I got burned in Vietnam
February 3, 2018
Ok as you might know, I had a little mishap during my two weeks in Vietnam. Didn’t really tell anyone until I came back because I didn’t want people fussing or asking questions. I know I can be quite accident-prone but this is my first time getting hurt overseas ? So it was quite an… experience and here’s my thought process each day.
What happened was I was getting off an Uber Bike when I scalded my right calf on the exhaust pipe. It wasn’t my first time on a bike so it’s not because I don’t know how to get off one. I took the bike because 1) it’s faster + slightly cheaper and 2) for the experience since it’s not available in Singapore and I rarely get the chance as a solo traveller.
But the driver dropped me off at the wrong destination. I wanted to go to an eatery on a popular street and he dropped me off at a residential alley wtf? Got very distracted and was trying to take in my surroundings and before I knew it, ouch! I remained so calm that the driver didn’t even know it happened. I gave him a 2-star rating.
Google Maps wasn’t accurate so I kept walking up and down the alley until I managed to ask some locals for directions. Then I continued walking but must have still looked lost because this uncle came up to me and pointed me in the right way. THANK YOU ?
Sharing some gross photos. Please ignore my hair and fats as I am only human. Plus I was more concerned with whether I would still have a leg after my trip (hello paranoia) than whether my legs were attractive LOL.
This actually happened on Day 2 out of 15 of my trip so I had the wound for pretty much my entire holiday ? People were asking how I managed the whole time but the only thing I could really do was to keep calm and carry on. No way was I spending my holiday bedridden for 2 weeks! And when you are alone, you are forced to take care of yourself.
When I reached the eatery, I asked for an ice cube for my wound (only realised later that you aren’t supposed to use ice at all). It was painful but I didn’t think much of it. After all, people get scalded all the time, right? Plus the wound itself seemed fine.
Later on in the day, the blister started forming. Still, I thought it wasn’t so bad. Did some Googling and apparently the presence of a blister means it’s a second-degree burn. Oops should I be worried? Never mind, still looks ok! Or so I thought.
Two hours later, I was back in my room and ran the wound under warm water. The blister had gotten larger by then I was like wtf that’s quite big. In fact it was a freaking heart shape that I was kinda in admiration of.
I sent photos to my group chat with Ling Yue, Clement and Darren. Maybe for reassurance that this was normal. They asked me to poke the blister with a needle and I’m like
I woke up and the blister had leaked and flattened during my sleep. The layer of skin was still there. I felt nothing. So I just carried on and went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. I was quite scared of getting an infection because it’s the #1 thing they warn about when I was doing my frantic Googling. Plus it was all soil and dust at the tunnels.
As luck would have it, when I was climbing out of a tunnel, I really scraped my wound against the wall and the whole blister skin came off. FML. Kept using wet wipes to clean the wound. Tried applying some of my Dettol hand sanitiser around it to test and it stung like a bitch so I was like ABORT MISSION.
I flew to Hanoi on the 19th and went to Sapa on the 20th. All this time, I was still Googling and everything seemed normal enough. My wound occasionally secreted clear plasma so I wasn’t too worried as it wasn’t pus.
So yup the whole layer of skin was gone. It was at this point when I saw how deep the exposed flesh was and realised that many layers of skin got burned through. I kept hoping that if the wound had to fuck up then to wait till I was back in Hanoi. Told myself ok ok I would seek medical attention when I came back to Hanoi.
Sadly on this day, my wound started secreting yellow pus. Minimal but still. As I am very stubborn, I just kept wiping and cleaning it as best as I could. I went trekking on Ham Rong Mountain with a fellow solo traveller on the 22nd and my wound started pusing again. Sigh. And yes I know I exposed it to more dirt and dust and unnecessarily strained the wound further by trekking. BUT I AM IN SAPA…
I was a little worried but I had no other symptoms of infection and felt physically fine. My wound did not feel painful or hot to the touch (in fact, sometimes it was quite cold – which I thought wasn’t exactly a good sign either as it could mean my flesh is dead or it could be just the weather) and there were no scary red streaks (thanks, Google Images).
Because our bodies are so regenerative, a replacement layer of skin had grown over the wound. I read that it’s a good thing that’s meant to protect your wound while they work on healing it and to not peel it. But it still kept leaking pus!!!! Sorry to be gross but I would smell my tissue to check if I should be worried. No odour, thankfully.
Back in Hanoi and very bummed by this point. Was scared to death of infection and already imagining having my leg amputated and wondering if I would have the will to live with just one leg. Thanks ah, Google, WebMD and all the many articles that I read.
