I started to feel a little dizzy. I figured it was just a lack of sleep and shrugged it off. The next day though, I got other weird symptoms: back pains, the occasional tingles in my toes and fingertips and so on. It was nothing pleasant but I had a pregnant wife, exams just around the corner and a boss looking to make redundancies to allow for the expected drop in enrolments next year. I had to soldier on. After all, a doctor would just throw some drugs at me and tell me to rest.
Day three was more of the same with one real difference: the dizziness had become vertigo. I first noticed the wobble as I sat down for lunch. I told my colleague - a Physics master who graduated from Yale - about my various symptoms. "It might be cancer" he said in jest. I smiled but resolved to see my doctor.
Doctor Number One - my local GP - told me the problems could be caused by bad posture whilst sitting at my desk. I should rest, take breaks from reading or computer use and, of course, take three kinds of drugs.
On day four I followed all advice but saw no improvement. The pains continued, the vertigo was the same and I was now suffering migraines on the left side of my skull. I felt terrible but could not miss work. The next week was exams - the worst possible time for a teacher to be absent - and I had a lot of work to catch up on.
After work my wife took me to Thonburi 2 Hospital to see a doctor. Doctor Number Two told me I needed to get more exercise. I protested that I cycled every day. She told me to rest and exercise more (which makes no sense when you think about it) and gave me three new drugs: two for pain and one for the vertigo.
It was Saturday, and I hoped that a change of scenery and younger, energetic students might take my mind off things. Of course it didn't. I could now feel the migraine moving around the left of my skull almost at will. It felt like like there were three buzzers across the left of my face and the migraine would fire a random buzzer every minute. I made it through the day before my wife again taxied me to Thonburi 2. Doctor Number Three diagnosed me with: "non specific symptoms". He asked me if I was stressed. I said I was not stressed but I was a little tired with so much on my plate. He gave me a "stronger" painkiller and a drug to increase blood-flow to the cranium. This did seem to produce a minor improvement.
On Monday (day eight in total), I approached a colleague; Amy is a Chinese national who teaches her own language at the school. She also happens to be very well trained in healing massage, having learned from a blind person. I told Amy my problems and asked her to take a look at my neck. Within a minute of starting to massage me, Amy told me: "You need an x-ray on your neck, you have a serious problem". She told me a disc had been pushed out of place, possibly as the result of a fall. I couldn't think of any such event but it made sense, since a lot of my pain was now emanating from the back of my neck. In any case, that afternoon we took a trip to Thonburi Hospital (Not Thonburi 2 this time) to visit a specialist in the Skeletal Department. Yes, that's what they call it.
After a two hour wait to see him, Doctor Number Four (skeletal specialist) listens to my tale of strange symptoms and the warning from my Chinese colleague. In fact, he gives a rather patronising laugh when I tell him what she said. He takes a very quick look at me and says: "I don't think you have a problem". I insist on taking an X-ray anyway. After another long wait, the results come in. "It's like I told you, everything is normal" says Doctor Four. We chat a little longer. It seems my worries and impatience had made me judge Doc a little harshly. He was right all along and happy to answer my questions. Still, the riddle of my illness had not been solved. Doc suggests it could be an aggravated nerve in my shoulder. Still, the relief of knowing my neck was OK seemed to relieve my symptoms a little.
So I struggled on for the rest of the week. My symptoms got no better, I still felt wobbly walking up and down the exam hall - but got no worse, and the meds did seem to hold off the migraines, though anyone who knows me knows I am not keen on taking medicines.
At school, I tell a few friends of my condition and they sympathise, but it's hard to convey just how I felt. Like any other business, teachers sometimes exaggerate their conditions to gain sympathy and time off, and I worry people may think I am doing the same.
On day ten I notice one student has an unusually high exam score in Social Science. Impressed, I take a closer look and see that her score is identical to the student sat in front of her, complete with the same wrong answers. I make enquiries and discover the two students had the same scores and wrong answers in five other subjects. I was ready to grab the proctor of the exam for that class and ask what the heck he or she was doing when a student can cheat on no less than five exams without being noticed. There was just one hitch.....that proctor was me. I was ashamed, my reputation as the exam hall cop was in ruins.
I inform my boss who brings both students back for a re-test that proved beyond doubt what had happened. Contrary to popular opinion, the school does take cheating seriously and my boss ensured the parents were informed. There was little more we could though, since the students were grade nine, and would leave for new schools next month anyway.
One of the two students - I'll call her Sara - seemed to find the whole thing a joke. I talk with Sara in front of my colleagues and ask her how she cheated and why. She answers both honestly but still nonchalantly. In a rare loss of calm, I actually raise my voice with Sara and tell her that her cheating not only makes her look bad but me too, I tell her that I'm glad she's leaving.
Later I came to regret my actions. Sara may not have been a model student but I should never have told her I was "glad" she would be gone. It was borne of frustration that my condition was clearly affecting me and I could no longer try to ignore it. A good teacher should never take out their own problems on their students.
The rest of the week passed without incident and the term came to a close. Now it was just Saturday lying between me and a good rest........... but then it happened.
Saturday (Day thirteen), week two.
After another morning of the same dodgy sensations, I had lunch with a colleague and left to go back to class. On my way, I stopped in at Watson's Chemist. Inside, a light bulb was flashing on and off. As I walked under it, I suddenly felt like the world was turning upside down. A gushing sensation of burning pain moved down my neck and shoulders. Gasping, I grabbed onto a shelf and took a deep breath. I was scared to walk, scared to even move.
That night - another trip to Thonburi 2, Doctor number five, to his immense credit, referred me to a neurologist and did not prescribe me any drugs.
Monday, week three. (Day fifteen)
So a yet another trip to Thonburi Hospital again to see Doctor Six (neurologist). Doc Six gives me a few basic tests of coordination then tells me that I have two concurrent problems: migraines caused by stress or alcohol (though I don't drink and was not stressed until this started) and a sore back. "But" says Doc Six "....you could have a brain scan just to make sure there is no serious problem" he tells me in broken English.
"How much is the scan? "I ask, suspiciously
He pauses, ".........about.........five thousand baht" he says. When he sees the relief on my face he tells me: "It's cheaper than your country".
I go into a special room for my brain scan and the nurse instructs me to lie in something that looks like a space age coffin. She leaves the room and the bed/coffin moves upwards and backwards. A bunch of circular disks light up and start to circle around me as they make loud whirring noises. "STAY CALM......JUST RELAX!" booms a computer voice from somewhere. At least they switched the voice into English mode.
The results come in and I'm clear; there are no serious problems. Naturally I'm in good spirits as my wife and I approach the cashier. The pretty lady smiles and hands me the bill. It was just as Doc Six said it would be......except with a few extra zeros at the end.
I cannot pay, and even if I could, I wouldn't. My wife - bless her, these moments must be testing - explains to the cashier what my broken Thai cannot get across. She consults with some senior nurses who tell us they're sorry, but we have to pay. I'm pretty sure they think I am lying to get out of paying. Doc Six has already left so nobody can ask him. Eventually, they get Doc Six on the phone who confirms his broken English caused him to tell me the wrong price (five, instead of fifty) and he is very sorry. He apologises to me in person over the phone. I accept - it was clearly an accident - and say goodbye.
I put the phone down and the senior nurse smiles at me. "So it's over?" she smiles at me. "Yes" I smile back. "But I'm still not paying that much".
This goes back and forth for a while. Eventually my wife and I hatch a plan. She leaves for the toilet and then goes to our car. I do likewise ten minutes later. Yup,that's right. We did a runner.
To be continued.