An unplanned trip to a Bangkok hospital

unplanned trip to a bangkok hospital nzmuse

Modified CC image, original by Flickr user Jose Goulao

When we first stepped into our little room at Bangkok’s Rainbow Hostel, one thing jumped out at me.

“That ceiling fan is really low,” I said. “Watch out for it.”


The next morning, we headed out in search of breakfast (verdict: disappointing. T keeps seeking out western-style breakfasts, and it’s usually a letdown). Upon returning home – as I always refer to wherever it is we’re staying – a minor panic set in. I didn’t have the keys, and neither did he.

“Did you leave them in the room?” I suggested.

Lo and behold, there they were, still hanging from one of the hooks on the wall. Our room’s window opened out onto the smoker’s balcony, so T headed out there and clambered in through, landing on the bed, then sliding off onto the floor. I followed suit.

In the midst of setting down my things, I heard a strange thud. Behind me, T was back on the bed, clutching his left hand. More worryingly, blood – dark blood – was leaking from it.

Next thing I knew, he was in the bathroom, asking for something to stem the bleeding. I’d actually dumped a couple of old tank tops a few days earlier, figuring I had way more than I needed, but I grabbed an old T-shirt I still had in my backpack and handed it to him. (Sentimental value: low – it was a company shirt that I ran the Round the Bays race in last year. Practical value: high, at this point – it might have come in handy at some point later, being a very thin, lightweight top, albeit one far too big for me.)

“I think we’re going to be making a trip to a Bangkok hospital,” came his voice.

From then on, it was a matter of operating on grim autopilot.  Scrambling to grab our travel insurance papers. Heading out into the hall, then ducking back into the room to grab our passports as well. Explaining to the hostel staff what had happened, and letting them guide us to a taxi across the road.

The taxi driver took the liberty of assigning himself a small tip, shortchanging us by about 9 baht. I didn’t even care. It was straight into the ER for us, where T was promptly whisked away, leaving me to try to explain the situation to the front desk staff and fill out some paperwork.

At this point, I figured it was time to call our insurance company.

Problem: T had the cellphone with him, and he was no longer there. I did battle with the payphone in the corner, which refused to connect me to the local Thai number listed on my card. Time to track him down?

Problem: I had no idea where he was. I asked if I could be taken to him, which resulted in me ping-ponging around the hospital, shunted from staffer to staffer, for about 10 minutes. That doesn’t sound like very long, but trust me, it was an eternity in a foreign hospital where not everyone spoke English. Eventually I wound up sitting outside the ER consultation room itself, with assurance that he was inside right then and would be out shortly. In the meantime, I spotted a bank of payphones in the hall, and steeled myself for another round of battle.

Problem: These friggin’ payphones didn’t seem to work, either. A staffer (let’s call her Guardian Angel, or GA for short) took pity on me and came up to help. My heart leapt as she dialled, spoke to someone on the other end in Thai, then handed me the receiver. The call went through, all right – just not to my insurance company. I have no idea who was on the other end, but it was NOT somebody who could help me.

GA sat me down at her desk, by her landline, and made a few calls. There was some talk of a service charge and fees per minute, to which I sort of stared and nodded blankly. What choice was there? I slid my magic card with all the phone numbers on it over – numbers for a bunch of countries, including Thailand, and a number to call collect, which looked like it directed to headquarters in Australia.

Amazingly, a few minutes later GA handed me the receiver once again. This time, a broad Aussie voice reverberated down the line. I could have cried with relief.

Oh, wait. That’s right, I did.

Feeling thoroughly sorry for myself, hideously frustrated at T (what the hell was he doing back on the bed, and standing up, at that? Why did he put his hand up? Questions without answers – it all happened in a flash – though in hindsight it seems he was probably closing the window back up) and stressed about the financial side of things, I dissolved. In between hiccuping half-sobs/half-gasps, I managed to open up a claim, answer all their questions as best as I could, and got a dose of reassurance from the no-nonsense staff at the other end of the phone. No, no bone was visible. Everything was still attached (losing a finger or two doesn’t even bear thinking about…). Yes, I think he was up to date with his tetanus shots.

Let’s skip ahead a little, shall we? End result: he got a bunch of stitches, right between the middle and ring fingers. I paid the 7000 baht on my backup Visa (about $280 – our insurance excess is $250 anyway, so it didn’t make sense to wait around for the claim to be sorted out between the Thai hospital and Aussie insurance). We extended our time in Bangkok by two days so T could go back to have his dressing changed by the doctor, though at the last minute he decided he’d rather buy materials from a pharmacy and do it himself. I’m not sure if that saved us any money. If there would have been a doctor’s fee for that, then yes, I think it would. It was definitely more convenient, though.

