As a frequent traveller to SickCity, I’ve compiled a list of my top 7 most useful phrases for communicating effectively with the locals (known as “medical professionals” or colloquially as “doctors” or “nurses”). To become a confident med-speaker, I recommend role-playing these phrases with a friend or in front of a mirror.
1. I refuse treatment
This phrase roughly translates into lay-speak as I don’t want you to do that to my body, thanks. It’s particularly useful when visiting the tourism hotspot of The Hospital and has gotten me out of many a dangerous situation with the locals. Here’s an example my usage of this phrase –
Nurse: “I want to move your cannula to your other arm because I prefer it on the right-hand side.”
Me: “You want to move this massive needle to my other arm because you like it better on that side?” [I look down at the mess of bruising and stab marks on my wrist and arm crease from previous failed attempts to find my veins which had been playing hide-and-seek in the context of very low blood pressure].
Nurse: “Yes, I’m used to it being on the right-hand side”. [Grabs my right arm and starts inspecting my veins excitedly].
Me: “I refuse treatment”.
Nurse: [Puts my arm down, backs out of the room slowly and doesn’t suggest it again].
Note that I’m not sure that’s a good idea, I think that’s going to hurt or I don’t know about that don’t have the same meaning in SickCity as I refuse treatment. If you are having trouble using this phrase, remember – it’s your body, you are in charge of what is done to it.
2. I can’t afford that. Can you offer a discount?
Travel in SickCity is expensive. The cost of tourist attractions (e.g. visiting specialists and taking day-tours to The Hospital), travel supplies (e.g. medications, noise-cancelling headphones and special dietary items), and souvenirs (e.g. medical alert bracelets) all add up quickly, particularly if you have no earnings whilst on tour.
It took me several years to discover that many tourist discounts and travel deals are not advertised in SickCity. Medical reception staff will offer you the standard rack-rate on services. However, there are often hidden discounts based on your earnings (e.g. some specialists offer a smaller out of pocket fee if they learn you are not able to work) or whole other budget services. Here’s an example of using this phrase to unlock a secret discount –
Me: “I have a referral to see Dr Cardiologist at her private consulting rooms. How much does it cost?”
Medical Receptionist: “It’s $600 for the first appointment plus a $100 Medicare rebate.”
Me: “I can’t afford that. Can you offer a further discount?”
Medical Receptionist: “We do have a budget option available through the Public Hospital System. It involves seeing the same Cardiologist, but it’s run at a different location and there’s a 3 month queue to get in.”
Me: “And how much does this cost?”
Medical Receptionist: “It’s free. Which one would you like to book?”
Me: “Book me into the free Cardiology appointment please.”
I used a similar process to obtain discounts at pharmacies in Australia. Apparently many medications are cheaper if purchased on a private script (note these magic words) compared to on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (I still have no translation for any of this med-speak). You just need to ask or alternatively shop at large, yellow discount pharmacies.
3. My pain rating has increased
In The Hospital, the nurses will ask you to rate any pain you experience out of 10. The nurses then provide pain treatment according to your review.
I don’t know about you, but I reserve 10/10 reviews for imagined peak pain moments like having my leg bitten off by a shark or having the skin flayed off my finger (thanks Jaws and Game of Thrones for throwing out my pain rating). Therefore when asked to rate a pounding, nausea-inducing, persistent headache I give it a 6 out of 10. As a result, I score 2 Panadols, whenever the nurses get around to giving them to me.
After two days of suffering with the headache and observing the behaviour of the locals, I called the nurse into my room and said my pain rating has increased from a 6 to 8 out of 10. This brought new drugs (anti-inflammatory), a review by my specialist and a consult with a physiotherapist.
The moral of this story: be careful with your pain ratings, they influence your customer service in SickCity.
4. Where would you go if it was you?
I thought I was really clever when I learnt this phrase. It would seem obvious to ask a local about their personal favourite destination. However, for some reason the question seemed too personal to ask a doctor.
I got desperate for a travel recommendation so asked anyway. You see, I’d completed several emergency visit to a public hospital and quietly frankly, the tour had not lived up to my expectations. I was discussing this travel review with a trusted doctor when it suddenly occurred to me to ask her “where would you go on an emergency visit?”
