Today has been one of those days when everything is a little bit challenging, when things are a little off-kilter, just enough to throw me off and make me wish–for the millionth time–for things to be easy, just once.
It all began with our first visit to the pediatrician this morning. Our son takes an allergy medicine every day, but his supply had run out last week, so we needed to visit a doctor for a new prescription. My husband asked the school nurse to make an appointment for us to see a doctor with English-language skills. So she did.
But the way a doctor’s appointment works here is different: you can make a general morning or afternoon appointment, but there is no specific time associated with the appointment. Rather, patients are seen on a first-come, first-served basis. The hospital (like in Thailand, doctors here work in hospitals and not in private practice) opens at eight o’clock, so we planned to arrive by then so we wouldn’t end up spending our entire Saturday there, which may very well happen if we didn’t show up early enough.
When we arrived at the hospital, we headed for the registration desk, where we showed the staff a message the school nurse had written out in Chinese indicating that this was our first time there and we needed to register. The registration staff signed us in and entered our son into the system. Then, because she didn’t know English and couldn’t explain to us where to go, she walked us over to the pediatric clinic’s waiting area.
She told us our number was 1. Great, we thought. Getting there early was paying off; we would be the first one in and first one out! We sat to wait until 8:30, when the doctors began seeing patients. In the meantime, we saw other parents go up to screens next to the doctors’ office doors and swipe something. Another parent, seeing our confusion and realizing that we were new to all this, asked us if we had a health insurance card for our son and explained that we would need to swipe the insurance card. We explained that our son doesn’t yet have health insurance in Taiwan (he needs to wait six months from the time of his arrival before he is eligible for the national health insurance), so the man nodded and said no more.
We thought that was the end of that. Meanwhile, we double-checked the screen to make sure we were still first on the list. All seemed well until the doctor began seeing patients. The first number flashing on the screen was 66! Then the next one was in the 70s! We were bewildered and confused! My husband asked the parent who had asked us about our son’s health insurance card, and he explained we needed to let the nurse know we were there so she could “register” us. He personally approached the nurse to let her know we were there.
We waited some more, but our number still hadn’t shown up. Moreover, our son’s name now appeared on the “wait list” on the screen! Another parent, seeing our frustration, explained to us that we needed to sign in to register our presence by swiping our health insurance card. When we explained that our son didn’t have one yet, she informed us that we would be last on the appointment list because we didn’t “sign in.” What?! When I asked what our number–ONE– indicated, if not our placement on the appointment list, she said it was just for the registration desk, and that one’s place on the appointment list was based on the order one signed in by swiping the health insurance card! So…because we didn’t “sign in,” we could be waiting there all day!
We immediately approached the nurse to make sure she knew we were present. The mom who explained all this to us also followed to make sure the nurse understood. Thankfully, the nurse had already manually placed us on the appointment list on the screen after the man had told her about us. She showed us our son’s name on the “wait list.” It turned out the “wait list” IS the appointment list–you’re literally waiting to see the doctor.
We were thoroughly flustered by this time, but were relieved we were on the appointment list. We saw that patients were going in and coming out of the doctors’ offices every two to three minutes, so we wouldn’t have to wait long. But…how much attention was each patient getting, being in there for less than five minutes each?
We finally got called after over an hour. The doctor spoke English well. We explained to him why we were there. He listened to our son’s breathing and looked into his mouth. That was the extent of the examination. He spent more time explaining the different dosages available for the medication we needed than examining our child. Fortunately, he wasn’t there for a sick visit and didn’t require more attention.
After the doctor’s visit, we headed to the hospital cashier to pay for the visit. The entire visit, including the medication prescription, cost only a little over US$50 without health insurance, and about 75% of that was the cost for a three-month supply of the medication! It was very affordable, but the quality of care here isn’t as good as that in Thailand, at least not on this visit.
At the pharmacy, we were informed that they only had about a two-month supply of the medication. (Here, I had to use my Mandarin skills as the pharmacist spoke no English, so it was slow-going.) We stood there, unsure of how to proceed as we had already paid for a three-month supply. After a long pause, the pharmacist finally explained that the rest of the supply could be mailed to us once it was available. Great! After over two hours there, we were finally finished. I was mentally exhausted and ready for the “safety” of home.
In the afternoon, we went with a group of friends and their kids to see the Lego Ninjago movie. One of our friends had reserved seats for the rest of the group, but not for us, because we weren’t sure we would make the movie due to the doctor’s appointment. She did have an extra ticket for our son, so we only needed to purchase two tickets for my husband and me at the theater.
Like in Bangkok, there are many, many malls here. This was our first time at a mall in Taiwan for something other than grocery shopping–because I hate shopping and I hate malls. Once at the mall where the theater is located, we got separated from the rest of our group because the mall was busy and the elevators filled up quickly. We were to go to the thirteenth floor, where the theater is located. My husband and I got on one elevator, but it only went up to the twelfth floor! We got on another one and found the same thing. Finally, on our third try, someone explained to us that we needed to get off on the twelfth floor and then take an escalator to the movie theater. Another thing that was confusing in an already confusing day.
Once at the movie theater–which was very chaotic, crowded, and noisy with voices and loud music–our friend went to get her reserved tickets, which came with popcorn and a drink, while my husband and I got in line for our two tickets. But halfway through the line, we saw that the particular showing we wanted for the Lego Ninjago movie was no longer available! Thinking it was sold out, we told our friends we wouldn’t be joining them, only our son would. Some of our friends were envious and offered to trade places with us, but we declined. 🙂 Once in the theater, though, one of our friends messaged us that the theater was actually pretty empty, so the ticket booths must’ve closed that showing because of timing–we did get there pretty close to the start of the movie.
So my husband and I instead went to the Ten Ren tea shop, which is an actual restaurant here. We got a table and ordered a couple of desserts and some hot oolong tea, so relieved to finally have some time to relax and decompress from such a challenging day. We strolled around a few floors of the mall for a bit. I finally bought a couple of t-shirts that I needed–for some reason, I left all but one of my t-shirts back at home in the U.S., in our dresser, in my parents’ basement. And for the first time in my adult life, I was not a petite size or the smallest size available to adult women! I’m actually too big for a small t-shirt here!
Today was so reminiscent of our early days in Thailand, when everything was difficult, frustrating, and perplexing. But this time, the sense of adventure was non-existent; I didn’t feel up to the challenge today. On the other hand, days like this are so typical of early expat life in a new country; there’s really nothing we can do but push through it. We can only shake our heads, laugh, and store the memories for a good story in the distant future, when we will finally find the challenges of this day amusing.