Even as I waited for the bus to arrive, tears filled my eyes, knowing what was to come. Despite being somewhat of an irrational fear, I couldn’t stop the worry of the dreaded needle from taking over. As we headed to the hospital, my friends and colleagues tried to distract me, chatting about last night’s Oscars, memories from when we all started together last summer at ACG, and the usual friendly banter that occurs with people who are familiar with one another.
To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was that in order to process our work visas for next year, we had to have drug and HIV testing done (and pass, obviously). I’ve only been to a clinic and the dentist here in Jakarta, which I assumed wouldn’t be too different from a hospital. I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumptions. I had forgotten one crucial difference. I had visited Western-style clinics, and we were going to a local hospital today.
Upon arrival, we were taken to a large waiting room to get a number (much like you would at the deli counter at your local grocery store back home). Swarms of people filled every available seat, fanning themselves from the heat. Those who couldn’t fit inside were perched outdoors on the rows of metal seats. A few unfortunate souls were laid out on stretchers, outside in the heat (not that it was any cooler inside, but being outside seemed worse to me), while their loved ones fed them something that looked a lot like porridge. There was even a man in a wheelchair who had his leg propped up, an old piece of wood underneath acting as a splint.
As we stood in the middle of the waiting room, taking it all in, sweat slowly dripped down my back, and I was reminded of earlier this morning when I was getting dressed and debating whether I should wear long pants and a cardigan, seeing as hospitals are notoriously cold. I thanked myself for choosing the skirt and sleeveless shirt today.
A little while later, our driver ushered us over to another building, where we assumed the ‘VIP’ area was. We came to find out there isn’t a VIP area at this hospital. While we waited outside chatting (and sweating), we were just thankful we weren’t in that other line. We did have to get back to work at some point today. When we were finally called in, the fear came back, but it was short lived as I realized this building was for checking your weight and blood pressure and signing your name. The five of us each took our turn, and then it was onto the next one (building, that is).
As we made our way through the throngs of people seemingly waiting in lines, we were met with another large, overflowing waiting room. Taking the only available seats, we ate our snacks (thankfully, we came prepared!) and waited. A little while later, we were taken to a smaller, yet still crowded, room to wait in line for our blood tests. In the middle of the communal room, the numbered stalls sat waiting for people to be pricked. I guess privacy wasn’t a top priority here. As we stood in line right in front of the door, so as not to lose our place, we were constantly in everyone’s way, shuffling this way and that way. The heat and the screaming babies only added to my anxiety.
One by one, people were taken to a vacant stall to be pricked (i.e. stabbed) with a needle, the line inching forward with each prick. Rebecca went to the toilet, and upon her return, informed us that there was no soap or towels in the bathroom. As in they don’t exist there, not as in they’re out. I’m disturbed that the hospital where I was about to have a needle put into my arm doesn’t have soap in the bathroom. My wavering confidence took another nosedive.
My turn. I begrudgingly followed the attendant to stall #4, where I apprehensively sat down. Armed with funny videos on my phone and Rebecca and Miriam’s constant stream of conversation to distract me, I steeled myself for what was to come. After triple-checking that the nurse was using a new, clean needle and gloves, I looked away and shut my eyes tight, bracing for impact. I felt the needle pierce my skin, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d built it up to be. A few seconds later, it was over, and I didn’t even cry!
Our last stop was at yet another building, which, to our surprise, was blasting cold air, clean, and virtually empty. Here we were asked to fill out paperwork, pee in a cup, and talk privately with a doctor. The doctor’s chat was a bit unusual. We were all asked basically the same questions, with a few variations. The most interesting bits from my conversation were:
Are you drink alcohol? Yes, occasionally.
What? Vodka or Whiskey or… Ummm…rum I guess, and sometimes cider.
Are you drug user? No, I’ve never used drugs before. (What an odd way to ask that…why not ‘Have you used drugs before?’)
Show me your arms. (She then checked for track marks before recording “Track marks- negative.”)
How about your feeling now? (After realizing she was asking about my mood…) I’m just fine.
You have hallucination? No.
Or delusion? No? No.
I’m always intrigued by the different experiences I have as an expat. Before moving abroad, I took for granted that basic things like going to the doctor, shopping, and getting around town could be so different. I just assumed the major things like the type of food, language, and locale would be different, but culture runs deep and seemingly little things can be a whole new experience!