Hospitalized for an ear infection?!?
Chumphon (Thailand), June 20th 2011 

Ear infections are always annoying, but when Edwin’s pain isn’t bearable anymore, we decide to visit a doctor. We are at the moment in the South of Thailand, in the small city of Chumphon. Travellers normally use this place only as a transport hub, to visit one of the exotic holiday islands close by. We are here already for several days, to observe the unspoiled Thai way of life and the sample the authentic Thai food. Near our hotel there is a private clinic, where we hope that they can help Edwin to get rid of his ear pain.

As we enter the bright looking hospital, the receptionists start to giggle nervously. The ladies try to convince one another to help us, as they are not convinced that their own English will be sufficient. In Thailand’s main cities several hospitals try to lure medical tourists with well educated English speaking staff, but this hospital in Chumphon is obviously not one of them. In this hospital are foreigners a rarity and the receptionist are finally deciding that the youngest of them, should help us. She should be the one that reminds the most of her English lessons, as it isn’t so long ago. We explain that we are here for ear pain, while we are pointing at our ears. All receptionists are nodding and giggling while they copy our gestures. With some difficulty, the registration forms are being completed after which we can take place in the waiting room. Before we can speak to a doctor, a nurse has to determine Edwin’s weight, length and blood pressure. The small army of nurses treats our patient like a hot potato. Nobody wants to burn their hands at this foreign patient, but finally the oldest nurse steps onto the plate and does the measurements. Everything is fine and a length of two metres appears to be the record for this hospital. The other people in the waiting room are following everything curiously and are constantly updated by the nurse. When everyone simultaneously start pointing at their ears, it is clear that the reason of our visit is also being shared with everyone around.

Finally, we are helped by a doctor of the emergency room. The doctor looks into Edwin’s ear and tells us with a serious voice that there isn’t an ant, fly or other creature inside the ear. Like we thought, an ear infection seems to be the cause of the pain. The doctor speaks a little bit of English and he supports his arguments with talented mime. We almost break into laughter when he explains that Edwin can row a boat, but should avoid going into the water. A large number of nurses have gathered around us and nobody seems to care that a man is brought into the emergency room. While he is been given extra blood and his conditions are obviously much more severe, they find it more interesting to listen to what the doctor has to say to us. With a penetrating look, the doctor urges Edwin to come back if his troubles aren’t over within two days after he starts taking medicines. “Then you stay two or three days; then you injections!” Because of his vivid acting, we know exactly what he means. When Edwin still has ear pain after two days, he has to be hospitalized and they will hang him at an infusion!

Like in most Asiatic hospitals, settling the bill comes before getting the medicines. The medicines are the true cash cows for these hospitals. Visiting a doctor will only cost you a few bucks, but the medicines are more expensive. A full bag of antibiotics, paracetamol, ear drops and pills to stop the swelling of the ear sets us back 30 euro’s. In Asia, they don’t shun the use of heavy medicines. You visit a medic to get well soon and this the fastest way of doing so. So, when you don’t like to take antibiotics for certain deceases, don’t ask the advice of an Asian doctor! When leaving the clinic, everybody waves us goodbye and wishes us all the best. Doctors, nurses and the other patients at least have something to tell when they get back home, as a tall western patient is still a rarity in this place. It is clear, however, that we won’t come back to this clinic anytime soon; being hospitalized for an ear infection may be good for the profit and loss statement of this clinic, but we find it a bit over the top!

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