The doctor will see you now …

I think I’ve only ever been in hospital for treatment a couple of times in my life but, the other day, I found myself inside one in Antalya.

I’ll admit I was a bit worried for 48 hours but it was my own fault really; I was being a typical bloke. I’d known there was something wrong for a while but hadn’t gone to see a doctor in case I was told something I didn’t want to hear.

Without droning on about my symptoms, I’m happy to say it turned out to be nothing serious – at least nothing that can’t be treated with a few tablets.

But the episode did highlight preconceptions I had which, with the benefit of hindsight, I feel pretty foolish about now.

So, in case there are any other idiots like me out there who think it’s better to soldier on rather than consult the health experts, I thought I’d use this blog to share my experience of the Turkish system*.

(* The following is not the result of scientific or detailed research. Other people’s experiences are also available).

Clinics and GPs’ surgeries

Clinics serving expat communities may be a little different and geared to reflect the European experience but, if you visit a more authentic Turkish surgery, don’t expect to have to make an appointment to see a doctor or deal with a Rottweiler behind a reception desk; there may not be one. You walk in, take a seat and wait your turn.

The waiting area may seem pretty full on arrival but bear in mind not all of the folk hanging around are necessarily patients. It’s not unusual for Turks to bring a few family members along so as many as five or six could troop in to see the doctor at once.

In Turkish society, doctors seem to be held in some awe and are therefore used to being shown considerable respect. As a result, their manner can sometimes seem aloof or even brusque. It can take a little getting used to if your previous doctors have always spoken gently or hedged their bets when it comes to a diagnosis.

But it’s worth knowing that, if a GP decides further tests are required, you won’t have to wait weeks or months to see a consultant. You will probably be sent to the hospital or to see a specialist immediately. If you can drive, great; if not, you could find yourself being bundled into a taxi.

On arrival at the hospital

Unless it’s an emergency admission, the first port of call for expats is not the main reception desk but usually the Tourism Office or International Desk.

All you need to do is introduce yourself and explain why you’re there. Simple.

The interpreter will take your ID or residency permit, check if you have relevant insurance and, if it’s valid, guide you to the doctor or consultant you need to see.

Sometimes, you will have to wait a little while; on other occasions you may find yourself sitting across the desk from a consultant within minutes of arrival.

Not having to hang around can be a revelation but being swept along can also be a bit bewildering. Blood tests, ultrasound scans, X-rays or ECGs can all happen on the same morning – remarkable if you’re used to waiting months for an appointment. However, it’s probably not a bad idea to keep a note of who you’ve seen and why.

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An unexpected visit to the OFM Hospital in Antalya was nevertheless comfortable and, ultimately, nothing to worry about.

The consultation

If, like mine, your Turkish isn’t yet good enough to follow a technical consultation, your interpreter will stay with you to help you overcome the language barrier. It’s … novel, having an extra body in the room discussing your health but it’s better than important details being lost in translation.

You may also find Turks are not always shy when it comes to things like privacy or personal modesty – at least not when the patient is male. For example, if you’re asked to partially undress for an examination, you could be moved to another room or even another department without being given the chance to cover up.

Staff, orderlies or even the cleaners may come and go mid-procedure without batting an eyelid and Turkish patients don’t seem to mind; indeed, from what I’ve seen, a selfie with a relative looking wan and hooked up to a saline drip on a hospital bed is something of a staple on many a Turkish Facebook feed.

Also, plonking you semi-clad in a wheelchair and pushing you to the next test is probably quicker than waiting for you to get dressed and then undressed again, which helps speed the process along for those still waiting in line.

However, what you can expect is sincere and spoken sympathy from all who pass. Nursing staff, a hospital porter, members of the hospital administration team and even other patients wished me all the best on one short journey between consulting rooms.

Results

Feedback on your tests is impressively rapid. Analysis of blood samples or X-rays taken in hospital can be back within hours. It’s the same with ECGs while it’s likely the doctor will even give a live commentary on what they can see during ultrasound scans.

If you’re the sort of person who likes the facts served straight, it’s refreshing to be given a diagnosis so speedily. It’s not so great if you prefer a sugar-coating though.

Perhaps it’s because Turkish society is generally less litigious; perhaps it’s because illnesses are generally embraced rather than being seen as a badge of weakness. But, whether you’re in hospital or among Turkish friends, don’t expect any discussion about your health to be dressed up or couched in cautious terms.

If you see a consultant, it’s likely you will be informed succinctly of any condition you may have and what you should do as a result.

