Two weeks ago, while on vacation, I strained my back.

It was sheer agony. After days of being pestered by my coworkers to seek some medical help, I finally gave in and went to the hospital to get it checked out.

I didn’t wanna do it, I’m not gonna lie.

When I lived in Poland I went with my sister to get her ultrasound done once. The attitude of the nurse was horrific. I have never seen anyone treat a patient with so much nastiness and venom.  After she gave birth, I visited her in the hospital a time or two. The behavior of the staff on those occasions was better, but not by much. Those experiences made a big impact on me because I had  already been intimidated by the thought of going to a doctor and dealing with insurance forms.  After that, I was petrified.

The language barrier itself can be very intimidating, especially when having to deal with something serious. Maneuvering through bureaucracy,  insurance policies, coverages, co-pays, and treatment plans is intimidating in any country, not the least of which is the US.  Imagine trying to deal with all that without having a grasp on the laws, policies, or language of the country you’re living in. It can be sheer misery. I’ve met no few expats that have dealt with it by not dealing with it at all.

That thinking has carried over to my time here in Taiwan.  I keep telling myself I should have a physical sometime soon. I’ve even gone so far as obtaining some addresses of where I could go.  Even though I’ve been assured by my ABC friends that the doctors here are very well-educated and speak English, I’ve been holding off.

And then my back happened.

I walked around using sheer stubbornness and the healing power of alcohol the first couple of days. Then Monday rolled around and I couldn’t use that prop anymore. So, finally, last Wednesday I bit the bullet and dragged myself to the hospital.

I walked in there fully prepared to be bitchy, snotty and childish to the staff but it turned out there was no need.

The woman at the information desk personally figured out which clinic I needed to be seen in, walked me over to the registration counter and helped me get registered, walked me up to the clinic, and explained when and how I would be seen. That’s when I found out the clinic wouldn’t be open for another hour and a half.

I considered walking out, but I was  sick and tired of the pain and I had already invested some time into this visit. Also, the information-desk lady was watching me with a sympathetic but knowing look in her eyes like she knew exactly what I was thinking. So instead of booking it out of there I asked her if she knew where I could buy lunch, and get some passport photos taken. From experience, I knew that some hospitals here have photo booths set up to take official photographs for passports, driver licenses, and other IDs.

MacKay didn’t have a photo booth, so she asked around to find out where I could find one. And then she personally walked me two blocks down the street, showing me places I could grab lunch along the way, and led me to a booth where I could get my photos taken.  There is no doubt in my mind that she went completely above and beyond the call of duty, and I am incredibly grateful.

My visit went off without a hitch. I was seen twenty minutes after the clinic opened.

The doctor gave me a pained look when I told him I didn’t speak any Mandarin, but then asked some cursory questions about the injury, tapped my knees and moved my legs around to examine my range of movement and told me what I had suspected all along. Diagnosis: muscle strain. He prescribed diclofenac sodium for the pain, told me to come back in a week if I still had pain (which I do) and sent me on my way.  After insurance my visit cost 450 NT (15 USD).

I paid and went downstairs to the hospital pharmacy which had a large waiting room overflowing with people. Resigned to waiting another hour I looked around for a number machine and when I couldn’t find one, I went up to the counter and gave the pharmacist my script. She turned around and  immediately handed me my meds.

When I asked her how much it was she indicated the payment I made at the clinic covered the cost of the medication. I got the hell out of there as fast as my back would let me. I have no idea what those 70 other people in the waiting room were waiting for and I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.

I can’t say the visit was all sunshine and roses. I did end up having a minor allergic reaction to the medication, which resulted in tiny blisters popping out all over my arms and legs.  It wasn’t particularly effective for the pain either, though it did take the edge off. Overall, though, the whole experience was much less of a pain in the ass than I expected.

My movement is still limited, and I’ll probably go back next week if it doesn’t improve. This time, though, I can go back secure in the knowledge that it’s a routine visit for routine care.  I could handle that in the States without a problem, and now, I know I can handle it here.

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