VIP Treatment at Local Hospital. Johor Bahru, Malaysia!

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Mon 28 May 2012 07:10

01:28.28N   103:43.39E
VIP Treatment at the Local Hospital
Johor Bahru, Malaysia
While we were in Johor Bahru, the second largest city in Malaysia and the capital of Johor Province, I thought that I would try to go to the hospital to get a blood test.  My white blood cell count was low back in February when I had my annual check-up in Miami.  My doctor told me that it wasn’t a major concern but she did want me to get my blood tested periodically just to make sure the numbers didn’t fall precipitously.

So, Peter and I set off on a mission to find Johor Specialist Hospital which, we had been told, was the best hospital in the city and where we could find physicians and staff who spoke English.  Apparently, the hospital was several miles away so we were instructed to hail a cab.
Just as we made it out to the busy highway in front of the marina, the skies opened up and it started to pour.  Cab after cab passed us by with passengers sitting nice and dry while we were getting soaked!  Finally, I saw a bus approaching with the word “Hospital” on the outside marquee.

At that point, ANY hospital was better than none and, after all, it was just a simple blood test.  How complicated could that be?  So we hopped on board and a few minutes later, the driver pulled over to a bus stop and pointed up the hill to the Sultanah Aminah Hospital.

Sultanah Aminah Hospital Exterior.jpg

We walked up the hill and were confronted by a barrage of signage, all in Malay, with arrows pointing in every possible direction.  It was a massive hospital and we had no idea where the main entrance was located.  We wandered about for awhile until we met several  nurses coming out of a building.

More Nurses.jpg

Turns out, we were in the staff parking lot!  They kindly showed us a door, chuckling at the sight of two hapless “farangs” (foreigners) bumbling around the outskirts of the hospital grounds. 

After a circuitous walk through the bowels of the building, we found ourselves in a long corridor leading to what looked like a general reception area. As we approached the lobby, I realized that there were HUNDREDS of people milling around waiting for their name or number to be called.  Turns out, Sultanah Aminah is a government hospital and I could see that this might be a very LONG day…

But, just to be sure, we asked a nurse walking by us where we should go to get a blood test?  Her English was limited and she directed us to the Blood Transfusion Center which was, serendipitously, right across the hall.  I guess she thought I wanted to DONATE my blood!  Just like these nice people were doing...

Other people getting blood tests.jpg

In the end, this turned out to be a really “helpful accident” because, after presenting my doctor’s prescription for a blood test to the wide-eyed assistant who disappeared immediately, we were introduced to a young man, Dr. Mohammad Hanif Tarmidi, a researcher in hematology who spoke perfect English! 

Dr. Tarmidi explained that we needed to go to the Hematology “Klinik” and offered to show us the way.  We gladly accepted and off we marched, right past the chaos of the general reception area, turning right then left a dizzying number of times and finally reaching the “Klinik” which was definitely “Tutup” (closed) even through the sign said “Buka” which means open. 

Not to be deterred, Dr. Tarmidi found his way in a side door and after several minutes emerged to say that we would need to go to the Hematology “Wad” (ward) which was in a building further up the hill.

Without breaking stride, he marched us outside, hailed a cab, gave the driver instructions to the aforementioned Hematology Wad and we jumped in the back.  As Peter began to roll down the window to extend our thanks, he opened the front door and took a seat next to the driver!  He actually accompanied us to Hematology Wad, which was part of the original hospital built over a hundred years ago.  Upon arrival, he even insisted on PAYING the 4 ringgit charge for the ride!
Dr. Tarmidi then took my prescription, filled out a number of Malaysian forms for me and ducked in and out of a series of offices while we sat in the corridor to the fascination of several Malaysian men and women waiting their turn.  I began to realize what an unusual occurrence our presence had created when a number of doctors emerged from their offices to shake our hands!

Finally, a young doctor came out to say that the test that I needed couldn’t be performed there so he was sending us BACK down to the Emergency Room of the main hospital!  This was becoming quite an odyssey and we marveled at the fact that Dr. Tarmidi never left our side.  What doctor in the States would EVER take such an interest in a foreigner trying to negotiate his/her way about an American hospital?

I was getting a little anxious about the prospect of walking into the Emergency Room as I don’t do well with lots of blood and broken bodies.  Luckily, again, Dr. Tarmidi steered us into “Secondary Triage” where the less urgent medical cases were treated and, once again, Peter and I were seated, right up at the front of the line, while Dr. Tarmidi went off in search of a technician to take my blood.  He came back a few minutes later with “Jennifer” who he claimed was “the best of the best.”  I was grateful for that as my veins are notoriously reluctant to pop up well enough for anyone to insert a needle on the first attempt and I usually end up with a “black and blue” the size of an orange inside my elbow after multiple stabbings.
Not this time, though!  Jennifer zoomed in on that little sucker and before you could say, “Make a fist” she had the tube filled with my B-Positive and a little round “plaster” (band-aid) affixed in the crux of my arm.  However, as you can see below, I did hold on to Dr. Tarmidi for moral support.


From there, the good Dr. Tarmidi escorted us to a waiting area where we could buy our lunch and wait for the results.  We sat down next to a man and a woman in bright purple overalls   I thought they were municipal workers but when they stood up, (along with their plain-clothed escorts) they had POLIS written on the back of their outfits and they were handcuffed and manacled!  (I didn't have the nerve to take their picture.  You'll just have to envision a Malaysian version of Bonnie and Clyde!)  As I said, this was a government hospital so all sorts of interesting characters were wandering about…including us two fair-skinned Americans who stood out like sore thumbs!

Anyway, Dr. Tarmidi appeared with my test results after less than 30 minutes!  He sat with us and looked over the numbers which were, happily, a bit higher than originally reported in Miami so he assured me that I was “good to go” ahead with our sailing adventure and wished us a safe journey.

What about the cost you are probably wondering?  We, too, were concerned about what we would have to pay in exchange for blood work which, in the States, would be two or three hundred dollars – not to mention 4 hours of this wonderful man’s time!  But, it turns out that, at Sultanah Arminah, everything is absolutely FREE! 


We got back on the bus and made it back to the marina in time to catch the late afternoon high tide and headed back down towards Singapore and the South China Sea to start our East Malaysian sailing adventure!