The chemist

Personally, I find the Turkish fascination for the “eczane” perfectly understandable. There always seem to be hundreds of them around each and every hospital but I haven’t yet met one who isn’t unfailingly patient or pleasant.

Also, the array of drugs available over the counter is more extensive than you may be used to elsewhere in Europe; there’s no “nanny state” intervention if you want to buy more than one packet of Panadol, for example.

However, some favourite remedies offered in other parts of Europe may be absent for reasons I’m afraid I’m unable to explain. As a result, a bottle of Night Nurse is usually among the “contraband” in our suitcases on a return from the UK (purchased only after a lecture from the chemist on using it as a cold remedy and not a sleeping draught, of course).

So, in conclusion, if anyone’s new to Turkey and finds they’re not feeling great, I’d urge them not to worry too much about the complexities of seeing a doctor. Although its does rely on personal insurance, I’ve found the Turkish health system is pretty simple to use, generally well-equipped and very responsive.

Of course, I hope I don’t have to use it again for a while but, if I do, it won’t be with any trepidation.

* Sincere thanks to all health professionals who saw me in Fethiye as well as staff at the OMF Hospital in Antalya. Also to Mrs Parsley for resisting the urge to kill me anyway for being reckless with my health and to family and friends who rallied round for a couple of days to keep the house and business ticking over. You all know who you are …

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‘Ow much?!

When we moved to Turkey it didn’t take us long to work out that there are times when the local economy operates on a three-price structure.

There’s the price the tourists pay; there’s the price for expats – although, personally, I don’t like the word – and then there’s the price paid by the Turks.

We didn’t mind that much to begin with and, to be honest, when we found ourselves paying less for goods and meals out in the village shops and bars after a while, it felt like we’d made some progress.

But sometimes, when we venture away from our usual haunts, we find we’re back to square one. A little bit of the local language helps but, when Turkish friends ask how much we paid for this or that (no one’s shy about asking that in Turkey, by the way) they’ll wince and pronounce we handed over far too much.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a meal out or a big purchase like a car – the hiss of breath or a shake of the head has frequently condemned us as mere babes in the art of negotiation.

Mind you, we’ve learned the reason for their disappointment isn’t always the damage done to our finances. Sometimes, the hissers of breath and suckers of teeth are rueing a missed opportunity to take a cut themselves in return for the referral.

We’ve learned to haggle with the best on our own account when it’s appropriate. Even our teenage daughter is now proficient at bartering.

Nevertheless, it would perhaps be a little conceited not to concede that we’re sometimes still paying a higher price than the locals, although it’s never seemed a big deal in the scheme of things – at least not enough to make a song and dance about it.

Like many others, we’ve found our happy places, our trusted trades folk and taxi driver, and we tend to push most of our business their way.

Having said all that, when you live abroad, there will still be times when you suspect you’ve been well and truly had – and that can rankle enough that you’re still suppressing indignation weeks later.

And with the economy being what it is in Turkey at the moment, the risk of it happening has increased significantly. Inflation is currently running at over 20% and even the basics like bread and groceries are costing quite a bit more. As a result, some Turks are covering their losses by caning foreigners’ wallets.

Their arguments for it can be hard to swallow. We’ve been told some are doing it as they believe yabancı (foreigners) ought to feel privileged to stay in Turkey and should therefore pay an inflated price for it. Others presume that, if you come from overseas, you must have loads of money stashed away so you can afford to pay much more anyway.

Of course, those who see the expat community as convenient cash cows are not going to say so openly. They will present your bill with a smile and hope you will pay without a word – and, of course, many do.

I know we have and it’s not because we don’t realise we’ve just been stung. Often it’s simply because we Brits are just so …. well, British … and don’t like to make a fuss.

We’ll fume afterwards of course; we may even vent our spleen on Facebook or vow never to go back. But we can still be bounced into paying well over the odds because we’re just not that keen on confrontation.

I know the Turkish love of banter or even bare-faced cheek has sometimes loosened a little extra from my wallet but I’ll also admit to letting something slide just because I didn’t want to cause a scene.

But, using tactics recommended by friends, we’ve learned it is possible to sidestep at least some of the wide boys simply by asking for a price for whatever it is you’re buying up front. If you don’t like it, walk away. Sometimes, the asking price drops considerably before you’ve reached the door.

Similarly, some good advice we were given after living in Turkey for several months was never to buy from a business which doesn’t advertise its prices. Of course, it’s supposed to happen by law anyway but, like many things, it’s not a rule regularly enforced.

