It wasn’t the cough that carried her off….

It wasn’t the cough that carried her off….

…but the coffin they carried her off in.

I’d been putting it off for ages, a trip to the hossy, but my internet searches kept telling me it’s terminal (which it isn’t – keep calm and get a grip…) so I made some appointments. Seems you can’t just rock up to a General Practitioner in Bangkok having self-diagnosed. The woman on the other end of the phone wanted song and verse of what was wrong with me. In the UK I’d consider it nosey and limit the details I’m willing to share with receptionists, usually in front of a room full of ear-wiggers, but this lady asks me nicely and privately. At home doctor’s receptionists were like Pitbulls in my surgery, giving out dirty looks to people from the travelling community because they couldn’t understand, ordering through a mouth like a cat’s arse that “you have to phone back at 1pm, we’ve got nothing til Wednesday”, but I’m ill now, “well you’ll have to go to the drop in at the hospital.” I shudder at the awful service and want to learn Roma just so I can be in cahoots with my fellow patients about the dickheadery of these stalwarts. Sometimes I think if Hitler had his time again he’d do well to pick up some extra troops at Levy surgery.

I told her everything, it felt like an audition for ‘Embarrassing Bodies’. “Can’t I just see a GP?”, “No madam, you will see specialists”. Well, lah-dee-friggin-dah! The thought of seeing a specialist made me feel all-the-more ill but was it a bit over the top? Three issues; three doctors. I was anxious about what could be wrong with me, about  the prospect of actually being ill far from home, about how the process works, and now I’m anxious that I’m taking up the time of specialists who could be helping the sick. I could’ve done with talking it through with a mate at home, but it’s increasingly difficult to find time to chat, be in the right mood for a deep and meaningful, and call’s are over before the real deep chats begin. The days of having time and wine have slipped away for now. (Sorry, who’s that at the door? – It’s Nigel Kennedy playing his violin, wanting to show me his painful neck calluses.)

In Bangkok my family are entitled to the same basic treatment as available on the NHS – fair enough – anything more, anything requiring surgery or complex treatment means we have to go home. We were told this in London by an extremely apologetic man who hid behind a clip-board and flushed red. He was ready for an onslaught and was shocked when we’d said “s’alright, we’ll just have to be healthy then”. I’m grateful that we are a healthy bunch but I don’t take it for granted. It makes me very nervous in Bangkok when I hear the sirens of an ambulance and the stand-still traffic remains stationary. There’s nowhere for it to go and mounting the high curbs is not an option. I fear for the poor bleeder in the back and I don’t want it to be any of us.

A hospital bus picks us up from the sky train and delivers us to a hotel hospital. Its fancy, the staff are dressed up – green and gold shimmering suits for admin and white Bianca Jagger style wedding suits for the nurses with co-ordinating white shoes. It adds to the feeling that my life is a musical and I sit on a comfortable couch and try to recall how to tap dance the time-step, I can always fall back on ‘jazz hands’.

My photo is taken, my weight measured by 3 separate nurses – which is painful. I hope each time to see the arrow drop and make me lighter but it doesn’t waiver. Actually, I lose a pound over the time I’m there. I vow to re-visit the 5:2 diet texting James who’s at Starbucks in the lobby with Patti. He says he’s just tucking into a chocolate muffin so can we start another day? This is what I’m up against. I might start licking my shoes once a week, get the shits more regularly, that’ll shift half a stone.

I have to see three separate doctors which seems a bit much, two of whom tell me I haven’t got cancer, even though I didn’t ask whether I had. I must have looked like I’d been online, writing myself off, searching will-writing services and choosing which wicker coffin. I’m prescribed antibiotics and told I’ll need to see a dentist for a wisdom tooth extraction. Bollocks! He says the abrasion I have is because I bite my tongue when I sleep, probably due to stress. Oh my, that sounds attractive, I hope James wakes in the night and gets to witness this. I have friends who’ve been advised to wear gum-shields in bed for similar issues – you sexy bastards out there giving ‘grinding’ a different meaning.

My other ailment is tailbone related. I hired a bike with Clair in Ayuthaya. It seemed like the done thing, rows of bikes outside shop fronts and cheap hire. There were plenty of ancient monuments to see in the old capital and I like to look then get a shift-on so a bike ride is perfect. It turned out neither of us have much sense of direction and we unnecessarily cycled up and down the same soi time and time again. The soi dogs in one particular area were so sick of the sight of us they gave chase. It felt a bit Laurel and Hardy, pedalling rickety old bikes like mad in the rain having had a few beers in a bar. Though I was relieved Clair’s idea of ‘exploring’ on bikes was akin to mine.

After the bike ride I convinced myself I’d aggrevated a coccyx injury from a party fall in a kitchen. I landed on my arse on a slate floor due to a spillage and unsensible party shoes. I’d googled the recurring pain and been privy to an operation to remove the coccyx, read about the threat of a tumour, or having to have the coccyx manipulated back into place. The quack asked me a few questions, pushed and prodded and sent me for an x-ray. There was no fannying around making other appointments, they just pointed me in the direction and off I went to don a kimono gown with a complex tying technique. My tailbone is in tact, a sprain perhaps – don’t sit on hard surfaces, consider a cushion, avoid bike rides. I’m relieved and grateful that I didn’t have to wait a month or so for a date for an x-ray and I was really impressed by how straight my spine is, who knew!

I’m surrounded by people in pain – I’m a fraud. The patients are a mixed bunch, women with only their eyes on show, ladies unapologetically belching, when the three wise men walk past I think it’s a good omen. There are fridges of refreshments lining the walls like the business lounge at the airport. The seats are comfortable couches and look new, there is no litter, the floors are wooden laminate, everywhere is beige and cream, no one is shouting or swearing (now that Patti has gone to collect Abe from school). Nowhere smells of disinfectant, the signage isn’t peeling off the walls, there are no paintings or mosaics done by kids, no signs telling me to switch off my mobile phone, no one is sitting in a wheelchair at the main doors in their dressing gown smoking cigs through tracheotomy holes. In short, it’s posh.


I have to wait for ages because my third doctor has gone to lunch, I wait for 2 1/2 hours. What the hell did he order for lunch? An onsite Michelin star taster menu? As names are called with a ‘Khun’ at the start and a ‘ka’ at the end they all sound the same and I go to get up every time someone else is called. Feeling weary I go to find some food. There’s a McDonald’s which is counter-intuitive for a place you’d think would promote good health. Still, I have a big mac and read my book (an amazing read The Trouser People about exploring Burma). I’m devastated to learn there was a food hall behind me and I could’ve had noodles or Thai food. Would it be strange to return to a hospital just for the food? Yes, it probably would.

In short I’m well. I pay £20 odd to a cashier within the hospital, then collect the medicine from the pharmacy on the same floor. In future I’m told, I can just buy it over the counter in the chemist, which is open to abuse but saves me any future hassles so I’m happy. The process has been slick, aside from the 7 hours I am there at the hospital, but for the same treatment and consultation it would have taken months at home. I am told that patients fly over from far and wide for healthcare that is cheaper than their home country and I note that the majority of Thai people in this hospital wear a uniform.

Wandi had the day off last week to go to hospital for some check ups and I’m sure her experiences will have been broadly different to mine. I’ve had all my ailments scrutinised in one day and I’ve been re-assured I’m well. I am proud and supportive of the NHS in the UK, in awe of nurses, midwives, doctors, radiographers who work in hospitals and that don’t have the same benefits as this hospital. It must be frustrating not having all the tools. I just wish NHS hospitals could offer the same service as the private ones, after all we’re all only a cough away from a wicker coffin.


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