Lucky, in theory (a Burmese kidney-infection)

Have you ever had a kidney-infection? I do not hope so, because I can tell you it hurts like hell. Your brain is empty, apart from the permanent pain, the shivering and the desperate wish for it to stop. I am very glad though it wasn’t my first. Because when I felt the strange, slowly rising pain in my back, as we were walking just out of Nyaung-Shwe-village for some days of trekking and camping, I got suspicious. I knew I knew that pain from somewhere! It was not just the shitty mattress and the weight of my backpack. We sat down for the Burmese version of Spaghetti-Bolognese and I suddenly remembered that I´d had a light version of a bladder infection a week ago and hadn´t cured it properly. But I had thought it had gone away. I knew what nightmare was about to happen now. I told the guys I was with to go on and don´t worry because I was sad enough I couldn´t do the camping-trip now – I didn´t want to spoil theirs as well. They hesitated, but went after I forced them to. I tendered my back and sighed while I watched them and their carefree laughter becoming smaller and smaller in the distant of the dusty road, whirling sand swallowed their shapes eventually.

I sighed again and stood up, asked for the next doctor. There was one close by. I entered an open shack, looking like all the other shops and businesses at the side of the main road, only with a white desk and chair in the middle of the empty, shabby room. A very nice female doctor asked me to take a seat. I told her about my pain, my past bladder infection and supposed kidney-infection, and she listened carefully. By then my pain was already quite alarming and let me quite incapable of much complicated brain activity. We realized our common language was not enough to understand entirely. So she pulled out a dictionary, I looked up “kidney” and “infection” and showed her the beautifully written Burmese equivalent. She understood. She said it was likely to be possible. Yet she told me she had no “machines” for testing it and couldn´t prescribe medicine in such case. She wouldn´t have that medicine here, anyway. My heart sunk. My pain rose with every minute. Paralyzed me already. And now my help and hope faded away. She recommended to drive to Taungyii – the nearest bigger town – and see a doctor in hospital. I got scared. A hospital in another town is really far away, when you are in Burma with the syndromes of a kidney-infection. I didn´t have any energy left to do so. But apparently, it was the onliest choice. She said she was truly sorry, and I saw it in her calming smile and encouraging eyes. I realized that this was how things were in Myanmar. There was not always a doctor for everything immediately when one was needed. And I was probably still very lucky because I had, in theory, the money to pay a taxi to drive me to hospital, I had, in theory, the money to pay for medication…

Now traveling is no theory. Traveling is one of the most practical things you can experience. And when you do it well, you get sucked into the local circumstances and realities so much, you totally forget about your privileges and further options as a tourist. Which is mainly good. So despite feeling very weak, I asked around for a bus (which is in Nyaung Shwe village always a cramped pick-up with two wooden benches, bumping its way to wherever, at the speed of 50 km/h…). But as it was already 4 pm, people told me, the next one was going only the next morning. Don´t ask me why exactly I didn´t consider taking a taxi for 30 Dollars. I don´t know. It simply was a lot of money. Even in that situation, it seemed so out of place, spending that much money (five nights sleep in a comfortable hostel or 20 proper hot meals) on a diagnosis I already knew and could also have tomorrow while I was still able to fight the pain with a lot of painkillers. So that was what I did. I returned to the hostel, said I was back already because I was sick, and spent a fevered, shivery, restless night until I cached a cramped, bumping pick-up-ride, lasting two-and-a-half-hours of pure pain, in the morning.