And, lastly – although I suspect quite a few would disagree – some of our Turkish friends have advised against tipping at restaurants. In their view, it’s something tourists do; if we do it too then it reinforces the argument that Brits have more money than they know what to do with, increasing the risk of being overcharged next time.

I suppose none of it is rocket science really. In fact, as a naturalised Yorkshireman, it ought to be harder to prise money from my wallet anyway.

But if I had a rewind button and could do the last five years again, I don’t mind admitting I’d be applying our friends’ top tips from day one. I suspect quite a few others would too.

It’s That Pelican Time Of Year

My mobile rang yesterday and when I looked at the caller display, my heart sank.

It was Çagri.

Don’t get me wrong; he’s a lovely guy. He’s always pleasant and he’s certainly efficient in what he does. But, because he’s an insurance broker, I know when his name appears on my phone it’s going to cost me money.

It’s not Çagri’s fault that all the policies we have are due for renewal in January; it just seems to have happened that way. It’s also not his fault that lots of other bills always need paying at the same time as well.

But, just the same, when Çagri calls – although I always try to be as bright and cheerful as he is – inside, I can’t help getting that sinking feeling and an urge to hide my wallet.

When you first arrive in a new country, it doesn’t really occur that you’ll be opening bank accounts, setting up direct debits and buying new insurance policies all at roughly the same time. It’s just stuff that needs to be done.

So neither of us really gave any thought to the idea that, once we’d made a start, annual bills would fall at around the same time every year and – bracketed by the kids’ birthdays as well as Christmas – our bank account was always going to take a hammering in January.

Turkey’s economic situation hasn’t helped this year either. With inflation running at over 20% and the pound now worth almost 7tl rather than the 3.43tl it was when we arrived, insurance premiums have gone through the roof.

The result? We’ll probably be having fewer of life’s little luxuries and shopping at the markets where, thank God, fruit and veg and many of the basic requirements of life are still delightfully cheap.

But, if you’re planning on making 2019 the year you make a fresh start somewhere sunny (and possibly as far away from Brexit as possible) take my advice and try not to buy everything at once.

Take your time, plan a little and stagger any significant purchases. If not, to borrow a phrase from Blackadder, there will come a time of year when you find yourself feeling a little like a pelican; no matter which way you look, you’re still facing an enormous bill.

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Fruit and veg from the markets … Still cheap enough to help keep us cheerful in a punishing month for the bank account.

It’s Turkey for Christmas

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not that big on the whole Christmas thing. God knows I’m not religious – see what I did there? – but it’s not because of that.

Turkey for Christmas

Black Jack is always excited about Christmas!

When we lived in the UK, I found the rampant commercialism depressing; in-yer-face adverts from the moment the kids went back to school urging us to buy this, buy that, and borrow money if we couldn’t afford it.

Then there was the day itself. I loved getting up with the kids, their excitement when they saw Santa had been. Those lazy couple of hours as they opened stockings and we chilled out together were precious every year.

But after that, it was quite stressful. I spent most of the day in the kitchen and running around after various relatives, when all I really wanted to do was work my way through a family-sized box of Celebrations in front of Doctor Who and the Strictly Come Dancing special.

Now we’re in Turkey – a country that doesn’t really ‘do’ Christmas as most of the population is Muslim – and I feel differently.

We can choose to partake in whatever celebrations we like without obligation – or not. There are carol services and festive get-togethers should we feel the need for them. (I rarely do.) One Christmas Day, we went to Ölüdeniz beach and got sunburned watching the paragliders floating down to earth from Babadağ. Another, we did a 12km walk around Fethiye peninsular before enjoying lunch with some dear friends. It’s very liberating.

We’re untouched by the endless Christmas advertising whipping us up in a frenzy, convincing us to spend money we don’t have on tat we don’t need.

We can put up our understated tree and few carefully chosen decorations and enjoy them without feeling like we should have done more. Nobody is judging us.

We’re untouched by the endless Christmas advertising whipping us up in a frenzy, convincing us to spend money we don’t have on tat we don’t need. There’s no need to stock the cupboards with enough food to feed the whole village for a week just because the shops shut for a day and we might run out of milk.

All these things have helped me rediscover the joy of Christmas. It’s not about ‘stuff’. It’s about having time with my family. It’s having a few days where I’m not governed by deadlines, projects or the need to make a living. If I want to slob in my pyjamas and eat cheese-on-toast all day, I can. If I feel like taking the dog for a tramp in the woods, that’s fine too. (The tramp doesn’t like it much, though…. The old ones are the best, eh?)