To my surprised delight, my doctor told me about a wonderful sounding emergency service at a private hospital. This luxury tour would be more expensive than the standard tour, but waiting times for treatment would be much, much shorter. Although I’m usually a budget traveller in SickCity, there are times when it’s good to indulge a bit and potentially life-saving, quicker, less stressful emergency treatment is definitely one of those occasions for me.
Again, if I hadn’t asked directly, I may not have discovered this tour.
5. I would like to try [treatment]
Sometimes the standard tour offered in SickCity just doesn’t cut it. Maybe the standard tour has become monotonous – you keep seeing the same thing over and over. Maybe the tour isn’t going where you want it to go or worse, it feels like it’s going no-where.
In these cases, it’s ok to request a detour or a custom tour. It’s your tour, you’re paying for it and it’s you that experiences the tour, not your doctor.
The first time that I requested a tour change, I felt anxious – I thought that I was questioning the travel wisdom of my doctor. But I quickly learnt that most of my doctors received my requests with enthusiasm.
Some of the custom tours that I’ve successfully requested over the years include side-trips to see an exercise physiologist, a dietitian who specialised in FODMaps, a GP who specialised in chronic fatigue, and an overnight stay for a sleep study. Exotic, hey?
The trick when using this phrase is to back up the request with a rationale and to invite the doctor to make the decision. For example,
Me: “I’ve been reading about the effect of sleep disorders on energy levels. I would like to try getting a sleep study done. What do you think of this idea?”
Doctor: “I think it’s worth getting a sleep study done. I’ll know of a great clinic that I can refer you to.”
Custom tours and side-trips are critical to maximising your travel experience in SickCity. If your tour guide is not open to this, find another one who is. Afterall, there are hundreds of tour guides to choose from.
6. I want you to (move me to another room/stop singing)
There’s nothing worse than checking into your hospital dorm-room for a restful stay only to discover that your room-mate is an obnoxious man who requires frequent assistance from the nurses with whom he enjoys insulting, loudly at all hours of the day and night.
Thankfully when this exact scenario happened to me, a helpful local (an orderly) coached me on how to request a room change. First, he directed me to the “person in charge”; the head nurse. Then I needed to explain my concern (it helped that I timed my conversation to coincide with my room-mate swearing loudly at the nurses as I was able to simply gesture towards my room), and clearly state “I want you to move me to another room.”
An extension of this phrase is to add a clinical reason for moving. For example “My room-mate has been really loud. I have adrenal insufficiency and just can’t cope with stress. I want you to move me to another room.”
Oh actually, there is perhaps something that’s equally bad as having a loud, disruptive hospital room-mate; having a loud, disruptive nurse. For example, when I had a screaming headache in hospital, one of my nurses chatted and sang at the head of my bed whilst I was being transported and waited for scans.
Being quiet, screwing up my face, covering my ears with a pillow and hinting that the singing was unpleasant did not translate. So I pulled out my trusty phrase “I want you to stop singing. I want you to stop talking. I have a really bad headache.” Likewise “I want you to stop turning the lights on at 4am. It’s killing my melatonin levels” worked with this particular nurse too.
If you are struggling with the directness of “I want you to”, remember that you are a customer, and the job of the staff is to keep you alive and comfortable. Plus, if you don’t ask, there is little chance of you getting what you need.
7. I want to think about it
Beware of pushy tour operators in SickCity. Some doctors are such good salespeople that they can talk you into almost any tour in a 15 minute consultation. Avoid committing to any tour on the spot, instead buy yourself thinking time by learning the phrase I want to think about it.
Any new tour that you take on needs to fit into your existing plans. Most tour operators don’t take your itinerary into account when selling you a new tour. For example, one endocrinologist instructed me to lose weight without considering that I was already on a highly restrictive no-gluten-no-dairy-low-food-chemicals diet. Adding another diet was highly stressful.
You also want to ensure that any new tour is what you actually want to do and it is highly rated by other travellers. For example, in a single appointment with a migraine specialist, I was talked into taking a new medication. So convinced was I by this specialist, that I purchased the medication on the way home from the appointment. I then researched this medication and discovered that other travellers gave it a poor rating, marking it down for causing significant drowsiness. This was a deal-breaker for me and not what I thought I’d signed up for. Take your time to properly think and talk over any new tour options.