Thursday, October 27, 2011

How I Completely Suck At Life, Part I: Further Adventures With Doctors

This is a tale of how I've been going to an inordinate amount of trouble lately to get a shot in the ass. As is the case with most of my tales where no one can interrupt the telling, this tale goes off down some side streets and gets completely lost, but finds its way in the end. Unfortunately, it probably doesn't have a punchline because most of my stories don't. Or maybe I'll think of one like two years from now. I'm slow like that, which is why this story has to be told in two parts and the shot in the ass doesn't even come until the second part.

Like everyone, there are times when I completely suck at life. It's really easy to blame my suckiness on Turkey because seriously, there are times when Turkey is totally conspiring against me. Of course, I handle these conspiracies better sometimes than others, so it's probably the case that when I suck at life, it's still mostly my fault.

That's because it's safe to say everything is my fault.

Okay, this is India but I'm pretty sure the bank has a guy like this.
Like my bills. I should have joined the 21st century ages ago with everyone else and started paying my bills automatically. But I haven't. Why? Because it's a pain in the ass because this is Turkey. The bank has a way to set it up online which never works. It tells you it's all set up, but then the bill doesn't get paid. So you go to the bank to set it up and they give you a piece of blank paper and a pen and dictate a talimat to you, and you sign it. I don't know what a talimat is exactly, except that it seems to be some sort of formal declaration that you want your bills to be paid automatically. Quite why such a piece of paper needs to be filed somewhere I have no idea, but again, this is Turkey. Byzantium has found its way into the digital age, and it's working, sort of.

Fuck yeah!
Burası Türkiye.

One thing I realized about Turkey the other night when I couldn't sleep is that people say, shruggingly, "This is Turkey" only when something bad or annoying or scary or insanely catch-22ish happens. People in America never do that. We're more inclined to thump our chests and say, "This is America!" when something really great happens and there are fireworks and music and someone has discovered they're free as a bird to do something stupid, like launch themselves headfirst from a giant slingshot into a swamp. Fuck yeah! It's a free country!

It's only one of the differences between Turkey and America, but at 3am it seemed really significant.

Anyway, at the bank you file the talimat and wait for the bill to get paid and it doesn't happen. Then you go back to the bank to find out why, and they tell you it's because there's already a talimat on file at a different bank. They couldn't have possibly told you this before. So you tell them you already filed a talimat at the old bank to cancel the other talimat and they shrug and give that implacable look that says, "This is Turkey. Begone, silly foreigner. If you had the sociolinguistic skills to get around this problem like everyone else does, I'd let you talk me into it, but all this reason and logic bores me. Plus you have an accent and that's just weird. Oh, and we'll be snickering at you before the door hits your ass on the way out."

Your friendly neighborhood muhtar welcomes you.
And that's why I don't pay my bills online. I won't even get into the other problem of the bills being in my husband's name, which is sometimes a problem and sometimes isn't, but in order to solve it, it means both of us taking a day off work and going to the most unspeakable places, shoving pushy people out of our way by the face and stroking the egos of the most appalling desk people who want unimaginable bits of paper, and since I'm pretty sure the muhtar (don't even get me started on the muhtar) won't put me on the registration form because I'm foreign, I have approximately a snowball's chance in hell of ever getting some bills put into my name. But my husband can't be trusted to pay the bills automatically because he doesn't keep track of his bank accounts and they get empty and then the guy comes over for the 10th time to shut off the water or electricity or whatever, looking relieved that it's just that foreigner who doesn't screech at him. We've gotten to be buds, the shutting-off guy and I.

That's what a catch-22 looks like from my side of the world. So now, all my bills are late because LE and I have been sick for the last couple of days. I went to pay them today at the post office at school, but they're on their lunch break during my lunch break and when I ran over there right before my classes started, their system was down. So I got out of work as quick as I could and stopped at home to pick up a prescription that comes up in Part 2 in this story, and rushed down to the bill-paying place that even takes your water bill, which the post office doesn't for some reason. The bill-paying place closes at 6 and I got there 2 minutes to 6-- their clock was the same as mine-- but the woman was all "We're closed" and I started to employ some of my barbaric wheedling skills to make people do what I want, but she said the system shuts down automatically and there was nothing she could do. At least she was nice about it, so I didn't get very mad.

But when I got outside it occurred to me once again that I'm sucking at life a lot these days.

