At the clinic in Saigon, I was treated immediately by an efficient team: GP, radiologist, orthopedic surgeon. It’s a good system. I paid western prices, which subsidize free operations for locals in need. Plus, conducting the consultation in French distracted me from the crunch of bone-setting. My fellow patient was a Parisian ex-pat who had cracked a rib falling in the bathtub; between us we made a good sample of foreigner injuries.
On the follow-up visit, as if to provide an authentic western experience, my orthopedist was distracted and perfunctory, and barely took the time to swipe my credit card for fifty bucks. My cast was loose since the swelling reduced, and sure enough a couple of days later my little finger, splinted like Dr. Evil, was once again at an alarming angle.
Since just about every ex-pat busts a hand on a motorbike at one time or other, I had plenty of advice on where to go. This morning, I brought the hand to the promisingly-named Sihanouk Center of Hope, a public clinic on the outskirts of town. I waved my cast at the staff nurse on duty and showed him the x-ray. Immediately, he brought me to the head of the emergency room line and then, anticlimatically, through a door marked ‘Minor Procedures’. I presented the arm to a very nice doctor, somewhat embarrassed by the red wine stains and ‘I Heart Gary Glitter’ graffiti that were my souvenirs of the Cambodia Daily staff Christmas party. I decided not to tell him I’d fallen off a motorbike, though he probably took one look at me and guessed.
With the help of four, count ’em, nurses, the doctor sawed off my cast, reset the splayed finger and somewhat clumsily wrapped a new cast for me. This one is long enough the I have trouble manoeuvering it into my jazzy homemade sling, and it’s smearing my clothes with plaster, but it feels better.
On the way out through the full waiting room, I asked where and how much to pay.
‘Nothing. You are guest in Cambodia.’
‘What? Can I make a donation?’
‘No. But come back in four weeks and we’ll take cast off.’
In the waiting room, people sicker and poorer than me nodded sympathetically at my shiny new cast. I was reminded of the wry joke in Scary Movie, where a girl leans out the window, shouts ‘Help! White woman in trouble!’ and, immediately, twenty police cars roar up. It’s not far off the mark. I’m embarrassed that my European face wins me special treatment I neither need or deserve.