Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bus Accients, Earthquakes and Strikes


I have no health insurance.  It hasn’t posed a problem.  I haven’t needed a doctor for eight years, since I left the states. 
Well, I lie.  Actually I had five treatments from an acupuncturist in Thailand.  And while in Malaysia, had a Chinese doctor remove the tube in my ear which my body had decided to reject.  Other than that – I’ve lived without problems, doctors, or treatments.

But thanks to genetics, I’ve inherited my mother’s gallbladder condition.  She had hers removed at the age of thirty-four.  Through healthy living, I’ve lived symptom-free since two initial attacks when in my early thirties.

It was Prague that done me in.  It only seemed right that I sample the local delicacy: fried cheese, fried potato pancakes and beer.  Enough cholesterol, fat, and grease to wreak disaster in the healthiest of systems.  Let alone a genetically vulnerable one. I had no idea upon ordering that I would be presented with two rounds of Czech’s equivalent of brie, breaded and fried, alongside three fat, deep-fried potato pancakes. 

The outcome: six hours of intense pain, swelling, difficulty breathing and a litany of self-remorse.
“Why did I eat all that fatty, greasy food?  It didn’t even taste that good.”

Back in Istanbul, I was back to my regular discipline of fruits and vegetables, but even so suffered a mild attack and realized it was time to seek professional help.

Through the help of the internet, I diagnosed myself and looked into treatments.  It was clear that I needed an ultra sound to discern how many stones I may have as well as their size.

But apparently, you can’t walk into a hospital and announce: “I want to have a gallbladder ultrasound.”  You have to make an appointment with a general practitioner who then refers you to a specialist who then orders the ultra sound.  I guess it would be like walking into surgery and saying: “I’ve checked things out and I’m pretty damn sure I need by-pass surgery, so I’ll be waiting out here in the corridor and anytime you’re ready, I’m available.  I’m paying for it and it’s what I want.”

Without insurance Turkish friends advised me to go to the public hospital, and my roommate, Mustafa accompanied me.  “No one there will speak English,” he said.

Because I’m a “Yabanci” foreigner, I, of course, don’t have a Turkish identity card.  This causes utter mayhem.  On every form there’s a space in which an identity card number must be written.
“Could I just use my passport number,” I ask hopefully.

No, it doesn’t fit the format.
 Nobody knows what to do with me.  We’re sent from one department to the next.

“No, I can’t help you here,” says the beleaguered man with the comb-over and rheumy eyes.
“Where do we go?’
“Try the ----- department.”
“We’ve already been there.  They said they can’t give us an appointment without a special number.  Where do we get this number?”
Mustafa’s inquiry gets cut off by an aggressive bowling bowl of a woman who pushes him aside like a tottering pin.
“Excuse me,” the polite Mustafa tries to regain his allotted speaking space.
“Go to the secretary,” Mr. Comb-over redirects his watery eyes from the bowling ball to the pin.
“We’ve been to the secretary.  She told us to come here.”
Meanwhile, waddling side to side like obese ducks, other disgruntled Turkish women in headscarves thrust receipts in front of us, wave pieces of paper shout questions.

At last we enter a little trailer parked behind the hospital.
Patience eroding, Mustafa asks the six men slouched behind computers, wearing jeans and t-shirts, playing computer games and checking face book, if they know how to get a foreigner a special registration number.

Bingo!  A chubby goat-teed guy with a Japanese top knot, wearing a yellow Brutus t-shirt gets me a number and makes me an appointment.


The day before my appointment, the bus I’m riding in is hit by a truck.  The window where I’m sitting smashed.  Glass fragments pelt me and the young woman seated opposite me.  In our hair, covering our skin, our clothes, imbedded in the scalp line at the back of my neck.  Women pick glass shards off of us.  Men offer the lemon cologne wet wipes given out at all restaurants.  And I thank and re-thank the person responsible for inventing shatter- proof glass, without which I would be in very serious shape. 

I make my way to my school.  Take a shower in the basement shower (only cold water) and rinse the tiny specks of glass off my body.

I manage to relax for an hour before I teach.

The first hour of class goes well.  Then the classroom starts to shake back and forth.

Deprem.”  Earthquake, says one of my students.

The classroom jiggles about like a gypsy dancer for one minute.  Then all is still.  The students opt to continue the lesson. 


At 9 am Tuesday morning I meet my dear Turkish friend E who prefers to remain anonymous.  We walk through the streets of Beyoglu dodging vans delivering goods to shops and arrive at the Taksim IlkYardim Hastanesi (Taksim FIrst Aid Hospital) only to find all the workers outside chanting, whistling, clapping, and singing songs.  All hospital personel: doctors, nurses, secretaries, clerks, everyone is on STRIKE.
Not fully comprehending the ramifications of this, we tromp into the hospital and go to the registration desk to get the official paper I’ll need to present in order to be seen by a doctor.  Of course there is no one behind the registration desk.  Lines of people stand before five empty counters.  People in the line discuss the strike and the implications for them.

Realizing that the strike will probably last all day, we decide to go back to “Brutus” in the trailer and make an appointment for another day.

Back in the trailer Big Brutus is busy on the internet changing his photo by rearranging facial properties like beards and moustaches.  He looks up as we stand by his desk.

“I need to make a new appointment because of the strike.” I say.

“Yeah,” he smiles, “probably won’t get seen today.”

So, he saves his newly handlebar moustached photograph and enters the appointment system.

“You know,” he says, “I’m not sure if you really should have an appointment in Urology or some other department.”

From the beginning I’d try to tell him that it should be gastroenterology not urology, but he insisted that if there were actually gallstones, it would be the urology department where I would need to be seen, but no stones, another department.

Since I couldn’t swear that I had stones, having never had an ultrasound, which was why I had come in the first place, he told us to go to the “Emergency Room,” and ask a doctor there.

But the doctors in the emergency room were the only docs not on strike and they were running around trying to help the people in varying states of medical emergencies.  E stopped and asked a cleaning man but he knew nothing, so we left.

Standing outside and looking at the groups of doctors sitting around, sipping tea and chatting, E suggested I ask one of them.  I walked over to a group of pale green jacketed people I assumed were doctors and asked in my sweetest Turkish if any of them knew English.  Most ignored me but one young woman answered.

I explained that I needed to know which department I needed an appointment for and she assured me that I should be seen in General Surgery.

E and I walked back to the trailer and big Brutus made me an appointment for Thursday at 9:30 for General Surgery.

Will I ever get my ultra sound?

Tune in next week for another exciting chapter in life in Istanbul

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I don't want to laugh until I'm sure you will survive this part of your life--at that time I will ROTFALMAO!!! Only you Diane, could go through all that as cool and calm as a Northern Canada lake in late fall!