When I'm sick is one of those times I don't handle Turkey problems well. And for the last couple weeks I haven't been sick-sick, just the kind of cloying, snotty sick that isn't enough to get out of work but is just enough to feel crappy and depressed because I fucking hate being sick and consider it a reflection of my weak character. And then there's the cough that has me doubled over by my 4th lesson of the day. That's starting to weigh on me too. My ribs hurt and people are starting to comment.
Naturally, the last thing I do when I'm sick is go to the doctor. No fever, can still breathe, can still do my job, no doctor. Fuck no. But then LE got an ear infection Sunday night. When that happens, there's nothing to do but go to the doctor because he's fevered and his ears hurt and he whimpers all night, generally becoming limp and tragic and cuddly. I'm afraid if I don't get it fixed right away he'll go deaf or the infection will eat his brain.

I am the 99%
Speaking of brains, let it be known that I'm NOT the one who told LE about zombies. I think it was his dad and some fucking video game with shotguns in Bakırköy. But when LE started telling me about zombies I didn't do a very good job of hiding my fear of zombies because when the zombie apocalypse comes, there's fuck all any of us can do about it. He asked me if zombies can run and I just shuddered and said, "Let's hope really hard they can't, sweetheart, because if they can we'll be even more screwed. Running zombies are way worse than regular ones."

So Monday morning I felt especially crappy after a sleepless night, and after breakfast I packed poor LE into a taxi to go to the doctor. I decided while we were there, I'd go to the doctor too. I was hoping for a super-sized bottle of Robitussin codeine cough syrup so I can party when I get better. LE's doctor visit went fine, except the great pediatrician that used to be there wasn't there anymore. And I had to pay full price because I didn't know BE doesn't pay LE's Bağ-Kur anymore until I tried to use it. I didn't want to call BE because he'd tell his mother LE was sick and the last thing I wanted was the litany of different kinds of deadly air I'd failed to protect my son from.

Shit'll fucking kill you.
 I mean, I'm sure she's just being caring and stuff and in her crazy world where there're all kinds of air that can kill you, her job is never done. But whenever she starts going on about all the air that made LE sick, what I hear is, "You incompetent boob, it's all your fault it's all your fault, if you weren't such a stupid inattentive foreigner who doesn't protect our sole male heir from every type of air..." Is there any good air, I wonder, holding the phone away from my ear until the nattering is done. Besides the famous air on Tekirdağ, of course, which is probably still cold and changing and moving and all those other things air does that kill the hell out of you.

My doctor visit was full price too. They don't take my private insurance and my SSK is, according to the woman there, not active. Quite why this should be the case I'll never know. I'm paying SSK out of my paycheck. I have a crappy, frayed pink card (pink is for girls, blue is for boys, even the state is enforcing this shit) with my picture stapled to it that I've been carrying around for 10 years. To make it active, she said, I have to go the such-and-such unspeakable place somewhere in Beşiktaş and do this, that, and the other thing. I just gave her my credit card before she finished because it sounded like a miserable way to spend a day off and I'll never get around to doing it, much like setting up my bills to be paid automatically.
Coming for me.

Like the bills not in my name, and the fact that I have two names in Turkey (another boring story), I'm sure the SSK thing will come back to bite me in the ass someday. Fuck it.

The doctor for grown-ups was a lovely, dapper fellow who I'm pretty sure should have retired about 20 years ago. The room was redolent of fresh cigarettes. LE was sort of slumped pink-faced and fat-lipped on the sofa with the fever the ped and I had agreed wasn't high enough to medicate and should just be allowed to do its job (points for the ped!). The doctor tried out some of his English on me.

"Alman mısıniz? Vere are you from? Şikayetiniz nedir? Vat is your compliant, yani, complaint?

So I went along with it and told him everything in Turkish and elementary English. He was delighted, and wondered if I'd be interested in practicing English with him. "Grip!" he pronounced. "You haf de infiluenza."

"Ama hiç ateşim yok. No fever."" I told him. So he got out his stethoscope for a listen. He went to undo the zipper on my cardigan with struck me as oddly intimate and patriarchal, but he wouldn't let me undo it until it got stuck. Then he had a listen to my chest. "Derin bir nefes alin. Deep bireathe." So I did, and I could feel all sorts of gross noises in there. He ordered a chest x-ray, at which point I decided the cigarettes have finally kicked me in the ass and this was the place I was going to find out I was going to die. LE was asleep by now.

My chest x-ray. No, seriously.
So I hauled the poor boy out to the front to pay for the x-ray, and we went to wait by the x-ray room. It turned out that creepy, slightly malodorous man with the massive mustache I'd seen bustling around wasn't an orderly, but instead was the x-ray technician. He told LE he'd have to wait outside and asked me a couple of times if I was pregnant. I propped LE against the wall on a stool and assured him I'd be right back. He didn't care. The creepy man told me I'd have to take off my top and bra. I started getting nervous wondering exactly how much I was going to have to put up with here, and mentally setting the bar for exactly how much I would put up with, but then he remembered to mention some well-used and none-too-clean gowns hanging on the wall.

