Airplane Splints, Bumrungrad Hospital and my new life

Note: Anyone who’s been emailing me knows I’ve been typing with only one hand, leaving off capital letters and littering my copy with typos. I can type with both hands as I’m doing now, but with my arm in a ridiculous splint I have to bend over the keyboard and it’s painful as hell. So please don’t be surprised to see me alternating between regular type and “splint type” depending on how I’m feeling at the moment.

Now that my site traffic has fallen to nothing, I’m finally back, at least enough to post a couple of times a day. I don’t want to whine and groan about my last two weeks, but I will anyway, as I use this blog to record personal experiences. For posterity’s sake, here goes:

I’ve had a five-year history of shoulder problems which I thought would be taken care of last July when I had an operation here in Singapore. Unfortunately, that failed and on Decembver 27 I went to Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok as a “last resort.” There was only one Plan B for my situation, and that entailed slicing muscles from my back and leg and grafting them into my shoulder. (Gross, I know.) Thai surgeons are said to be among the world’s best, and their prices are relatively low. (You can get a sex change there for less than US$4,000.) So I decided, might as well get it done now.

Right now, if I could go back, I’m not sure I would have had the operation. I am hoping in six or seven weeks when I get this splint removed — at which time I intend to burn it in the public square — I will be glad that I did it. For years now I have neen unable to lift luggage into the overhead bin or hang up clothes with my right arm; and putting a shirt on each morning has been my daily misery. So if this does work, I guess it will have been worthwhile. Right now, I’d opt for the daily aggravation over wearing this thing.

Bumrungrad Hospital is bright and shiny and slick; it sells medical services like its a department store. There are signs and posters and brochures for the different services it offers, and the lobby looks like a shopping mall food court. The doctors there are truly world-class. But I wouldn’t recommend it for anything except out-patient care. (More on this point to come.)

My doctors were among the best I’ve ever worked with. My doctor in Singapore tells me they did a great job, and that he personally knows two of my surgeons, who are quite renowned in orthopedic surgery. There’s nothing I can say about the operation as I was unconscious throughout the entire thing. I was amazed to learn, however, that five surgeons took a total of 5 hours and 45 minutes to complete the procedure, which they told me was way longer than usual. (They even gave me a CD-Rom of the operation. Should I post it here?)

The misery started after I woke up, which is typical of all surgery. It wasn’t the pain of the numerous incisions, however; I can deal with that, as I did in July. It was this contraption that they had fitted over me, something I’d never heard of before and will never, ever forget. It’s called an Airplane Splint.

airplanesplint4-02.jpg

See the jolly little girl with the big grin? She is wearing an airplane splint, and I want to assure everyone that if you were weaing an airplane splint you would not be smiling. I’ll never forget the head of the surgical team coming to see me shortly after I awoke in my splint and making the unfortunate remark, “I wouldn’t want to be in one of those things for six minutes let alone six weeks.” What a morale booster that was. (Just two days ago, when I met my physiotherapist, his first comment was, “Boy, I sure wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.” Aren’t they taught to be encouraging and positive?)

The splint forces your elbow to be pushed out to the side and your hand to be thrust upward. (That’s why right now I’m typing nose to the keyboard.) There is no way you can take this splint off or put it back on without help. And the absolute minimum wearing time is 6 weeks, though my doctor says I’d be more realistic to count on 8 weeks. Except during physical therapy, I cannot take it off at all. Ever.

I know it could be worse, and that compared to a severe burn or an amputation, etc., this is nothing. Still, it’s the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been. Thinking about anything else is almost impossible. It’s not just having your arm splinted; it hurts to wear this thing, with non-stop backaches and all sorts of other miseries. (My splint is different from that in the picture; hers looks like mainly soft material, while the section around my arm is hard, like a cast.)

Thanks for letting me vent about that. The next thing I need to vent about is my week in the hospital. I was amazed at the difference between Changi General Hospital in Singapore and Bumrungrad in Thailand.

Changi is a true class act. There was, on the other hand, a carelessness at Bumrungrad that I wasn’t prepared for.

