First came the phone call, the day before we were set to leave and something inside told me something was up even before I answered. This trip already had all the hallmarks of going south and getting a call from my photographer seemed to be the last straw.

“Hello,” said the uneasy voice on the other end of the phone. With a certain air of anticipation, I answered and not with the anticipation of something good but a “hey man I have to pull out” kind of anticipation.

“Maaaaate … I’ve had some dramas on my last trip. Got a belly bug—been on the can for so long I might have given myself a haemorrhoid.”

How do you answer that?

He adds, “I’m heading to the hospital now man. The doc told me it’s not a haemorrhoid. It’s a perianal abscess and it needs to be lanced.”

“So,” we double-check, “a boil on your butt?”

“Pretty much,” he said, “and the doc told me to get it lanced, but I’m not sure what to do. He gave me antibiotics. I’m hoping it clears it up. If it doesn’t go down—if it won’t go down—it definitely needs to be lanced.”

We asked him if he needed to pull out of the trip.

After some “umming” and “ahhing”, he decided against the lancing of the derrière. He’d wait overnight and hope it went down by itself.

No call. No text. We assumed everything is good to go and the offending pain in the arse has subsided. We arrived at his place. His bags and boards are packed—a good sign. He smiled.

“How you feeling man, good to go?”

He walked to the car with camera gear in tow. “Well it hasn’t gotten worse, buuuut, it hasn’t gotten better.” Then he unleashed his impending plan. “I’ll just get it lanced in Padang. We got two days in Padang. I’ll do it then.”

It’s a crappy plan, but let’s go for it, it’s his arse.

I’m sure at this stage you’ve worked out exactly where this growth has born its’ ugly head. Yep, where the sun doesn’t shine and hopefully never will. He showed me the doc’s report: no blood, no major haemorrhoids seen but poor view.

Well the docs got that right I’m sure. There’s no doubt in my mind it’d be a “poor view”.

 

We planned to get it sorted in Padang—a most unlikely place to put yourself, especially your butt, in the hands of the “local medicine man”.

Halfway through the flight, his plans suddenly changed. “Let’s do it in Kuala Lumpur. We’ve got a 14-hour layover and all we’re doing is getting a room in the airport. What do you think?”

We’re fine with it. Let’s see the country—at night going from hospital to hospital trying to find a doctor. It beats staring at the inside of KL’s airport, but first we try to locate a medical centre in the world’s 23rd-busiest airport. If they can’t perform the procedure, at least they’ll give us some good advice. The problem with an airport the size of KL is, it’s hard to find a little medical centre because they’re not in prime positions. Round and round we went.

We stumbled onto the first place which wasn’t a medical centre at all but a waiting room for a bigger hospital in the city. This seemed weird because why would you need a waiting room to nowhere, or certainly nowhere near by? The lady at the counter was quite helpful. She gave us a name of a centre to go to, except we had trouble understanding her and asked her to type the medical centre’s name into our phone. Sometimes, I love autocorrect. Other times, I hate it. But this time it seemed a little prophetic. It autocorrected from Menara clinic to Mental clinic. Yep, who in their right mind heads off to a Third World country with a suspected perianal abscess?

 

Although we have the name of this place, we weren’t giving up on finding a medical centre inside the airport because it’s such an easy procedure—Anyone could it. We continued searching, there’s got to be more than one. We visited another information counter in the search of an actual medical centre and not a waiting room to nowhere. We’re again given the name of another medical centre and off we go again with really bad directions. Round we go. Nothing. It’s on level 2—there’s two level twos: 2 and 2M. It’s not on 2M. It must be on level 2. We had the feeling of being lost in a classic Aussie shopping mall, except it’s ten times the size with few English speakers. It’s our problem we can’t speak any Malaysian but on we go, asking dozens of people to point us in the right direction.

After visiting the new medical centre who told us they couldn’t do anything for us, we were given a name of a clinic 15 km away. It’s a place we’d found googling medical clinics. So after we walked six and half kilometres around the airport—thanks to my iPhone for the stats—we headed out to catch a taxi.

The first possible driver, who, even though we’d given him all the info, had no idea what he was doing. So we trudged off to the next info desk for more help. Butthead McBoil (our photographer who’s now inherited his nickname) started to feel the burn, those cheeks rubbing together on the infected boil. It’s like a volcanic pimple with pus-filled lava trapped in its vent … where the sun still isn’t shinning. The info desk tells us to go down stairs, again, to get taxi coupons. They don’t accept credit card, so it’s over to the money exchange to get some ringgit, and then we decide to not worry about coupons because we have cash and in Asia, money talks. This time we find a sharply dressed fellow who gives us a quote and we are happy with his price and before you know it, we are fanging along a KL highway to our destination. The driver asks, “Why are you going to Nilia? The best doctors are in the city of KL. I can take you there for another A$5.” We agreed—only if they are 24 hours and can do the job.