The x-ray machine was all steampunk, like something out of a nightmare Victorian sanatorium for tuberculars. It was all mercifully quick and professional and the fellow probably wasn't nearly as creepy as the mustache let on, which probably says more about me and my prejudices than anything else.

LE sacked out my lap while we waited for my death sentence. In the waiting room was one of those women who loves to talk about illnesses with everyone else in the waiting room. She had a kid with her who hardly seemed sick at all, but apparently he was very sick and had been getting sick for weeks with a cough and a stuffy nose and she gave him lots of fruit and everything, to no avail. Fortunately, there was another woman there who also liked this kind of conversation and they started talking about all the dangerous kinds of air that can hit you and everyone was happy. They were finishing each others' sentences by the time they got to the part about the air, and it occurred to me that a lot of my problem in Turkish isn't understanding what people say but why the hell they say it. The dapper doctor called me in before the women could attack me about my sick kid.

"Very bad," he said. "Bronchitis. My English has gotten very bad. If you're not busy you should stop by. I'll offer you tea or coffee and we can chat. Do you want to get better quickly or slowly?"

But it looked so tasty and sweet!
After two weeks of being sick, I went for quickly. I knew it would mean antibiotics for a non-bacterial infection, which I usually refuse, but fuck it. After 10 years I've drunk the Kool-Aid and I'll take the generosity with the antibiotics when it suits me. To whoever catches my antibiotic-resistant bug, I'm very, very sorry and I don't usually do this but I really suck at life right now and we all  have to draw the line sometime.

Easily distracted.
Between putting off the doctor trying to get me to practice English with him at some later date, and keeping LE from falling over, I completely sucked at life again. Sometimes I'm so focused on making sure the interaction goes well that I fail to pay attention to the content, so I didn't notice the doc was prescribing the kind of antibiotics that need to be injected. I was still excited about the part where he mentioned getting over the sickness quickly, and busy wondering if anything on that long list of prescriptions was going to be fun in a recreational way once I got better. Then he started telling me a recipe for an herbal tea that's good for lungs and that was interesting too. Perhaps it was an indirect way of telling me I shouldn't take all the medicine on that prescription.

And now it's much later than I want it to be, which means I'm sucking at life again because I should have been in bed an hour ago. Stay tuned for the next post, wherein I work really hard to get a shot in the ass.

Eight of them, actually.


renai said...

I guess I shoud be very Turkish and say 'geçmiş olsun'. Not to add insult to illness, but I had a good giggle at your post as I totally can relate to the antics with the doctors, the SSK/Bag-Kur run around the automatic bill paying hoplessness! I guess geçmiş olsun applies to all of those things really. Feel better soon.

Vicky, Bursa said...

you are so right about the banks and how people deal with you there. Do you ever ask someone a question in a shop and see them glance around to their friends, smirking, then giggling and nervous and think to yourself, 'please just listen to the words I am saying as I know I'm going to have to repeat them all over again once you've got over your shock at being asked a question by a yabanci'? I was also explaining to my husband how unnerving it is to hear these murmurings of 'yabanci'behind me when I leave shop or even walk down the street - it's like a greek chorus and I'm sure it's not just in my head. I love the people who ask me where I'm from, though - they are engaging me in conversation instead of treating me like a dangerous pregnant alien. Although I miss turkey when i visit family in the uk it is rather lovely not to be a yabanci for a while.

Vicky, Bursa said...

I forgot to say, when our water man comes to give us the white paper which gives you a few hours before he comes back to cut it off, he hides the paper in the water meter cupboard without telling me it's there so the first i know about it is when I turn on the taps and nothing comes out. I then go and pay the bill yet no one comes to turn it back on so my husband takes off the lock so we can use it again (highly illegal). The last time this happened, the guy came to turn our water back on a full 7 days after he'd turned it off and 7 days after the bill was paid. What on earth did he think we were doing in this time?! Hmmm.

Stranger said...

@renai, thanks!

@Vicky, oooh, the smirky glancing around. It hardly ever ends up good. Sometimes I resist the urge to point back and forth with two fingers at our eyes, saying, "Come on now, focus, that's it, work with me here, you can do it..."

A Seasonal Cook in Turkey said...

I've been laughing all the way through your post - how We Who Live Here can identify with it all. Love the pic of your muhtar though - I thought that type had disappeared. Mine is a mother-daughter combo and they are very modern! Geçmiş olsun to you both.

Anonymous said...

Oh, dear Stranger, I hope you are feeling better. 'Tis the season to get ill. Working in a school does not help. I hope you have your heat turned on in your building!!


