Going to the Doc in Bangkok: how a broken ankle can make you a celebrity

Seeing a Thai orthopedist to check on my busted ankle blew my mind. In spite of possessing at least a handful of functioning brain cells, I’ve still been socialized to believe everything in America is the best and everything outside of America is not the best.

Not just American medical care –  Hollywood American medical care.

My subconscious set me up. I knew about Thailand’s international reputation for fantastic medical care. But somehow, I still expected an exam room from a 1950’s time warp. Not even the sets of ER, Scrubs, House, or Grey’s Anatomy, which one assumes represent quality American medical care, could have prepared me.

Bumrungrad Hospital is a freaking palace. Just from the lobby — oh, excuse me, the  Sky Lobby — I was looking down on half of Bangkok. Being in need of medical care felt like a privilege: it launched me to a new status. Wood floors, white marble, glass walls on every level overlooking the soaring atrium, soft lighting, lotus flowers floating in enormous stone bowls, fountains, fresh air, bamboo stretching up three stories… wowsa. If this place were a fine-dining establishment, I’d anticipate just  walking through the doors would melt my  credit card.

Nice, eh? Well this isn’t even the Sky Lobby. This is just the puny little lobby of the smallest building in the hospital complex.

The writing on the walls clearly indicated an wide spectrum of patients; English, Thai, Arabic, and Japanese were common enough to make the signage. I felt like I was in a dream version of an international airport. Peaceful, quiet, soft, noble groups – Thai citizens, European men in their pointy leather shoes, Middle-Easterners in burqas and funny hats, Americans and Russians looking like they just walked in off the beach, and Asians who appeared to hail from myriad countries and economic levels – gently floated down the glorious corridors.

By the time I registered, wandered, observed, recorded, checked-in with orthopedics, got a free wifi code, and discovered the walls of the waiting room are too gorgeous to be marred by electrical outlets, I was still a full hour early for my appointment. I cracked my David Sedaris novel, kicked off my shoes, and settled in for a leisurely hour of reading. Sixty seconds passed before a uniformed woman called my name.

He survived my inquisition

I was still struggling into my shoes by the time we reached the exam room. I chose Dr. Thanut Valleenukul for his extensive ankle experience. I liked him immediately. He laughed when I demanded to know why he called me in early instead of eating lunch, and he tolerated my barrage of questions with good humor. Not only am I   insatiably curious, but I love grilling doctors. They are like google medical search results on steroids without the reading and uncertainty. It’s the same feeling I get when a tax professional explains how not to let Turbo Tax or H&R Block Online screw me with all their obscure questions.

I also want to be sure the doc hasn”t arrived at my diagnosis through pure familiarity. Are you sure it’s the tendon? Couldn’t it be anything else? If it was, what would other symptoms be? I developed this habit thanks to costly American medical care, I think. In the U.S., I can’t afford for the doctor to be wrong or have made too hasty a diagnosis. Dr. T answered all my questions and calmed my nerves about whether or not my ankle was still healing properly. Then, feeling like a celebrity, I sashayed to the cashier, put the $38 in fees on my debit card, and began my dignified  searched for the taxi stand. ♣

Many hospital patrons wear traditional dress from their country (Europeans – pointy shoes, Americans – polos and cargo shorts, Middle Easterners – head coverings and funny hats)

p.s. At registration they took my photo for my files. I couldn’t resist asking the three-piece-suit-wearing clerk what they do in the case of the burqa/niqab-wearing women.   Answer: no, the garment is not so sacred or important that these women get out of having their photo snapped.

p.p.s. Don’t worry – I’m not under the impression that my experience is the only kind of healthcare experience in Thailand. It is not. My aim here is to showcase the glitz that is part of mid-to-upper level care in the country. For better or for worse, Bangkok hospitals are stunning!

Photo credit links: grey’s anatomy (now a dead link), bumrungrad lobby,   doc’s photo, burqa.

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