As an expat or a traveler, have you ever found yourself looking for medical treatment in an unusual, interesting or scary place? I expect you probably have a tale or two, possibly not all of the funny variety.
When you think of a doctor’s examining room, you generally envision a clean, bright place with properly sterilized and gleaming instruments, no cats, and well-trained human personnel. It is my experience that medicine, good and bad, is sometimes practiced in places that do not resemble examining rooms, such as church basements or refurbished bedrooms. Here’s a story of where the search for medical help led us one tropical morning in the Far East.
Thai Pharmacy – Photo by K. Nicoll
The Sleepy Doctor and the Achy Ear
While living in Indonesia, we once found ourselves, (one husband, two daughters and I) on vacation in Thailand on the beautiful island of Phuket in the Andaman Sea. The food was delicious, the weather tropical, the younger daughter sick. Her ear hurt. Swimmer’s ear, or an infection. She’d had both before. After some inquiry, we were directed to a clinic. When we got there, we found it closed. Back to our hotel, where a young man assured us he knew where to find a doctor and offered to be our guide.
We clambered back into our rickety rented Jeep with its faulty brakes, a relic from the Vietnam War, ended decades ago. Property of the United States of America, said a little plaque on the dashboard.
Deep into the labyrinthine mysteries of the village we found this commercial establishment, a one-room general store with shelves chock-full with exotic-looking cans, jars and boxes. Like a line of ducks we traipsed between the narrow aisles and out a back door into an outside passage. We heard children, a radio, saw a little boy in his underpants run across a courtyard, and finally we found ourselves in a room that looked like a stock room. Boxes with supplies everywhere. A tiny table held some doctor-type things like cotton and tongue depressors. A shabby examining couch languished in the middle of the room, holding more boxes. A limp curtain with faded purple roses enclosed a corner. The room, it seemed, was a combination of waiting room, consultation room and dispensary.
Presently, a sleepy young man wearing crumpled shorts and a Micky Mouse T-shirt slouched into the room, sagged down on a chair behind a tiny desk and yawned. It was 9:30 a.m. Had we got him out of bed? Well he was young. Maybe he’d partied last night.
We explained about our daughter’s ear, pointing at it for further clarification. The young man took out a flashlight, peered into her ear and nodded. His English was not extensive, but we didn’t need much. We were not dealing with great medical mysteries, for which we thanked the gods. The doctor put a thermometer under our daughter’s arm and told her to sit down.
We waited. I studied a poster on the wall, a chart with pictures of various contraceptives. The doctor yawned some more. The room was stuffy and warm. I examined my nails.
A knock on the door. Two gorgeous Thai women glided into the room and a conversation ensued. The doctor took some capsules out of a big glass jar, put them in a paper bag and handed it to one of the dark-eyed goddesses. She offered him some bills in return, which he stuffed in his desk drawer. The women glided out.
The doctor checked the thermometer, then showed it to us. Our little girl had a slight fever. Yawning, the doc rummaged through his medical supplies on the shelves and handed us a small bottle of ear drops and three other bottles of liquid potions, one yellow (antihistamine), one red (aspirin), and one pink (antibiotic). We checked the bottles carefully, reading the labels where possible, assuring ourselves the stuff was what the medicine man said it was. In foreign lands with limited resources bottles of all kinds are used over and over again. When you get medicine in beer bottles stoppered with an old rag, you might want to choose the illness over the cure. (Please do not point out to me that when you leave the comforts of the modern western world, you’re asking for trouble and you deserve everything you get. We knew that. We left anyway.)
We paid the doctor for his services and the medicine, an amount for which in mentioned modern western world you might have procured a cup of coffee and a donut. Who says all doctors are bloodsuckers? Not me.
Utterly relieved she was not given an injection, our little daughter wanted to show the doctor her gratitude. She searched her shorts’ pockets for a shell she had found on the beach the day before, but came up with nothing. Clean shorts, no shell.
We suggested that perhaps we ought to try not to have any more ear infections.
Photo by Theresia Svensk
NOTE: As I’m sure you all know, Thailand is famous for medical tourism and medical care of first-class quality is available. However, I expect that ordinary Thai citizens in small villages in distant locations do not normally have these services available to them. Our adventure with the sleepy doctor took place many years ago in a small village.
QUESTIONS: Were you ever treated by an unusual or scary doctor? A native medicine man? In a strange place? What sort or medicines did you get? What was done to you?