The pain hit me just as I tried to sit on the sand. The second one, more alarmingly, hit me as I tried to stand up, a wrenching tug on my left side that left me stunned.
We – Trish, Sarah Jane, her fiancé Tadhg and I – were on a day out in Stanley, Hong Kong, a couple of weeks ago, part of a fantastic holiday that was all going rapidly wrong. Those same pains had also turned up a couple of days earlier in Dubai, so when Trish asked me if I was alright I knew there was no point in evading the inevitable. I shook my head and said no. When I explained about the pain she and the others looked at each other in shock and acted immediately.
After a quick consultation, Tadhg rang for an Uber – it was a busy Sunday and there were long queues for taxis – while Sarah Jane called the VHI to discuss options. Fortunately, the VHI said to take me to the nearest hospital immediately. What ensued was a very silent 30 minutes or so as we crawled along in heavy traffic before we finally reached the hospital.
We arrived into a very modern building and after quickly explaining why we were there I was asked for 500HK$ (around €64) before a doctor would look at me. They wanted 50,000HK$ lodged in their account if I were admitted, not something I could do on the day, but Sarah Jane had a a HK$ denominated bank account should the need arise. I went for the first option and plucked a 500HK$ note from my pocket and we were quickly ushered down the corridor to a sit outside an office.
In minutes I was seen by a young doctor who asked me what happened. He did a quick blood pressure check (the figure 172 was mentioned), and before I could blink did a quick ECG. All clear. But that still left the pain and high blood pressure. What to do?
After a quick chat among the family we consulted the VHI rep who said I should be admitted for tests. They agreed to cover costs, but said they didn’t have an agreement with the hospital and it would take time to organise payment. So Sarah Jane coughed up the 50,000HK$ and I was admitted. We were shown a menu of prices, with prices starting at 1,600HK$ a night for a ward, rising to over 20,000HK$ a night for ICU!
I was taken to a small ward, drained of blood for tests, my heart monitored continuously, and left a little shaken by the uncertainty of it all. My blood pressure was taken again (now down to 160) and ordered to fast. Some holiday. We were due to fly to Vietnam in a few days. That was looking pretty unlikely now.
After Trish and co left I tried to calm myself as best I could. All I could see were the curtains around me closing in. An old man across from me spent the night moaning. Nurses and other medical staff spent the night taking my blood pressure, draining my blood – my hands were soon pockmarked with failed attempts to find a vein.
Because I was hooked up to a heart monitor I was forced to lie on my back, not my favourite position, so I spent a restless night and hardly slept. Hospitals are no strangers to me, but this was my first experience of one abroad. So far the hospital seemed on the ball, which was reassuring at least.
The next morning I discovered you pay extra for food! After an early trip down for a CT scan, I was handed a menu running to over 20 pages, everything from sandwiches to a pleasing array of Chinese foods. Conscious of my high blood pressure I settled on a very healthy breakfast for 70HK$, rang my order through to a nurse (I wonder if she was on commission?), and in a few minutes it arrived. It was then I realised why there was a jug of hot water next to my bed. It was there in case you needed to make your own coffee or tea, no sachets included!
My cardiologist arrived later to give me a clean bill of health for my heart. Everything was superb in fact – no blocked arteries or cholesterol issues. I could go home and travel onwards to Vietnam knowing my heart was in good shape. However, that pain issue remained unresolved (my GP told me today it’s related to old scar tissue from a skin transplant) and I now needed medication for high blood pressure. But otherwise I was fine. A few hours later the VHI’s agent arrived to pay the bill and the hospital returned Sarah Jane’s money.