13 May 2014

Doctor Time

I figured sooner or later we would have to make a trip to a doctor. . . and I suppose that being in Saudi for 6 months without needing a doctor isn't too bad.  I dread going to the doctor (for myself or the kids) anytime, but the thought of going in a foreign country was even more daunting. 

Last week Elizabeth got sick.  After a quick look on the internet, I was pretty sure she had strep throat/tonsillitis.  Her symptoms lined up exactly, and her throat looked exactly like the pictures online.  So now the question. . . go to the pharmacy and pick up a z-pak (yes you can do that here!) or take her to the doctor.  I'm not a huge fan of the idea of self-diagnosing and medicating, and I figured maybe it was time anyway to go and meet a local pediatrician.  So off we went to the hospital. . .

Over here pretty much anything medical is found at the hospital.  You can find anything from pediatricians to psychiatrists to dentists to ophthalmologists at the hospital.  The idea of independent offices for a particular type of doctor doesn't really seem to be common practice here.  Another major difference is that you don't make appointments (at least at the hospital we went to).  You just show up and it's first come, first served. 

Now of course Ben was out of town on business, so I was going alone, as a female.  Which doesn't seem like a big deal. . . unless you've happened to read THIS recent article which explains that there is now an edict in Saudi which doesn't allow women to visit medical clinics without a male guardian (husband, son, brother, father, uncle, grandson, etc).   

I had this in the back of my mind, but decided to go to the doctor anyway and was pretty sure we wouldn't have any problems.  (Fortunately we didn't.)  If anyone did give us trouble, the plan was to just re-route to the pharmacy, pick up the medicine and go home.  There are few reasons I'm not surprised that no one said anything.  First, I wasn't going for treatment for myself--I was going for a child.  Over here children (even female ones) seem to get more leeway.  Also, being an expat seems to give you a little more leeway, well sometimes.   

We arrived at the hospital and found the non-emergency entrance.  After going inside I stopped to ask where I could find the pediatrician.  The lady (it's always nice to see women working in Saudi!) answered me, but I didn't understand much of it.  Although I thought I heard 'level 5'.  So I repeated back 'level 5' and she said 'yes'.  (Side note:  it is hard to understand women when their faces are covered with a niqab.  Before moving here, I never realized how much I relied on watching people's faces to help with understanding.) 

So we walked down the hallway in the direction she pointed and got in the elevator only to find that there is only G, 1, and 2.  No level 5.  Out of the elevator to ask the next person I find behind a desk.  We repeat the process of asking and getting lost several times until we were pointed to a waiting room. 

I go to the desk in the waiting room and patiently wait and wait.  There are two people there working but neither even look my direction.  However, other people are coming up to the desk and the ladies are helping them.  Finally I notice that someone is holding a ticket with a number on it.  Aha!  I look around the room and find something that looks like it could give me a ticket.  I walk over and find that it has about 6 buttons and no English.  I randomly choose a button, get a number, and sit down. 

After awhile I notice that not only are there no other children, we are the only females.  I look around and notice that there is a female waiting room.  Of course--we are in Saudi after all.  Our turn comes up and we successfully navigate the check-in process and then sit down again and wait to see the doctor. 

After about half and hour they call Elizabeth's name and we go into the doctor--an ENT specialist, not a pediatrician.  At this point, oh well.  :-)  Fortunately he speaks English well enough that everything goes smoothly.  He confirms my suspicions, writes us a prescription, gives us a school excuse note and we are off.  Although oddly we had to go downstairs to get the school note 'officially stamped' by a different person? 

At the end of the appointment I did explain to the doctor that I was trying to find a pediatrician and ended up here. . . he got a good laugh.  He was probably wondering if all Americans want their children to see a specialist for such a simple diagnosis.  :-) 

An interesting difference though--the exam room was also his personal office (or appeared to be).  The nurse was in the room the entire time and she sat at what looked like her personal desk doing paper work.  This also meant that as soon as we were taken back, we didn't wait for the doctor to come, he was in the room waiting for us.  Now that is a difference I could get used to! 

The way our insurance works, we just pay cash when we go to the doctor.  So as far as the hospital is concerned we aren't using any insurance.  What does it cost to see a specialist over here?  Seventy SAR, or less than $19.  The antibiotics cost about $10.  So for approximately the cost of a co-pay in the US, we paid cash for the doctor AND the medicine.  This is another difference I could get used to!  I also liked that the pharmacy where we picked up the medicine was in the hospital (right next to where we had to get the school note stamped).  It got me to thinking, why is it not common in the States to have a pharmacy in the same building as a pediatrician/doctor's office?  It seems so obviously convenient! 

While we were at the hospital I was a little frazzled by the whole thing. (I didn't even take any pictures!  The picture in this post is from the hospital's website.) I think mostly just because I didn't know what to expect, but looking back it wasn't so bad.  There are some benefits to being able to just walk in at your convenience and having a one-stop medical experience.  How convenient to go from your primary care doctor right to the specialist in the same day if you need to? 

On the way out of the hospital, we ran into a friend who was kind enough to show us where the offices for the pediatricians are.  So even though this time we saw an ENT to diagnose tonsillitis, next time we will know where to go.  :-)