I well remember my first visit to a Turkish “devlet hastanesi” (state hospital). It was not a reassuring experience.
My neighbor needed glasses and in order to get them at a reduced price through her husband’s social security payments she had to go to the hospital and stand in line with all the other walking wounded. As we puffed and blew our way up the steep hill leading to the hospital it occurred to me that just getting to it would probably have been the cause of many of the heart attacks being treated there.
I don’t know how long we were in there. It certainly felt like forever and I was astounded when we left to find that the doctor had prescribed four separate items for my neighbor when all she really needed was an eye test and a prescription for the right strength of spectacles.
Later a friend gave birth in the local children’s hospital in conditions that seemed almost medieval as regards both concern for her privacy and desire to provide her with adequate pain relief.
Roll down the years and this time I was going to visit a sick neighbor at the new devlet hastanesi in the outskirts of Nevşehir. To get there required a change of dolmuş (minibus) in the city center and soon I was groaning and complaining about the way in which all communal services are being moved away from city centers, where they are most readily accessible to everyone, in favor of remote locations handy only for those with cars. Presumably property values dictate this tendency: That is, the rising value of the land once occupied by communal facilities in the center as retailers and property sellers eye it up greedily makes the lower price of land available on the outskirts more attractive for such facilities.
All such grouses fell away, though, as soon as I stepped into the light, bright room that was accommodating my neighbor. To my amazement it came equipped not just with the obligatory television but also with a fridge and a private bathroom. The bed was one of those state-of-the-art affairs that might look more at home on the set of a science fiction movie. A second bed stood in wait for any family member who wanted to stay overnight. As I was gawping in astonishment and thinking about the UK, where such comfort only comes with pricy private health insurance, the door flew open and in waltzed a member of staff appointed to collect the lunch tray. His hair was covered with a plastic cap that looked daft but no doubt complies perfectly with health and safety regulations.
“It’s so clean,” I said to my neighbor, thinking again of the UK, where many of the hospital scandals of recent years have involved infections acquired in grubby old buildings.
“Yes, they come and clean everything every day. Even the windows,” she replied.
Of course none of that made her husband’s health prognosis any more encouraging but it was still a remarkable rejoinder to offer to those strange people I still occasionally bump into who assure me that, no, nothing has really changed in Turkey, and, no, people’s living standards aren’t really rising at all.
Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.