Wednesday, 31 August 2016

5 days 3 strips and a bit of a shock: Bangkok - 27/04/2016

Back in Bangkok and with 5 days left before I departed, I checked myself back into the Hostel that I had been staying at before I had headed back to Vietnam in order (in part) to collect the things I had left there in storage a couple of weeks before. I planned to stay there for 3 nights initially in order to keep the cost of accommodation down and under control before then moving on to a hotel close by for my final 2 nights to give myself space to sort out the 6 months worth of acquisitions that I was now lumbering around with. I did however have a slightly more pressing issue to contend with.

When I travelled to Thailand in 2013, I remembered seeing "Freestyle" blood testing strips aplenty in the mainstream chemists such as Boots. I remember this specifically as when I awoke on that first morning there some 3 years prior and completely disorientated in my surroundings, I nearly had a meltdown as I was unable to the blood testing kit I had travelled in with anywhere in my baggage. Even though this did indeed turn up at the time, I took reassurance later that day that the same testing meters were seemingly widely available. Unfortunately in 2016, this was no longer the case.

I had been conserving my test strips since I left Hong Kong, which had been the last place that I was able to find any of that particular brand. I had been checking in chemists all through Vietnam and Thailand since then and looking online in the hope of finding somewhere that I could replenish my stocks. Unfortunately no matted how had  I looked it was always the same results, old information and possible leads ending in dead end after dead end after dead end.

so 5 days, 3 strips and not a video parody in sight. With no luck find new strips it was creeping into the consciousness that maybe the only other way I was going to be able to test a reasonable number of times over the last few days was by investing in one of the other systems on the market, none of which were cheap. It was still possible I reasoned (albeit risky) to make it through the 5 days left with very limited testing if I stuck to a regime. If I ate the same amount of the same food at the same time every day, if I exerted the same amount of energy, if the heat stayed the same, if I sweated the same, if I drank the same, slept the same and stayed in tip top perfect health then and only then, well there might be the slightest chance of getting through all of the remaining days without too much damage. Even then I would still have more than 14 hours of air travel back to the UK to contend with, across changing timezones, body clock adjustments and food intake times in order to make the transition back to the U.K as seamless as possible. At the end of this I would still have to make my way to Bristol at the other end before I would be able to buy another box of 50 strips, and that was then assuming that the place that I went to had them in stock. My head as usual was contemplating more scenarios than were likely to occur, a muddle of problems and negative slants on scenarios that might never happen. Optimism is a great quality to have only when you have nothing to lose by not being realistic. As a traveller with a health condition which means things can "go south" fairly quickly, optimism alone without any real thought behind it is a sure fire way to get yourself dead.

The food court found on the 5th Floor of the infamous and now familiar MBK is probably the place I have eaten at more than any other on my travels and it was here that I found myself once again, passing money over the counter in order to load up a payment card to use at any of the food and drink counters located within. I went for the Pad Thai as I had eaten many times before and then loaded up further with a "Kiwi Kiss" smoothie which had worked its way into becoming another favourite of mine. I garnished the Pad Thai with the usual spring onions, beansprouts and chopped peanuts, but as a cheeky extra for once I also added what I assumed to be a little bit of red chilli onto the side. I sat in the same seats that I had done many times before, thought the same things I had done many times before in the same clothes that I had worn many times before. I took my time with my meal savouring each morsel, each tender mouthful chewed over to extract the maximum amount of pleasure whilst firmly committing to memory the taste of the Thai national dish, aware that my time here was now drawing near to it's end. By the time my plate was clean and my glass empty, the day light had fallen outside and the city was dressed in it's night attire and my thoughts returned once again to blood testing, test strips and where I could possibly find some more.

With the chemists not seemingly stocking what i needed my thoughts turned to trying something a little bit more left field, namely the 2 big supermarket chains that I had seen around Bangkok, "The Big C" and "Tesco Lotus". Google maps revealed that the latter of those 2 had a store conveniently located just a short walk away from my current position, so I headed off in that direction to chance my arm, my leg and possibly my right 'tock.

