Sometimes it’s easier than we think to access health care while travelling. While trekking through the jungles of Borneo (Part I, Part II, and Part III), I came into contact with something that gave me a terrible leg rash. When I got back to civilization, I asked the front desk at the hotel I was staying at for recommendations for a 24 hour clinic. It was itchy and looking angry and there was no time to waste!
I hemmed and hawed about going at first. Maybe it’ll get better in a day or two? I probably won’t be able to access health care services here. What if the doctor doesn’t speak any of the languages I speak? I had so many reasons for trying to talk myself out of it.
The first thing you should know is that health care is incredibly easy to access as a foreigner/tourist in Malaysia. You will need to present your passport at the counter (if you’re Malaysian, you present an IC card). You will be given a number and you just have to wait for the little screen to show your number before you go to triage, where they will take your heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure. There are no questions asked as this stage, it would seem.
Then you sit back and wait for your little number to appear on the screen again, this time with a room number. In this room, you will meet the doctor who will assess you and then send you back to the waiting room. In my case, the doctor told me I had been bitten by an ant and had an allergic reaction. (Wrong).
After your doctor’s visit, you are sent back into the waiting room to wait for your little number to appear on the screen with the number of the pharmacy window, where you will get your medication. No schlepping off to track down a pharmacy to get a prescription filled!
You will also pay the doctor fee and medication fee at the pharmacy window. In my case, it was 30 MYR (about $10 CDN). In a clinic that was packed with people (standing room only), it only took 1 hour to go through all the phases and be out on my way again. Very quick and efficient.
Unfortunately, the original diagnosis turned out to be wrong and my rash continued to get worse and spread (think poison ivy type of reaction). A local that I met in Kuching recommended that I see a dermatologist (Dr. Songkan) in Kuching who was well respected. The doctor asked questions, listened to the answers, actually looked at the rashes, and said that I was allergic to a specific jungle plant and/or algae found in Sarawak rivers (because of course I am and further strengthens my rule of DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING IN JUNGLE). As I had done both activities on the same day (that’ll teach me to swim in waterfalls and trudge through rivers), it was hard to parcel out which thing was causing the allergic reaction so he gave me a special kind of soap and a salve that worked for both issues. After 48 hours, there was a noticeable difference and I was on the mend. After two weeks, all traces of the allergic reaction were gone.
The dermatologist visit (with the medication) cost 85 MYR ($28 CDN well spent).
- Do use the health care system if you need it. It’s easy, fast and inexpensive.
- Do not be afraid to seek a second medical opinion if you’re not seeing results from your treatment. We all know that there can be lots of different causes for lots of different ailments – especially if it is an allergic reaction.
- Do get travel insurance. I had travel insurance, I just chose not to bother to claim $28.
- Do ask for recommendations from your hostel/hotel or from locals to find respected doctors/clinics.