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.
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.
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.
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.