The flight to Bangkok was 2.5 hrs of uneventful bliss. After the crazy argument with the folks in Hong Kong we were feeling like we just went through hell! The plane landed and we made it to Thailand. Now to get our bags and find our contact from the hospital where I was to get my stem cell treatment. It had been arranged that we were to be met and escorted through customs with this representative of the hospital then given a ride to the facility.
We got our bags and then a very friendly gentleman waved for us to follow him. OK this must be our guy, he was pushing a folding wheelchair so perfect. Well he just leads us to the customs line and walks to the other side and waits. Not what I'd call an escort to say the least! Clearing customs was no problem we had all the proper paperwork and visas. We get to the other side and the same guy keeps waving us on towards the exit. By this time I was pretty sure this wasn't the right fellow. Sure enough he tried to send us to the public transit.
So now we backtrack a little bit to where we first came out of customs. By now it has to be one o'clock in the morning. I had a phone number to call if we had any troubles so I hoped that my phone would work and made the call. After a couple attempts we made contact and found our driver.
We got loaded up in the van ( apparently the only wheelchair accessible van in all of Thailand) and headed to the hospital, it was an hour drive from the airport to get there. What a trip! Got all our stuff to our room and it was now three in the morning! It was then that I was told the nurses would be there at 8am to get me to start weigh in and assessment for the intensive Physio and Occupational therapy I would get while I was there. No rest for the wicked! We grabbed a couple hours of sleep and woke up jet lagged and exhausted but ready for what lie ahead.
The nurses were somewhat kind giving us an extra half hour to get sorted in the morning, it was graciously taken! So off to the scale to get weighed. All good, just had to take my backpack off the back of my chair. So when I was rolling backwards off the scale there was a small ramp to get off the platform that needed to be eased down. I forgot that my backpack was missing thus changing the balance point of my chair and as I rolled down this little ramp I lost it backwards and ended up tipping all the way over the back! Smack! Right on the back of my head, I didn't knock myself out, but I definitely saw stars! Good thing I was in a hospital because I gave myself 3 stitches in the crash. Great start!
So I shook the crash off and carried on to finish off the rest of the assessments needed by the doctors. I also met the dietitian to work out the menu that I would be served. Thai people definitely have interesting ways of cooking western foods. I was constantly wondering what the next mystery meal would be! Lucky for us we found a mall that had a great Mexican restaurant. I think we became regulars!
Part of the treatment was a intensive physiotherapy, occupational therapy regime. These included Hyperbaric Oxygen chamber sessions, and Trans-cranial Magnetic Stimulation. Both of these were new to me. The chamber was quite claustrophobic, the high pressure combined with the high levels of oxygen promoted the new stem cells to grow. The TMS was really cool! It involved placing a high intensity magnet on your head to stimulate the motor function parts of your brain. When they hit the right spot it would totally make your hands even your whole arm shake like crazy! Most days were loaded up with about 5hrs of treatment. Also my schedule included daily acupuncture which I also really liked. I was definitely beat at the end of each day.
The stem cell treatment was given in two different forms. I received 2 intravenous doses, and 4 doses that were injected straight into my spinal fluid. The doctor injected the cells in the space between my L4 and L5 vertebrae. A total of 240 million stem cells over the 25 day stay.
While we were there in Thailand it had become very apparent that the country was not built with accessibility in mind. Due to 20cm tall curbs, no curb cut outs anywhere and ridiculously busy traffic we were sort of stuck with in a 4 or 5 block radius of the hospital. Just getting to the mall was crazy, but when you get to these malls they are all brand new and very well built for wheelchair users. Only thing was that if you weren't lucky enough to be near by enough to walk to the mall then there was no way to get there for a wheelchair user, not one accessible taxi was available in a city of 8 million! I was shocked! None of the public transit was accessible either. So I asked my doctor what people in wheelchairs did in Bangkok? The answer I receive is that they live "passively". What this meant was if you have a SCI in Thailand your are basically home bound or institutionalized. Pretty sad, I didn't see one other person in a chair out and about the whole time I was there. Made me feel pretty lucky to live in Canada!
Well after being in Bangkok for 25 days I can honestly say I was glad to see it in the rear view mirror! We came, we conquered then got the heck outta there.
Now, a year after returning I can look back and know it was worth it. I've seen what I can call improvement in my function, mostly in core strength and balance. I also can tolerate colder temperatures, and hot weather much better.
I would never be so happy to fly into my home airport, and have my two boys run up and hug me so tight it hurt! But it had to wait.. next stop 8 days in Sydney, Australia. We needed to see our family.