Christmas is also the one time of year when I let my guard down and open some of the emotional boxes I’ve kept so carefully sealed.

That’s part of Christmas too. Allowing myself to acknowledge the pain and grief I still carry.

Last week, the stonemasons sent us a photograph of the headstone for my grandmother’s grave. It’s been nearly three years since she died – things were delayed for various reasons – but I still miss my Nonna terribly. She was the one constant female presence in my life, from my birth until her death. She wasn’t ‘there’ in her later years, when dementia set in. I mourned then, and I mourned again when she left me physically.

That photograph ripped off the sticking plaster and showed the wound beneath was still raw and unhealed. Usually, I’d fight to cover it quickly again – but not at this time of year. I wept for my Nonna and then I wept for my mother, who died 36 years ago. She would have had her 66th birthday earlier this month. I cried for all that both she and I missed, for the loss of what we should have had. I still rage at whatever fate decided she should be taken away so soon.

And that’s part of Christmas too. Remembering, allowing myself to acknowledge the pain and grief I still carry – and always will – without guilt. Self-indulgence. Not with chocolate, wine or expensive gifts, but with emotions.

I love turkey for Christmas. In more ways than one.

 

RP

A Fowl Tale with a Happy Ending

“Sad Girl’s in trouble,” observed Steve as I came into the kitchen one morning.

I joined him at the window to see our neighbour, Hüseyin, walking down the road towards one of the nearby restaurants.

Trotting beside him, at the end of a length of string, was a chunky, honey-coloured dog – a bit like a Labrador but with more fur and shorter legs. Sad Girl, as we’d christened her, had appeared a few weeks earlier – a victim of the most recent round-up and redistribution of street animals by the local belediye, or council. (Don’t get me started. The general treatment of cats and dogs here is one of the few things I actively dislike about life in Turkey.)

She had a mournful face – hence the name – and seemed a bit bewildered, but settled quickly. With food forthcoming from two restaurants at one end of the road and a family from Istanbul near the other, she certainly wasn’t going hungry – as her bulky frame showed. She had places to shelter from the rain, enjoyed meeting people who walked by, and – although clearly not a young dog – had a playful nature and plenty of energy. The only thing lacking was love and attention, so she was welcomed into our garden whenever she cared to come. She never stayed long – lots of pats, a tummy rub and a bit of fuss, and she was off again.

It seemed, though, that things might be about to change.

“She was in the field over the road, digging,” explained Steve. “Hüseyin and his wife came along and watched for a bit, then Hüseyin went over and pulled a dead chicken out of the hole in the ground.”

Oh dear. But there was more…

“Then he walked to a patch of dug-up ground on the other side of the tree and pulled out another one. I think he’s taking her down to the restaurants because he thinks one of them has adopted her.”

An hour later, I looked out of the window to see Sad Girl trotting back up the road towards us. The string hung loosely from her neck….and in her mouth she carried another dead chicken.

It might sound amusing, but we were worried for her. In a village like ours, livestock is a precious commodity. If our dog killed a neighbour’s chicken, we’d be expected to pay them 80 lira (around £14.50 at time of writing) in recompense. We know a couple who opened the door one night to be confronted by a Jandarma officer and an angry farmer demanding 1,200 lira (around £218) for a goat that went missing after one of their dogs chased his flock.

We didn’t see Sad Girl the next day, or for the few days after that. It seemed she’d been killing chickens on a regular basis – not for food, just for the fun of it – and people had had enough.

We feared she’d been quietly got rid of and that would be the end of it. But then, driving along the road one evening, Steve spotted her – on a lead, accompanying a member of the Istanbul family as she fed a local pod of street cats, a daily task.

Sad Girl, it seems, has found a permanent home. She’s one of the luckier street animals…and the village chickens can breathe a cluck of relief.

 

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“It’s ok, we’re safe to walk the streets again. Tell the rest of the girls.”

 

Eyes Wide Shut

Isn’t it funny how quickly we take things for granted?

One of the many beautiful views we enjoy on a regular basis.

I know how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful part of the world, but even in the short three years we’ve been here, I don’t always appreciate it on a daily basis.

Last night, driving out of the village to meet a friend for dinner – a rare occurrence; people think our lives are one big holiday but they really aren’t – I was struck afresh by the sheer beauty of my surroundings. Nothing in particular – simply that the sky was so blue and the woods still so green; Babadağ’s imposing presence loomed in front of us while the sun cast a soft, glowing light over the hills as it began its evening descent.

