Its all great! Until something goes wrong…

This is a personal experience of mine that I wanted to share not for a pity party but merely because I want to advise people to look carefully at their insurance companies and to always remember that even when everything is great and your caught up in the moment, the few days of hell you can receive as a consequence is not emotionally, mentally or financially always worth it and it can leave you feeling very anxious, vulnerable and home sick!

Living abroad at 23 feels like living the dream and its very easy to feel at home once you have adjusted into this ‘strange’ new culture. Soon everything around you becomes familiar, you can get about the city with no navigation, you know what local stores you like to use and begin to ‘bump’ into random people you know or recognise, even Hanoi which started out such a vast, maze of a city had become smaller and smaller in the near year I have been here!

At this time in my life I truly call this place home and my life here has become routine and familiar all without feeling lost or swallowed by the conventional things we must persevere in life after all the funs over, I can confidently say I am happily content here.
I have never yet lived anywhere abroad for as long as I have in Vietnam, and just 10 months into living here I began to feel more than comfortable at looking after myself here and thinking its all great! Until something goes wrong…

On the 25th July I had gone to a Pilates class in the evening, heading home after for an early night I was excited to see the next few days were forecasted for good weather and I was feeling good! Little did I know that during my gym class I had shifted something inside me that was now beginning to move and I was going to wake up in the most agony I had ever felt before – A kidney stone!
For those of you who have had one of these before and suffered badly, I’m sure you can relate to the unbearable, out of control pain that you have to get through before trying to naturally pass the stone, or even worse potentially go through surgery to remove.
It was the closest thing I can imagine to what going into labour must feel like and I was doing a pretty good job of convincing anyone in the emergency room with me that I was having contractions except with no baby bump! My nan had even said to my mum afterwards ‘I had a kidney stone once, and I had two children, I would rather have another child than another kidney stone!’

I was brought to Hong Ngoc hospital late morning on the Wednesday by my house mate Cara, when the pain had become unbearable to cope with on my own at home, my Vietnamese employer and friend recommended I go to this hospital as in this moment my situation became an emergency and I was in urgent need of medical attention. Thuy (my employer) was able to meet me there and translate for me in order to get an examination, blood test, ultra sound scan and a shot of Morphine, having insurance and being in the agony I was in – including nausea and vomiting, I rushed straight here in hopes I would be looked after and taken care of. The examination results showed us that I had a kidney stone moving to my bladder on my right side. My friend, Dahlia went to collect my insurance paper work for me to present to the hospital before being told they would not cover us with my insurance company and that for any further treatment I would need to pay a lot more upfront or move hospitals. Still being in urgent pain and with no help we were advised to go to a French/Vietnamese hospital where they dealt more frequently with foreign patients and would be able to see to me with no language barrier (by this point my Vietnamese employer had to return to work and we were left with no translation again).

After being recommended to L’Hopital Francais De Hanoi hospital early afternoon I was injected with more pain killer and became very drowsy. I was accommodated here over night as the doctors spoke of a possible operation taking place to remove the stone as my examination results were showing the kidney stone at 6mm. I was unaware at this point that I was now in the hands of a private hospital and being rushed into talking about taking surgery procedures which they wanted to take place the next day! (surgery is never advised as an option regarding Kidney stones, unless completely necessary!) . *With the time difference in mind I was not able to reach back to the UK until the afternoon Hanoi time*

