Now that I’ve been living here for over two months, the time has come to begin preparations to renew my visa, which is set to expire at the end of November. Since the new visa will be a full year rather than three months it is quite a bit more complicated to get than the one I arrived with, so I was thrilled when my colleagues told me the center would handle it. I handed over all documents, signed a few papers, and was told that I would have to get a health check. Or, rather, one day I went into work and was told that I should show up early the next day (my day off) to go to the hospital. Luckily for me, I had heard from Peter that this was something that often happened here, and that I could expect a whole day of fun going from department to department at the local hospital. So, I had at least a little context for what was going to happen.
I showed up to the center at 7:30am the next day, as requested, and then spent maybe 40 minutes hanging out in the office as they called a TA to take me over to the hospital. I was sleepy and a bit grumpy, and we arrived at the hospital to find a huge crowd of people waiting to be seen. We gathered the necessary forms and joined the masses. Half an hour later we squeezed our way into a doctor’s office, where I learned that I had made a rookie mistake by eating breakfast, and they could do nothing for me, so please come back another day. The realization that I had woken up early for nothing did not particularly improve my mood, but I was escorted back to the office, where I rode my bicycle home and promptly went back to sleep. We were going to try again on Monday, after I returned from my trip to Tra Vinh.
I had a great time in Tra Vinh (check out my last post for details), and returned from the weekend a little tired, and with the beginnings of a cold. So when Monday morning rolled around, I was once again not thrilled to wake up early. This time I had decided to eliminate the middle man, and had the TA, Phuc, come pick me up from my house, rather than biking to work to meet him. We made it to the hospital, found our forms, and he asked me if I had a visa photo with me. Nope, no visa photos, no passport. Time to get back on his motorbike and go to the office, where I had dropped off all of my important documents to be processed for my visa, and naturally it had not occurred to anyone (myself included) that these might be good to bring with me.
Visa photos in hand, passport information recorded, we once again returned to the hospital. We talked to the doctor and found out that I had made a mistake on the form, which had asked for both my age and birth date. While I’m pretty clear on the answers to both these questions normally, I had forgotten that in Vietnam, age is counted by year, not date. So while I’m technically still 23 and will be for the next month, in Vietnam they would count my age as 24. So, naturally, we had to go get a new form and fill it out again.
Armed with the proper forms, it was time for the real fun to begin. Over the next several hours Phuc lead me from room to room, floor to floor, to have all manner of tests and examinations performed. This included blood work, an x-ray, ultrasound, pregnancy test, and some strange exam that involved me stripping and having suction cups placed all over my chest. We spent a lot of time waiting to see each doctor, and I found myself wondering what the point of each examination was. If we had to wait more than 5 minutes I found myself nodding off, which was probably frustrating for my poor TA.
By noon we had completed all but four of the required examinations, and we were excited to be so close to finished. Phuc explained that he had an afternoon class and really needed to be done by 1:30, and I had an evening class to plan, not to mention a nap I desperately wanted to take.
But the universe was not on our side. Vietnamese hospitals, like most other businesses, shut down between roughly noon and 2 for lunch, since most people return home to eat with their families. We decided it made no sense to sit and wait, and besides, neither of us had eaten anything yet. Phuc took me out for hủ tiếu (a type of noodle soup), and dropped me back at my house. We would return to the hospital at 2:30 and hope for the best.
Naturally, once we returned to the hospital we found that the doctors leave after 3pm, so we were once again asked to come back another day. Both of us were exhausted and more than a little frustrated, but what can you do? We returned early Tuesday morning for the final tests, and after another three hours of going from department to department, I received my full medical form, and was told I could keep the x-ray of my chest. Lucky me.
Now that I’ve had a bit of distance from the event, I can look back and laugh at the absurdity of it. I mean, this was probably the most extensive health check I’ve ever had, and I have no idea what the results were. Fingers crossed they’re good enough to get me a new visa, haha! And I’m glad I had Phuc there with me to translate and help me figure out what was going on, even if he was a bit traumatized by having to buy a pregnancy test.
In the end it really wasn’t all that bad, and if this is what it takes to stay in Vietnam, I’ll gladly pay the price.