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Seeing a doctor in Vietnam isn’t a matter of price; it’s a matter of pride

Thursday, July 09, 2020, 19:00 GMT+7
Seeing a doctor in Vietnam isn’t a matter of price; it’s a matter of pride
Patients wait outside a doctor's office at District 3 Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Huu Khoa / Tuoi Tre

Editor's note: Ryan Patey is a Canadian citizen currently living in Vietnam. In this piece sent to Tuoi Tre News, he recounted his experience with local hospitals in Quy Nhon — the capital city of Binh Dinh Province in south-central Vietnam — and Ho Chi Minh City. In both visits, unwitting invasion of privacy was a cause of embarrassment for the foreigner.

Late last month, I got sick.

In almost any other country right now, those words would cause varying degrees of panic. In fact, when I informed my family back home in Canada of my sore throat and stuffy nose, their first concern was COVID-19.

Of course, here in Vietnam, we know things are rather different. With no reported community case in over 80 days, I was more annoyed at my body’s lack of energy than concerned it could be something worse than the common cold.

Granted, I took precautions just in case and generally stayed inside and rested when possible while also wearing a mask most of the time when I was out in public.

Thankfully, outside of a pile of tissues in the trash, nothing serious came out of my sniffles, so a trip to the doctor didn’t seem warranted.

That being said, if I had needed to see a doctor, past experience tells me it probably wouldn’t have been so bad.

To be fair, that’s because after two prior visits over the last couple of years, I now know what to expect and it’s certainly not the same as home.

As a Canadian, one of the things that typically follow me around whenever I go is the knowledge that our healthcare is free.

So, when my luck finally ran out while traveling in Vietnam about two years ago, and I had to ask the hotel manager in Quy Nhon how to see a doctor, admittedly one of my first concerns was how much it would cost.

Now, after having visited a doctor recently in Ho Chi Minh City as well, I know that my main concern should have been about the embarrassment, not the price.

First, although I suspect it might be different in the international hospitals, both of my local hospital visits have depended on the kindness of someone else to accompany me as a translator.

As someone who still doesn’t know enough Vietnamese to hold a conversation (or even order a meal), this sort of presence for various things is now par for the course, albeit slightly awkward.

However, as I headed to the doctor with my new friend in Quy Nhon, I was not prepared for the fact that she wouldn’t be the only one privy to my stomach issues by the time things were said and done.

At the start, everything was pretty much on par with Canada. We registered at the desk and took a seat along with all the other people packed into the room.

It wasn’t until we were called into what I thought was the secondary waiting room that I realized I was in for a whole new experience.

As I mentioned before, I don’t know much Vietnamese, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that the room so many people were in was in fact the doctor’s office and the said doctor was currently talking with a patient as I sat in a chair nearby.

Thinking back about it now, it’s one of the many reasons why I laughed when I heard that there were debates back home about whether or not an airline taking your temperature was an invasion of privacy while here in Vietnam I’ve had an audience of strangers sit patiently while I was poked and prodded by a doctor and my friend translated my problems.

Although I had to raise my shirt, no one seemed to raise an eyebrow at how awkward the whole thing was.

Not only that, but given how little I was told by my friend compared to the conversation that I heard, all of those people probably learned more about me than I did between the first conversation, an ultrasound, and the second conversation after the results were reviewed.

Thankfully, the next time I had to visit a doctor, I was more prepared for the minimal privacy and I also was accompanied with my long-term partner, so the translation and discussion around personal details weren’t quite as embarrassing.

In fact, translation was barely even needed as the doctor had a good grasp of English and was able to communicate with me directly about most things related to my problem.

Without a doubt, my medical experiences here in Vietnam have been surprising, but I certainly wouldn’t consider them bad.

In both cases, the staff treated me well and were concerned with my issues, which is something I can’t say for some of my doctor visits back home.

More importantly, my most recent sickness didn’t come with an overwhelming sense of fear, and a big part of why is thanks to the efforts of this country and its frontline healthcare workers.

For months now, they’ve effectively protected us from a pandemic that is currently still being dealt with in many places, including Canada.

And that, without a doubt, is nothing to sneeze at.

Ryan Patey / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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