When I first checked in a nurse came to my bed and asked if I had hypertension or diabetes and I said no, but that it was urgent the hospital know I needed to take 400 mgs of a certain drug every day. She smiled and nodded, but I had the uncomfortable feeling she didn’t understand.

On the first two days of recovery I couldn’t speak or move, literally. They put the medicine in my mouth and I swallowed it. On the third day I finally asked my doctor if, among the pills they were giving me, my aforementioned daily drug was being included. I found out it wasn’t.

I can’t tell you how serious a mistake this was, and it typified the general carelessness I saw there. The assistants would bring my food out and just leave it by the side of my bed, as though I could just sit up and eat without a problem. (At Changi, the lady would stand there and help me with everything, and I wasn’t even wearing a splint.) The food was always ice cold and I finally told them to only bring me a plate of fresh fruit for every meal. And there was more, lots more in terms of amateurish care.

I do feel grateful for the medical team there and I know one can’t have the same expectations of a Thai hospital as they would a Singapore hospital. Still, many things there just defied common sense. After they told me I should check out a 1pm last Thursday, no one came to help me check out. When I rang the nurse to ask, she said she didn’t know anything about it. Finally, I just picked up my suitcase and staggered over to the registration desk by myself.

My last comment has nothing to do with Bumrungrad, but about my roommates there. My heart really went out to one of them, a 30-year-old Cambodian guy with a herniated colon, who was going through such misery I wanted to cry. his wife and kids came by every morning, and there was something very poignant about someone so young being in so much pain.

then there was an irish fellow, about 65, for whom i had far less sympathy. he was there for dehydration and he was loving every second of it. he always managed to have at least one nurse or nurse’s aide by his bedside and sometimes as many as three, and his flirting was so blatant it was embarrassing: ‘where did you get such lovely skin, do all thai girls have such soft skin, oh, can i touch your face, it looks so soft….’ shit like this would go on through the night after the lights went out, and if i’d had a brick within reach i’d have lobbed it over toward his bed with my left hand.

Okay, no more bitching. Now that I’ve captured the experience forever, I’m going to try to normalize my life, at least as much as i can. (there’s no way life can be ‘normal’ when you are imprisoned in an airplane splint.) Maybe later today I’ll be able to get back to writing about China and Asia and politics. Unfortunately, I still can’t spend more than an hour at the keyboard. and writing this post shows me that, embarrassing as it is, for all long posts i will need to mainly type with one hand. i’ll come back in a week or two and correct the typos.

thanks to all for the kind comments and emails. i really appreciate it.

The Discussion: 20 Comments

The main thing is your alive and they didn’t take your kidney and leave you in a bath of ice.

Hope you have a speedy recovery.

January 5, 2004 @ 5:57 pm | Comment

“The main thing is your alive and they didn’t take your kidney and leave you in a bath of ice.”

no, that was last year.

January 5, 2004 @ 6:24 pm | Comment

Thai surgeons are said to be among the world’s best, and their prices are relatively low. (You can get a sex change there for less than US$4,000.) So I decided, might as well get it done now.

Enough about the shoulder cast. How was the sex change?

January 5, 2004 @ 8:00 pm | Comment

That’s next year. (Not.)

January 5, 2004 @ 8:05 pm | Comment

In a flash it came to me,

how would Beijing ever live up to its promise to educate taxi drivers in English? I mean, it’s hilarious to read some of what passes as English, but realistically speaking a whole subset of a profession in a major city…

January 5, 2004 @ 9:19 pm | Comment

Look on the bright side: with your arm in that position, you’re a shoo-in to win the next Kim Il-Sung Statue Impersonation Contest.

January 5, 2004 @ 9:46 pm | Comment

‘Look on the bright side: with your arm in that position, you’re a shoo-in to win the next Kim Il-Sung Statue Impersonation Contest.’

Perhaps we should call it the Great Leader splint in honour of Comrade Kim… ๐Ÿ™‚

January 6, 2004 @ 1:55 am | Comment

Hope you get well soon Richard and a happy new year to you!

January 6, 2004 @ 10:31 am | Comment

Thanks for sharing your slice of life, hope that you will have a speedy recovery.

