A few weeks ago a friend went to Chiang Mai Ram Hospital for a simple procedure and dropped me an email about it. He complained about how the prices at the hospital and gone up considerably and how he opted to go to the government hospital for his treatment. He was very happy with his treatment there and with the cost. I attached his email as a way of getting this info out to my readers (Not Happy with Chiang Mai Ram Hospital).

Now it’s my turn.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Thailand was a good place to stay healthy. But sometimes our health just seems to want to remind us how impermanent all physical things really are. I wish it weren’t so, but occasionally this 65 year old body does break down and I do get sick (which is why this latest post took so long in coming). So, with the object of continuing to give you information about the Thai medical system here so that you can make informed decisions for yourself, I’ll relate my story.

I’m not one for getting headaches, only one or two in the last 5 years, so when I woke up one morning a few weeks ago with the worst pain in my head that I have ever felt I knew something wasn’t right. The pain shot up the left side of my neck and up to the top of my head. It wasn’t one of those inside-the-brain kind of pains so I knew it wasn’t a migraine and the best way to describe it was that it felt like someone hit me upside the head with a lead pipe.

A couple of days later, after lots of pain killers and heat pads, with the pain seeming to get worse if that were possible, I broke down and did what I should have done in the first place. I consulted the Internet.

I’m pretty good at searching for answers on the Internet since I worked for 20 years creating databases for large corporations. I know how searches work. So I was able to find some conditions that fit my symptoms – shooting pain on one side of the head, neck and throat pain, sensitivity to light, and a burning sensation to touch of any kind on my scalp – like my hair was on fire. I thought of the Arnold Swarzenegger movie quote “Maybe it’s a tumaaaa”, and hoped that wasn’t it. The Internet treatment suggestion: Get thee to a doctor. Which is what I finally did.

I went to the above mentioned Chiang Mai Ram Hospital.

A little aside here – Chiang Mai Ram is a private hospital and is more expensive than the local government hospital. A friend of mine just recently went to the outpatient clinic at the government hospital and his wait was many hours, to get an appointment to see a specialist, and then he came back a second and third time and did finally get good inexpensive treatment after that. In America I would have had to see a general practitioner (about $100) who would then recommend a specialist. I would call the specialist and probably wait a number of pain-filled weeks before I could see him (a couple of hundred dollars) and finally get drug prescriptions (lots more money), then follow-up appointments at hundreds of dollars each.

Here is what happened at Chiang Mai Ram. I went to the receptionist and told her my problem. She immediately suggested that I see their neurologist. No problem with that I said; I would have requested one if she hadn’t suggested it. I went up to the 4th floor, told the nurse who I was, and was told to wait. I got out my book, which I found impossible to read because of my head pain. But before I could put on the earphones of my mp3 player I was called into the neurologist’s office – total waiting time, 3 minutes.

My doctor was a young, pretty, woman, who greeted me warmly and asked which language I preferred to use with her. Since I had spent all morning looking up the Thai words for my symptoms I asked if we could speak Thai (to give me some practice). She said fine although I believe she would have been just as comfortable in either language.

Now I had an idea of what was wrong with me but kept quiet about my self-diagnosis just to see what she would say. I told her my symptoms but before saying anything she gave me a simple neurological exam, checking deep into my eyes and then checking reflexes and asking all kinds of questions. When she was sure I didn’t have a “tumaaa” she offered her opinion. “I believe you have what is called Occipital Neuralgia”, she said. Exactly what my Internet expertise led me to believe.

In my searching through the Internet I found so many people with just this condition. A common complaint heard was that it took so long and so many visits to many doctors, and so many weeks of pain, before they could get the correct diagnosis of Occipital Neuralgia. That was probably because it is a somewhat rare condition and they had seen lots of non-specialist doctors before getting to see a true neurologist. Knowing this, I was quite impressed with my doctor and the hospital overall.

