#4: To Your Health

The same friend who asked me two weeks ago how the move from Singapore to Switzerland was going asked me two days ago for an update. I noted she’d remembered all of that last conversation, nailing every detail.

You’ll note in a moment how I had not.

“So. . .your plants?”

“Sold.”

“Your ping pong table?”

“Sold.”

“Your dehumidifiers?”

“Given.”

“Your piano?”

Silence. Breath. Stare.

Sold, I hope?” she leaned into me. “Don’t tell me. . .given?”

“S-s-s-s-old.”

“Your stickers?”

“Stuck.”

“Your lists?”

“Written. Checked. Written again. And checked.”

“Your bank account, air conditioning, pest control, all utilities and delivery services including mail?”

“Closed out.”

“Your wardrobe? Your DVD’s, your CD’s, your Nat Geo’s?”

“Trimmed, deployed, exfoliated.”

“Your valued inventory list?”

“Filled.”

“Your neighbors who won’t like being blocked from their road for four days?”

“Notified.”

“All current school records?”

“Collected.”

“Passports and visas?”

“Updated.”

“Complete medical files from each doctor for each family member?”

Blank stare.  Wave of panic or hot flash.  Both.

Ah here, now here is one of those moments. In a micro-instant I know I need top notch medical assistance, not for the hot flash, mind you, but for a practical bail out.  Which is where my update on The Move merges seamlessly with The Things I Will Really Miss About Singapore.

When you or someone you care for is ill, it’s one thing to have highly trained medical personnel.  You are grateful.  You melt with indebtedness.  But when you are in a time-sensitive bind because you’ve dropped a ball, and your doctors help you pick up said ball, then awww, you just want to sing Michael Bublé at the top of your lungs on top of a coffee table in the middle of their waiting room.

And then if they help you pleasantly — smiling, without grinding your face with the pumice of your own incompetence —- well, you could just about lasso them with their stethoscopes and give them a big, germ-encrusted hug.

Let me preface what I will now tell you by saying that I’ve been in the medical-form-gathering business for many years. With every move I’ve needed to gather our children’s pediatrician, dermatologist, ophthalmologist, and dental records, as well as our own gynecologist, orthopedist, endocrinologist, cardiologist, and otolaryngologist records. Then I’ve had to translate all of them.  Translating them from English to Norwegian, from Norwegian to French, from French to German, then from German to English (and now from English back to French) is a task.

What has added to that task has been figuring out what immunizations and treatments transfer from country to country. For instance, when Dalton entered public preschool in Versailles after our move from Norway, the French government required he be vaccinated against tuberculosis. They call that vaccine the BCG, for the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin. The BCG was unheard of in either Norway or in the States, and I did not want my son vaccinated. Though I contested the safety or necessity of the BCG, I could not get a waiver.  I had to submit my child to it if he was to enter a public French school, which was the way we knew he would learn French and we would integrate.  School=BCG.

So, funny story:  That month after our arrival in France and with no French under my (unmistakably unfashionable) belt, I went to a pediatrician to have this BCG vaccine thingie performed on my little Dalton. Nervous to negotiate this in French, I pronounced to the receptionist as regally as possible exactly what my son needed to receive.

The woman looked at me blankly, shook her head, and told me my son did not need that.

I blushed, summoned my courage, cleared my throat and said that according to the preschool’s regulations, he in fact did.

She repeated that he did not.

I repeated that he did, malheureusement, require that BCG, that though I was philosophiquement contre it, I wanted him to be part of the school and, hélas, this is what the direction said he would need. Especially as a foreigner.

I still remember how the receptionist smiled at that point, and then instructed me, her eyelids half closed, on the difference between a BCG and what I, Madame, was saying: BCBG.

BCBG.

B.C.B.G.?

Qu. . .quoi?

To this day I cannot tell you where I’d picked up that acronym within just a month’s time in France, but there it was, nice and handy and crisp, just in time for my delightful faux pas.

