Hi, my name is Mary and I am an ESL teacher in Ha Long City, Vietnam.
So far I've had my fair share of injuries and illnesses in Vietnam, in fact as I have been here just 7 and a half months I might have had a few of Bob’s and Harry’s share too. But I am happy to say I am still plodding (hopping) along nicely.
I am currently writing this with my broken ankle raised on a stool, this being the first time I have been in cast it is not the greatest situation and neither are the four flights of stairs up to my room 😉 I should probably mention how I got my injury and warn you a little about health and safety measures in Vietnam (there are none). Well, I had gone to a new building to test the staff and as I left, stepping out from an elevator, I fell down a step. You may ask who on earth puts a step directly outside an elevator-believe me I am still asking the same question. It also seemed that people falling due to this step was a regular occurrence yet nothing had been done about it-typical Vietnam.
So let me tell you some more about my experiences with hospitals, pharmacies and working with an injury.
I think it’s possible to get almost anything you need from a pharmacy and the pharmacists are usually very good. Pharmacies are everywhere in big and small cities, I am not sure about villages and the countryside but I live in a district of Ha Long city. 25 minutes drive from the centre there are 3 pharmacies in walking distance. You can take them a photo of what you are looking for and they will try to find it/something similar or you can use google translate to give them an idea of your symptoms. Most of the pharmacists I’ve come across have not spoken English but they are very helpful. I’ve had stomach problems, infected mosquito bites, even my ear piercing got infected and I’ve had all kinds of medication from the pharmacy including antibiotics. The price of medicine at pharmacies is also very reasonable compared to the prices you would pay in the UK and I’m sure this is also the case for the US.
The most important thing to know is that Doctors and nurses don’t speak a lot of English, in fact, I recently had a class and they laughed at me for thinking that the hospital staff would speak English.
The hospital in Ha Long is reasonably clean but old, they are making improvements so part of the hospital is a building site. I was lucky that I’d gone with a colleague because although a porter wheeled me from Emergency to X-ray, after this my colleague had to do all of the wheeling and we got lost-it is not well signposted. I had X-Rays and a CT scan and they decided to put my ankle into a cast. I wanted to have new experiences in Vietnam but this was not one of them. 😉 They explained everything to my colleague who then translated a much shorter version back to me.
We had to pay my fees in a specific department and they gave me the medication. My first visit came to £149 GBP/$197 USD, the Doctors in this office spoke some English.
The following week they changed my cast for a waterproof one which is easier to walk in. This new cast cost me more money and my colleague has advised me that because I am a foreigner they charged a lot more than what they’d charge a local person. They will remove my cast on Friday the 13th so it’s lucky I’m not superstitious!!
All in all the experience at the hospital has been fine, but I would have really struggled with communication had my colleague not been with me. The process was very quick each time I have been whether it's for a check-up or to change my cast, I have been in and out within an hour. The A&E department is surprisingly quiet.
Working with an injury
Vietnam is the country of ‘Man Up and Carry On’ so the day after having my accident, I was back to work. I live on the top floor of the language centre I work at so I just need to get downstairs for my classes, thankfully my manager asked another member of staff to cover my classes that are outside of the school.
My colleagues have been so helpful, they bring me food and do my washing etc, I am very lucky that Vietnamese people are so lovely in general and just want to be helpful.
I bought travel insurance before coming out to Vietnam and I am thankful for this, I have contacted my insurance company and they have advised me to keep all of the receipts and I can claim when I get back to the UK. The hospital always provides me with a copy of the bill with a breakdown of the prices so I have not needed to request this.
A friend from Ho Chi Minh city did not get travel insurance and had a motorbike accident (these are not uncommon) and after an initial trip to the hospital, he had to rely on friends to keep cleaning and changing bandages for him as he couldn’t afford to keep going back to the hospital.
There are private hospitals in the cities, my young English friend went to one when he had a very bad ear infection. He said that the staff speak English and it was similar to being in an English hospital. A check-up and medication cost him about £80 GBP/$105 USD, so if you have the money saved to be able to go private perhaps this is a good option, especially if you do not have someone who can translate and certainly if you have been in a bad accident. Vinmec is the name of this private hospital and they have hospitals in many of the cities in Vietnam.
I hope this is helpful to those of you in or considering coming to Vietnam. It is rare that someone can be as accident prone as me, but it does happen and when it does the health care service here works pretty efficiently and effectively!
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