Visit to a Vietnamese pharmacy

As you may have gathered from previous posts, I have not had the best luck on this trip, medically speaking. When we moved from China to Vietnam, I came down with a cold. It was an amusing cold, the mildest cold I can ever remember having. A tickle in my throat, moved to a mild congestion in my sinuses, back to my throat. It really was not a problem, except that I developed a cough that was driving Kris crazy, keeping her from sleeping one night in Hue.

So, I took my self off to find a pharmacy. The hotel desk let me know that there was a pharmacy at the entrance to the hospital that was only a block away. Having once again survived crossing a busy intersection in Vietnam, I found myself at the hospital entrance. I entered the grounds and followed the signs to an open air shop. There was a man in a white lab coat smoking in the open doorway, but when I approached the shop window, I was assisted by a forty-ish Vietnamese woman.

She was familiar with communications difficulties with foreigners, so she handed me a scrap of paper and a pen. I wanted to refill my Spackle supply and get something like Nyquil to deal with the cough. Starting with the Spackle, I attempted to use what I had learned in France, and wrote “montmorrillonite powder” on the paper. No recognition. So I tried the Chinese brand name “Smecta.” Big, vaguely sympathetic smile. “How many days?” I was asked. “Five,” I responded. So ten packets were counted out. At these pharmacies, you buy by the pill or dose, not by the box.

Now for the harder communication. I pantomimed coughing. Waved my hand next to my throat with my mouth half open, half gagging, to indicate that my throat was irritated. This sort of worked. She came up with some lozenges called Strepsis. I read the directions and indications. This was really more for a sore throat than for coughing, but I felt they might act as cough drops and help Kris out. Somehow, the pharmacy lady interpreted my indecision correctly and next produced codeine tablets. I freaked a bit and tried to communicate that I thought this was too strong. No luck. I read the indications and directions and knew that codeine is effective with coughs, so I ended up deciding to take a five day supply of this as well.

Then the lady tried to sell me a course of antibiotics. My American cultural training freaked a little again. I did not recognize the type of antibiotic and I was not feeling feverish or anything else to indicate a bacterial infection, so I passed on the antibiotics. Then, as I was pulling out my wallet to pay and she was putting my purchases into a sack, she offered me a free menthol cough drop for giving her my business. Geez! If she had offered me cough drops at the start of the transaction, I may have bought only cough drops in the hope that would allow Kris to sleep. Did the pharmacy lady know this? So, twenty cough drops get added to the sack and the bill.

Total cost for five days supply of Spackle, twenty cough drops, five days supply of Strepsis, and a five days supply of codeine came to 300,000 Vietnamese dong or $18. As a comparison, a nice seafood dinner for the two of us in Hue cost about the same. The codeine was very effective in silencing my cough. I also slept pretty well.

By the way, I think I have discovered why Vietnamese kids are so good at math. The exchange rate is 1,600 dong to the dollar. I have found scientific notation to be useful in estimating how much we are spending.

Out of curiosity, not necessity, when we got to Saigon I looked over the offerings in a more urban pharmacy. I found many more brands in use in the US, including such staples as Immodium. There were also Z-packs for sale, that is, courses of Zithromycin. I almost bought Kris a Z-pack as that is known to work on her sinus infections, but my American cultural training held me back. I wonder what we will find in Sri Lanka?

Fortunately, I have not had to use much of the medicine I purchased in Hue. I am now fully weaned from the Spackle and my cough has subsided to the point that I may or may not take two codeine tablets tonight before I go to bed. Will I sleep as well if I do not?



1 Comment

  1. November 21, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    […] in central Vietnam, in Hue, Danang, and Hoi An to my Picasa website. Hoi An was the location of my visit to a Vietnamese pharmacy. I have described the trip from Hanoi to Hue by train in my report on “The Great Train […]

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