BCBG means, literally, bon chic bon genre, a common colloquial term used to describe the folks with unmistakably fashionable belts. They are the upper crust, stylishly preppy crowd. The “right” neighborhood, for example, is BCBG. A “go-to-be-seen” café, BCBG.  A handbag, a way of walking, of smoking a cigarette, of tilting your big black Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, and the way you sweep your hand nonchalantly through your sun-kissed hair and let it fall over your left shoulder. All so très BCBG.

And I wanted my dimply, toe-headed three-year-old immunized with it.

Back to collecting medical forms in Singapore. . .

Within two days after realizing I was way behind schedule and might have to pay the whopping fee to have all these manila envelopes full of x-rays and confidential reports and medication records sent to Switzerland, I had phoned all our doctors and requested all our medical records.

“Well, of course, Mrs. Bradford,” the voice glimmered. “You can collect them in one week.”

Done.  Crisis avoided.

Gosh.  I’m feeling so healthy.

But oh, how I will miss my doctors here in Singapore.

Singapore boasts the world’s #6 ranked medical system according to the World Health Organization.  (That makes it the only Asian country, besides Japan, that is in the top ten.) This country has a stunningly low infant mortality rate, (2.5 for every 1000 live births) an unusually high life expectancy (79 years for males, 84 for females), both more impressive that the numbers in the United States.

To boot, there are eco-friendly hospitals that grow organic produce on their roofs.  Not that I frequent hospitals with the express intent of dining.  But it’s nice to know that when you are a patient inching your way back from a brush with death, the hospital’s menu isn’t going to kill you.

This blog is not the place to cracker-barrel about the virtues of one health care system over another, or whether that BCG could have been avoided altogether if we westerners had just converted to TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) a few centuries ago.  Still, there are some interesting things to consider when comparing what’s going on here with what’s going on, say, . . .elsewhere.  I did some light spelunking in the stats, and discovered that Singaporean citizens pay less than a third of what those in the U.S. do for health care, and have, overall, far better health.  The government here pays for 80% of your normal healthcare costs but requires that patients contribute significant co-pays. Maybe TCM has such ardent followers here not just because of a historical/cultural bias, but also because it’s cheaper than conventional care. Who knows? Maybe TCM is as effective as the BCG. But as chic? Tough to prove.

When a friend at church collapsed in the arms of his wife with a heart condition, the ambulance was there in 5 minutes.  While I watched the pros work on this dear man, I texted my father in the U.S., who has suffered from similar collapses, and he called his heart specialist who told him that the finest heart specialist in Asia was right down the street from us in Singapore.  My children’s orthodontist essentially leads the way in new procedures for all the Pacific rim.  Our dermatologist did studies in Edinburgh and at Duke, and our family doctor is not only sharp as a tack, pleasant as pistachio pudding and as attentive to details as a microsurgeon, but she also plays the cello.  (Not that the cello helps with a staph infection, but we can speak music, which I can do.  Biochem, I cannot.)

For your leisure reading, a smidgen of Singaporean statistics:

http://healthcare-economist.com/2008/01/14/singapores-health-care-system/

http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_ID=7923

http://www.who.int/whr/2000/media_centre/press_release/en/index.html

http://www.who.int/countries/sgp/en/

I was in fact back at my cellist doctor this week, not only to collect all our records, but to have Luc’s school medical forms filled out because, (insert soundtrack here: Crowd Cheer) he was accepted at the same school as has been our Dalton.  We are so relieved, happy and grateful.  A major hurdle hopped.  The school in question requested that both boys have full physicals and that that paperwork be faxed to Geneva within a week.  So in addition to requesting the records, I needed two physicals right away, which the receptionist was more than happy to make happen for us, given the time constraints “you certainly must be under, Mrs. Bradford.”

(Do you feel a Michael Bublé coming on?)

Speaking of whom, today the move is in full swing.  Boxes fill the foreground of my view and a great big yellow truck the background. Our boys are healthy (thanks to Singapore’s slick health care system and a gift from heaven).  We have a school in Switzerland. (Also a gift from heaven). That point alone energizes me, I find, and I’ve flipped into commandeer mode.

