“Wǒ gǎnmào”.


I repeated the Chinese words for “I have a cold” over and over in my head on the way to the doctor’s office. I was all ready to mime out my symptoms and I also reminded myself that the Chinese word for cough sounded somewhat like the Spanish word for cheese, “queso”. I strode up to the woman behind the desk and said my practiced Chinese as well as I could, but she just looked at me and said, “Do you have your health card?” So much for the Chinese.

I’ve been lucky in Taiwan and Korea to always be able to find doctors who can speak English. My pharmacist in my small Korean country town had lived in Canada and we become somewhat of friends. I even baked him cookies one holiday. Sure, one should learn the local language, but talking about your own health is much more comforting in your native language. Not that English being spoken means I always know what is going on. Today, for example, the doctor gave me three days of medicine to take three times a day. I’ll be taking 21 pills a day and I have no idea what any of them are. The doctor said, “this moon shaped one is for your nose. It may cause heart palpitations or hand tremors. Stop taking it if it does that.” So, the moon shaped one is suspect, I know this, but who am I to complain when the visit and the medicine only cost seven dollars?! He even sprayed “medicine” in my throat and nose while I was there. Free medicine! You can’t beat that in the States. I went for a pap smear and regular check-up last summer and it cost around 200 US dollars because I was not covered at the time. That’s rough! Okay, I’m covered by health insurance here in Taiwan, but when I first arrived and got bronchitis, I was not. A visit to the hospital and a week of antibiotics was less than thirty dollars. Meanwhile, in America, my childhood dentist takes a look at my teeth for free, but regrets to inform me that anything else is going to be around 100 dollars.


Indeed, Asia is a good place to be for sickly people, but are we getting what we pay for? Today, my doctor told me that I could only eat apples, not other fruits and only hot water, not cold. He was stern in telling me this. He is not the first Asian doctor to warn me of the terrors of cold water.  I’ve been given antibiotics for a small rash on my arm in Korea and had doctors tell me that I need to wear a mask whenever I am teaching children. It is also a common belief in Korea that sleeping in a room with the fan on and no windows open can cause your death. The advice is not what we are used to from the States and I usually take it with a grain of salt. I also admit that the doctors here can overmedicate and give you the whole pharmacy for a head cold, but at least you get more than your money’s worth.


Well, I’ve now taken my mystery pills and am following the doctor’s orders of an apple and a glass of hot water. I feel like I am on a Kate Moss diet. Here’s hoping I feel better tomorrow and if not, I’ve got more than enough spare change to afford going back to the doctor.


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