The walk to the store took me along the usual Bangkokian style concrete path which lined a busy multilane carriageway split down the middle by regularly interspersed thick grey concrete pillars. The air, heavy with a mix of car fumes and dust made the walk an undertaking rather than a pleasurable stroll and I slowed my pace en route to try and prevent myself turning into a "glistener". As I neared my plotted destination a brief break in the traffic flow allowed me to cross over sans any form of "derring do", and as I entered the building shortly after I noticed I felt a little warm despite my efforts to stop my temperature rising en-route. The interior lights were also noticeably harsh and I squinted under their gaze as I scoured past the restaurants, coffee shops and small independents looking for the supermarket entrance I knew was within, pausing only briefly whilst walking around to look at the contents displayed in a medicinal cabinet of a small pharmacy store I was passing by. Again, there was nothing visible inside that I was currently after.

At the top of the gently sloping escalator I was faced by 2 chemists situated on an obtuse angle side by sde to one another in a rank of 2, a "Boots" and a "Watsons" and though both stores were open for the sale of general cosmetic goods and pills, the blinds had been drawn over the pharmacy counter in each indicating that those parts was no longer open for business. A few steps further on I approached the square desk at the entrance to the supermarket, passed my bag to an assistant to store away safely before heading into the large main shop to take a look around. I immediately noticed here that my body was starting to feel a little itchy, tingling all over as though it was being jabbed lightly by thousands of tiny needles. It was a peculiar feeling to be sure, but not anything that would cause any immediate alarm on it's own and I moved further in through the store, past the toys, games and general electronics sections, moving deeper in to the store with a odd sense of......something.  I couldn't explain what it was exactly, but I had become aware that I was started to feel off and I skimmed over products in the medicals and cosmetics section with a bigger sense of urgency. By now my head was starting to pound, I noticed my stomach was feeling uncomfortable, the cheeks on my face were starting to burn so much that it felt like they were drying out the moisture from my eyes. Anxious to leave I approached the Pharmacy counter to ask the lady whether they had the test strips I was having trouble finding, showing her the "freestyle" pot from my pocket as a visual guide as to what I was after whilst trying to speak clearly despite my lips, throat and tongue that by now felt swollen and numb. I was faced by the usual blank look I had been getting in everyplace I had tried for the last 2 months all but confirming what I thought would have been the case, but the strips had now become a secondary concern.

I'd had numbness of the lips before, it was something that had occasionally manifested itself when I had been suffering from low blood sugars, but I knew that having eaten that this was unlikely to be the cause this time.  Starting to panic a little bit I now tried to explain the current symptoms to the lady to see if there was anything she give or recommend, but the combination of language barrier and my now overwhelming desire to leave the store meant that I was soon making my way to collect my bag from the entrance counter as my condition worsened trying to get outside for some air with a mild sense of panic. A few steps after leaving the service desk with my bag back on my shoulder, I realised that quite simply, I wasn't going to make it that far.

Within direct sight of the entrance to both The Boots and Watsons storefronts I put my bag on the floor and dropped onto one knee, the searing pulse in my neck, head and chest feeling like it was going to explode out at any time. TSCH TSCH TSCH TSCH TSCH TSCH TSCH TSCH was now clearly audible inside my ears, the rushing pulse going as quickly as you could speed read the words. Blood was now undoubtably being forced around my body at high speed and high pressure, my face felt like a roaring fire, my eyes were sore and the itch on my deepening red skin was attacking me everywhere from the base of my feet to the lobes of my ears, the back of my head, my flabby pecs, my non flabby legs and lengths of my arms. Everything was being subject to absolute sensory bombardment. My lips and tongue were on the edge of death and my tongue felt like it was continuing to swell and with it my mind was conjuring the up the now very real possibility of being unable to breathe if things continued going as they were, which was of course if my pounding heart didn't give up first. By now I was unable to count how fast it was going. I simply didn't have mental capacity or will to be to carry out mathematical calculations at this time. I checked my blood sugars. All was okay on that front at least.

