In sickness and in health, till death do us part…
by Tony James
As Oscar Wilde’s formidable Lady Bracknell might have said of life in Pattaya, “To fall in love, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to fall ill looks like carelessness…” Too often true, in both cases, amongst the town’s fun loving ex-pat community!
Apart from running out of cash, falling ill is probably the one thing ageing farang fear most.
Medical cover for over seventies can be found – at a price! And that price rises each year quickly reaching unsustainable levels. A healthy life style is most likely the only affordable insurance that farang reaching the biblical ‘three score and ten’ can reasonably hope for.
On the coast you hear terrifying tales of outrageous charges made by institutions apparently operated more as ‘profit centres’ than facilities genuinely devoted to the care of the sick. As elsewhere in Pattaya “no money, no honey” is seemingly the name of the game. At the other end of the scale the city’s public hospitals throw up an equal number of horrifying accounts featuring incompetence and overcrowding, although constant retelling tends to diminish their accuracy.
Now for the good news…
Journey with me ‘up-country’ into remoter regions of the kingdom. In far flung Isaan, many kilometres from coast and capital where cash is tight and farang are few, choice in the matter of clinical care is limited; but possibly all the better for that!
A couple of visits to Khukhan’s new government hospital, however, have convinced me that there is nothing to fear and probably everything to gain from the local health services provided at minimal cost by the Thai stat
Careless over-exposure to the fierce Isaan sun and resulting damage to a freckled farang skin drive me first to The Clinic, an evening general practice run by the delightful Dr Lek moon-lighting from her day job at the hospital. Although the queue of waiting patients is always long Dr Lek never closes until every patient has been seen, often past midnight. The few Farang attending The Clinic must learn to wait with Asian patience! It’s p worth the wait. Having diagnosed my skin problem and arranged to deal with it at the hospital Dr Lek quickly picks up on a long-standing blood pressure problem, for years more or less ignored by doctors in the UK. “Come back in a month”, or later, they would always say. Here I am immediately prescribed medication and referred to Khukhan Hospital’s ‘Hypertension Clinic’.
At the hospital the medical staff are on the young side. For many it’s probably their first qualified job. Youthful idealism and sense of purpose, however, amply compensate for lack of experience.
Here the clients are ordinary folk from the town and surrounding villages. In this environment a farang is a rarity, little if any English is spoken, although there seems to be always someone keen to demonstrate a knowledge of paa saa angrit however limited, and equally eager to help with a tap on the shoulder when one’s number is called! As a farang you don’t expect, and certainly do not demand, any special treatment and you will in turn be treated with courtesy and kindness. Humility is the order of the day.
At Khukhan General clinical needs come before comfort and luxury, a priority reflected in the cost. For the procedure to remove sun damaged skin including anaesthetic, stitching and the cost of sending the removed skin for biopsy I was presented with a bill amounting to just 285 Baht. Later I paid a similar amount for blood tests and two month’s supply of blood pressure medication. Remember though a day’s wage in these parts is seldom more than 300 Baht! As a farang I would willingly pay more, but nobody would hear of such a thing!
Admittedly these were minor medical matters but I am nevertheless confident the cost for more serious matters possibly dealt with in the larger hospital in nearby Sisaket would be proportionately similar.
So if cure comes before comfort a country town could be the best bet. And the atmosphere of cheerful equality is infinitely preferable to the mercenary chill of commercial establishments!