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Dying to get in

Treatment of a minor injury is a reminder of how good some of our hospitals

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It's been a difficult week for your correspondent. 

I've been incapacitated due to something slim but deadly and no, I don't mean a Soi Cowboy bar girl. It's far more mundane than that.

Early Sunday evening I stepped on a shard of glass, rendering my foot painful and swollen and thus have been unable to walk with my usual macho gait for more than a week. From the back I look like a hobbling pensioner jerkily making his way through downtown Bangkok with a permanent expression of misery. All that's missing by my side is that Soi Cowboy bar girl with the sick mother demanding a TV set.

The details of the accident are too boring to relate, suffice to say in my zeal to help clean up a glass dropped by a six year old, I stepped on a shard and the resulting infection meant a sleepless night and a trip to my local hospital.

Ah, Bangkok hospitals.

There are only a few things I am willing to spend a lot of money on. Good shoes, for one. Nice pillows for another. Everything else _ underwear, socks, life partners _ can easily be picked up in the bustling aisles of any outdoor Thai market.

When it comes to my health, I would be absolutely crazy to penny-pinch, simply because I am living in a country with affordable healthcare of remarkably high quality.

I am going to ignore the occasional reports of botched operations (like that poor country lass in the Buriram hospital who this week got her anus stitched up by mistake after giving birth _ I can't imagine how painful her next coffee enema's going to be). On the whole medical care here is terrific and it almost makes you want to step on a shard just to experience it. Almost.

When I limped into my local hospital on Srinakarin Road last Tuesday, I was greeted by a gorgeous woman in a sensible blue pantsuit. She waied me and escorted me to the emergency room, where another three nurses sat me down.

From there a friendly young man took my elbow and lay me down on a hospital bed in emergency, while the head nurse introduced her attractive subordinate who would dress my wound after the doctor examined it. A good-looking young man far too old to have braces on his teeth then hovered beside me, explaining he was the Customer Relations Officer for Emergency which was why he was in a suit and tie and asking me questions like could I eat spicy food and had I visited Wat Phra Kaeo yet.

Are you counting, dear reader? Eight people looked after me from go to woe, not counting the doctor. And look at all those adjectives I used _ gorgeous, friendly, attractive, etc _ without even once resorting to my thesaurus. Plus they were all young and friendly. If only my leg wasn't hurting like hell from toe to lymphatic gland I could have resorted to my usual shallow self and truly appreciated the well-proportioned, nice-looking people around me who appeared as though they genuinely wanted to help.

Honestly, you are not going to get better service at hospitals anywhere else in the world. Where are the best places to stay in Bangkok? The Top 10 would surely include The Oriental, Sukhothai, InterContinental, Shangri-La, Bumrungrad, BNH and Samitivej. You can't tell the difference between the hotels and the hospitals; recently I was, er, visiting a friend in the Botox clinic at Samitivej and contemplated stealing the cutlery until I reminded myself I wasn't in a five-star hotel.

In fact staying in a hospital might be a better deal than staying in a five-star hotel. Visitors can stay the night without leaving their IDs at the front counter, for example. All the stuff in the minibar is free, though I've heard in hospitals it's called a "fridge" and you do have to send somebody down to 7-Eleven for your cans of Singha. And none of this pedantic "non-smoking room" business you see in hotels. In a hospital, all you do is walk out onto the balcony, flick the butt over the side and nobody's ever the wiser.

Even the non-five star hospitals are excellent value for money. Like this week. After those eight staff, the doctor's operation on my foot, a tetanus injection and a suitcase of pills, the whole bill came to 2,000 baht. That's $US65. I can't imagine how much that would have cost me had it happened on my recent trip to the US, where I had to take out extra medical insurance to cover me for one million baht had an emergency occurred _ which, apparently, wouldn't have been enough.

And every day since, I've been back in the morning where more than half a dozen staff escort me to my bed, wash and dress the wound, and the guy with the braces then walks me over to the cashier where I am charged the princely sum of less than 10 American dollars. If the doctor sees me it goes up to nearly $30. Goodness me.

No, I don't get this special treatment because I'm a well-known face nudging his way into the khunying set, appearing once and a while in Thai society pages whenever the stuffed envelope makes it into the hands of the page editor. (Though once, when dropping my Nautica trousers for a tetanus injection, the nurse confessed she was "so nervous to be giving an injection to Andrew Biggs!" "Then hand the needle over to somebody less impressed," I said through gritted teeth from my bent-over position.)

Having a work permit or permanent residency does get you discounts, though. At the Police Hospital, for example, my work permit immediately dropped the cost of a visit from 1,000 baht to 150 baht but hey _ even 1,000 baht is still damn cheap compared to where we come from. And at Rutnin Hospital, the best eye hospital in Thailand and perhaps the entire region, they charge 150 baht for a consultation. I feel like tipping the cashier.

Finally, the pills.

Back in Australia, you're lucky to get a strip or two of dull old colourless antibiotics from a wizened chemist who smells like a musty old used teabag.

Not over here. I come home with a bag of pills that resembles a 1970s discotheque _ blue for sleeping, green for pain, yellow for killing germs and purple just for taking the edge off daily life. Wash them all down with a screwdriver and you're feeling fantastic in no time!

I am truly grateful I live in a country where a good hospital is a godsend. I am aware of the system's faults but I'm not complaining. We westerners sometimes find it easy to condemn, complain, scream, rant and get all screwy about Thailand. But is there anything more important than a good Botox Clinic? Oh God, where did that come from? I meant to say "good health".

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