Koh Samed, Thailand
“Madam? Hard, medium or soft,” she murmured. Medium-to-soft, I squeaked.
We are at the beach, staying in Tub Tim Resort’s premier bungalows on the hillside, $100 US a night with balcony with chaise lounges, view of the beach and ocean, breakfast for two, WiFi and air/con, escaping from a week of poking, prodding and pricking in Bangkok. For a brief moment, I considered the TB 1,000 room with fan and hot shower, but McGyver agreed to look at the rooms on the hill. “This is it,” I told him when I saw the view from the deck. The room is $40 a night more than our serviced Oakwood apartments with full kitchen in Bangkok.
Tension drained as we climbed the steps to Lotus Massage, the door opened into another world, the fragrant, cool, pavilion, in Samed Villa, 10 minutes down the beach, where we booked two Aroma Relaxing Massages, a 10 percent discount between 10 AM and 2 PM.
The massages are an important part of wellness for me. It’s a mindset that my parents passed onto my brothers and me. They were track-suit wearing, tree-hugging, crunchy-granolas before anyone knew the terms. My mother, a Master Herbalist, raised us on a diet heavy on out-of-the-garden-produce, straight-from-the-orchard fruit, warm-from-the-chicken eggs, the cow’s-best-unpasteurized-milk, lentils, beans and brown rice.
My mother mortified me as a pre-teen, sending me to school with her signature “sandwich” of fresh-churned butter, unpasteurized honey and raw, unsalted sunflower seeds on rye crisp. The big round, foot-across, rye crisp wafers, which she’d snap in half, so one little piece was plunked on the other much larger piece, wrapped in wax paper, secured with a rubber band and plopped into a Safeway brown grocery bag giving new meaning to brown-bagged lunches. The others at school? They ate nouveau Sixties cuisine, sandwiches of baloney-iceberg lettuce-tomato-French’s mustard-and-Mayo-on-Wonder Bread.
My father took up a second career in my teen years as a Registered Massage Therapist, with a secondary interest in Reflexology and Iridology. My brothers and I played many sports, my father mended strained muscles.
We call our trips to Bangkok, The Body Works Tour because Asia has the same attitude about wellness. Head-to-toe, inside-and-out. A foot massage in Asia is a matter of personal health, there’s a shop on every corner. It is NOT a tourist come-on.
Our visit to Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International for blood tests, ultrasound scans and mammography with a medical doctor is the first stop on our Medi-Spa itinerary.
We made our bookings for Over 40 Comprehensive Medical Screenings at Bumrungrad online. I added consultations with a chiropractor and an acupuncturist, hoping for three or four treatments with each, plus as many foot, head, neck-and-upper-back, hand and full body massages as we could fit into 14 days ranging in price from $8 to $25.
Bumrungrad opened its new International clinic, during our last visit in 2007, operating to five-star hotel standards with lattes and frappuccinos on demand. Like any five-star hotel in a foreign land, sitting in the lobby is an interesting experience. Watching people from everywhere, Europeans, Indians, Middle Eastern and Asian from Japan, China, Korea and Vietnam. Bumrungrad caters to foreign diplomats and business people.
The gaggles of Middle Eastern women stand out, draped head-to-toe in black, some covered entirely, sit, waiting, reading Blackberry’s under their head coverings. Some older women, rather than a veil, wear intricately carved 24 karat gold masks leaving openings for their eyes and mouths. The women are herded around the clinic by a male relative, typically, a young, hip, male wearing designer sunglasses, jeans, and sandals.
We visit the hospital the day before our appointments, not necessary, but since we make all the appointments online, we think it’s a good practice. We’re told not to eat for nine hours before we arrive in the morning. We will meet with a nurse consultant before the weigh in and the blood tests, then the doctor will see us. She is the same doctor we have seen for three of our four visits — we’ve never seen a doctor in the US more than once because the insurance keeps changing.
The morning of our check up we receive a sheet of paper with our names, photographs, a bar code and the list of exams and procedures. We are ushered to each testing location by clinic staff, who confirm the spelling of our names each time. We are given cotton pajamas to wear for the testing with slippers a la First Class.
The blood technicians are excellent. I have tiny, hard-to-find veins, but unlike blood tests in Canada and the US where I’m left with a bruise the size of a baseball, the Thai nurses have never left a mark on me. The touch is the same everywhere, the hospital or the hair salon, strong and sure, yet delicate.
The mammogram films are digital. In one room, the technician takes the films, I am ushered to a room next door where I receive a breast ultrasound. While the technician is doing the ultrasound, the doctor reviews the films, she immediately reviews the ultrasound, compares to the previous
years and is able to tell me right there that nothing has changed from my mammogram three years before.
“My results will be added to your report,” she says. A far cry from the service in the US and Canada where I waited up to a month for the mammogram results and another month or two to get an ultrasound appointment and more time for those results.
We finished by 12 o’clock, we were scheduled to meet our doctor again at one o’clock for her review of the results. She calls up the tests from the computer and the previous five years of results. My weight is good, my Body Mass Index (BMI) is good. Exercise, she reminds me. “No white stuff, no rice, no bread, no sugar.” My mother’s prescription, one I know well, which while simple is not easy. She wants to see a few pounds knocked off McGyver by our next visit.
Total time: Five hours. Total cost for both of us including American Express’s foreign exchange fee, just under $1,000. The written report, for our records will be ready in 24 hours. The digital file can be accessed 24/7, 365 days a year.
Canadian friends want to know why we go to such lengths, a news story in the Globe and Mail says recession is pushing down the cost of surgeries in the US, Canadians are heading south of the border to escape waiting lists. Yes, I’m sure the price of a surgery has dropped in the US, if you have someone to negotiate for you – on an individual scale, not possible because we’ve tried.
It’s one thing to discount the cost of a surgery, the hospital is already paying the cost of the staff and facility, but a surgery is not the total cost of medical care, there is pre-care and post-care, which is the expensive part of medical care and which Canadians do in Canada where there is no out-of-pocket cost. While US surgeries maybe cheaper now, the cost of medical insurance to cover blood tests and other diagnostic testing, such as colonoscopies, as well as catastrophes or a diagnosis that results in chronic care continues to rise. Our catastrophe medical insurance policy increased 18 percent in one year and we made no claim.
For now, Thailand is where we see our family doctor.