To conclude, my doctor showed me some pictures of the scull and spinal column to illustrate what might be causing the problem. She assured me that it was treatable (remember, I still felt that lead pipe bouncing off my head at this time), and prescribed some medication (muscle relaxants, neuralgia meds, pain killers) and scheduled a follow-up appointment.  After a few days the pain had decreased until it was like a simple wooden paddle hitting me upside the head. The doctor was quite pleased during our follow-up and said I was on the way to recovery.

It is a few days later now and the pain is about 95% gone.

Cost for all this: Doctors fee 300 baht per visit, 2 weeks medication (4 different kinds) 1,700 baht. Total cost about $77. Being pain-free, priceless.

Just to prove how successful my treatment has been – note that I have been able to keep it all together long enough to write this post – something I couldn’t have done a few days ago.

Here’s wishing good health to you all.

Visitors and Friends

March 1, 2011

Last week our friends came to visit.

One of the things we think about when moving overseas to retire is how are we going to keep up relationships with the people we care about when they are so far away. Skype, Facebook, and email are great, but they are no substitute for spending physical time together. Mark and I were teammates on the 1964 Long Island University freshman basketball team and had only seen each other a few times since graduation. And his wife Barbara had never met my wife Pikun. So their trip to SE Asia, including Viet Nam and Cambodia, was extended a few days so they could come to Chiang Mai and visit us. It was a long-awaited visit and it was great to be able to spend some “face” time together.

Teammates 47 years later.

Children of the 60s still looking good.

Of course we could travel back to the States anytime we want. The problem with that is we really don’t like the United States. It’s boring there and all they have is American fast foods. Whenever I am there for even a few days I begin to miss rice. And their Thai restaurants are sooo baaad. Home is a great place to live, but visiting the U.S. can be more expensive than going to Rome or Paris and nowhere near as interesting. So, we rely on friends visiting us to keep up our relationships.

Luckily for those of us living in Thailand, we have chosen a pretty popular place to visit. But a lot depends on where in country you plan to live. We live in Chiang Mai, one of the top tourist spots in all of Asia. And the number of visitors we have each year attests to that. In fact, we see old friends that would never take the time to visit us in Seattle but would travel half way round the world to see Chiang Mai. Other tourist locations in Thailand like Bangkok (which I myself rarely visit), Phuket, Pattaya , and some of the islands are equally attractive to the people who may be on their one “journey of a lifetime”. If you are like us then you might have closer face time with friends here in country than you would have by staying at “home”.

But lots of Expats have chosen to live up country. Nothing wrong with that and a life in the countryside can be just as rewarding as one lived in a tourist Mecca. But you might have lots fewer guests. I have a good friend living in the middle of Thailand’s nowhere, loves the small town atmosphere, loves his Thai in-laws, and wouldn’t trade his life for one in the city. But his visitors are few and far between. Only the real adventurists could even find him on a good map. He doesn’t seem lonely at all though, but I know I would be. So depending on your own personality, and your need to see your friends and family from back home, you will need to choose an appropriate place to settle.

Traveling around the world (My family is from New York, about as far away from Chiang Mai as one can get and still be on this earth.) is not for everyone. For some it’s just too expensive and for lots of people traveling to strange lands is a scary enterprise. Here is one way to get around the cost problem. Send your loved ones a ticket to come visit you. I know it is expensive, but it doesn’t cost any more than for you to fly home and in fact would probably be lots cheaper if you totaled in those hotel stays and all those fast food meals.

We have done that a few times. A few years ago we spent a wonderful 10 days with my brother and sister-in-law. We spent more time together then than we have spent since we were children. And am I glad we took the opportunity when we did to reconnect and get to know each other better. They are both currently having health problems so it would be very difficult to get them here now. If you have the means and aren’t living hand-to-mouth here (I will have something more to say about that kind of lifestyle in a future blog) then you could not spend your money more wisely than by giving your loved ones that “journey of a lifetime” experience.

And as a bonus, whether you pay for the airfare or they do, when your friends visit, you will get to go to all the tourist attractions which you rarely have time to visit normally. I love elephants and the only time I get to go to one of the camps is when I am showing my friends around. So I love it when they visit.

Barbara loves elephants too it seems.

To my friends and readers in New Zealand: Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Stay strong.

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