Years and years and years ago, I was traveling through Tijuana, Mexico with some friends, on our way to Rosarito and we passed by a hospital. At that moment, we all made a pact to not do anything that would ultimately lead to a stay in a Tijuana hospital. Because we were all very mature, young adults we made it back to the US unscathed though certainly not without some stories.
Anyway, this is all to say that there have been more than a few times I’ve been in a foreign country where a hospital visit would be less than ideal (though really, is a hospital visit ever ideal?). I am happy to report that Singapore is not one of those places. Also, I cannot believe that after a mere seven months of living overseas I stayed in a hospital for the very first time, with the exception of giving birth. The girls have had a few accidents that led to ER visits but were never actually admitted.
The story actually begins almost a week prior when we went to Malaysia. Soon after arriving our youngest started to complain of her back and side hurting. This is going to sound neglectful but we thought she was just being herself and trying to control our time. Up until this point she hadn’t complained of anything else though we had noticed her appetite had dwindled. Looking back, there were some big red flags but this is the kid who is notorious for digging in her heels so hard during family outings that we have frequently have to abort our plans.
After about five days of off and on complaining she fell ill with a fever. This was problematic for a few reasons, the biggest being we were supposed to board a bus back to Singapore. While the borders are open, traveling via public transport requires a health declaration which specifically asks if you or your dependents have a fever. All it would take is for one person to look at her and you would know that our kiddo had a fever. That said, she had COVID about three months ago and we were fairly certain it wasn’t COVID but a fever is a fever and we had no idea what was going on.
Once it was clear we could not travel home via public transportation we changed our plans and hired a private driver to bring us home (I had wanted to do this anyway so was kind of glad to be able to ride in luxury). Traveling via a private car does not necessitate a health declaration and you drive through the border checks rather than having to disembark.
Alright, so, to make a longish story short, we took a private car and made it home to Singapore at about 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon. Marcus and I walked to his office to pick-up a laptop and we moseyed our way home. I even insisted on a latte. Upon entering the apartment we were greeted with a child who had been sick to her stomach. I cleaned it up and put her on the couch and on a whim, took her temperature. It read 40 degrees Celsius, or, for those of us who only know the Imperial measuring system, 105.4 degrees Fahrenheit. I was stunned. I tried my best not to panic but immediately, I pulled together a few items and called a car to bring us to the hospital.
Marcus carried her downstairs and put her in the car and the driver immediately asked what was going on. I was worried he wouldn’t want to drive us knowing she was so sick (you know, ‘rona and all) but instead, he asked if he could pray for her. I told my dad later that he would have liked this guy as he prayed and we listened to his Christian rock station. I am not a person of faith but I appreciated that he must have recognized the look of a very worried momma and did what he felt best.
We arrived at the emergency room, called the A&E (Accident and Emergency and called such probably everywhere else in the world except the States), and were quickly triaged. As we waited, at one point, the little abruptly woke-up from her cat nap, delirious as hell, and with her eyes glazed over said “I feel fine now. I’m fine. Can we go?” Bless her little heart. The doctor soon arrived, quickly examined her, asked a few questions, and then went through the few procedures she wanted to run in order to be able to diagnose her properly. All the little one heard was “blood tests” and she was rooted to her seat. All I heard was “admitting you” and I knew we were in it for the long haul.
Luckily (not really), the little had a 105 degree temperature so she didn’t have much fight in her and we were able to coax her into a wheelchair and up to a room. They drew blood, took a urine sample, and inserted an IV in order to pump her with fluids. Again, looking back as the guilt flooded in, I understood why she had been guzzling water like never before; I should have realized just how high her fever was.
So, after being admitted, working through the guilt of having not recognized how sick my baby was, and waiting to hear from the doctor about the plan for care all we had to do was sleep, watch TV, and eat. The eating was, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, pretty incredible. It was a mix of Asian and Western which included local favorites such as nasi lemak and savory porridge along with pizza and hamburgers. Not to mention, the three, THREE lobster dishes you could choose from. I ended up with lobster thermidor one night because A. I didn’t believe we’d still be there and B. I could hear Marcus’s voice in my ear saying, “I know you don’t like lobster but, get the lobster!”
After five days of sleeping, watching TV, and eating, we were finally released (they wanted the little to be fever free for 48 hours). Up until that moment I felt like a caged animal, not wanting to leave my child’s side but desperately feeling the need to escape. Given that she was hooked-up to an IV the little couldn’t go far though we did go for a thrilling walk/run through the hospital on her way to the radiographer (nobody walks fast in Singapore with the exception of the orderlies in the hospital, I could barely keep up). All of the nurses and the attending doctor were as nice and helpful as they could be. Everyone was invested in getting our girl’s fever down and making sure she was hydrating.
The only thing left to do upon being discharged was, of course, paying the bill. In Singapore, health insurance is a combination of publicly funded healthcare and private sectors. All Singaporeans are required to pay into the government healthcare plan. For many reasons, the healthcare here is effective and the average life expectancy is longer than anywhere else in the world. As expats we do get to enjoy the efficiency of the healthcare. On average, we may wait for about 10 minutes to see a doctor. Even the dentist is pretty amazing. On a recent visit it was noticed that one of my fillings had fallen out. Instead of having me schedule an entirely separate appointment to get it fixed the dentist just took care of it then and there and then cleaned my teeth (by the way, the dentist does all of the work, not the hygienist).
Even though Singaporeans have a fairly robust health care system that doesn’t mean we, as expats, get to take advantage of that. Instead, we pay out of pocket and then file a claim. There are local health insurance providers for expats but we just stuck with what we had. Also, our experiences have been largely positive because we use our overseas healthcare therefore we almost exclusively go to private clinics. The hospital we were in was a private hospital as compared to a public and, since I have yet to be in a public hospital, I won’t even try and compare the two. I will say that paying a hospital stay out of pocket was a bit of a hard pill to swallow (ha! medical joke); it hit differently than it would have back home when we would receive a statement of benefits that explained just how much we didn’t have to pay.