Testing Times In A Singapore Surgery

I’m sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, feeling like there’s an anvil on my chest. A gravity-defying anvil that maintains its pressure, no matter whether I lie down, stand up or prop myself up on cushions on the couch.

A lady was yelling into her mobile phone. A baby was snoring on her mother’s lap. I was bored with staring at the display cabinet full of beauty products and the poster advertising a brand of mascara endorsed by American Idol judge Paula Abdul. “Wow, doctors in Singapore are very upfront,” I thought. “They’re not shy about the fact that they’re running a business.”

Then I noticed some coloured flyers on a side table. My head was already spinning from the lack of oxygen getting to my brain, but these flyers added a new dimension to my other-wordly feeling.

I’d been pushed to buy “packages” of services by hairdressers, masseuses (or is it masseusi?) and nail girls. But I never expected to see “packages” of medical tests promoted.

Health screening package A (@ only $55) gets you a lipid profile, a liver profile, haematology, bone and joint, diabetes profile, VD profile (I wonder if that means what I think it means?), urinanalysis (also known as U-FEM) AND includes a medical examination. The flier lists the details of each section, in English and Chinese.

Package B (@ only $75) gets you all of the above and a hepatitis profile. And both packages have the optional extra of an electrocardiogram @ only $20 (usual price $30).

That was the yellow flyer. I checked the blue flyer. Oh, wowee. Package C is $250 and needs a whole page to list the tests, which included a thyroid profile, tumour markers and a spooky-yet-gross-sounding stool occult blood. Oh, and you also get a medical examination, an ECG and a chest x-ray. And the flyer saves the final marketing push for the very last line. A “bonus” test! You choose between a diabetic assessment or a gastric ulcer screen.

I was mentally snickering at how funny it all seemed. Then the realisation slowly dawned — I wanted to try package C! The naieve marketing technique had completely sucked me in. I wanted ALL the tests. I wanted the premium package (I deserve the best, don’t I). And I wanted to silence the sudden niggling voice that was telling me I’d better get tested from top to toe and everywhere in between or I’d surely collapse from a heart attack as I walked home or die a drawn-out and painful death from the most embarrassing form of cancer known to medicine.

I would have been an easy mark if the doctor tried to sell me a package. I was weak, I was tired, I was worried about my future.

But when the little bell dinged to indicate it was my turn. I decided to be as businesslike as the doctor.

“I’ve come to complain,” I told him. “I was here last week and was given some antibiotics. I’ve finished them all and I’m still not better.”

I left with a second course of antibiotics and a sense of satisfaction. I dodged their wily marketing of unnecessary medical tests. But not completely. I have both the flyers on my desk and I’m wondering whether to go for the diabetic assessment or the gastric ulcer screen.

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10 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.

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