If you spend any amount of time out of your home country then sooner or later you’re going to want some medical help. It might be for something minor or you might be unlucky enough to need some major assistance. Either way, you will be in a weakened state when it comes down to it so it can’t hurt to brush up on the etiquette before you need to do this for real.
I had to go to the hospital today. I should have done this about 4 countries ago but each time it flared up it wasn’t convenient to take the time out. I was either about to board a plane, on holiday with my parents or just generally failing to adult.
This wasn’t the first time I had ended up in a hospital on this side of the world. I’d been in for a similar thing in my first month of being a digital nomad. It was a lot worse that time I was rolling around on my bed in proper pain. I was a long long way from my mummy. Despite having made friends at the hostel I was still a long way from anyone that I could turn to as well. It was a tough time. I realised just how weak and exposed I could feel out here in the world.
This time it was more of a mild annoyance hence why I had been putting it off to just travel around and have fun instead.
But having been to a hospital in Bangkok and now in Chiang Mai, I have spotted a standard pattern for what you can expect. You may have different ideas running through your head but let me say that my experiences with the Thai medical system have been nothing short of amazement. They are super clean, super modern and super efficient. Here is what you can expect:
Your passport is required!
Before you set off: Don’t forget your passport and any other essential notes you don’t have in your memory like your Thai address, phone number, and any information about travel insurance if you have it.
I also went armed with a wedge of THB, my credit card and the medicine I had been self-medicating with up to now.
Picking your hospital
For me, this was a case of just asking somebody. Another friend at the hostel in Bangkok had been poorly the week before. She had visited two and recommended the second one to me as it was the most modern.
Here in Chiang Mai, I turned to the ever helpful MJ who owns In The City Hostel which I’m staying at right now. She directed me to Chiang Mai Ram Hospital which is just on the northeast corner of Old City. Easily within walking distance of my accommodation.
After dragging yourself to the nearest hospital you need to head for the biggest looking entrance you can see. They actually have people stood right inside the door and if you hesitate and look like you need assistance somebody will attend to you in seconds. The first step is to be taken to the new registration desk.
I actually barrelled into the place so quickly this time around that I didn’t spot these helpers on arrival. I only spotted them on the way out as they were helping the next wave of unlucky tourists to get situated.
You will find that everyone speaks great English inside the hospital which is important when you want to describe the nuances of how it hurts when you do this or how this rash wasn’t there yesterday.
The first step is to head to the new patient desk. You will be given a form and they will take a photocopy of your passport while you are filling it out:
They will want to know, in broad terms, what is wrong with you. They will also sit you down and take a quick photo.
After that, you get a ticket. Clutch on to this for the whole journey through the hospital, it is your ID. Once you have this ticket a nurse will take you to the next stage if it’s a long way away. In Bangkok, I was taken through halls and up an elevator before being told where to wait. In Chiang Mai I was told to head over to counter number 4 and give them my ticket:
After they checked I was in the right place I was asked to sit down in the rows of seats and wait. I pulled my phone straight out and set about playing my latest puzzle game du jour. The waiting time in both cases was under 20 minutes.
They had asked me a few questions and then I had replied Chi (which is yes in Thai) and then they were like oh do you speak Thai? I quickly realised I was out of my depth. This was no place for me to be acting like I was multilingual just because I’d learned the half-a-dozen most popular Thai phrases, so I sheepishly said no. After that, I stuck to my mother tongue for the rest of my visit.
The gross bit: I have an ear infection, the doctor said it is from dirty water getting into my ear. I suspect that it’s because I used those little cotton bud sticks and cleaned my ears out a little too well, exposing my ear to the ravishes of non-potable water.
Potable water means drinking water. Did you know that? I didn’t until just a couple of months ago but it seems that it’s a widely known phrase. It went into my vocabulary builder anyway so it’s not getting away twice. Not sure how I missed it all these years!
The examination both times started out with a quick chat, then they told me they were going to take a look and performed the initial examination. In my home country, this is where your journey would end, with an appointment to return some days in the future. Not here in Thailand, both times they have said yep this needs some work and moved straight onto a procedure.
Warning – additional gross-ish bit: Now I must admit, I was somewhat spoiled in Bangkok. The Dr had two mysterious flatscreen tv’s mounted up in the top corners of the room. When he started the procedure they sprang into life. It was deliciously hideous. I was both repulsed and entranced at the same time. And I could not look away. The tool he was using had a camera mounted and I could see what he saw inside my ear. It was a mess but he worked to extract the bad bits. There was no pain. He said that there were no pain receptors in there so he could get on with it no worries. The sensation when I saw him remove the bad bit was utterly unique. It was like watching one of those standard medical procedure tv shows but as he pulled it out it coincided with an enormous sense of satisfaction as my hearing came back after being lost for the past three days! I kind of wish I could have got the video.
Ok, the gross details are done with now. After that, in Bangkok, I was then quizzed by the Dr about my knowledge of the safety, living cost and university quality of varies cities back in England. He was Thai, but it turned out his child was going to be going to uni in England and he was worried about which one would be the best but safest place to send her to. In the end, he applied a sort of bubble sort to reach his decision. Manchester or Leeds? London or Leeds? Leeds or Birmingham?
I think he was happy with his advice, and after the wonderful work he had just performed on me I was more than a little bit in love and would have helped him with any questions he had whatsoever.
After the fun was over the nurse takes you back out to the main waiting area. They prep your details on the system, transferring the notes the Dr has just passed along, so the next stage is ready for you. The nurse then took me over to the payment desk.
Even if you have insurance you still have to pay now, claim later. They have an announcement system which reads out the numbers in Thai. I sat there silently cursing myself for still having not learned the numbers yet. But they were ready for me and when it got to my number it switched to farang mode, doing the whole announcement in English.
At the desk, I pulled out my credit card to make the payment. The prescription was printed off with the rest of the invoice paperwork and was whisked over to a window in the wall which opened through to the on-site pharmacy.
The total bill for this wondrous service? 1989THB. That comes to roughly £47. Pretty reasonable in anyone’s books! And it includes the cost of the prescription as well.
As you might be able to make out, if you squint, the first 700THB was the Dr’s fee. The prescription medication cost 1029THB and then the remaining 200-300THB is the cost of the bits, the nurse and general hospital costs.
I kind of like the way the prescriptions are presented here in Thailand. You get a little goodie bag and walk away feeling like you have just been to a children’s party:
They prescribed me Ibuprofen, which I was already taking. This costs about 10thb for a packet in a Pharmacy on the street. The ones in my goodie bag are Neurofen brand name ones. If I had realised that before I had paid I could probably have turned them down and maybe saved a few bt. Not the end of the world but I just feel compelled to try to optimise things so that sort of things niggles at me.
So I am on antibiotics for the next week, alongside ibuprofen and ear drops. The ear drops have to be done to both ears which means I can look forward to doing my best impression of Plug, from The Bash Street Kids in the coming days:
And that’s it. A pretty simple process, great value for money and super clean and high quality throughout. I recommend you cultivate your own medical situation as soon as possible so that you can have this experience too! (Disclaimer: If I actually have to disclaim this you are probably already a write-off).