January 6, 2004 @ 2:26 pm | Comment

Please let me know the email address of Bumrungrad Hospital and its website
Thank you

April 16, 2004 @ 10:50 am | Comment

Hi – stumbled across your site when I Googled Bumrungrad. I’m sorry your experience was not good – but curious to find out how the shoulder surgery turned out after all. That’s one of the surgeries I’m contemplating going there for. We were there a couple of years ago, & treated very well – but it was outpatient services. I need work on my hand & my shoulder & know it would be much cheaper there. Would you be kind enough to let me know? Thanks, M.A.Wuebker

July 15, 2004 @ 7:09 pm | Comment

The surgeons were great — no complaints. And my shoulder is now healed, after two months of wearing the splint. My big complaint was the service in the hospital room. Also, the splint they created for me was not good and it broke into pieces shortly after I left the hospital. I had to have it replaced in Singapore, at considerable cost. Again, none of these problems reflect on the doctors, who were great.

July 15, 2004 @ 7:14 pm | Comment

i have a complete tear in my supraspinatus tendon,would you suggest outpatient treatment at bumrungrad?thanks!

August 13, 2005 @ 12:43 pm | Comment

Absolutely NOT. They screwed it up and I needed a third operation to repair their poor work. I finally got it fixed in a good old American hospital.

August 13, 2005 @ 12:53 pm | Comment

Can anyone give me information on how the hospital and doctors at Bumrungrad Hospital are at Plastic Surgery? Any personal experiance?

September 7, 2005 @ 1:44 pm | Comment

Can you give me an email address where I can contact Bumrungrad Hospital? When I go to their website and try and click on the contact button, nothing happens. Only a site map comes up. Thank you. Gene

January 25, 2006 @ 8:56 am | Comment

I had a face lift at bumrungard hospital and it was the best experience. The doctor and staff were all very professional and the results are outstanding. everyone thinks I look rested and happier or have lost weight. very subtle results that took off at least 10 years. I am a registered nurse in california for over 25 years so I am very demanding about care bumrungard exceeded my expectations

July 12, 2006 @ 11:32 am | Comment

I had a face lift at bumrungard hospital and it was the best experience. The doctor and staff were all very professional and the results are outstanding. everyone thinks I look rested and happier or have lost weight. very subtle results that took off at least 10 years. I am a registered nurse in california for over 25 years so I am very demanding about care bumrungard exceeded my expectations

July 12, 2006 @ 11:33 am | Comment

I am thinking of going to the Bumrungrad hospital for breast enlargement Lower Blepharoplasty and Liposuction on my thighs and bottom. Could anyone reccomade a doctor please to perform these surgerys and who has the most experience out of them all my email address is saz06xx@aol.com

Thanks very much
Sarah

August 25, 2006 @ 1:58 pm | Comment

Hi There
Thankyou for sharing your experiences. Glad to hear your surgery went ok. I just wanted to say that not all Thai hospitals are like this. Bangkok Hospital in my opinion is the best in the world, and the after care is impeccable. My husband had a lower lumbar double disc replacement that we couldn’t afford in New Zealand, nor wait the weeks of appointments it would have taken prior to surgery. Our NZ specialist was arrogant and non-explanatory too. Our Thai specialist was amazing, showed us a step by step presentation of the operation, and rushed my husband through all the MRI’s and discogram procedures prior to the op. We were out of hospital in 10 days (the physio and nursing team were highly commendable and capable) and my husband has never been better. Bangkok hospital may be a bit more expensive than Bumrungrad, but they are the best in the world in my opinion with state of the art facilities in every department. (Price wise, our flights from NZ, the entire procedure and after care, and a month recovering in Thailand all equated to the same price of the surgery only in NZ) – If anyone else is considering Surgery in Thailand, please go straight to Bangkok hospital – it’s where most of the world’s top surgeons train.
Thank you for sharing your experiences at Bumrungrad – I hope others benefit from your assessments, and I hope our experiences at Bankgok hospital encourage others to try there instead.

October 8, 2006 @ 12:41 pm | Comment

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