"Bus" to Taungyii

Taungyii was bustling. The whole city was an open market place, people were bargaining and screaming, car drivers pushed their horns. Tired and far from understanding what was happening around me, I asked my way from the bus stand to the hospital and finally arrived after half an hour foot walk at a middle sized, once-white building that looked kind of like a hospital. Mainly because it had a big red cross on its outer wall. When I hung over the reception, complete lack of energy, the young nurses – white caps on pretty faces – giggled behind their hands. Burmese girls always did, I think because they were shy and totally flattered to see and serve a foreigner. In the pale, morbid waiting hall people sat with worried faces in silence. Pain was tormenting me, but I was still a lucky sick person. Within five minutes I was sat on a white bed with an enthusiastic young male doctor asking me in fluent English what my problem was. I suspected that many of the other people had to wait longer.  After I had told him, what I had already told the doctor in Nyaung Shwe, he pressed my belly, back and side, asked for pain and, nodding, began to write down something. He wrote into a small, cheap children´s exercise book – which was meant to be the professional file for every patient here – diagnosis and treatment. After a log silence, still writing without looking up, he said “I prescribe you another antibiotic for seven days.” His fingers were carefully forming letters, phrases, signatures. I sat up. “Eehh, but you haven´t tested anything. How do you know it´s really a kidney-infection? Don´t you want to test anything?” – “Your syndromes speak for themselves” he answered, relaxed, looking up now. “You said you had a bladder infection. And you say you have taken Ciprofloxacin for five days. That antibiotic has, unfortunately, a habit of not being strong enough to kill all the germs in only five days. It seems that was the case here also. So your infection has not fully gone away. Now it is very important you take another kind of antibiotics, a strong one, for the whole of seven days so we can be sure all of it gets killed.” He closed the booklet, handed it to me, smiled and wished me all the best. And that was it. – Could it be that easy? Irritated I spluttered a “thank you” and went out of the room to the counter in the waiting hall with the nervously smiling nurse-girls. They pointed to their left, to another counter with a woman behind it. That seemed to be the pharmacy. I handed her my “file” and two seconds later she placed three single plastic packages of small pills on the counter. Next to it she laid a hand-written bill. Now I had a big problem!

In theory, I had a lot of money on my bank account. In practice, none of my credit cards were working on Burmese cash machines. We had already taken a lot of US-Dollars in cash with us into the country. It was said, that there were not many ATMs at all, and even if, it was not guaranteed, that it was really possible to get money from them. We had smiled at the overly-careful advices from the two-year-old travel guide after the ATM in the capital had worked fine. Yet we had what we thought would be enough cash for our stay.  But then we finally realized that it would get tight after all. Luckily we had a friend with us, who´s Visa credit card was working on some ATMs, so he lent us money. Still our financial situation remained tight. Sometimes the machines were working and sometimes they were not. And sometimes they had limits. When my friends had left for their camping-trip, I hadn´t thought about money. I had enough for the daily life, enough to pay for food and some nights in the hostel. I had not thought about “expensive” medication.

The bill said 35 Dollars. About the same that antibiotics would cost in Germany. – A fortune in Burma. Also for the standards we had immersed into. I emptied my purse on the counter – all my remaining Dollars and Kyatt put together, removing the money I would need for the bus home, another night in the hostel and some basic food. Left was half of the money I had to pay. Delirium and fever of a painful kidney-infection overcame me. I stood in a shabby hospital in a strange city, far, far away. Realizing, that it was Sunday and all the banks were closed. That my pain was killing me and I had no opportunity to get relieve. Simply because I had not enough money to buy medicine to cure my serious illness. And my friends were somewhere in the faraway bush with no mobile phones on them. I felt like in a proper, evil nightmare. For a moment I think I felt the desperation, that for many thousands of people must be constantly real. (Although I was still a very lucky sick person, in theory.) I was devastated. I broke down. I think I cried. But the woman on the pharmacy-counter was kind and smart (and beautiful), like many Burmese women are. She understood and tendered me, wordless. We had no language in common, so she showed me, taking a part of my money from the counter, holding it, and handing me two of the three packs of pills. Gestured, pills 11 to 14 would stay here until I would come back, bringing the rest of the money. I was baffled. I smiled. Bloody cultural civilization! People just stick to it like fat blue flies to the shit because they don’t know about alternatives. I would have never ever considered such an easy solution to be possible! In Germany, or other western countries, you either can pay for medication or you can´t. Ripping apart a prescribed dose, buying single tablets, is just not a concept to think of, for us.

Delirious nights

I took the packed pick-up home, happy now, relieved (even bought new pencils at the market on a dose of antibiotics and painkillers!), between all the smiling people transporting goods, belongings, market shopping, helping me onto my place on the wooden bench. Back in the cozy comfort of my hostel I again had shivery, fevered nights with bad dreams and often lay awake in pain staring at the lizards in front of my window. But it got better with a lot of sleep. And the pills 1 to 10. Then some warm tea. Then the western breakfast on the terrace (Pancakes). Then the beloved three-in-one-coffee-mix and when I could think again, I started writing. I didn´t stop writing for three whole days without a break. Sitting on the terrace, watching guests from all over the world come and go. And on the fourth day, after a huge thunderstorm, which I watched from my comfy shelter, anxious because of my boys out there, somewhere, they came back, happy as ever, with many stories to tell. And with money for my second trip to Taungyii.

 

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