My experience with healthcare -- a la Turca

January 25, 2011, Tuesday/ 16:58:00

The vaunted American healthcare system spoils us and many Americans point with great pride to the American healthcare system. I have benefited from it as well.

I had been nervous about depending on the Turkish healthcare system. My funds are limited here and my health insurance is limited to my membership in the Turkish public healthcare system. I have had nightmares about having to explain my condition in my limited Turkish. So I have been wary about using the facilities available here.

I have been dealing with chronic rhinitis for several months and finally decided I would have to use what was available to me.

The usual way to see a doctor here, it seems, is to go to a hospital where doctors regularly see outpatients. So I called a local hospital in Avcılar. The woman who answered the telephone didn't speak any English (OK, so I am in Turkey, right?) and she could barely make sense of my Turkish. She asked me to wait a minute. Then a man came on the line who had a little English. He asked me to call back in 20 minutes. So I waited and I did.

When I called back, I got the same receptionist and she again asked me to hold the phone. Soon another man came on the phone and he spoke excellent English. He asked me what the problem was.

Remember, this is my first experience with Turkish public healthcare, so I was unsure how to proceed. I explained my condition and asked if there were someone at the hospital who could help me. I wanted a nose and throat specialist, if there was one.

"Sure," he said.

"Can I make an appointment," I queried.

"Come now," he replied. "The doctor is here now."

"Huh?" I replied, "Now?"

"Yes."

So I dressed and, accompanied by my friend Mohamed for moral support, took the minibus to the downtown area and walked over to the hospital. I entered the reception area and told the receptionist in my halting Turkish that I was the man who had called earlier.

She asked for my passport. I told her I also had a residence permit and was enrolled in the public healthcare system. She smiled, took the documents and entered some information in the computer. She was polite, smiling and efficient.

She told me I had to first pay TL 27. That is about $18.

Then she told me to wait.

I was ready for an hour-long wait, as I had been well-trained by visits to hospitals in the US. But within about two minutes a man about my age came to get me. His English was perfect. He did not introduce himself by more than a name. He asked me to explain the problem. I told him and he said, "Follow me."

He led me into the main hallway and turned me over to a young woman, who took me up a flight of stairs and knocked on an office door. We entered and met the otolaryngologist. In Turkish he asked me what my problem was and I stumbled to a halt. “Wait,” he indicated and asked me to take a seat. The doctor turned to the phone and had a brief conversation. Almost immediately the first man I had met came to the office and asked my symptoms again. He listened intently and then interpreted into Turkish. The nose doctor smiled and asked me to take a seat in his examination chair.

Universal medical language

He pulled out an array of mysterious but impressive looking gadgets and soon was looking up my nose with a magic wand that projected a video image of the interior of my nose, and almost all the way down to my toes. The doctor muttered to himself, then turned to his younger assistant and said "X-ray." I understood because X-ray in English is X-ray in Turkish. Convenient, I thought.

The assistant took me to another counter and indicated that I had to pay TL 60 for the X-ray. Less than $40. Seems pricey, I thought, but I paid. Then the assistant led me down two flights of stairs to radiography where, again, I figured I would have to wait. I did. For all of nearly three minutes.

Then into the X-ray room, where the technician used body language to give me instructions, took the images and went into a small cubbyhole of a room. Within about three minutes the technician came back out and handed me my X-rays in a large envelope.

The assistant then led me to another room. I was unsure what was happening, but then I saw the CAT scan equipment and another technician who again with fluent body language told me how to position myself in the machine for the scan.

Stretched out like a pig about to be flayed, I slid into the array of twirling magnets and their thumping and bumping. I slid back out and was told to wait. This time the wait was nearly four minutes. Slowing down, I thought.

Then this technician came out of his cubbyhole and gave me a CD with my images on it.

With X-rays and CAT scan CD in hand, I was led back up two flights of stairs to the nose doctor. He took my scans, put the X-ray on a light box and my CD into his computer. Soon all the images were illuminated in front of us. He scrutinized them for a while, then asked me to come closer, where he pointed out what to him were interesting structures and features. This did not make a lot of sense to me.

The doctor asked me to be seated and went back to the phone. Soon the first man came back to translate. The nose man had seen the cause of my problem and said surgery was an option, but he wanted to try medications first to see if it would take care of the problem. He wrote out a prescription, instructed me on what they were and how to use them, and told me to check back in two weeks. He shook my hand and told me I was free to go.

I walked out into the hall and spoke a few minutes with the first man. I wanted to know if the hospital had someone who could look at my arthritic knee at a later date. He assured me there was someone and then we exchanged cards, in case I had questions. He said he was available to speak with me in English.

I shook his hand and Mohamed and I left to find a pharmacy. As I left, I read the card. He was the chief of surgery. “Damn!” I thought, I had a surgeon as my personal interpreter.

So after about 35 minutes and TL 87, I was finished.

There were two pharmacies across the street from the hospital, so I filled the scripts and I took Mohamed out for lunch. Lunch cost about the same amount as the doctor's fee.

And the medicine has helped a great deal.

I wonder why it's so hard in the States.