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Sunday, 4 July 2010

Vietnam memories: the story part 26: The French Doctor


The French Doctor: part 1

I decided around this time I needed my own doctor. The medics at the camp were very good for anything minor. The field hospital for anything major but nothing in between. My own experience with doctors had always been very limited. A visit to one felt like being summoned to the headmaster's study at school to be punished. Perhaps it was never helped by the feeling of impending doom whilst in the waiting room; similar to that experienced outside the headmaster's study waiting for the order to enter. The only time I'd been on sick parade in the army I'd been charged with being incorrectly dressed. No pyjamas in my pack. That had been because of a very minor worry about my eyes brought on by reading Reader's Digest. Each edition had a medical article describing exactly the symptoms of something you had.

The US forces radio didn't help either. Every twenty minutes or so they came up with some announcement giving the symptoms of this or that fatal illness until you became hypochondrical. We had been vaccinated or inoculated against the usual typhoid, typhus etc. and the more exotic yellow fever and bubonic plague as well.

When I was in New York waiting for my flight I had had a bad reaction to the anti-plague inoculation and my arm had swelled horribly. I didn't want to tell the office or they might have postponed my departure. My girlfriend had a slight swelling in the groin and I said she had probably caught the bubonic plague. An instant look of utter terror was followed by a telephone call to her doctor and she was off for an appointment. Of course there was no real problem but it's funny the way people react. Her sister was married to a Decca man and there had been problems. One of my mother's best friend’s daughter's in the Bahamas had been married to a Decca man and there had also been serious problems. My mother didn't approve of us. She thought we were a danger to women.

When my final telephone call arrived one morning at 9 o'clock informing me that my flight would leave at one o'clock I woke up to find the abscess on my arm had burst, the bed was covered in blood and I had a hole in my arm big enough to put a little finger in. I showered, filled the hole up with antiseptic cream, wrapped it in a bandage, reported to the office to collect my ticket and travel orders, saw Laura again for a couple of gin and tonics, caught my flight and had my arm treated later in Saigon.

There were three other Decca personnel on the same flight but they were bumped off in Hawaii to make place for other higher priority passengers. I was the only one to arrive in Saigon and the office thought I was terribly keen, and they didn't know the half of it.

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