There’s just that little question mark on the moving company forms in the space for “Address of receipt,” but I know that’s picayune.  “Home”, to me, is not my address, but my people, and we are here, together.  So all things considered, we are in the pink of mid-relocation health.

**

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012.  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

3 thoughts on “#4: To Your Health

  1. Melissa, I’m sorry that you had to sell your piano. I know that had to be a difficult one. I’m curious, was it cost prohibitive to move it? Not possible? Sigh…..And how do instruments survive in the severe humidity??? I imagine that the wood and strings would never actually be able to recover from the extreme heat and humidity. And it must be a special challenge for symphonies and performers. It is also interesting to me to hear your story about getting your family medical records in a quick and efficient manner. My company, Accenture has worked with Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) to create the very system that you benefited from. The link below gives a brief overview of what we’ve done over the past two years with SMOH to create this system. Not worth a full read, but a quick scan. http://newsroom.accenture.com/news/accenture-implements-nationwide-electronic-health-record-system-in-singapore.htm
    The technology is built on an Oracle platform (my former company) and Singapore is now THE GLOBAL STANDARD for all other Health Organizations to model themselves after. This is one of our many, many initiatives in the Global Health Care space, which is one of my personal areas of focus and professional responsibility at Accenture (although I had nothing to do with the Singapore project). Anyway, you go girl. Forge ahead setting the standard on how to do this trans-hemesphiric uproot and replanting of a family…..Makes me exhausted and stressed out just reading about it……Hoping all good things continue your way 

  2. Jacque, Thank you for stopping by here. And such meaty thoughts! You know the innards of the Singaporean health care system better than I do, I think, even though you were not directly influential in the Singapore project. (Sounds like a film title.) Thanks for the Accenture link. Scanned it and am even more convinced that Singapore really does have a model from which the rest of the world can learn. Of course, a health care system does not flourish without a well-greased overall infrastructure to hold it in place, and many people smarter than I am have written extensively on that. Singapore’s core muscle strength (which some criticize as excessively rigid and pinched with its own kind of corruption) holds the limbs (health care, transportation, education, etc.) up and keeps them pumping.

    And as for setting any standards in trans-hemispheric moving, well, I can’t claim it. Flat out. Just this morning I had to squash a boiling tremor of my own “This Again?!” panic while I stood surrounded by a growing wall of boxes I know I will have to unpack at the other end. In the next breath I walked into the neighboring room to find a certain son slumped in a corner, teary-eyed, his school sweat shirt clutched to his quivering chin. He was reading goodbye letters from friends. Folks who glibly spout, “Aaaeck, kids are resilient!” probably never witnessed up close what was really happening in the neighboring room when the kids weren’t trying so darned hard to prove they are resilient.

    My 15 minute break for the day is over! Back to commandeering! Thank you again, Jacque, for adding such depth to the blog!

  3. What a fascinating look into the inner workings of the Singaporean healthcare system. Very different from my experience just prior to moving to France – I had to get an x-ray to check for scoliosis and have the x-ray delivered to a different doctor before we left. We took the x-ray and for some reason they said they wouldn’t be able to get it to the next step of the process quickly enough for our needs. We asked if we could drive it over ourselves to the next doctor and they happily handed the x-ray over to us. My sister Kristen drove me all the way to the other office (a far-flung cry from the first office) only to have us arrive in time to overhear the receptionist saying “You’re looking for two girls driving over an x-ray and you want me to send them back to you with said x-ray because you messed up and you actually still need it?” Le sigh.

    I hope all goes well with the move – we’ve got tons of people in our mostly-med-school-students ward moving out now that schools over and I’ve got lists all over detailing the meals I need to take to people, the boxes someone needs located, the packing I promised to help with, the truck I said I would fill. I’m just glad I’m not the one actually moving – so much more work! Good luck with it all. 🙂

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