After ten straight days of work in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we finally had a leisurely day in the walled Old City: Buddhist temples, lunch dishes whose names we’d never know, and heavenly $3 foot massages from women whose oils and sticks were in boxes like shoe-shine kits.
We were on our scooter, almost “home,” when I saw a brown mid-sized dog chase the scooter in front of us. But he gave up the chase after about ten yards, so I figured he wasn’t fierce. We passed him.
Without warning, my left calf felt like it exploded, and I heard an unfamiliar sound – me, screaming. Geoffrey got off the bike with an expression worthy of war or heart attack. As people on the sidewalk gathered, we both stared in horror at the blood and yellow substance oozing from my ragged puncture wounds.
I stopped screaming and called Grib, our volunteer agency’s on-site liaison, who told us she’d meet us at Chiang Mai Ram Hospital. “It is the preference hospital for Westerners. Most people speak English a little.”
During a tuk-tuk (pronounced “took-took”) ride to the hospital, I fearfully asked questions I knew Geoffrey couldn’t answer. “Do they have rabies in Thailand? Are dogs vaccinated? What if I need those horrible rabies shots in the stomach? Do they keep the serum on hand? What if they don’t?” He held me tight, which I needed more than answers. In my panic, I was trembling.
* * *
The doctor gently cleaned and bandaged my messy wounds. Then he asked the question I’d been dreading.
“The dog that bites you was vaccinated against rabies?”
“I don’t know. It was a street dog.”
“You must receive treatment. I will get the serum.” When he left the room, I grabbed my stomach, then Geoffrey, and tensed every muscle in my body.
But I was in for a glorious surprise, better than being asked to the prom, getting into the college you want, getting a tax refund. The rabies series consisted of a series of five shots in the arm, not ten in the stomach. They were no more painful than flu shots. My relief left me weak and very happy.
* * *
We took our hospital paperwork to a large waiting room with cashier windows like a bank’s. There were adolescents in oversized T-shirts and backwards-facing baseball caps, Buddhist monks in orange robes, families with young children, but, surprisingly, no other farangs (Westerners). The woman next to me had an infant in her arms and two squirming children next to her. She looked weary and her children looked at us with curiosity. I had no idea which of the four was the sick one. She pointed to the machine from which we were to take a number, just like the ones in a deli.
Announcements were in Thai and, after each one, someone went up to the window with the flashing light. Would we recognize our number or accented name when it was our turn? Whatever. Breathe.
And then we heard in unaccented English, loud and clear, “Mrs. Carole Howard, number 45.” The medical team had indicated we were English speakers, and the cashier acted accordingly! We went to the window and paid about $60 for the wound-cleaning, the first rabies shot, and the medicine we’d pick up at the hospital pharmacy.
Good care, low price, efficient systems – a winning threesome that continued when I showed up for my next four shots. No wonder Thailand is known for Medical Tourism: go for a face lift or dental implants and, after paying for the procedure, the plane tickets, hotel and living expenses, you save a bunch. Nearby hotels cater to the trade.
* * *
My ugly wounds healed into ugly scars. Two dark-purple irregular circles, about ½ inch in diameter. They were a visible reminder – a true souvenir – of the incident. A memento, better than my silk scarves, earrings, and salad servers.
Back in the U.S, I considered a tattoo incorporating the scars, maybe a butterfly with one purplish circle in each colorful wing. I wish I’d done it because the scars are now hardly visible. You need to know exactly where to look. As crazy as it sounds, I sort of miss them.
What’s your most unusual souvenir?
Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, recently published by Second Wind Publishing. She is working on a travel memoir (I Didn’t Know Squat: Volunteering in the Developing World After Retirement), from which this is an excerpt.