I was trying to think clearly. I was trying to think rationally. I was trying not to panic. None of these things were easy in the current environment.

On my phone I searched on the internet for the symptoms I was suffering from as quickly as I could, soon narrowing down the number of likely causes to "1". With one site mentioning a "Weak Pulse" which I wasn't suffering from, all the other pages I looked universally had the same clear, defined list that I could completely check off against my current state. Everything was pointing towards Anaphylaxis, or Anaphylactic Shock and I was pretty sure that this wasn't good.

Luckily though I had a lifeline.

On the end of my open Messenger application, Vicky (who was now safely back in Australia) was aware of my situation and trying to establish from her contacts in Thailand the best hospital to get to if things got further out of hand and was also offering to talk to someone to relay my condition if need be. I was obviously still hoping it wouldn't go that far,  being the optimistic type as I am. On my phone settings I took off the screen lock so anyone could gain access to it if the worst happened and be in contact with her immediately,  in my wallet I moved my Diabetic medical card to the front inside window on left side and slotted my Bumrungrad Hospital registration card* in the front slot on the opposite side. My position by the chemists was as good as it was going to get for now, intended to make me clearly visible to those inside in the hope that if anything transpired from here on in,  the staff of either of the chemists shop might just about have the wherewithal to at least come over and check for info or call an ambulance for help.

And that's where I stayed for an age, 5 minutes or 15 until the feeling of immediate danger had passed. The first thing that calmed was the pulse which had gradually come down from it's peak of "11" to about an 8 on the "Spinal Tap" scale. Still beating at a fast gym rate, but no longer moving headlong towards Global Thermo Nuclear War. Once that had started to regulate itself, I picked myself slowly from the solid tiled floor ensuring my balance was stable not wishing to risk a late collapse and moved myself gingerly over to the side of the hall to a bench located at the top of the escalator that I had come up on a little while before, sat and took stock of the situation.

Slowly it seemed that things were improving, the decreased heart rate was followed swiftly by the throat, lips and tongue returning to normal. The itching and the redness on my skin took longer to dissipate but eventually after a while on the bench I decided it was time to try and get back to the hostel. Vicky was urging me remotely not to try and walk it, but I knew that in my current state of mild discombobulation that a walk of a couple of miles outside in less than comfortable conditions wasn't really going to be doable anyway.

Downstairs I stopped at the pharmacy, the same one whose medical cabinet I had looked in earlier that evening and with the pharmacist speaking a more coherent form of english than I was able to at that point, she managed to conclude from my clumsy descriptions that I had suffered an allergic reaction. Dutifully she checked to see if I had any other allergies that needed to be considered to which I knee-jerked that I "once had a mild reaction to penicillin". She then prepared and passed me over a packet of tablets, urging me to take one as soon as I could, 3 times a day until the tablets were finished. I did what she said. I knew from the information that I had devoured off the internet whilst dropped on the one knee upstairs that there is sometimes the danger of a secondary reaction following the first, and that wasn't something I wanted to risk occurring. You can only rely on so much good luck.

In the nearby refuge of an air-conned McDonalds I swallowed down the first of the pills with a large Coke Zero, waited a short time to recover some more and left to continue back on my way. A short walk to the BTS "National Stadium" station on one end, and an even shorter walk from "Sala Daeng" station at the other soon had me nesting down in my curtain drawn bed, but not before I had explained how I felt to the owner of the hostel who seemed unnervingly pleased to see me.

Tonight there was going to be no bottle of lager night cap or pre bed witty banter.

Tonight there was just going to be sleep. a long, washed out, deep recovery driven sleep.