Once we was able to reach through to my mum in the UK my friend asked her to urgently call the insurance company to explain my current situation in hope that they would support my case and as a duty of care in a situation that occurred through no personal fault or action of recklessness but purely a spontaneous medical emergency – it took an hour before my mother could get through to my insurance company on the call line.  My mum got back to my friend Dahlia, who at this point was dealing with my situation for me as I was in no physical state to communicate and was not in my right mind on high dosage drugs for the pain. She was informed that I would not be covered here by my insurance as it was a private hospital – which was the first we had heard of that. Being that it was now nearly 10pm Hanoi time I was not able to discharge from the hospital and be moved in my current fragile state and advised by the doctor to rest for the night. The next morning I had just woken and received 500ml of Paracetamol through a drip when I was asked to sign some paper work agreeing to go into surgery which would have cost me around $7000! Luckily I wasn’t prepared to sing anything before my friends had arrived and when they did we asked to discharge immediately to a hospital I was told to go to by the insurance company where they would cover me. This now being the 3rd hospital and two days later, we left the private hospital with a huge bill of $1000 for one nights stay a URO Scan and some painkiller, to pay upfront by myself and my friends who were helping me. Between us we were now only left with a very small amount to get by any further medical bills – this was now concerning!’


After walking the burning streets of Hanoi bent over in pain trying to find the hospital instructed by my insurance company, scared to take a taxi due to the amount of money we had remaining, I arrived at Bach Mai public hospital with no idea where to go. The thought of having to stay in the public hospital really scared me, it couldn’t have felt any more ‘third-world’, you imagine a natural disaster in a city and the amount of people that would be hectically running around this building with raw flesh wounds and urgency… this was what being in the public hospital felt like and none of the facilities or equipment looked clean. I soon realised not a single member of staff could speak any English until we found ONE nurse who had to escort me everywhere around the building to translate for me, this was not an ideal situation. The hospital rejected me as there emergency room was too busy and none of the doctors could attend to my care and I was advised to move AGAIN to Viet Duc hospital for further medical attention. My examination and X-ray results had showed again that the kidney stone was still moving and causing agony and inflammation now at 5.3mm’.

I arrived at Viet Duc Hospital with the pain passing over and able to communicate to a doctor myself who by now did not see my case as an emergency and would not deal with my case that day as I was not in urgent pain at that current time. I had tried to explain to him that when the pain comes back it is a level 10 and I can not cope with it on my own or without pain killer so he prescribed me some muscle relaxers and sent me home for the night where I spent a VERY uncomfortable night back at my accommodation pacing through out the night to cope with the pain. I was told to return to the hospital the following morning to the Geometrical ward.

I returned the next morning to the Geometrical ward where again I had to find an English speaking member of staff to tell me where I should go regarding my circumstances and again being in a lot of pain. She took me straight to the emergency room where I waited for 12 hours! In this time I had to find the funds for the treatment they were going to give me as they wanted payment upfront BEFORE I could receive any care from the hospital. I saw many traumatic events during my time in the emergency room and was left sat on a bed attached to an empty drip all day once the first bottle of Glucose had finished by the late morning. I vomited nearly every two hours due to the intense pain I was in and had was nauseous from not being able to eat anything in what was at this point 3 days.  It was 9 hours before I received my first pain killer as doctors had been seeing to other patients all day – the emergency room was constantly busy with up to 30 of us patients kept in one room waiting for assistance, I was the last person to be seen too properly and have my situation addressed. During the day time I had been taken for a CT scan to find the stone and measure its size which was now showing at 3mm before I was returned to the emergency room to sit and wait. It wasn’t until 10pm (12hours later) I was taken to a bed for the night and given Morphine for the pain.

I was put in a room amongst roughly 7 other patients, the room was boiling hot and I was asked to wear thick white cotton hospital clothing. I spoke to an English speaking doctor who said he would be on call through out the night and would see to me and that I was ok… I did not see him again. I sat on a bed with dried blood on the frame and the hospital facilities were not clean. I spent the night in this room drawing a lot of attention to myself for being possibly the only western person in the hospital. I had people reading my files at the end of my bed without any authority and people making themselves comfortable sitting across the bottom half of my bed which I was paying for per night with out my consent! People from the other wards came to look and point at me through curiosity whilst I was feeling very ill but it was not appreciated at the time and during the night none of the lights were turned off and I slept with a family next to me talking loudly all night.

