I recently spent half a day at a Bangkok hospital having my annual health check. This is when you spend 12,000 baht of your hard-earned cash just so a doctor can analyze six hours of tests and tell you that you have an enlarged lipitor gland in your endymorphous canal so it would be a good idea to cut out the coffee and chocolate. It's frightening how the years take their toll. One minute you're running around in the park playing football and the next minute there's a Thai nurse holding your hand as you huff and puff on the walking machine. "Shall we try it on speed number two now Mr Philip or would you like to rest for a while?" Anyway, as I was sitting in the reception area, I started to make a list of twenty essential aspects of any Thai hospital.
1. An area in which the disabled ramp, the ambulance loading bay and the taxi rank all converge on one another - resulting in utter chaos.
2. Promotional literature showing a convalescing old grandmother and two fat grandchildren jumping up and down on her bed.
3. Strategically-placed vases full of wilting flowers.
4. The nurse who somehow manages to parade your urine sample in front of 346 gawping out-patients.
5. The kindly bespectacled doctor who greets you with a cheery "and what can we do for you on this fine morning?" before it dawns on you that it's the only sentence of English he can speak correctly.
6. The middle-aged, overweight out-patient who sits in the reception area picking at her bare feet.
7. The glasses of cold Chinese tea, covered with cling-film and looking suspiciously like zebra's wee-wee.
8. The clapped-out TV that's showing a loud tranvestite slap-stick comedy routine and forcing the engrossed patients to miss their appointment.
9. The stick-thin 60-year old nursing sister who's given the job of looking after the foreigners on account of her ability to say 'this way please'
10. The hospital gown cunningly designed to reveal your bare buttocks as you shuffle past the mincing queen in the X-ray department.
11. The registration form that takes your partner thirty minutes to fill in while you die slowly of a heart attack. Despite the hospital already having your details on a computer.
12. The Thai family of fourteen who have come to visit someone in hospital with a cold.
13. The fifty-year old farang who gets wheeled out into the reception area temporarily distracting the people from the antics of number 8.
14. The explanation from the pharmacist that you take the blue pills twice a day, the green ones four times a day, and the striped ones only if it's a full moon - and the fact that no one ever listens anyway.
15. The sad lonely S&P franchise which sells tuna sandwiches, slices of madeira cake and tins of all-butter shortbread - the cornerstone of any good convalescent diet.
16. The billing / insurance claim dept with its mountain of paperwork, three overworked secretaries and a brain cell dying of loneliness.
17. A Thai man in a sort of grey uniform whose job it is to wheel patients to other parts of the hospital and change light-bulbs.
18. The 96-year old great grandmother who gets wheeled into the doctor's surgery ahead of you and emerges two hours later.......still alive.
19. The magazine rack which contains the May 2003 edition of Hot Superbikes and a Bangkok Post color supplement celebrating the 50th anniversary of Chemitox Plastics.
20. A group of four nurses huddled around a computer and all taking it in turns to move the mouse.