No heart attack problem!

Part of the tunnel complex at Củ Chi, this tun...

Part of the tunnel complex at Củ Chi, this tunnel has been made wider and taller to accommodate tourists. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We were all exhausted. The man next door to me held my arm as he sat down. Then he lay down. In some fairly uncomfortable looking undergrowth. His breathing was slow, laboured.

All of a sudden, I heard screaming from behind me. I moved back out of the way as two women from our party rushed over and ripped the man’s shirt open. They started cardiac massage and mouth to mouth resuscitation. They seemed to know what they were doing.

We were in Vietnam visiting the Cu-Chi tunnels. A couple of years before we were born, a battle raged here between the United States and the Viet Cong guerilla army. The Viet Cong lived and fought from the tunnels. They covered a massive area. I don’t remember how many Viet Cong the tour guide told us, but I remember thinking that something like the population of my home town lived down there in the darkness.

The Americans tried many different ways of destroying the tunnels. They tried dropping bombs. They assaulted the tunnels on foot. They tried gas and boiling water. They even trained some small guys (called tunnel rats) to infiltrate the tunnels armed with little more than a pistol, a knife, some string and a torch. I can’t imagine the horrors they experienced. Despite all the efforts of the good old US of A, the tunnels persisted and were a major factor of the outcome of the conflict.

The Viet Cong were tiny and their tunnels commensurately so. They were far too small for us tourists. A small section of tunnel specially widened was available for us to crawl through. I was keen to experience what it was like down there. Julie was less convinced, especially when the tour guide said over and over in his Vietnamese accent “No-one with heart attack problem down tunnel”.

“You’re not going down there are you?”

“Absolutely.”

“Oh my God – that means I have to go with you!”

I don’t have a “heart attack problem” but I do take tablets for blood pressure. I looked at some of the people getting ready to descend into the tunnel. If they can do it – I can do it. We climbed down a ladder into a small chamber before climbing down further into the tunnel. For some reason, I assumed the tunnel would be cool. It wasn’t. It was claustrophobic and hot. It was also dark. We had to crawl along in single file. I quickly realised that with a man in front of me and Julie behind, there was no quick way out. It was also very hard work.

The man in the bushes was not doing well. One of the women attending to him kept screaming for a doctor. The other kept screaming for oxygen. The tour guide apologetically said “This is third world country – no oxygen”. A Vietnamese man with a stethoscope appeared briefly but I suspect I knew more about medicine than he did.

Unfortunately, that was the last holiday for that man – he didn’t make it. I’m sure if he was at a tourist attraction somewhere in the Western world, he might have fared better.

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