Monday, March 11, 2013

A Visit to the Hospital (and Burma)

My appetite has been low since arriving in Thailand 2 months ago.  I've lost 20 pounds and the thought of food still does not interest me although I normally love Thai food.  I have reverted to eating mostly western food I am comfortable with and have to force myself at that.  Figuring something in my system must be out of whack I decided to make a visit to the doctor to see what's up.

Thailand has two medical systems and both provide good care.  One is the private hospital that costs more, but one can be seen very quickly.  The other is a Government hospital which is cheaper, but it is the system all Thai's use and is therefore overcrowded and has slow service.  Doctors don't have private offices here, so for any visit to a doctor one goes to a hospital of which there are several in Chiang Mai

I chose to go to the government hospital for a couple reasons.  One is that it is less expensive and the other reason is that I am not too sick to stand in lines and sit for periods waiting.  I want to experience Thailand as the Thai's do and I got my money's worth with this experience.  Although as I create this post, I await a follow-up visit to go over test results in two weeks.

I arrived about 9:30 on a Wednesday and was immediately overwhelmed with the number of people waiting in chairs and milling around.  All signage is in Thai (and there were a lot of signs with obvious instructions), but after asking around it became clear where one registers and gets a picture taken.  I notice little things like small birds flying around in the lobby, people on gurneys with intravenous drips being wheeled through the waiting area, and numbers being called out in Thai.  I have to confess I haven't even learned my numbers yet.  Next is waiting to approach the window where they direct outpatients depending on the reason you are there.  There were 100 numbers ahead of me so I waited about an hour and a half.  Luckily the calling of numbers was accompanied with a number sign board and Thai numbers are expressed in the numerals I am familiar with. When I arrived at the window, I was directed to another window where the counter person spoke passable English.  There was not another foreigner in the whole place of at least a thousand people.  Thai's have a social medicine system and many were going to the government insurance windows.  My English speaking fellow was apologetic in saying "I'm so sorry, but there are 300 people ahead of you".  "If you could come back around 5 PM we may be able to get you in to see a doctor".  I asked if I could make an appointment for Friday morning because I had to travel to Burma on Thursday to get my tourist visa validated for the second two month permission to stay.  "Yes, come on Friday at 7 AM to my window".  "That's when I come to work", he said.

So on Thursday morning at 8 AM I boarded a 10 passenger van that would take me and 8 other farangs (foreigners) to Mai Sai and the boarder crossing to Burma.  The trip is about 4 hours each way with a 15 minute rest stop and an hour to get the visa business done.  One walks to the Thai exit building to get your passport stamped for leaving Thailand.  Then you walk across a bridge to the Burma side and get your passport stamped for entry into Burma.  Then you walk back across the bridge to the Thai side and get stamped back into Thailand.  The whole process takes about half an hour, then you wait for your van to return to the drop off point for boarding and the fast and furious ride back through the mountains past Chiang Rai and home about dark.  An exhausting day considering the van driver was in a hurry tossing passengers to and fro through the mountain pass.

Back to the hospital on Friday morning at 7 AM.  I wait at my designated window and the office opened at 7, but my English speaking fellow does not show.  A little worried, I went to the other window and pushed my way to the front of a long line and asked "Man not come today"?, pointing to my designated window.  She replied "Not come till 7:30".  Sure enough at 7:30 he comes in and immediately sends me to the 3rd floor "room 10".  When I find room 10 there are two long lines leading to another counter so of course I get into the shortest one.  Soon thereafter I realise I am in a line that has no one at the counter.  Calming myself thinking I should just follow what the Thai's are doing I see that the counter person is taking papers from one line, then the other.  Soon a second nurse showed up to handle my line and within 45 minutes I am handing my papers to the nurse, getting my blood pressure taken and given number 95.  She said "come back at 11", so I drove home to rest for a few hours and returned at 11.  Being the only farang had it's advantages because when I approached the nurse, she immediately remembered me and called me by name "Mr. Daniel, go wait in line for room 5".  As I wait for 3 people ahead of me to see the doctor in room 5 I take the time to see what's going on around me.  Still no farangs... all Thai.  Men all cross their legs "like a woman would in America", no macho leg crossing posturing here!  Everyone is quiet and just waiting.  Nobody is reading or doing any other thing except sitting patiently.  I have brought a magazine and am happy to have something to do.

Next Post: Seeing the Doctor

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