FINISHING my lunch at an open-air restaurant in downtown Bangkok, I felt slightly queasy. But by the time the taxi arrived back at my hotel, sweat was pouring out of my armpits, the folds of my stomach, even my shins, and my leg joints buckled as if a diamond-tipped drill was boring into them. As I got out of the taxi, I collapsed onto the street.
The taxi driver shoved me back into his cab, and we wove our way through the city's infamous traffic to Bumrungrad International, a hospital near my hotel. I barely made it to the emergency room before I passed out. When I woke and remembered what had happened, part of me wanted to bolt from my E.R. bed. I knew very little about Thai medical facilities, and recalled a clinic I'd seen in neighboring Myanmar, where patients had to bring their own linens, needles and even bandages to the hospital.
Yet my Bumrungrad doctor, trained in America, immediately put me at ease. Surrounded by a gaggle of nurses ready to care for my every complaint at any time of day, the doctor informed me, ''We're pretty sure you have dengue fever,'' referring to a dangerous tropical disease also known as breakbone fever. My temperature had topped 104, but the doctor quickly determined I did not have dengue hemorrhagic fever, the worst strain of the disease. While I rested in a spotless room, he designed a program for my recovery, recommended a week of convalescence, and prescribed an array of medication for the searing joint pain. When I visited Bumrungrad's cashier, passing the hospital's high-end restaurants and plush waiting rooms along the way, an assistant handed me the bill. For admittance to the emergency room, a consultation, a room and bags of medications, the total cost came to less than $100.