 

The driver was a nice fellow and got us to our destination. We said our goodbyes and into the private hospital we went, only to find out we were in the most expensive hospital in KL. It was going to cost A$1500 just to get it looked at, aaaaand, they couldn’t do it until the next day. That wasn’t going to fly, because we gotta fly—fly out and fly out in less than 10 hours at this stage. Our timeline is starting to shrink. We are told the public hospital is only 700 metres away. Old mate gives me a look. The one that says, 700 metres? I’m not sure I can do seven more steps. So we asked the attendant at the private hospital the best way to get a cab and he told us he’d order one. We sat waiting for this cab for half an hour and still nothing came. Another guy tells us we need to go inside to order the cab or car or whatever. We pull the pin and decide to sort it ourselves.

 

We ordered a car and it arrived in no time. Things were getting grim. McBoil was clammy and pale. He murmured about that thing getting lanced. Off to the public hospital we go and it’s a dire looking set-up. There are some disturbing looking people wandering the halls of this hospital. We were given a form and told to go left and follow the green footprints—what green footprints? Finally, we saw faint prints and followed them into the bowels of this Malaysian hospital in the middle of KL wondering if we’d come out with one less kidney. The worn green footprints led us to a desk. Only one person spoke good enough English, dammit, she was going on a break. Before she went, she told us that we needed RM100 (ringgit) for the consultation and a deposit of RM1500 (ringgit) for the small operation. We didn’t have the required ringgit. We didn’t even want to be in KL. We left and searched for an automatic teller machine to get out the appropriate amount, which was about A$500. It’s not tonnes but neither of us have bank accounts full of money, otherwise we’d be at the Private Hospital. The first teller, beeps constantly, whirrs and grinds and spits out a ticket onto the floor and old mate nearly faints. The machine it seems has kept his money. What were we going to do now—check the account on the phone? We can’t, his app isn’t working. If he tried to get the money out of the second machine and the first has taken his money, he’d not have enough funds but he’d know if the first machine had screwed him or not. Turns out we were good to go. He got the money and wasn’t ripped off.

 

So we were back to the hospital, money and form in hand, and up to the counter again. The helpful lady with good English is now replaced with a “Larry, Mo and Curly” character. We got the info we needed and now it’s a waiting game: we waited for our turn, waited with the people on drips, waited with the coughing folks, and the man who walked around with blood dripping out of his head … waited … bing! The number came up and relief is almost here. We knew once the thing was lanced, relief would follow. He went in. We waited for Butthead McBoil to come out, hopefully with face full of relief. Who the hell will believe this story? The door opens and out he comes.

“How’d you go?”

“He won’t do it because it’s not big enough,” he said.

What’s going on when a boil that big isn’t big enough?

 

What the hell were we going to do? There’s another discussion and a new plan is hatched. We’ll go back to the airport, book into a room for the final six hours (of a 14-hour layover) and sleep. Then, we’ll lance it done in Padang. It’s probably a worse place, but it’s not the end of the world—just next to it. We grabbed another car back to the airport. McBoil passes out in the back of the car. I’m nodding off in the front but trying to keep an eye on the app to make sure we aren’t getting led up the garden path, and we’re back to where it all began eight hours ago with no result for our efforts. The long walk through the KLIA2 Airport was a long one. There’s a grim look on McBoil’s face. Midnight Macca’s is ordered and the room was booked. We checked in, smashed a weird tasting Big Mac and hit the hay. We were praying the monster of the deep does actually go down overnight … probably unlikely.

 

Morning dawns, it’s early, because our flight is early. McBoil gets up for a shower. He’s feeling pretty good. Across the room, it was obvious his problems were over by the look of the mess he’s unknowingly left there.

“How you feeling man?” we asked.

“Yeah really good,” he said.

“Well I think your troubles are over,” we said nodding at the pus-tie-dyed sheet.

All of that walking and mucking around last night was the perfect thing to naturally wear the top off the boil—it burst by itself. So in the end, it’s not the goal but the struggle that gives you the result. We could have sat at home, called off the trip and missed a great opportunity to shoot some amazing waves. Sometimes it’s worth rolling the dice, you never know what will come up … and then burst.