Third World ER

Where do you go when you’re sick in Cambodia? In Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, there are Bangkok hospitals that give you first world treatment.  In Sihanouk Ville, it’s a bit more precarious.

Recently, Lee and I witnessed a pretty serious crash where three idiots on a motorbike tried to speed through a red light, passing between the median and a large steel truck, not wearing helmets. You can probably guess that they rammed into the back of the truck with such force that they flew forward, bounced backward, and pushed the truck forward,  thanks to Newton’s Third Law. I buried my head in Lee’s back and said, “Oh my god oh my god oh my god,” while he said, “Don’t look don’t look don’t look.” I glanced and they weren’t moving. I asked, “Do we call someone?” But every other witness was a step ahead.  The way the emergency system works here is that if you report an injury, the ambulance crew who picks them up will pay you a $10 commission.  They charge the injured $100.

Most everyone will go to a place called CT clinic, where their diagnosis could be on par with rolling some dice and clicking that number of WebMD links.  From there, they’ll either transport you to Phnom Penh, or tell you the default problem in this town: You’re too drunk, go to sleep. 

There’s also a Vietnamese clinic where the clinic staff are fumbling cartoon characters who have somehow made it into the real world, not much different than Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  My co-worker and I once yelled at them for laughing about a swollen, infected IV entry point. Then that had to be translated to Khmer, then translated to Vietnamese.

Locals here are stuck with three options.

The first is if you’re broken a bone or sustained a life-threatening injury: Get in a cab and go to Phnom Penh. I know a few people who have done this and they didn’t die.  However, I also know of one person who died in transit. Even when the roads are clear at 3am, it’s still a 3.5 hour ride by taxi.  

The second is to call your insurance company immediately.  We had a volunteer who had an infected abscess from a mosquito bite. She sent pictures of it to her insurance and they organized a flight to Bangkok the next day, transport from the airport to the hospital, and a several nights at a 4 star hotel. This was all for a 10 minute drainage procedure.

The third is to go to Dr. Yen.  Who is Dr. Yen? He’s a French-Khmer Doctor who moved back to Sihanouk Ville to “help the Cambodian People.”  After the Vietnamese clinic royally screwed up treatment for our friend, we took her to Dr. Yen, where she stayed for a few nights at a fraction of the cost. When one of our volunteers needed stitches, she was taken to him where he mumbled comforting phrase in French while he stitched her up.  A few days ago, I had an abscess and I went to see him since it wasn’t “call my insurance company” serious. Of course, by not calling them, I subjected myself to tearful cries for mercy, but it healed and it cost me $10.

If you’re stuck in Sihanouk Ville, need a doctor, and have somehow found this post, you can find a cab at any travel agency, call your insurance company from Skype, or find Dr. Yen at his practice just before Apsara Printers on the left if you’re coming from Samudera.


About Tavie Crockett

Like "Davy Crockett," but with a "T."
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