Due to the fierce summer heat, we’re currently walking Dill the Dog at the extreme ends of the day – around 6.30am and 8pm – and I realised I don’t always make the most of it. With the local goat population seemingly on hiatus during the hottest weeks, you feel like you’re the only person in the world as you walk in the woods sometimes – especially on the early shift. (I’m not a morning person and when it’s my turn I mutter and groan when that alarm goes off – but it’s a special time of day once you’re up and about.)

One of the storks – I disturbed it drinking from a pond.

We’ve been fortunate in recent weeks to observe porcupine scuttling across the path, a badger that’s set up home in the dried-out river bed, wild boar snuffling among the trees, a pair of eagles, a young fox, the village storks who have come back to nest for another season…. Sitting quietly and watching them go about their lives is a privilege.

Yet I know on occasion, when I’ve returned home and Steve’s asked the question we always put to each other – “Did you see anything?” – I’ve responded along the lines of: “Only the eagles.” Only? Since when did seeing a pair of eagles start out of a nearby tree and soar overhead become so commonplace? Ridiculous to think that I can get more excited about seeing a tortoise – as commonplace here as hedgehogs are in the UK – bimbling along the track ahead of me.

So, my summer resolution is to remind myself to take more notice of my surroundings. To look at and appreciate the things I see every day which I had already stopped noticing. I’m fortunate enough to live a life many would love – I should relish it every single moment.

Looking down across Fethiye from one of the mountain tracks.

The sun rising through trees in the local forest.

 

 

 

Silver Service

When we were first married, our silver wedding anniversary seemed a very long way into the future. And if anyone had told me we’d be living in Turkey by then, I’d have laughed in their faces.

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Our wedding day, 1992-style.

 

Yet fast forward 25 years and here we were, feeling like the big day was only yesterday. Plans for a big party or vow renewals had gone out of the window – after all, who would we be doing it for? Life’s had its ups and downs, naturally, but we’re still happy together, secure in our feelings, without feeling the need for any public affirmation.

Friends, though, said we really should mark the occasion in some way. They kindly agreed to look after the furry members of the household, and we headed off on a minibus – along with 11 other travellers and our wonderful guide, Yalçın – for a whistle-stop two-day tour of Ephesus and Pamukkale. Both were stunning, and I especially fell in love with the hot springs and terraces of Pamukkale. Some places speak to your soul, and this was one of them.

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On the terraces at Pamukkale.

Lovely Yavuz, our travel agent, had told the hotel we were celebrating and they’d made a real effort – flowers and wine in the room, rose petals on the bed spelling out ‘Seni seviyorum’ (‘I love you’), towels twisted into intricate swan shapes. We truly appreciated it, but as always it was the less-than-perfect details that made our trip. (We have form here. Our mini-break to Oxford wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable without the hotel that had corridors too narrow to walk down facing forwards, reeked of cabbage, and had an en-suite shower that was in the wardrobe.)

As it was still early season, our party were the only guests and staffing levels were low. When it came to bar, kitchen and restaurant duties, one guy was covering them all – and with very bad grace. (He occasionally shouted at a sulky-looking girl at a nearby table, exhorting her to help, but she merely sipped a glass of water, looked disinterested and stayed put.)

The Turkish answer to Basil Fawlty was obviously irritated at the disruption these British visitors brought to his otherwise peaceful existence, and banged down plates with bad grace. The food looked ok – a butterflied chicken breast coated in spices served with chips, rice and vegetables – but it was cold. We realised all the meals had been plated up for the start of service at 7.15pm.

As we ate, we spotted a cat slinking in through the door and under a table, from where emanated a low mewling. “There’s a litter of kittens under there,” said Steve. “She’s come back to feed them.” (I was glad the hotel was being kind to them, of course, but it’s not what you’d usually expect to find in a restaurant.)

Afterwards we retired to the covered but open bar area to watch a pretty spectacular thunderstorm – but didn’t stay long. The rain dripped steadily through leaks in the canopy, and Basil had to dash around moving furniture and putting out buckets to catch the puddles.

For some, such incidents are cause for complaint or mar an otherwise enjoyable trip. For us, it’s added entertainment value. Being able to laugh together is a mainstay of our marriage – along with sarcasm and an irresistible urge to take the mickey out of each other at every opportunity.

It might not have been the grandest or most lavish way to celebrate 25 years of marriage, but it was special, memorable and very ‘us’. Next milestone? We’re going for gold.