In an emergency, catch a plane

After seeing two road fatalities within a week of arriving in Vietnam, I was in hospital soon afterwards. While cleaning crews meticulously clear the roads of litter daily, the invisible liquid waste that frequently pollutes the surface making lethally slippery. That’s what I’d discovered, the hard way.

The surgeon at the French Hospital, supposedly Hanoi’s top medical facility, confirmed that my shoulder was not just broken. It had shattered. “Don’t worry” he said. “I treated Stuart O’Grady for the same thing when he was in the Tour de France.” Stuart O’Grady had been one of Australia’s top cyclists. “I will need to operate tomorrow.”

The regional medical officer (RMO) supervising our international community’s medical emergencies asked whether I wouldn’t prefer to be treated in Singapore or Bangkok. Why would I do that, when the surgeon had treated one of the world’s top cyclists.

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A week after the surgery it became apparent why that had been a bad decision. A lump had appeared under the skin of my shoulder. I went back to the French Hospital, to be informed that the operating surgeon had returned to France, but that his replacement would conduct the inspection. He visibly blanched as I took off my shirt to reveal the problem.

“Was I in pain?” he asked. I wasn’t. “Come back if there is pain, or it breaks the skin.”

Not happy with the response, I sent photos to the RMO, asking his professional opinion. His two word response: “Not good!”

The next day I was on a flight to Bangkok. The following, Christmas Day, a second operation set about fixing the damage caused in the first operation, and repairing my shoulder.

The surgeon in Bangkok gave me the primitive pieces of wire used in the first surgery. 2016 02 22 14 50 03 It was clear why I’d had a problem from the first surgery.

A couple of weeks later, the RMO interviewed the head of the French hospital about my case. “These things happen” was the director’s response.

Not so. Not in a civilized country, subject to rule of law, and where litigation is a viable option.

While telling this sorry tale to a group of newly acquired friends in Hanoi, one of them confirmed that he and his family had had a bad experience with the French Hospital. His story is a lot worse.

That’s the best treatment in Hanoi. In an emergency, catch a plane.