The Evil Air Will Get You

I grew up in a house where taking two panadols would fix everything. My sister often joked that she could walk through the door having been hit by car, and as she offered her broken limbs to my mother she was sure my mother would answer with “take two panadols, you’ll be fine”. My mother was never quick to rush us off to the doctors. And I’m just the same.

Four children and thirteen years of travel has left me weary of consulting the international medical profession. Don’t get me wrong, we have a fabulous clinic in Australia that is loaded with men and women I trust, but when it comes to the pot luck approach that our international healthcare has provided thus far – I’m a little over it.

I’ve seen that a visit to the doctor in some countries can be lethal, and that healthcare is not universal in its opinions and offerings. I think every expat has a horror story of a friend with a misdiagnosis, a missed signal, or a just plain straight out weird anecdote to tell.

It began early for me. On our arrival in Indonesia I was beset with the usual tummy bugs. On a visit to the clinic I was instructed to do the usual things, drink bottled water, yes, stay hydrated, okay, and of course don’t lay under the fan because the evil air will enter your body. Okaaaaaaay.

In Malaysia a doctor told us she could offer a “simple and pain free birth.” I was immediately interested. She was possibly in her sixties and I was sure that she was about to reveal an age old ritual that the west had somehow missed. Perhaps something involving a group of women and deep meditation with a rhythmic drum and secret incense. My thoughts were interrupted when she grabbed the closest pen and showed me where my cesarean scar would be, beginning at my belly button (?) and working its way down. The pain free component was the general anesthetic she planned to use. I looked over to G with what is commonly known as the save me look which I think she must have taken as my concern for G’s welfare “You won’t even need to be there” she smiled at him. A c-section circa 1967 if you will. I nodded politely, put my pants back on and ran towards the nearest exit.

Just recently a doctor told me to avoid climbing ladders, which had me completely baffled for a couple of days until I realized she meant stairs. It was sound advice for a bad back. Sure, I’d initially questioned the fact that she given me arthritis tablets and a weeks worth of antibiotics (everything in Qatar requires antibiotics), but maybe I was being unfair. So much is lost in translation. It’s hard to have a bedside manner when you’re both speaking a different language.

So yesterday I went back to see my ladder climbing friend with a new sense of respect. I showed her my hands and feet and before I could say another word she diagnosed me with with something I didn’t quite understand. She was obviously in a rush. She began writing out a script and was just about to push the button for the next patient to come in. Having spent the morning with Dr Google and the well known institute of all things medical The Institute of Social Media, I was pretty sure I had Hand, Foot and Mouth. I felt the need to double check before she pushed me out the door.

“How do you know I don’t have Hand, Foot and Mouth?”

“Because your mouth is empty”

“No, my mouth is not empty, my mouth has little white bumps all over it”

She rolled her eyes. “Show me”

It was then that she instructed me to go back and sit down, she moved back to her desk and started tapping away at the computer. A nurse came to take my blood pressure and gave a result that would, if correct, surely have had me clinically dead. In the meantime the ladder climber kept tapping away.

We all sat in silence.

Tap tap tap tap.

“Yes, you have Hand, Foot and Mouth”.

She glanced down at my blood pressure reading and looked surprised.

“You need to get back on the bed, I need to check that again”.

As I wandered past her desk and back to the bed I glanced over to her computer, you know what I’m going to tell you don’t you.


I thought about the big massive books that doctors once had in their offices. Was it any different? Searching for symptoms via a medical journal or searching via the web?

Who knows. One thing is for sure as I apply my calamine lotion and take another ibuprofen. Some medical is better than no medical.

It could be so much worse.

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