Teacher Tim's TEFL International Blog October 15th, 2011

A Visit To The Doctor

Medical tourism is big business in Thailand.

Thousands of tottering farang wrecks show up each year to take advantage of the cheap surgery and medications that Thailand has to offer. Plus the Western-trained doctors, nurses, and surgeons can all speak English better than you or me, and, as long as your money holds out, they make sure your hospital stay is more like a voyage on the QE2 than a dull hiatus in a Lysol-drenched holding pen.

A few years back a pal of mine from the States flew in to have open heart surgery at Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok. Back home, even with his insurance, his share of the payment would have bankrupted him. In Bangkok, after his covered payment, he had a bill of something like 1500 dollars. I visited him in his hospital suit at Bumrungrad, and thought I had walked into Kubla Khan’s Xanadu. There were bright, original, water colors hanging from the walls; there were dozens of orchids tastefully arranged on everything from his night stand to the commode; his lunch tray was loaded with mango, papaya, and a rich, thick, coconut & shrimp curry; and the nurses, each one a dead ringer for Miss Universe, flitted in and out with a smile and a giggle like harem girls. After my friend, the lucky stiff, had recuperated enough, his Thai doctor and surgeon sent him down to Hua Hin to continue his recovery on the beach. For all I know, he’s still there.

It’s almost enough to make a man wish for a serious illness, as long as he can get treated in Thailand.

A few years after I came to Thailand to teach English I developed an irritating pressure on my bladder that kept me up half the night going to the bathroom. I stopped drinking soda pop after 5pm, and moved my swim time in the ocean to the evening hours, hoping this would help me sleep better, but the symptom persisted, until it seemed I was doing nothing but laying down & getting up all night long.

At the time I had some health insurance, so I figured I’d just give myself a little medical vacation. I visited a famous clinic in Bangkok, which shall remain nameless, where the staff treated me like royalty as I was ushered into the presence of a medico who spoke perfect upper crust Oxford English. I felt like raising a knuckle to my forelock.

He poked and prodded me magisterially before pronouncing his prognosis: an enlarged prostrate.

I was imagining myself in a comfy room at Bumrungrad, snarfing up Massaman curry and ogling the nurses, when the doctor burst my bubble. All I needed, he assured me, was to follow a special diet he would prescribe, based on the best wisdom of both occidental and oriental medicine, and I would be sleeping like a log in no time.

No surgery required, with lots of nurses in attendance afterwards, I asked hopefully.

Nope, he reiterated, as he scribbled on an official-looking pad, just follow his dietary plan and I would never need to darken his clinic door again.

I reluctantly took his page of instructions. I had only missed one day of teaching classes. Like most Thais, my school administrator was fascinated with my illness, wanted to hear all about the symptoms and grief, and generously shared her own medical history, at length, with me. She had been prepared to give me unlimited time off, at half pay. Now I would be back in the damn classroom the next day.

The doctor’s diet recommended eating a lot of goose and something I couldn’t understand until I had a Thai translate it – tree fungus.

Tree fungus? That stuff that juts out of tree bark and looks like a refugee from a Stephen King novel?

The very thing, my Thai friends avowed; it’s a sovereign cure for everything from rabies to the collywobbles.

I ate tree fungus; I had it raw over rice and stewed with noodles. It had no taste and chewed like a piece of sponge.

The goose was harder to manage. You may be imagining me feasting on roast goose, a la Charles Dickens, but in Thailand they don’t roast anything as big as a goose – they chop it up and stir fry it. Guts, skin, feet, and all. There’s no such thing as a pre-packaged, goose, ready to pop in the oven. You have to go to the open air market, find someone who raises poultry, haggle with them, and then come back at some ungodly hour of the morning to pick up your slaughtered goose to have your maid cook (believe it or don’t, I did have a maid on my teacher’s salary at the time – they are a lot cheaper than a Thai girl friend.)

I stuck to this diet religiously for two months, with no change in my nocturnal pee pattern.

When I finally dumped my maid for my first Thai gf she immediately suggested a Chinese herbalist who had a shop down a noisome soi nearby. The gf described my symptoms to the shriveled up old man in the shop, who was swathed in rusty black silk and pulled at his wispy beard from time to time.

He gave me an herbal tea, with instructions to drink a full, steaming cup just before bedtime.

That night I drank the requisite cup and didn’t get up once during the night. I didn’t get up the next morning, either. Instead I stayed unconscious until early evening. I don’t know what was in that tea, but crackheads would have paid plenty for it. I never took it again.

Every new girlfriend I got had a new remedy for my problem. I finally put my foot down with the last gf, and told her I enjoy getting up six times every night, so just drop it.

She did. I keep a bedpan handy at night.