Readers' Submissions

Saving Face Is Not So Healthy

  • Written by Rick Racer
  • September 8th, 2020
  • 6 min read


Dear Readers,

I will share a few stories in relation to my and my family’s experiences with the Thai medical system, as well as a few anecdotal observations along the way.

As Stick mentioned in the weekly column “Doctors and Nurses”, Thais seem to be off to the doctor for just about any ailment. My sister in law is no different. Any malady will send her running off to the nearest hospital consulting a physician for something as minor as a sore finger. She’s known in our family as a bit of a hypochondriac and is often needed to be given a reminder to calm her farm before she goes off on a list of a million and one things which could be affecting her health (to which 99.9% are all in her head).

The saddening part of all this is that as many of us know, scams in Thailand are not uncommon. Scams in the field of medicine are just as prevalent and all it takes is someone all too trusting to fall victim to any one of them. I’ve seen time and time again, my sister in law think something is wrong, go and get a check-up, then walk out with bags of pills to shove down her throat to presumably cure something which simply isn’t there. At times, I’ve googled some of the things they’ve prescribed her and am staggered that they’d give a fairly healthy person these kinds of drugs to pacify her.

Anybody who’s spent any length of time in the L.O.S. knows full well how easily one can procure medicinal items, regardless of your condition. Oftentimes, you say the word – you’re magically a walking pharmacy! I’ve seen friends go over to Thailand for a couple of months, only to come back yoked as fuck because of the ease they attained steroids over there. What one puts into their body is their own choice, but all this highlights is that the entire medical industry in Thailand merely isn’t as policed anywhere near as much as the West appears to be. Nor does it need be, so long as people are able to question the legitimacy of what they’re given.

Another (although slightly amusing story now looking back) was something which happened to me about 4 years ago when I was residing in Bangkok at the time. After arriving from Australia on my flight, I had a massive pain in my left onion. It was intermittent so I thought nothing of it at the time. Only weeks later, the pain became more apparent and more frequent along with something which appeared to look like a cyst. Given I’ve always used protection, I was not concerned that it might have been an STI, but knew I needed to get it sorted. So, off I went to Bangkok Hospital for treatment.

Checking in was quick and easy, the wait time not all that long and the appointment seemed to go OK, when the physician confirmed I had contracted epididymitis. Typically, this kind of issue is just treated with antibiotics and all good. Further blood work showed it wasn’t contracted via STI, but a urinary tract infection. Had the doctor prescribed me the correct medicine this would have been fixed within a fortnight or less. Only problem was, first off, he wanted to put a needle into my left nut where the cyst was and drain the fluid out of the bloody thing! For another 3 weeks I was stuck in Thailand with no relief to my condition until I returned to Australia and booked promptly with my GP.

Upon arriving with my GP, I was given a script for the correct medicine and was right within a few days. All this, without the need for a needle to be jabbed into my gentlemen’s region to drain it. This is not to say that Aussie doctors get it all correct and Thai doctors always get it wrong. But, more to the point, the fact that I dare question the Thai doctor was just met with total surprise, as most Thais don’t dare raise such an eyebrow to the men (or women) in white coats. As their social hierarchy dictates – doctor knows best. From my experience, the medical folks sit somewhere between CEO Somchai and monk in the pecking order.

I’ve actually lost count the number of times my wife’s sister has gone to the hospital for (insert reason here) and come back with bags full of useless crap which she seems to hoard. Oftentimes when I am there, I will get a bit of an upset stomach for the first few days (always have when I arrive) and it will go away on its own. I put it down to just getting used to the foods there, or whatever. Doesn’t bother me much, just that I am using the bathroom more frequently and it’s a bit uncomfortable. Well, that still doesn’t stop her giving me all manner of drugs in the small brown, translucent plastic Ziplock bags with strips of whatever pills she thinks I might need. This is nothing that can’t be fixed by a daily Yakult and ensuring I’m near a bathroom at the right times.

Another strange one is an engineer who works for our company here in Australia who is Thai, as his father. His dad both drinks and smokes heavily, eats like the world is about to run out of food and is constantly seeing a doctor about a litany of health problems, to which he’s dispensed bags upon bags of medication, yet is never told that it would be best if he ate less, exercised more, and stopped bloody drinking and smoking! Again, he dare not question the man in the white coat. Saving face is one thing, but to let it completely obliterate your health and wellbeing beggars belief!

I could go on, as I’m sure there are not just a few isolated cases similar to those I’ve outlined, but most likely many tens of thousands more. Nor is this write-up meant to bash the ever living shit through the Thai medical profession, but just to make it stand out that things which happen in Thailand just wouldn’t ever be thought of possible back in the West.

The one positive thing which I can note in the Thai medical system is they hospitalized every single confirmed case of Covid-19 and quarantined said infected persons with absolute scrutiny to ensure they were not able to spread it to the community at large. This has effectively allowed the virus to be pretty much eliminated from their country and life has since returned to normal, minus international tourists. The confirmed numbers can always be debated, but they’ve certainly managed to get on top of it, unlike here in Australia where we are in the midst of a second wave, all thanks to our government allowing security guards at the hotel coming into contact with people who were infected, with no training on disease control, then out into the community moonlighting as Uber eats drivers and spreading mass transmission causing us all to be locked down for now the ninth month straight.

So, it’s not all drawbacks when it comes down to it, but one could argue that if it weren’t for the constant need to save face and people simply asked the question, the Thai medical system would easily be one of the world’s best. Wait times are low, availability of medicines is plentiful and the system runs like a well-oiled machine when it runs properly. Just don’t go there with a swollen nut and you’ll be fine.

The author of this article cannot be contacted.