I went to a bar to do some day-drinking with a girl I'd met in another city. I was living in Vietnam at the time and worked for a large corporate English center. As I pulled up to the bar, the bar maid came out and asked if I'd heard that my best friend, D had been in an accident. I said no, so I called D to make sure. I tried three times and each time, no answer. The barmaid told me he had been taken to the local hospital. This hospital is notorious for things that would never fly in a Western country. Not long before this, a woman had given birth to a child, but the child was born with the cord wrapped around its neck. This is something relatively easy to correct, but you do have to know how to take care of it. However, her doctor was busy watching the World Cup and told the nurse to leave him alone. He told her to leave him alone enough times that the baby died.
I did some work with some people in the local government, who told me that that particular hospital received $5 million in aid annually, but the hospital never saw it, since the senior doctors in charge of the hospital simply lined their pockets. As a result, it was filthy and the equipment hadn't been replaced since the country re-opened to trade in the early '90's. No foreigner would go there willingly. Instead, they would choose to go to the clinic run by one of the oil companies, or to the Russian run hospital. If my friend had ended up there, it couldn't have been good. I asked the girl I was with to come with me to the hospital as my Vietnamese wasn't so great and thankfully, she agreed.
At the hospital we spoke to the receptionist. The city I lived in was small enough that most of the foreigners living there knew each other. If you didn't work with me, you worked for either a smaller English center, or on the oil rigs. We asked if a foreigner had been brought in. When she said that one had, I told her that I was a friend. She had me fill out some forms. I asked if they had any of D's personal effects, as I was unsure of some of his information. What she handed to me was a pair of blood stained shorts that reeked of piss. They were still damp. Gingerly, I fished the wallet out of the pocket and pulled the ID. The name I read wasn't D's. Instead, it was a guy that had arrived in our office a month or so back.
The way hospitals work in Vietnam is, you go in as a patient and if you don't have the money for treatment, they throw you out. There is no food served in them, so outside of hospitals you will see food stalls. You might have heard that antibiotic resistant TB is on the rise in Southeast Asia. This is one of the reasons why. Patients go out to the food stalls for meals and at best, the owners simply rinse off the dishes in a large tub of water and leave them in the sun to dry. Some don't even do that. Anyway, this guy was unconscious. It turns out that someone on had stopped short in front of his motorcycle, launching him through a gap in the median into oncoming traffic where he was run over by a passenger van.
The doctors were waiting to treat him because no one had yet shown up with any money. So, to get the process started, I forked over the cash and called our manager, who told me to wait a bit since she had to call head office. Over the next 6 hours or so the doctor kept asking for more money as they figured out how best to proceed with treatment until finally, they couldn't do any more. I had to decide whether or not to wait to see if he improved, or choose to move him to Ho Chi Minh City, about 3 hours away. As the guy looked grey and I could hear things rattling in his chest as he struggled to breathe, I chose to move him to Ho Chi Minh City.
During that 6 hours, my manager kept promising to send someone to relieve me, but no one ever showed. On the ride to the city, lights and sirens going we had to stop three times for people who wouldn't make way. During this time the guy finally woke up and was begging me to get him something for the pain, but any more painkillers and there was a good chance that he would die, or so I was told. His catheter had also been jostled as we hoisted him on to the gurney and then into the ambulance and his scrotum was filling up with fluid until it was roughly the size of a pink grapefruit. He apologized for being a dick and eventually settled into a low moaning that still makes me shiver when I think about it.
When we finally got to the hospital, the doctor that rode with us stuck out his hand. As I went to shake it, he looked confused and then asked me for more money. I ignored him and pushed my co-worker into the hospital. After the sun came up I got a call from head office. After much bullshit and sending a representative down to check things out, I was told that I was on my own and that I would have to pay for the treatment out of my own pocket as they didn't want to get involved.
Eventually my co-worker lapsed into a coma and died two days later. His lungs had been badly, badly shredded by the passenger van. In Vietnam, if a driver hits a pedestrian, it is seen as their fault unless they can prove otherwise. Somehow, the van driver found out where my co-worker had been taken and showed up. Fortunately someone came forward and told the police (who hadn't given a flying fuck that there was an accident in the first place, but only showed up when they thought they could make some money out of it) that someone had stopped short, caused the accident and then sped off.
Anyway, my company arranged a cremation and arranged visas for the guy's family. Visas only cost $40 for a one month single-entry and the hospital was going to cremate my co-worker anyway as no one claimed the body and they understood that I sure as hell was not going to take it. All the company did was to let people know that they should gather at a certain place and pay for lunch. About $4 a head for maybe 20 people. At the funeral, before the body had even been taken, my manager's supervisor, asked that the family pay me back for all the expenses, right then and there. I hadn't even met them yet and there I am quoting what their son and brother's last, agonizing days on earth had cost me.
To top it all off, a weird love triangle developed between me, the girl and a friend who had no interest in her, but she later ditched me because I was "too sad." Two weeks after all this happened, the big boss that asked the family to pay me back told me that my numbers weren't satisfactory and that they weren't renewing my contract.
I'm glad I tried to help my co-worker, in spite of everything. Although, if I'm being honest, I often question if I reacted properly and with enough speed. The answer I come up with usually is, "no." I don't blame myself for his death, but I do think there's more that I could have done to prevent it and I can only hope that I'll never have to do anything like that again. I hope his family got some closure by going to that funeral and I'm really sorry that I never got to know the guy; I'm sorry that I wrote him off as just another drunk looking for whores and sunshine.
It turns out that he was a great guy. He was one of the few foreigners that bothered to try to hang out with the locals. He'd play football (soccer) with the local guys that worked on the oil rigs and when he found out that one of them didn't have enough money for a welding mask, he bought him one. When the man protested, my co-worker, though speaking no Vietnamese was able to communicate that he enjoyed being able to play football with those guys and that was payment enough. I only found this out after my co-worker died through a student that sometimes played football with some of those guys.
Sometimes, when things happen you just have to lend a hand even if it might turn out badly. Someday it could be you. I tried. I don't know how much I helped, but I promise I tried.