We’ve had health care abroad.

Dentist visit, Chiang Mai, Thailand
If there is a god, then why do stupid things happen to smart people?

by Mike

Azure and I have had plenty of health care encounters abroad, so I thought I’d tell some of the fun stories about how we get treated when we leave our own country.

Chipped tooth, France 2001
I chipped my tooth biting into a sandwich (yep) and called a dentist recommended by a friend. His office was in his apartment. He had no receptionist, no assistants, just a chair and his tools in a room adjacent to the kitchen. I hadn’t asked how much it would cost, so as he worked on me I worried that I’d get ripped off.

When he finished, about 30 minutes later, he asked for “50 francs and a pint of Guinness.” That calculates to about seven dollars and a pint of Guinness. A few weeks later he came into the bar and I gave him his drink as the second half of my payment.

General badness of the body area, India 2004
For $2 the local doctor saw me right away and, after consulting, told me I should go to the private hospital. I went to the hospital and checked in with dehydration & a fever. They were going to inject me with a fever reducer, but then noticed that I was sweating. They asked if I’d taken paracetamol, and I had. That’s what they had in the syringe.

To treat the dehydration they were going to put me on an IV and rehydrate me right into the arm, but not wanting to be injected in India, I asked if there was another option. They said I could get some electrolyte packets and mix with water (Gatorade, essentially). They didn’t ask me to pay since they ended up not treating me (in the US the price of a consultation like this is enough to dissuade someone from seeking treatment).

Here in the US, when we go to the doctor we want SOME kind of evidence that we’re being heard & treated, so they’ll prescribe us some pills. Apparently in India their preferred consolation is an injection – that’s why they were going to give me two injections of treatments I could take orally.

Ear infection, France 2005
I waited in the doctor’s office in Chateau Neuf de Pape for about 2 hours before finally being seen as a drop-in. The doctor spoke to me in English even though I tried to speak in French – he wanted to make me more comfortable. He prescribed me a $10 course of antibiotics and charged me $10 for the visit. Cured like pork.

Broken teeth, Thailand 2006
It’s a crazy story, but the long & short of it is that I chipped a tooth (the picture above) and the dentist saw me the same day. I had the tooth fixed and three cavities filled, then a teeth cleaning. It was around $30. The side-note to this story is that, once again, I didn’t want to get an injection, so I underwent all this tooth fixing without any Novocain, only Azure’s hand to squeeze.

Fake rabies, Thailand 2006
Azure thought she might have rabies because a friendly dog licked her on the elbow, so we went to this stunningly beautiful hospital in Bangkok. It looked like what I imagine a 5-star hotel looks like. After an hour wait (again as drop-ins) we were taken back to a specialist for this type of fake disease. She was a great doctor – understanding and patient. Azure would be ok and we payed $15 for the peace of mind.



Filed under Europe, France, India, Southeast Asia, Stories, Thailand, Tips, Travel

8 responses to “We’ve had health care abroad.

  1. Joe

    Great article! I like how you show how broken our system is without coming out and saying it.

    What’s the aversion to getting an injection in a foreign country? Isn’t getting a cavity filled just as invasive?

    • The aversion is AIDS-related. I kinda assumed that getting a cavity was less of a risk than an injection, but now that you mention it I’m not really sure.

      Here’s another anecdote:
      Note from doctor, USA 2002
      I was called to jury duty, but I decided not to take part because I’d had serious panic attacks in the past, and jury duty would be a definite trigger. I called the doctor and asked them to send a letter confirming this. They told me that I’d have to come in to get the letter. I went to the office, the doctor saw me and checked my history to confirm. She handed me the letter.
      Seventy dollars for a letter? Must be a mistake. I asked the clinic manager to waive the bill but she said she couldn’t do it without talking to the doctor. They briefly consulted and decided that, no, the bill would not be waived. No mistake made. The bill was intentional.

      I’ll just come out and say it: It’s hard to trust doctors who charge a lot of money.

  2. Ben M

    Martinique, 2008-09

    On New Year’s Eve I was chasing a frenchman around the pool and slipped and gashed my head open. Everyone was drunk and no one could drive so they called an ambulance and one came and drove me to the hospital on the other side of the island. The drivers were two afro-caribs, and when the clock flipped midnight I said “Happy New Year” and they coldly nodded at me.

    The hospital, more a clinic really, was kind of run down but fine, I suppose. There was an old doctor who looked at me and told me to wait in French and then a young doctor came after half an hour who was from Togo and spoke English and stiched me up. The wait was because the old doctor didn’t speak English.

    The only taste of the US-style hospital waiting was the wait for a cab to take me home, which did fucking take forever.

    I never had to pay anything for the hospital, but the ambulance company did eventually find me in the US and sent a bill for like 80 Euros, which I ignored for a while but then paid eventually with a check in dollars.

  3. Susan Goldstein

    Seriously, maybe I’ll arrange a teeth cleaning when in Thailand.

  4. Manami

    Thank you for this post! The fact that we are the only first-world, industrialized nation without socialized medicine is my number one grievance with this country . . .

    While we were living in Italy, I chipped my tooth on a falafel and got it fixed for free. Justin went through a period where he was convinced that there was something wrong with his heart so he went to the hospital where they spent hours running tests and looking at it every which way—at no cost. (Granted health care in Italy can be a bit “informal” at best: nurses and doctors kept coming in and out of the examination room though he was half undressed, offering coffee/cigarettes or just to chat with the doctor, but still, its thorough and its free!)

    In Japan we are responsible for 30% of the overall bill, but the cost of health care is not even close to the exorbitant prices we face in America.

    Isn’t it time to reexamine a system when the number one reason individuals have to declare bankruptcy is due to medical bills?

    • So I’m not the only one who chips a tooth on soft food…

      It’s absolutely time to reexamine the system, Manami. It’s ridiculous that at this point in history an industrialized nation won’t take care of primary variable in quality of life.

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