Quick scene-set for new readers. Recent tries having been stymied first by the fact that they can’t be done in private hospitals and then by the fact that I showed up at the devlet hastanesi (state hospital) without the requisite pile of photographs and photocopies, I was now on my third attempt to get an official medical check-up.
Third time lucky, goes the saying, so I was feeling pretty positive as I slip-slid across the ice to reach the hospital.
My neighbors love the new building and it’s certainly a great improvement on the old one, which was always choked with patients crowded into grim corridors adorned with pictures of all the horrors that can befall the human body. It didn’t help that it was at the top of a hill so steep it must surely have been responsible for many of the coronaries that it treated.
Still, the truth is that there remains a gulf between what those who pay and those who don’t can expect to receive. At Versa, the local private hospital, the door slides open automatically as you approach. At the devlet hastanesi, the first of two sets of doors is firmly locked and the other requires a tug to open it. At Versa, the reception desk is staffed by smiling young women. At the devlet hastanesi a male security guard has commandeered the danışma (information) desk computer, leaving new patients to guess where they should go.
Eventually, though, I found my way to an office where my details could be recorded in one of those vast ledgers that used to be a feature of the Emniyet Müdürlüğü (Police Department) in the past. Then I was shuttled into an office where my details could be entered onto a form by a man who looked as if he might burst into tears until he realized that my Turkish was robust enough to cope with things like “babanın adı” (father’s name).
At the end of that process (which actually took longer than some of the check-ups) I set off on what felt rather like a school treasure hunt, the clues being the names of the different departments, the gold stars being the stamps, signatures and numbers that soon started to fill up my form. My lenses were measured and my color vision checked, a man peered into my ears, after which the check-ups became more cursory. In the neurology department I half-expected to have my knee tapped with a hammer to test my reflexes but “Do you have any headaches?” the doctor asked cheerfully before sending me on my way. Psychiatry amounted to a chat long enough for the doctor to ascertain that I didn’t have any ticks and that my conversation wasn’t peppered with obscenities. At General Surgery the doctor and I exchanged thoughts on the Italian versus the Turkish way of cooking pasta.
Finally I carried my completed form along a white line drawn on the floor to the Sıhhi Kurul (Health Committee) off a corridor lined with empty seats. “Come back on Tuesday,” they told me. On Tuesday there was standing room only in the corridor but at 3 p.m. sharp the door flew open and a man in a white coat emerged with a pile of certificates. Fifteen minutes later I was on my way, task completed.
Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.