I pointed to my eye.  She grabbed a form and slid it to me. It was covered with Vietamese writing and a lot of blanks.  

"Just fill out the top line.  Name and age."

I did as instructed, and, despite my panic, laughed internally at the fact that the only information they wanted from me was my name and age.  Not even my birthday -  just my age.

She thanked me and I stepped out from behind the glass.  She led me into another waiting room.  This one was completely filled with elderly people in eye patches.  There was a wall with about 5 examination rooms and a doctor walking in and out of each one.  She told me have a seat.  

I looked around and made eye contact with an elderly Vietamese women.  She gave me a warm smile and I started crying. 

The women came back over to me. 

"Don't worry.  Are you in Vietnam for business or pleasure?"


"Don't worry.  Where have your favorite places been?  Have you liked the food?"

The girl was incredibly sweet and did her best to distract me while I waited.  For a few seconds during our conversation I actually forgot what was going on.  It didn't last long, but I won't forget it. 

A surprisingly short amount of time later she told me follow her into an examination room.  I looked at the room of people.  Did they let me cut the line? White privilege, folks.  

As soon as I entered the room the doctor walked up to me, looked me in the eye, and walked out of the room.  Mmmmk bye felicia?

About 5... nurses? other doctors? physician assistants? remained.  They handed me a paddle and instructed me to complete the simplest vision exam I have ever seen.  Seriously. Three numbers with each eye.  The numbers were huge.  

They then asked me to sit down in front of one of those contraptions with the forehead rest and a bright light shining in your eye.  They looked and chatted in Vietnamese. They looked some more. Chatted some more.  Looked again.  Chatted again.  Finally the women pulled back. 

I held my breath. My heart was pounding. 

"This is just a skin rash.  You are fine."

I stared at her in silence. 

"You are fine. Continue with the antibiotics."  

I couldn't believe it.  Obviously I was happy, but... I was confused. I questioned her further. Apparently this is a common thing.  I didn't have a bad case. It happens from bacteria in the environment.  I was going to be okay.  That was the phrase everyone kept repeating.

"You are going to be okay."

Basically, I had someone contracted an Asian skin virus.... but I was going to be okay. 

I thanked everyone profusely and the women took me to the counter for payment.  I got my passport and insurance card ready.  

"The total is 11,000 dong."

"...... that is it?"

"Yes, 11,000 dong."

11,000 dong is equal to $0.49 USD. Yes.  The entire process cost less than 50 cents.  The bottle of water I bought on my way to the hospital cost more than the check up.  

Let us remember that the only information they hospital got from me the entire time I was there was my name and age. Just my name and age. Not even my nationality or gender.  Just my name and age.

When I left the hospital it didn't even matter that it was 95 degrees out and I baking.  It didn't matter I had no clue how I was getting back to my hostel in Hoi An (30 min car ride away). I was just elated.  

So that is how it all went down.  That is how I went from extremely over budget buying private cards to and fro the hospital.  I paid $50 for peace of mind. 

Also kids, before you lose you mind over anecdotal medical advice from a Vietnamese cooking instructor... evaluate the situation at hand. 

Let us all count our blessings.

Life is a journey, not a destination.

Also... on my to do list: look up vietnamese healthcare. wtf. 

I'm currently drinking with friends to celebrate the fact that I am not blind.  Note that I make friends after my eye stops looking dragon rot.

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