Mother's Day © David Volk

I've gotten used to ignoring Father's Day. My father died when I was 13, so the second Sunday in June has been just another day to me for so long that I don't even think about it.

Mother's Day is another matter. Last year, I had to rush back from Seattle just so I could spend time helping transfer my mother to a hospice. To be fair, my younger sister and a friend of hers who just happens to be a big muckety-muck at a hospice in Fort Myers did all the work. I just rode in the van with the cabulance driver who got lost along the way, wanted to give me a travelogue tour of my own hometown and wouldn't shut up.

Fortunately, this year, I didn't have to think about the day because I was out of town attending a family wedding and reunion. So, we all told happy stories about all of the people who weren't there, including mom. In fact, some of the people we talked about weren't even dead.

And that's an important lesson right there. Even if you don't show up, you're family's still going to talk about you, so maybe it's a good idea to put in an appearance just to defend yourself.

Since I was gone, I didn't get a chance to send out my Mother's Day story from the book.

It has a very cheery title. I call it:

Ill in Saigon

"My friends will ask me how I'm doin', But I can't lie to 'em, Not feeling fine today...." --From "Miles Away" by Marc Cohn.

Somewhere in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City's central district there is supposed to be an emergency medical clinic where everyone speaks English and the doctors are on duty 24 hours a day. At least, that's what my guidebook said. When I went to the address listed, however, I discovered it wasn't open round the clock, there were no doctors, and few of the people who work there understood English. Still, the health workers were nice enough to see me after hours and I was grateful. Because I left the guesthouse under the mistaken impression everyone spoke English, I didn't bring my phrase book with me. While the language barrier wasn't a problem during the exam, it did make it hard to get a diagnosis I could understand. In fact, the two men who were examining me left the room to confer on my condition and were gone about 15 minutes. When they came back they said normal body temperature is 37 (98.6) and I was at 39.5 degrees (103.1 F). They also opened a medical book, said, "You have this" and pointed to the word "influenza." I was glad to learn my condition wasn't life-threatening but I wasn't completely persuaded. To this day I'm sure the reason it took them so long was that they were flipping through old medical textbooks until they found an illness name I would understand. I guess I should be thankful shistosomiasis isn't more common. They also said I should get plenty of bed rest and not travel for five days. After I left the clinic I made the biggest mistake of the day. Since it was Mother's Day back in the states, I dutifully called my mom, wished her a happy day and then made the unfortunate mistake of telling her I was sick. Never do this. This is how I learned that no matter how old I am I should never tell my mother I am sick when I'm on the road because she all but made an international event of it. She suggested going to Hanoi as quickly as possible or even flying to Hong Kong so I could see a Western doctor, which I wasn't about to do. Failing that, she suggested I call her every day. Considering that it cost about $7 a minute, there were no ATM's in Vietnam, none of the banks gave cash advances on American Express cards (suddenly, it wasn't so convenient to have something with the name "American" in it) and I didn't have much cash to begin with, I couldn't comply with that request, either. I was able to give her a number where I could be reached. The place where I was staying didn't have a phone but the home of the owner's sister did have one.

The joy of being sick with the 'flu during a long trip is that not much happens in bed. It also substantially eases the burden of trying to keep a journal. If you're in bed all day, there's not much to write about. And, if you've fallen behind in your journal, there's plenty of time to catch up. Of course, it is lonely, but it's good to make the best of a bad situation. Things didn't stay dull long. Shortly after noon on the first day of my convalescence I was jolted out of bed when someone knocked on my door. It was the sister of the guest house owner telling me "my friend" was calling. I couldn't figure out why Celine would call when she was supposed to be staying in the room next to mine, but I dutifully put on my pants, followed the woman to her house and discovered a whole new world along the way. Although she lived within the same square block, she didn't live in a place that fronted on the street. Instead, the only way to reach her house was a series of alleys running behind the main storefronts. I knew that I had to go up an alley off the main street to get to the guesthouse where I was staying, but I just assumed that if I followed the alleyway, it would take me through to the road on the other end of that block. Instead, it lead to a winding network of alley side streets. Some were only long enough to be small hallways while others were full-fledged thoroughfares where there were places to buy food, eat, watch women do laundry and even see children playing. If a glass-bottomed airplane had flown over the block passengers might have thought they were looking down on a maze, but it was more. It was closer to a segment of interstate highway passing through a major city because it was subject to traffic jams and bottle necks at odd times. In fact, the first time she came to get me there were so many people wandering the alley and so many obstructions to dodge it took us three minutes to cover a distance that should have taken 30 seconds. By the time we finally got to the woman's home, my "friend" had hung up but said she would call back in five minutes. The first thing I noticed when the call finally came was my "friend's" surprisingly American accent. I also noticed how much the caller sounded like my mother. Then I realized it was my mother. She had called to talk about my condition; she fretted, worried and tried to convince me to leave Vietnam. In short, she was a parent. I reassured her that I was taking care of myself, getting plenty of bed rest and was actually starting to feel better. Then I had a coughing fit that lasted so long it sounded like I was going to hock up a Buick. The process repeated itself often over the next few days until I finally told my mother I would see an English-speaking doctor for a second opinion on whether I had the 'flu and how long I had to stay in Ho Chi Minh City. Since I planned to see a doctor around the time she made her daily phone call, I told her to wait a few hours before calling. Unfortunately, she had already called but the woman told me she was going to call back around noon. Not wanting to miss her call, I ran to my guesthouse to get a novel I was reading, took a seat in the woman's guest room around 11:30 and then I waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. It got so bad the woman's son pulled out a video he had rented so we could both watch it. The movie was "Casino" and I watched all of it. Did I mention the movie has a running time of three hours? The movie has a running time of three hours. Figuring three hours was long enough, I went back to my guesthouse to pack. Since the doctor told me it was okay to leave, I planned to hit the road the next day, buying a ticket for a tourist bus to Dalat, an old French resort in the hills. The expense of two doctors' visits (one cheap, one not), two sets of prescriptions and extra time in one of the country's biggest cities added an exciting new wrinkle to the trip. After months of having plenty of money, I found myself in danger of running short. Granted, Vietnam is not a terribly expensive country, but I was down to $300 and I had to stretch it across two-and-a-half weeks. In most countries I would have fallen back on my credit card or the hope of finding an American Express Travel Service office, but neither was a viable option here because no one took American Express, there was no AMEX office and no one would accept the card for cash advances. I could already tell the rest of my visit in Vietnam was going to be an interesting ride.



When we finally got back to our hotel I called home to let everyone know I was okay, even though I couldn't really afford the phone call. Since it was Memorial Day weekend back in the States, I wasn't sure who would be home, so I called my sister and left a message on her answering machine. I didn't know what time it was back in the States, but I was sure it was late. So, I left the number of the place I was staying and went back to my room to hang out with Sunny. When the phone at the front desk rang five minutes later, I looked at her and joked, "That must be Mom now." Much to my shock, it was. "Thank God you called. I was going to start calling embassies in the morning," my mother said when I got to the phone. Although the comment amused and irritated me at the same time, I had to admire her self-restraint. When I was incommunicado for only a week in Thailand she had seemed quite panicked. This time around I was out of contact for almost three weeks and she had only just started considering taking drastic measures. Again, I should point out I wasn't trying to torture my mom or drive her crazy, I just couldn't afford a $7 a minute phone call back to the States, not even a fax. And there was nowhere to send e-mail. Once again, she suggested it would be a good idea for me to leave Vietnam, Once again, I refused. After all, I still hadn't seen Uncle Ho.