Friday, August 24, 2012

Escape from Hanoi, Part 2

So, I had just missed my third and final job interview at the French school by two days, due to a concussion with amnesia, and several other broken parts.  I was in a hospital in Hanoi, the “French” Hanoi Hospital.  I put quotes around the French part because that’s their big selling point, that there’s actually French doctors there, but in reality, there’s like 2 in the entire hospital.  So, basically for 10 times the price of a normal Viet hospital you get a 5% chance of getting a French doctor, and a 96% chance of getting regular ol’ terrifyingly oblivious Vietnamese medical care.

Anyway, I checked my email, saw that the school had emailed me twice trying to get ahold of me, then gave up.  I emailed apologizing, and explaining to them the situation and how I would be in the hospital for at least the next few days, but I am still very interested in the position.  They replied ‘no problem, we understand, get well soon and let us know when you feel up to an interview.’  Phew.

The next morning, I was to have surgery on my nose.  My left sinus passage was crushed and needed to be popped back into place.  I would need to be placed under general anesthesia, which always carries some risk of the anesthesiologist od’ing you if they don’t get everything exact.  So far, I hadn’t seen a single French person, and my medical team was no different, all Vietnamese.  In these situations, much like flying, I just figure either they’ll do a good job and I’ll live, or a bad job and I’ll die.  Not much to be done about it.  Call it fatalism, but it gets me through the day.

My face hurt like hell, if you’ve ever had a sinus infection, like that but with the additional feeling of hitting you in nose with a hammer.  Not fun.  Anyway, they cart me to the table, and dump me on it.  They lay me down, and then a little poke, and ahh, the sweet nectar of oblivion is pumped into my veins.  No more pain, just happy floating in the void.  I was having a pretty nice opium dream, I don’t remember of what, but I can only assume it was somewhere far fucking away from a Vietnamese hospital.

Dreaming, and then CHOKING!  DROWNING!  GGGGGHHHH!! My eyes snap open, and gurgling, I cough out blood, spraying the entire operating room in blood, like the chick from The Exorcist.  Step out of the action for a moment, I’m going to give you a little first aid quiz to see if you know more than 5 Vietnames nurses and one Vietnamese surgeon.  Question:  If someone is bleeding profusely in their sinus passage, and you lay them on their back, where do you think gravity will dump that blood?  If you answered “down the victim’s throat”, YOU WIN!  You know more about first aid than a room full of Vietnamese medical professionals! 

The blood had filled my nose, and proceeded to fill my throat, cutting off all air, essentially drowning me in my own blood.  Still zonked from the anesthesia, but lucid enough to know what’s going on, I wave at the nurses who are currently running around the room like 5 chickens with their heads cut off, and do the international hand signal for “choking”, the crook of your hand across your throat, with a panicked look in the eyes, and face turning slightly blue.  They continue to run around the room aimlessly, all yelling in Vietnamese, but none actually doing anything.  One has at least the bright idea to offer me a tissue as I’m coughing blood everywhere.  Thanks lady, but instead, do you think maybe you could help tilt my head up, as I’m clearly trying to do, so the blood flows out of my throat?  Nah, too complex a concept.  I push through the drug induced coma and finally get myself onto an elbow, where I expel the rest of the blood onto the floor.  Then I take the uselessly proffered tissue and wipe my gore covered face off.  If I was slightly more zonked out by the anesthesia, I wouldn’t be writing this today.  I think in the states, there might be a lawsuit there, but in ‘Nam, it’s just business as usual.

That was the only real bad thing that happened to me in the hospital, other than one of my nurses stealing my morphine doses as I was healing up, which really sucked as my sinuses were hurting so bad, I couldn’t sleep, or do much apart from grit my teeth.  I finally got out of the Hospital of Doom (which is believe it or not, the second best hospital in all of Hanoi) and back to my house on Friday.  About the job, I knew I had to strike while the iron was hot.  I knew I was fighting with a lot of other teachers for this gig, and if I waited too long, they might just go with someone else.  Although I was still mentally rattled from my concussion/amnesia, I emailed them and said I’d be ready for the interview by Monday.  Two days to try and get my brain hard-wired again.  I still had (and still have) absolutely no memories of the time between leaving work and sitting with my coworker with my arm already put in a cast in the hospital.

