April 2024
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Saigon Kids Stories: Patiently Waiting To Hear The Heavenly Choir

by Suellen (Oliver) Campbell (ACS)

One of my more interesting memories of Saigon days is of a group trip to the beach at Long Hai. The high school organized the bus trip and we teenagers were picked up at our homes along the way, and transported by the “big yellow cruiser” down south to the beautiful beaches of the South China Sea.

When we arrived at the beach, the boys and girls were assigned two hotel rooms where we could change into our bathing suits.

After the girls donned what were, no doubt, the loveliest and most stylish one-piece suits of the 1950s, we headed to the beach which was only a few yards from the hotel room.

It was a gorgeous day, with the sun shining and the clear water welcoming.

I had been accustomed to swimming in the cold waters of the California Pacific coast, and was pleasantly surprised to be able to dive right in instead of inching out into the water. What a great morning we all were having together in the warm waters off Viet Nam.

For the first few hours it was a typical day at the beach, with teenagers splashing around, dunking each other and having a good time.

Then, the beautiful day turned into a scary scenario for me. While swimming in the surf, I suddenly felt a stabbing, burning pain in my left side. Not wanting to cause a scene I turned away from my friends, and calmly walked out of the water, heading to a beach lounge chair.

I sat there alone, assessing what I quickly determined to be a dire situation. I had heard there were sea snakes in the South China Sea, and I was pretty sure I had just been bitten by one of them.

Only a few weeks before, an American had been bitten by a sea snake in this same area. He had survived because his friends had placed him in their soundbarrier-breaking sportscar and driven like bats-out-of-hell back to Saigon where he was administered anti-venom, just in the knick of time.

From this story my dad had recently shared with our family at dinnertime, I was aware that the narrow time-frame for medical intervention was critical, and I quickly calculated there was no way that the “yellow cruiser” could possibly drive like a bat out of anywhere and get me back to Saigon in time to save my fifteen-year-old hide.

So what to do? Do I cause a scene and ruin everyone else’s day? Or do I sit there quietly and wait for the inevitable to happen — death by sea snake venom.

Neither choice was preferable, but I finally made the decision to simply sit there, suffer silently, and wait for the bitter end, hoping it would be fast and not excruciating. I knew that it would be about an hour or maybe less before gasping my last breath, so I sat as peacefully as possible, watching the lovely warm, blue water, and seeing my friends enjoying their day at the seaside.

The minutes stretched on as I waited for the signs of venom to attack my body: Shortness of breath, muscle spasms, heart palpitations. I definitely had two of the three symptoms, so I concluded that I must be, “going down.” I could hear the voices of my friends horse-playing in the water nearby and time passed as I patiently awaited the end of my life.

After about an hour of waiting I still did not feel any negative, significant difference in my condition. In fact, the rapid heart rate had slowed as had the shortness of breath. These days I would diagnose those symptoms as being caused by an extreme adrenaline rush, but on that day in Long Hai, I eventually concluded that maybe I had been “spared” and would live after all. Possibly I was immune to the venom of a sea snake? I was immune to poison ivy…maybe they are both from the same family of poisons? Such ridiculous thoughts from the mind of a 15 yr. old sea snake “victim.”

Eventually I got up from the lounge chair and walked to the hotel. Once in the room I checked inside my bathing suit for any evidence of a bite. Maybe the 2 little red marks on my side were from something other than the teeth of a sea snake ? Or maybe I was just grazed by it? Or possibly some other sea creature had made its way into my bathing suit?

Whatever it was, it did not kill me, but it surely scared the dickens out of me that day in Long Hai.

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5 comments to Saigon Kids Stories: Patiently Waiting To Hear The Heavenly Choir

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    Cute story and I can imagine your initial panic. I suppose many of us tend to try ignore illnesses or some such things because we don’t want to be a problem to others. But so glad it turned out to be a bug bite or something similar. Right now in this area, shingles seem to be affecting a number of people. It is a painful condition and I am allergic to pain so I am trying to be careful but how, I ask myself. Being a social animal, I enjoy being around people but I sure don’t want to catch whatever they are carrying, so I am being somewhat of a hermit or at least being out in the open with fresh air around me. Hope it works.
    Spring has sprung in north Germany and the snow is mostly gone….finally. Really looking forward to warm weather. Yep, I miss Saigon and its heat and humidity and, of course, all of you.

    • Suellen Oliver Campbell

      Ken, have you not gotten the shingles vaccination? I hear it is worth taking the time to do so, especially if the shingles are rampant in your area. Charles and I ponder the shingles shot every year when we get our flu vaccine, but never have gotten it. I understand from freinds who have been shingle victims that they wish they had been more proactive about the shot. Maybe we all need to be more proactive, too, and avoid the pain and suffering from the shingles which is said to be simply terrible.
      Chicken pox is an airborne disease, is shingles the same? My son got a mild case of shingles as a fifth grader when a classmate got the chicken pox. As you know the C.P. virus lies dormant in your body and is “revived” when re-exposed to C.P., thus leading to shingles. His had been dormant for only 3 years!
      Take care of yourself. Come to Houston, we will have plenty of heat and humidity for you and it lasts about 11 months!

  • Bootsie McMains Parker

    Suellen? Surely you could have called for me. I know what you mean though about “causing a scene”. That was the last thing I heard when I went out the door. To this day I think that way!

  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    Dearest Bootsie~ Rather than ask for help I guess we Southern Belles just suffer in silence and march on…must be a trait from my tough, but gentile Texas grandmother, though my New Yorker mom was a trooper for her entire life.
    Glad to see your comment on the weekly Saigon newsletter. I know you have some great stories to tell from our Saigon days. Please take time to writ them down and share them with everyone.

  • Oh my, Suellen – I feel for the genteel little teenager you were. I also was overly polite in those days, in my case, a product of growing up in a diplomatic family. By the way, I think you were stung by a jellyfish; once when my family and I went on a boating trip from Nha Trang, I jumped in the impossibly beautiful and clear South China Sea, and within two minutes jumped out again, screaming. It felt like someone wrapped electrified piano wire around my waist and my wrist. The Vietnamese boatman told me what it was.

    On another note, thanks for your comment on my smile, and identifying me from the picture with Pete and Dini!

    Hey, Bootsie – don’t know if you remember me. I visited you several times with Suellen. I’m glad to hear through Suellen that you are doing well, and reunited with Glenn!

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