I got a new place back in June, and went to see the muhtar three times. Because every time I thought I had completed the paperwork, she asked me for something else. Neither of us ever lost our humor, but I told her the last time, very meaningfully, that I hoped this was our last visit, because I was *finished* and flying away very soon. She was all smiles and I can't tell if the runaround was purposeful or not. But I do think she liked me. She certainly got to know me.

Funny, the electric and water people just thought I was a hopeless case, though I managed to make myself understood in my pidgin Turkish. They bumped me up to the front of the line on my second visits, and while I normally am embarrassed by such benefits, I rolled with it. I was flying in days and wasn't too particular about making my needs known.

About hospitals, all of my Turkish neighbors laugh at me. Because I go to private hospitals and tell them "My head has been full of snot for six weeks; I need some medicine" and they take an x-ray of my head to show me that my head is, indeed, full of snot. Why thank you! I certainly needed that radiation to the brain.... I go to the emergency room and say "I have a gut inflammation for the fourth time in four years, please, please prescribe me Cipro!" and after ruling out appendicitis with a sonogram, x-rays, and an MRI (seriously, WTF?) and making me drink all kinds of liter-bottles of enamel-dissolving, unlabeled fluids, they tell me that I have a gut inflammation and prescribe me Cipro. Radiating my body seems to be inflating the coffers of all the private hospitals in Istanbul. I'm just not sure yet how to get around that. Like I said, it's entertainment for the neighbors. In the end, as a foreigner, I could be at the mercy of much worse people than Turkish doctors and muhtarcis, who, if anything, can only be accused of being rather too thorough....

*sigh* Never mind my stories; it's your blog for your stories. I just needed to commiserate for a few minutes. I do hope that you both are feeling better very soon....

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Folks, some of this is the same for natives. It took me five days (7 calendar days) of part time running around just to convince the state that I am who I say I am and that I live here. Even my dad got resurrected at some point (I thought was being smart and saving a lot of hassle by going my old muhtar until I saw whose paperwork I was just given with my picture on it). All throughout the various hassles, my muhtar was cheerful and as a dubious bonus he showed up at my door and kissed me when he was campaigning for re-election.

For health stuff, antibiotics can be had OTC here (perhaps this changed?). I haven't checked recently but a couple of years ago when my throat was swollen and I ran a fever for a few days, I just went to a pharmacy and asked the pharmacist what cheap antibiotic the MD's had been prescribing that season. Took about five minutes and sth. like 5-10TL.
There's also an odd mechanism you can sometimes trigger by calling people hanimefendi or beyefendi (perhaps with a tone? dunno). I don't fully understand how it works but it seems to produce an effect similar to being explicitly disrespectful (as in 'hadi hadi ugrastirma beni, yap sunu'). The difference is that if you fail to credibly imply that you are powerful through the I-can-treat-you-like-a-dog attitude you can get in trouble. The other option is safe even if it doesn't work. Note that being formally polite in the way outlined is different than treating people well. I have heard it called "ust sinif cekmek." I don't know if it'd work with a non-native accent though.

Oh I also remember, from years ago, going to the post office here with an Englishman (who spoke Turkish well) and being instructed by him to keep my mouth shut and act foreign. He acted as though he spoke no Turkish at all and magic happened: the guys there who started with 'olmaz' 'blah blah eksik' and met our blank stares and stupid grins somehow got things to work and gave him his books. Having gone through a similar process that took me hours (perhaps days, I seem to remember the books needing to go to a different office to be checked) I was amazed.

Stranger said...

@ Cook, I wish that was our muhtar! I've never actually been to our new one. I found this picture by searching "burası Türkiye" in Google images. That's where the other "burası Türkiye" picture came from too...

@ Anonymous, this was my first chest x-ray, though I've had an MRI for back pain before. Guy didn't even look at it. I've found the trick with hospitals is to go to ones that are just a step or two above state and don't let on you have private insurance until it looks like it's getting expensive.

@ Bülent, that Sir and Ma'am works kind of the same in the States too (unless you're Southern-- for some reason it sounds genuine coming from them). It totally infuriates people but they can't do anything because you're being polite. It often makes them do what you want if they think their superiors are listening... Once in the airport there was a man walking ahead of me whose backpack was coming open and his laptop was on its way out. I started after him calling "Sir! Sir!Excuse me, sir!" because I couldn't think of another way to get a stranger's attention from behind, and he whipped around all pissed off. So the first thing I did before telling him about the backpack was apologize for calling him "Sir."

Anyway, I'll try it in Turkish if I end up having to sort out some terrible bureaucratic mess. LE's getting to big to get us bumped to the front of the line...