*from the treatment I had received on my broken foot on the 4th February 2016

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Last days in Vietnam: 25-28/4/2016

The last few days in Vietnam were a bit of a mixed bag, like trying to kill time in the worlds largest waiting lounge with choice of things available to do, but with one eye keeping a check of the time to make sure that the departure gate is still within reach. My flight back to Bangkok was only now a couple of short days away and Lan was off back to Danang the day before that,  it was now down to how to make the most of our time as appropriate.

Early the on Friday morning, Lan went off early to sort out some personal stuff, leaving me to head off to  find the nearest branch of Highlands coffee to get fuelled up on Vietnamese coffee and a rock hard Banh Mi before meeting up once again at mid day. Lan was rightfully desperate to go get on with the day, and despite a slight miscommunication that initially had us heading the wrong way across town to the museum of History, we were soon back on course and heading up towards the correct museum that Lan wanted to take me to. It was getting hotter by the step and I could feel my head starting to burn up under the afternoon sun. I cursed my hat for leaving me when I got off the bus a couple of days before, As I followed behind Lan as she powered on without struggle I cursed the lack of shade and lack of liquid. I cursed the pavement and my foot. I cursed at anything I could because I could, whether it was justified or not. So imagine the joy that was had when we finally arrived after a good half an hours walk at "Bào tàng lįch su' Viêt Nam" (Vietnam Military History Musuem) to find it was shut. Fridays it is always apparently shut.

As Lenin watched over us from the park opposite, we peered back over the wall towards the inaccessible museum that now lay just beyond reach whilst sinking an ice cold diet coke pertained from the shop we had stumbled past just before. It was obvious that I was annoying Lan with my behaviour, but I was having a hard time trying to explain that it wasn't anything to do with what she was doing, more the fact that I was just seemingly worn out from the months of travel, the injuries and now the heat. It wasn't one thing that was causing me to behave like I was, and it certainly wasn't down to Lan trying to make the most of our time left in Ha Noi. Personally I was grateful for all that she had done and what she was trying to do. It just wasn't coming across that was at that particular point in time.

Just a couple of streets to the south of our location (and open on a Friday) was the "Temple of Literature", a place of learning founded in the 11th century and home to the first National University of Vietnam. The grounds lead you along paths through several well procured gardens, under old arches and around large manmade ponds before you reach a large courtyard. Here you can find examples of early writings on stone tablet held up by stone turtles, with the turtles uniquely distinguishable in style according to their age and dynastic era that they fall into. It's a place of tranquility in the centre of a bustling city and well worth a visit if you are passing. By the end of the time spent there I think Lan was beginning to forgive me for my earlier tantrums. It's sometimes tough to cross over the small obstacles and mis understandings that that can exist between different people and different cultures, but it can help a lot if you can refrain from being a bit of a dick in the first place. I'm still trying to get to that point.

The rest of the time left was spent looking for gifts or souveniers back home, either side of watching Disney's re-telling of "The Jungle Book" in the nearby shopping mall, neatly giving me a cultural insight into the cinema experience that exists in yet another country (people just talk and walk in and out all the way through) at the same time as wrapping up my Vincom Mall Tour 2016. It's a simple thing to be part of, but was nice to experience that even though the first language of the audience was not that of the audio track being played (English with Vietnamese Subtitles), the emotional responses were the same throughout, despite the obviousy linguistic barriers.

It's nice to know that despite the many differences you might be able to find in those from different cultures if you choose to do so, we some things that make us all the same.






The next day Lan was gone and maybe, a bit weirdly it was not as emotionally painful as the first time that we thad said goodbye just a few short weeks before and there didn't seem to be that sense of finality to it all despite it being no different. The Day after Lan had gone, I returned to Bangkok myself in order to prepare for the final flight back to Blighty. I now had only 5 days to lose some serious weight from my baggage and somehow I had managed to pick up yet more stuff during my last few days spent in Vietnam.