This is probably the most ridiculous clash-of-cultures situation I have encountered in ages, and that is after I just spent six months working with the DMV & Immigration to get my license renewed this year. There is no possible way to convey all the dynamics of Thai culture, Burmese culture, Mae Sot|NGO culture, and the way they crashed in front of me, but I will certainly try!
I was at the hospital this week with a neighbor friend, Zin Mar Win. Her case is a special story, and a longer post for another day, as we have likely started down a journey with her that will last longer than just the two visits we’ve completed. In short: she has a feeding tube that goes down her nose because she can’t swallow. She has had this for about seven or eight years, but the diagnosis is unclear (despite many disjointed doctor visits) and the timeline is unclear (because it always is around here; dates and records aren’t the specialty of paperless communities).
We just wanted to see what we could do to help and see what doors God opened, so we started with a preliminary visit on Tuesday and were scheduled for a CT scan yesterday.
Since she has no paperwork, she doesn’t qualify for the Thai healthcare system, and, in short, CT scans are expensive. We were given a quote of $185 on Tuesday, which we took home to pray through and talk about. We were debating if it was good to go forward, but we just felt it was a necessary first step in learning more information, even to identify if there a physical issue or psychological. The doctor seemed really hopeful that it was a physical problem that could be somewhat easily fixed–here in Mae Sot, even.
I’m pretty cheap, folks. But Stephen is so great at balancing this, whether it’s with generosity or quality or extravagance at times. And this time, he really felt we should go forward. Thankfully, we just received a generous gift to the community fund from our home church in the States, and this seemed a great opportunity to love on this family.
We went in for the CT scan and were required to pay ahead of time, mostly due to racism, since they are afraid you’ll walk out on the bill. They requested the same amount as the quote we had been given before, and we gave it; it seemed simple enough. She went in to change into a gown and begin the process.
About halfway through the procedure, the nurse came out with a paper for me to sign. It was all in Thai, so I didn’t have much choice but to sign it blindly. However, I glanced around to see if there was anything obvious.
So thankful I did that.
There was a tiny little receipt area in the corner, where it had a total of double the cost.
I pointed it out to the nurse with a confused expression. She replied with, “Special! For you!”
That is the absolute worst “special” I have ever been offered.
I didn’t sign it, and she caved, either realizing that she hadn’t fooled me or that she needed to find a translator; I’m not sure.
They left us for about thirty minutes, while they finished the CT scan and Zin Mar Win returned. She said she was finished, and we started to walk away, as we had already paid and completed paperwork.
Here, we were stopped with a translator. Her first question: “What organization do you work for?”
I told her I didn’t have an organization, but that my husband & I are just friends with this woman. Our church in America helps us to help our friends here.
Her reply was a very downcast, “Oh…we have a problem. No UN?”
Nope, no UN.
She proceeded to explain the problem: the doctor had ordered an esophageal scan. They had started with the chest & lungs, but that didn’t get the entire esophagus. The radiologist decided to do a second scan of the neck area, but didn’t tell us or ask us if we could pay for it. Now, they were asking us to pay for both CT scans.
Basically, they assumed we were with an organization with somewhat endless funding and able to absorb that cost, which was not the case. It was their mistake on a few fronts: first, in not doing the one scan to cover both the neck & chest–where the esophagus is; second, in taking a second scan without asking us first.
I simply told them we didn’t have it. I said if you had told us it was going to be this entire price, we wouldn’t have come today and looked into other options first. We didn’t have that much money available to us right now. I told her they needed to tell us before they took the scan to ask us if we wanted to do it.
She replied that she often wants to know ahead of time, too, and she’s very sorry.
I told her it wasn’t that I wanted to know. It was that I didn’t have the money to pay for both scans, and I wasn’t going to. It was an error on their part.
They offered me another “special”: the total for both scans was 12,950 baht, but they would give it to me for $12,150 baht–that’s a $393 bill discounted to $369. Again, what a steal.
I’m not sure how many times they used the word “special” and asked again, “No organization?” It was just a very long, we-are-getting-nowhere conversation.
After this very long discussion, they made a number of calls made from their cell phones & finally agreed to give us the originally agreed upon price. They re-wrote the receipt, and I happily signed.
And I even got this from one of the ladies as we left, “Just you & your husband? No organization?” She gave us a nod and thumbs up as we walked out the door.