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     This short story is in the travel anthology, "I Really Should Have Stayed Home" by RDR Books. (Someone gave a kind word in an Amazon review.)
      At the bottom there is a link to the same story that I submitted to the publisher--my words that came from my journal. I was shocked to see how much red was on the pages after the editors had their way with it. There wasn't much I could do about it, but I thought there were elements in the original that should have been in this, the book version.
      I'm still amazed at how little it pays to be in a travel anthology
     (Pssst. Some of the photos enlarge when you click on them.)

Real Pain in Vietnam

The book I'm in

Blurb from Trips magazine
      Seven backpackers, three solo travelers and two couples, got together in Saigon at the Prince Hotel to rent a van. We had an eight day itinerary that would bring us far up the coast to Hue.
      In the provincial capital of Nha Trang we spent some extra money on a boat trip, so our guide, whose only activity seemed to be getting drunk, took us to an ugly island with an ugly beach where we ate some little fishes for lunch.


Dr. Hoa
Trying to make the most of it, we took one last swim before it was time to head back. We were frolicking in the cool water when Anniken, an athletic teenage Norwegian, tried to jump on my back. Normally I welcome athletic teenage Norwegians jumping on my back, but with her weight on me I was pushed down to the ocean floor and on to some sea urchins whose needles shot up into my feet. I managed to dog-paddle to shore and walrus myself on to the pebbly beach. While sandflies swirled around me, two of those on the trip, Mike and Marie, examined my foot. I was fortunate that one of these Brits was an anesthetist and the other a nurse. Although the initial pain had subsided, I had to get the needles removed for fear of infection. I had 10 in one foot and three in the other. Mike tried pulling at one with tweezers and I tried with my fingernails, but neither worked. I resigned myself to a hospital visit. Mike and another member of the group, a Swedish guy named Ola, decided that they couldn’t miss this spectacle, so they helped me along.

      Everyone at the hospital was taken with the sight of a Westerner wearing a huge, pink, happy face t-shirt tripping along with his entourage. Our guide eventually appeared and wobbled to the back of the waiting room, hoping we’d forget about him. A Dr. Hoa entered and sat at a desk. I swallowed. He looked like a kid, tall and gangly, but totally expressionless as he said, "Please tell me what I should do for you." He followed this in language that our guide, unable to emerge from his brandy cloud, didn’t bother to try and translate. The doctor finally said from behind his desk and without looking at my feet--if he even knew my feet were the problem--"You need minor operation" And so we trudged down to the operating room, which like guide, proved to be a misnomer. It was open with a cement floor and had a metal operating table with rusting legs. Next to it was a small table and a lamp. The bottom half of the walls was bright green, the top blue, and all were peeling. To ensure optimum bleakness, the windows were painted over in green.

      There was some animated discussion about what should be done as we struggled to understand Dr. Hoa’s English, and soon the ordeal turned into a farce. Mike asked how he was going to take out the needles and the doctor seriously replied, "With medical instruments." Oh. While we were waiting for these "medical instruments" to be sterilized we had a chat with the doctor. I immediately stuck my foot in my mouth when I asked if Ola could take a photo of us because I’d never seen a doctor wear rubber sandals. He agreed but added that he wore sandals because he was poor. I felt nauseous, it was such a stupid thing for me to say. Somehow I got out of it as Mike distracted him with questions about Vietnamese medical training and he even got the doctor to smile.

The inimitably laconic doctor had
me in stitches--no pun intended.
      Zero hour came and they laid me on my stomach on the cold table. An incredibly evil nurse, I’d soon learn, started putting alcohol on the wound with a used yellow and red cotton ball. She then moved a light and it went out. We all turned to the outlet. Instead of a plug there were two open wires. Ola, an electrician, cringed as she took one of the wires and tried to push it through the outlet hole to make it stay. I thought it was funny at the time but Ola later told me if she grabbed the hot wire, put it in the hole and touched me on the metal table, we could have both been in for a jolt.

      Instead of novocaine they decided to use a fluid that numbs the wound and feels like ice. However, it wears off after a short while and they have to reapply it. The nurse was to do the work while the doctor supervised. The doctor came over to my end of the table so I could see him. He leaned over nearer to my head and again with this absolute poker face said slowly, the English trickling out, "Call me when you have pain."

      The nurse put on some of this numbing fluid and began the incisions. I believe the idea was to cut a little around the dark spots, the embedded needles, to get at the tips and then pull them out. However, not much time would pass before the magic fluid wore off. "Pain!" I’d yell, and the doctor would dutifully pass on my message to the nurse. This worked for maybe two repetitions, but then the pair became oblivious and ignored me. I had to have Mike tell the doctor to tell the nurse to put on more fluid.

      By this time they’d sent away our guide because he was being obnoxious and smelled like a distillery. I was developing deep feelings of vindictiveness each time this nurse kept digging away in spite of my yelling. She was in her own world, impervious to any words from me. Several times I shrieked, "Pain!! Pain!!" and the nurse would continue knifing away like she was paid per cut. The doctor, engrossed in her work, eventually came around to me to say, "Ah, I know. You’re calling me in pain," and then the nurse would begrudgingly apply more fluid. (At one point Mike asked if Vietnamese patients were as loud as me. The doctor said that Vietnamese yell much louder. Emboldened by this--anything to try and get the nurse to respond--I raised it an octave.)

      The nurse began to put the fluid on one spot and cut on another, sending me through the roof. I was writhing on the table, but my ranting "PAIN!! PAIN!!" went unheeded several times until Mike intervened and showed her where to put the fluid. Dr. Hoa came by. "You’re calling me in pain," he confirmed. "YES!! I’m calling you in pain! Stop that witch!" Another time the doctor came over, showed a smile and with raised eyebrows said in his even voice, "I think you are in terrible pain." I spared him some choice words. I couldn’t help but laugh until the butcher began again. She was unstoppable. Ultimately, we decided to forego the fluid and resort to novocaine injections for the remaining needles. As this was being prepared, we suddenly noticed four scruffy guys with ragged clothes--cyclo drivers, I’d thought--standing in a row, silently enjoying this free theatre. Mike asked who they were and the doctor, eternally undisturbed, looked over and said, "They’re patients." Was it a stupid question? Is observing agony a Vietnamese right? I couldn’t handle it and they were ushered out, not that they were any less sterile than the room.

      The novocaine had to be injected next to each place to be worked on. They did a practice jab on my arm to see if I had a bad reaction. Dr. Hoa said, "Now you have AIDS." Yeah, very funny, Doc.

      The novocaine injections were the worst, resulting in unbridled screaming. It was quicker, though, and near the end the doctor came over one last time to this sweaty, palpitating mass I’d become, let out a little smile and said slowly, "I think.....this is impressive experience for you."

Hue, a few days later
Hanoi, a week later

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Again, if you are interested in seeing the version
I gave to the editor, click here.