For the Want of a Nail

Many months ago, I made some connections and began to play tennis again -at last. The only shoes I had were worn-out trail shoes, but they’d suffice. However, within the first 15 minutes I sustained a painful jolt to my right (big) toenail when it caught on something inside the shoe and lifted off -just for an instant. Once I got home I cleaned it and then forgot about it, as it wasn’t too painful… until 10 days later, when I awoke one morning to a throbbing toe. The doctor needed to remove the entire, now-infected nail, which hurt almost as much as the 2 injections she first gave it in order to numb the area.

This is when the real story begins. I have noticed something odd throughout my adult life. Many times, a bump or bite or blip or something common like that will appear on my body -say my right thigh. A day or 2 later, a similar bump or bite or blip will appear on my left thigh in nearly the same place, mirroring the first. This has long amused and intrigued me, so I wasn’t that shocked when on the morning following the removal of my right big toenail, I discovered that my left big toenail had turned -overnight- completely black. The entire nail, black as night. I had not injured it, and it did not feel sore or different. There was no obvious explanation -other than that odd thing my body does.

We visited a local dermatologist in June to take a look at some other, routine things. Mr. Black nail caught the doctor’s attention, and upon closer inspection she raised the possibility of it being a cancerous melanoma. I thought the notion silly (I’m no doctor, but they don’t appear overnight -do they?), but also knew not to dismiss such a serious question. Thus began our nail tale, which started off so nicely: we stepped out of that first doctor’s office in the village of Sukawati to a fantastic ceremony about to pass by: a seemingly endless single line of girls, dressed beautifully, interspersed with large groups of men and then women singing in unison. Follow-up local exams and blood tests lead to more of the same in Denpasar, Bali’s largest city. This provided a chance to motor-scoot there and see a softer side to it than we’d seen before. The doctors were doubtful about melanoma, but unable to dismiss the possibility outright, so we pursued the issue to the next rung up the medical ladder: a “quick trip” to Bangkok (Ha!).

Bumrungrad International Hospital is an impressive, well-respected medical institution, which we’ve been to several times before -in fact, we’re card-carrying members. As in the past, we decided to group our various medical needs together so as to each see several varied doctors. But also, by leaving Indonesia, Jennifer would now need to apply for a social / 6 month visa through the Indonesian embassy in Bangkok (I will be visiting America in September / October, and so am on a different visa tract for now).

It was fun to return to Bangkok and have it feel familiar. We first stayed in the same Art Deco Smart Suite hotel near Bumrungrad where we stayed last Fall with our friends Matt and Rita. This time we took full advantage of the hospital’s excellent, large and busy cafeteria: tasty, nutritious, and inexpensive -and run so efficiently by nice people. We knew how to use the canal taxis, tuk-tuks and skytrain, and we knew our way around. Our lives centered around our medical appointments, the cafe, and the visa renewal, but we also sought out some new experiences. We found some really interesting Afghan, Iraqi, and Iranian neighborhoods, with their ubiquitous gold trade shops. And we discovered the amazing world of Bangkok cinema.

There are a number of amazing shopping malls in Bangkok that exceed even those in Singapore. Colossal, vaaaaast, modern, airy, up-scale, high-fashioned galaxies, with stupendous, artsy, towering courtyard displays and impressive everything. We wandered through these cities-within-the-city and wondered just where all this money is coming from -and going to? A few malls include movie theaters that dwarf any we’ve ever seen. The lobbies are enormous, and a visual assault of ultra-modern eye candy, ticket counters, stages, posters, escaltors, sitting areas and cafes. One night we stumbled upon a live media event with hundreds of fans, cameramen, bright lights and celebrities milling about. Another night we tried to splurge and sit in a luxury theater that pampers and rivals first class air travel, but our timing was bad. So instead we saw the latest “Step Up” installment in a “normal” theater (not knowing a thing about the movie or series, we had a lot of fun with it). We were among just 10 or so viewers in a huge, plush theater with roughly 1200 seats (just one of many such theaters in that complex).

Eventually, the doctors were able to rule out melanoma in regards to my toe -though there was no explanation about what caused the nail to blacken. I also had 3 pre-cancerous spots frozen off of my face, which made the trip worthwhile. After a few days we moved across town to an interesting neighborhood near the Chao Praya river, close to many restaurants and services that we were already familiar and comfortable with. Jennifer’s visa became the focus of concern. Our timing was not good, as an unusually long wave of holidays -including the end of Ramadan- were about to ascend upon Thailand, closing down the visa office for several days in a row. We revisited a delightful travel agent that we’d used before to again print out a (bogus) itinerary to show the embassy Jen’s (required) plan to leave Indonnesia within 60 days upon arrival. We were able to get her visa stamped during the final hours before the embassy closed its doors, which would’ve delayed our return to Bali many days. However, we were then frustrated to learn that for many of the same reasons (holidays) there weren’t available flights out of Bangkok for several days anyway.

We decided not to wait around Bangkok anymore, and to just head south as soon and as best as possible. This gave us the excuse to try something we’d long thought about: taking a train from Bangkok all the way south through the skinny Thai channel to Malaysia -a country we’d not yet visited. From there we did not know what would follow. On the way to the train station we caught a wild tuk-tuk ride. At a light stop, we bantered with another tuk-tuk driver next to us who was unusually jovial because -our driver told us later- he had 3 wives.







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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Matt Colonell
    Aug 21, 2014 @ 22:58:47

    Can’t wait for the next installment, to find out what happened in Malaysia!


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