I begrudgingly went into a pharmacy (only because I passed by a whole stretch of them while en route to Hỏa Lò Prison), showed the staff my wound and she came back with Silvirin (silver sulfadiazine cream). Seemed quite legit and it cost only 17,000VND (around $1) so I immediately applied it.
Imagine my shock when I was walking around the museum and felt pus — this time orange colour!!! — trickling down my leg. I feel like the cream induces pus. Is that normal? Is that part of the healing process? Huh???? Shitty thing about burns is that the signs of healing and infection are very similar.
Later on in the day, I went to a different pharmacy for a second opinion. The pharmacist was useless and wanted to sell me a 310,000VND cream which I declined. I got some sterile bandages even though I’m not sure whether you are supposed to dress a burn blister. I remember being very upset on this day because no one was particularly helpful.
I wanted a doctor to check if my wound was infected but they don’t have clinics in Hanoi, only pharmacies. The staff couldn’t really speak English, answer my questions or reassure me. I didn’t want to go to a hospital because it was troublesome (though I guess there’s always Uber) and I wasn’t sure if it would be expensive for foreigners.
I felt like the Silvirin made my wound look worse but it didn’t make me *feel* worse so I just continued using it after cleaning my wound.
Still, keep calm and carry on!!! Went for a 2D1N Halong Bay Cruise and I didn’t want the wound to bother me so I stuck a bandage on it. I did a lot of climbing and it was not the best idea because by the late afternoon, the wound was leaking through my bandage.
I got so worried that I asked my tour guide whether they had first-aid on board IF (very big emphasis here because I didn’t want to freak him out) I needed it hahaha. I am sure they do for regular stuff like headaches etc but I’m not so sure about burn wounds ?
People on the cruise kept asking if I was okay and I’m sorry for grossing everyone out with my wound. I actually think my tour guide was more helpful and calming than the pharmacists in Hanoi. He also advised against using a bandage so that the wound could dry and heal faster.
He was right. Bandages were a bad idea as they kept the wound damp and now I have granulated tissue!!!! I was quite horrified to see this. I didn’t even know what “granulated tissue” was before this but I Googled the appearance to check wtf this was and Google always understands me.
It looks fucking disgusting, I know. Saw it right after I removed the bandage on the night of 25th but this photo was taken on the 26th.
I was too lazy to get ready at 6am for kayaking and I didn’t want to strain my wound or get it wet with seawater so I didn’t join the rest. I still woke up every early though ?
I felt fine until on the bus back to Hanoi. Somehow it felt like a longer ride than before because the traffic was shitty plus the bus felt a lot more cramped and crowded this time. I started feeling feverish but luckily I brought Panadol.
I still don’t know if I was feeling unwell from the cold weather and so much travelling around or it was a side effect of the burn, but thankfully it didn’t last long. I felt the most physically ill on this day but I wasn’t emotionally upset like the other day.
Surprisingly, the wound started drying up. Never thought I would be thrilled to see hard, crusty scabs, I was still using Silvrin but was a lot more chill about it. Very occasionally there was plasma but I felt like the worse was over.
Errr as you might be able to tell, I might have picked the scabs because it was so bloody itchy. Sometimes when I felt shitty about the wound, I would tell myself that it could have been at a much worse spot like my face (the horror) or on a joint.
It looks like a very angry red thing…
And then I went home on the 30th. Finally went to see a doctor on the 31st, who gave me antibiotics, antiseptic wash and another cream (why??? I’m so lazy). She was in disbelief that I waited till now to see a doctor and said:
“You are very lucky to survive that.”
“All in all, you are very very very lucky.”
I guess I’ll have a scar but I’m so glad that I won’t lose a leg (you would understand if you have ever watched “The Ruins”). The fear of infection was very real, what with all the dirt roads, muddy pathways, mountain trails, caves and tunnels etc. Especially when you are from pristine Singapore and you are used to having a GP a few metres away.
Looks a lot tamer now but the itch was killing me.
I’m forever amazed at our bodies’ capabilities to regenerate and heal, whether it is a broken bone or even a broken heart. Never ever estimate ourselves. And we only have one body so please take care of it!
Around midnight today. No itch nor pain so far. So yes, I survived all on my own!!!
Despite this little injury, I still had a good time in Vietnam. Nothing can get you down if you refuse to let it ? I actually interacted with a lot more people and made more friends on this solo trip than my previous ones. I miss the cold weather, carefree days, being somewhere new where nobody knows me, and maybe I even miss the crazy traffic.