On the Saturday I asked to speak to a doctor to find out what was going on and what medication I was actually receiving and what was its purpose as no one had spoke to me all night or morning and proceeded to give me numerous drugs. The staff laughed amongst themselves when I tried to ask to speak to someone as they could not understand me and would try to just send me back to my bed. Luckily I met a lady in the hospital who was staying with her sister who was a patient and in the hospital for the same reason – Kidney stones, she kindly helped me to translate and I was told that during the weekend there was no English speaking doctors working to talk with me and that I would have to wait until Monday before I could see anyone, however they did show me a break down of the drugs I was receiving and what the purpose of each one was. I was told I was being moved to a double room which was great for my dignity amongst everyone using me as an entertainment show and gave me chance to rest properly. I was concerned about the price as with no money left to pay upfront the private room for a foreigner was $200 a night, luckily the Vietnamese lady that was helping me at this point managed to tell them my situation and bargain me a good deal at local prices and the room was reduced to the charge of a Vietnamese persons stay.

I luckily had help from my father in the mean time who sent me money to survive the bills for this treatment that soon was becoming unnecessary as I had spent Saturday and Sunday with out any pain at all only a slight soreness in my stomach from the pain the previous days. I was convinced I had passed the stone naturally whilst on the morphine Friday night however with out a doctor to examine me or discharge me I was stuck in the hospital for the weekend until Monday, paying for each nights stay! In this time I was still being given medication through a drip and come Monday morning I was discharged with again further complications, but I paid the bill and was able to finally leave.

I am disgusted by the treatment I received in a time I really needed medical and financial support. I always make sure I have insurance in place before I travel and I have never once misused the system, this is my first claim and a genuine one! If any insurance company see’s Viet Duc government hospital and Bach Mai public hospital as adequate for travellers or expats then they need to spend some time as a patient in there themselves. When your health is concerned you should ATLEAST be able to go somewhere you can communicate clearly with your doctor.

For the time it took to be seen too or treated under the instructions permitted by my insurance, if my medical issue was anything more serious or caused via an accident, if I was internally bleeding, under the pressure of money and not knowing how to pay for my recovery… I could have been dead. Luckily that was not the case but it worries me for other travellers who might even be travelling alone and not have the support of friends like I did that got me through this awful experience and were a level head when I was not able to communicate for myself, without that support I would be in thousands of pounds in dept by now. It was sad to see the urgency of business and money before a standard duty of care in every hospital I visited and lack of compassion and support from my insurance company who my family are still trying to process the claim with even now! I personally think insurance companies need look at the hospitals in Hanoi and reassess what is adequate for the wellbeing of their clients, available English speaking doctors and immediate care being the first concern of these matters.

The moral of this story and a lesson to be learnt… Invest in good insurance, and make sure you know which hospitals you are covered by so you can act quickly in an emergency. Enquire as to whether your insurance requires you to have a return flight home as my insurance wanted proof of my return to the UK however when you purchase the insurance online their is no proof of a return ticket needed during the process which is miss-leading and In my opinion allowing you to purchase invalid insurance with out realising!
The experience all in all was quite traumatic and not one I hope to encounter again or wish upon any other traveller in a third world country! Dehydration was the route of my problems and this stone would have been developing months ago before I had noticed it was thee, so drink plenty of water! Remember not only do you not want to be sick in another country but quite often, sadly, you cant afford to be sick in another country, so stay safe and look after yourself and your body!

Simply click on ‘International Smile’ in the header to view my other posts!


3 thoughts on “Its all great! Until something goes wrong…

  1. So sorry you had to go through this Lucy, it sounds horrific! Glad you’re back on the road to recovery, all the best, Emma.


  2. Thank you for sharing this experience! We are due to renew our travel medical insurance and will definitely ask more questions!
    Have you found a good company now that you could share? x


  3. To an amazing daughter who shouldn’t have had to go through that !! A horrible few days I never want to repeat ….. Ever . You are strong and I am infinitely proud of how you delt with this xxxxxxxx


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