About a week ago I started suffering from a nasty case of man-flu, and boy was it vicious. I had the works – blocked nose, mild headaches, feeling lethargic, blocked ears, I was at death’s door I tells ya. Well it just kept hanging on, nothing I tried would get rid of it. Cold and flu pills, allergy meds, hot soup, honey & lemon tea, praying to the gods of decongested sinuses, everything I could think of – no effect.
As much as this was just man-flu writ large it was starting to affect my work (try understanding a room full of Thai kids learning phonics while dealing with blocked ears) so I went to a recommended ear, nose and throat clinic just in case. The good doc poked and prodded, apparently tried to get me to vomit through the overly enthusiastic use of a tongue depressor, then uttered a one-word diagnosis.
Are you kidding? Since when did the sniffles = tonsillitis? Well I suppose he’s the one with the medical degree hanging on the wall, not me, so I paid the exorbitant bill (okay, insanely cheap by Western standards but a week’s food bill for Thailand), picked up my obligatory sackload of drugs and headed to bed for a few days’ rest. And that rest time, eased as it was by the cocktail swimming through my veins, got me thinking about one of the big differences between here and back home, one which I kinda like but is still a little worrisome.
You see in the UK if you go to your average chemist’s and ask for any more than two and a half paracetamol at once they’ll automatically suggest that you’re a) a junkie looking for a bizarre new high or b) trying to kill yourself in a hopelessly inept fashion. Try asking for anything stronger than that without a prescription and they’ll lock you up unless you’re accompanied by the Prime Minister, have a letter signed by the Queen and are called Jehovah.
The contrast between home and Thailand couldn’t be more pronounced. Without prescription I can saunter into any of the countless pharmacies on your average street and emerge with a shopping trolley full of everything from beta blockers to opiates to adrenalin and everything in between. It’s not exactly ‘no questions asked’ mind you. Sometimes they’ll go all Spanish Inquisition and ask such probing questions as “Are you sure you need this?”, or the dreaded “Are you really sure?”. Only then can you hand over your 100-odd baht for enough drugs to knock out a small army.
And of course with a prescription the sky’s the limit. Seriously, I reckon these places probably have body parts out in the back freezer just waiting for a doctor’s scrip saying “New arm, left, caucasian male.”
On the one hand this freedom can make illness so much easier to cope with. Can’t be bothered waiting for a doctor when you know exactly what you need? Just self-medicate, it’s a dawdle. Current meds not doing the trick? Just mix and match till you find a combo that does! Ill-health has never been so much fun!
On the other hand it does lead to some ridiculous scenarios, such as the massive overuse of antibiotics in this country. Got a fever? Antibiotics. Been stabbed? Antiobiotics. Cat just died? Antibiotics. This isn’t just the doctors but the chemists too – no visit to their apothecary is complete without the obligatory blister pack of Amoxicillin.
Also the freedom granted to the pharmacists through an apparently total lack of regulation can lead to some interesting prescriptions. A lass I know, who shall remain nameless, was less than pleased to discover that the ear-drops given to her by the pharmacy were, in fact, eye drops. Oops.
So it’s hit and miss. But I tell you, I can guarantee it’s something I’m going to miss the first time I get ill after leaving the country. Ah well, in the meantime I’ll just lie back and wallow in my cornucopia of pharmaceuticals. In the meantime here’s the Dead Kennedys to play us out…