So while I’d advise against getting yourself hospitalised while on holiday as a blanket rule, if you must, Bangkok is probably not a bad place to do it. We were really impressed by the facilities at the Adventist (Mission) Hospital, and almost everyone spoke reasonable English, thankfully.


  • Grab all important documentation – passports, travel insurance information, and anything else relevant (more is always better than less). I brought my entire travel document pouch – having everything in one place makes it easy.
  • Call your insurance company ASAP. It probably has a local phone number, or a way to call collect.
  • Make sure you have cash for a taxi to get to and from the hospital – and maybe change for a pay phone.
  • And be sure to bring your credit cards. Expect to have to wait up to a few hours for the hospital to deal with your insurance, or else you can pay upfront and be reimbursed by insurance later.

And if you’re tall, watch out for those ceiling fans. Everyone who’s noticed T’s hand since has asked him if he was in a fight or a boxing match. Alas, the story is much less impressive.

16 thoughts on “An unplanned trip to a Bangkok hospital

  • Reply Do or Debt May 27, 2013 at 17:18

    Oh no, glad to know he’s ok! That’s rough 🙁 what an experience you guys shared together, but glad you made it work.

  • Reply Funny about Money May 27, 2013 at 17:27

    Aw, that’s too bad. I hope he recovers fast and you still get to have a great time.

  • Reply Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies May 28, 2013 at 00:21

    Oh no! Poor T! So glad that he’s going to be okay. Glad you guys were able to get him patched up (and with minimal financial consequences to boot).

  • Reply Budget and the Beach May 28, 2013 at 02:57

    OH wow glad he is doing OK! Hope the rest of your trip goes without incident!

  • Reply krantcents May 28, 2013 at 04:54

    You just gave us a good reason for foreign medical insurance since U.S. medical insurance does not cove you overseas.

  • Reply Charlie May 28, 2013 at 11:31

    Wow, scary, glad to hear he’s ok! I don’t trust ceiling fans one bit. One brother had one fly off the ceiling and fall onto he’s bed when he was staying in a Bangkok guest house! Luckily he wasn’t in bed. Makes me paranoid whenever I stay in a room with one tho!

  • Reply Stephanie May 28, 2013 at 11:36

    I’m glad to hear that everything’s okay! You guys need to make up a story about an epic boxing match and practice those storytelling skills. 😛 I’m going to guess that since T is white, he is much taller than most Thai people, which makes being tall not-so-great over there, like it is in a white person’s world.

  • Reply Allison @Insomniac Lab Rat May 28, 2013 at 12:50

    Yikes! I’m glad to hear that things weren’t SO bad, though! I hope T’s hand feels better 🙂

  • Reply Morgaine May 28, 2013 at 13:45

    That sucks! Hope he’s ok. On our honeymoon, I got food poisoning and got to see the inside of a Belfast hospital. While I was glad that they spoke English, it was still confusing and not pleasant 🙁

  • Reply Michelle May 28, 2013 at 13:45

    I’m so glad he’s ok. I was injured in a car accident in a foreign country and taken away in a car ambulance. No fun.

  • Reply Brian May 29, 2013 at 01:10

    Hope T is feeling better! I would be really hesitant to go to a foreign hospital, but it sounds like you guys did a nice job of handling it!

  • Reply Savvy Financial Latina May 29, 2013 at 07:52

    Wow! That sucks! I hope he’s doing better!

  • Reply Safe travels? Yeah, nah | NZ Muse January 12, 2014 at 15:17

    […] I’m asked about any mishaps we had along the way, really, the worst I have to point to is the infamous ceiling fan incident. It could be […]

  • Reply Travel essentials: What to pack and what to leave behind? | NZ Muse January 12, 2014 at 15:42

    […] two tank tops in Thailand, I still had lots of options. A week later, I used an old work shirt to stem T’s bleeding hand. I then managed to lose another T-shirt somewhere in Italy. I’m now left with one T-shirt and […]

  • Reply Hotel highlights: Where we stayed in Asia | NZ Muse January 12, 2014 at 16:29

    […] Rainbow Guesthouse/Hostel, Bangkok. Budget accommodation – shabby but serviceable, the rooms were pretty dingy. But the location was top, the inhouse Indian restaurant was pretty rad and all around the friendly staff helped create a great vibe. Just watch out for those low ceiling fans. […]

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    […] left off a couple of expenses from Bangkok, which would otherwise totally skew it: T’s medical expenses, which amount to about $300, and the tattoo he got, which was […]

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