The interview was at 1:30pm on Monday, so Sunday night, I went to bed at midnight, thinking I would likely wake up at my usual hour of 8 or 9am.  In Hanoi, I never was able to sleep later than about 8:30am.  I woke up comfortably, stretched, and looked at my watch, thinking it would be maybe 9 or 10, since I felt so refreshed.  It was 2pm, half an hour after the appointed time.  Shit!  Again!  I jumped out of bed, then tried not to faint from lack of blood pressure, grabbed my computer, checked email, and sure enough, another two messages asking where I was, and if I was still interested.  I replied that I was absolutely interested, and apologized for how unprofessional this must seem, but the medication I had taken had apparently knocked me out for 14 hours (literally the only time in my life I have ever slept for 14 hours).  If they could just give me 30 minutes to get ready, I would be ready to interview.  They said no problem.  Quickly brewed some strong coffee, and dressed. 

The funny thing was that, as bad as my injuries were, if you looked at me, I really didn’t look messed up at all.  Not even a bruise on my face, although I had broken sinus and teeth.  My arm was in a cast, but that was it.  So, I decided I needed to ham it up, and show them that I was really messed up, otherwise they might just think I was bullshitting them.  So, quick costume change.  I put two large bandages across my nose, I hadn’t shaved in a week already so I had a nice castaway beard going, and then I wrapped a sling around my arm, therefore hoisting my cast into the camera’s field of vision and making my arm injury look far worse.  To top it off, I put on a shirt and a tie, and draped my suit jacket over my shoulder, in an imitation of a veteran from The Great War.  Now, I looked like I felt.  Perfect.

When they turned the camera on (Skype interviews are now the norm for international work), the director let out a gasp.  Booya!  “Um, are you ok?  Are you sure you are feeling well enough to do this?”  Yes, I’ll be fine, let’s get this interview started!  “Well, if you need to take a break to rest during the interview, that is totally fine, no problem, just let me know.”  No ma’am, thank you, but I’m pretty tough and you’ve already had to wait for me enough.  “Well, if you’re sure…” 

And again, I aced the interview.  Even though I was groggy and messed up, like I said, my interview mojo is pretty high nowadays after going through 3 days of non-stop interviews in London.  After, I wrote her an email thanking her for her time, and that I looked forward to speaking with her in the future.  She responded almost immediately thanking me for my time, and told me it was pretty clear that I had the energy and dedication for the job.  Boo and ya!  Two days later, I got the job offer.

The problem is my motorbike was still with the guy who I assumed to be my guardian angel, this English guy named Steve, the one who took care of my bike, picked me off the road, and brought me on the back of his motorbike to the hospital, pouring blood and half conscious.  If it wasn’t for him looking after me, I might just have died on the side of some Hanoian highway.  One thing about the Vietnamese, if they see an injured Westerner, they are very unlikely to try and help them.  Not because they are bad people, but because they are afraid.  In popular Vietnamese legend, if a Viet helps an injured foreigner, and then said foreigner dies or gets worse while under their protection, there is a belief that the foreigner will then sue them, or that the government will hold the Viet responsible for the condition of the foreigner.  This might actually be true, knowing Vietnam’s crazy laws, but I don’t know, and neither do most Viets, as such, they are real hesitant to help a badly injured foreigner, and given that, I can’t say I blame them.   

When I was in the hospital, Steve was constantly texting and calling me, asking how I was doing, if there was anything he could do to help, assuring me my bike was safe, and that if I wanted he could get my bike (which was completely totaled from the accident) up and running for around $300 because he has a Viet buddy who’s a mechanic.  Seemed like a good deal to me, so sure, hook it up buddy.  This really saved me a big head ache, as I would have somehow had to get the bike towed to a garage and then negotiated them fixing it, all with basically no Vietnamese language skills.  This might not sound difficult, but in Hanoi, everything is a negotiation, and there’s no such thing as “the Yellow Pages”, if you don’t know a mechanic, or a tow truck, good luck finding one.  But Steve hooked it all up, and for a good price (I assumed).  This guy was like some blessed stranger.  He saved me from an uncertain fate on the side of the road, brought me to a hospital, and asked for nothing in return, I even offered to give him some money as a token of gratitude for helping me so much, and he refused.  What a guy! 
In the world of con-men, this situation is called “gaining the mark’s confidence”…As I was to find out later…
To Be Continued…

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