By the time we arrived in Istanbul I was 14 weeks pregnant and due for another routine pre-natal check up. Ashamed about how much money we had spent seeing a private doctor in Budapest, I was determined to find an alternative in Istanbul.
I tried calling the German and English hospitals, but they charged at least $100 to see a doctor, not including any tests. So I tried calling the local hospitals, but none of their receptionists spoke English. I needed some help. I turned to Couchsurfing.org.
I have found that people on this site are friendly and not only willing to let strangers sleep in their homes, but willing to help with any kind of problem a traveler is facing. So I posted on the Istanbul message board that I was pregnant and looking for a recommendation on an English-speaking, reasonably priced ob-gyn doctor. Sure enough a young doctor responded that his friend from medical school would be willing to see me and sent me his email address.
After emailing and talking on the phone (we have found an unlocked phone with a SIM card purchased for each country vital) we agreed to meet at the Public University Hospital where he worked. It wasn’t too difficult to navigate Istanbul’s public transportation system to the Hospital, but upon arriving we were overwhelmed by the mass campus and had no idea how to try to find the gynecology wing where we were supposed to meet.
With no other options I bashfully approached the guards, “gynecology wing?” I asked hopefully. They had no idea what I was talking about. I began asking passing women, they too seemed confused. Finally I turned to the well dressed men and doctors, not even they seemed to understand.
Wade and I were feeling hopeless when I got the idea to write what I thought the word for gynecology in Turkish might be:
I admit, this was a pot shot, but the doctors finally seemed to understand what we wanted, and we found our way to a wing full of waiting women. Upon entry to the “Ginelogia” wing of the hospital, we texted the doctor to let him know we had arrived.
I then began looking around at the other women in the ward. Their weary faces had the blank stares people get from long hours of sitting and waiting. The only amusement in the room appeared to be a stray cat that wandered in and out from between the waiting womens’ feet. I sighed, wondering if I, too, was in for a long day of sitting around on the hard wooden benches of a hospital maternity ward.
I should have known better. A young female medical student immediately walked up to us and asked us to follow her. We were whisked past two waiting rooms crammed with Turkish women and into the back room where our doctor was sitting behind a folding table next to a crew of eager medical students.
He asked a few basic questions: my age, how far along I was, if I smoked or drank, and if Wade and I were related. “What?! No, I’m the father,” Wade said, thinking the doctor had misunderstood our relationship.
“Yes, I know,” the doctor replied with assuredly, “But is he your cousin or something? It is very common here in Turkey.”
The doctor then performed a quick ultrasound to make sure I was pregnant and to check how far along I was. Then he said I must urgently have an NT test to check for chromosomal deficiencies, and sent us off with three slips of paper: one for the ultrasound lab, one for the blood test lab, and a third for the urine test lab.
With the name of the lab written in Turkish on a piece of paper we found it a little easier to navigate through the maze of different hospital buildings. At each lab we had to find the receptionist, check in, and then find another receptionist on another floor and pay her the money (between $10-$30) and then return to the first one with the receipt before we could be seen.
However our relief at finding the ultrasound lab was soon outweighed by frustration when the nurses there told us there were no doctors and we’d have to come back on Monday.
“No, our doctor said this test was urgent and we needed to have it today” I strongly spoke pointing at the ground. The nurse shook her head and pointed to Monday on her calendar. Now I knew I was already at a low risk for Downs’ Syndrome because of my age, but the urgency of the doctor was enough to make me a little nervous, and I wanted the testing done immediately.
So the nurse and I fought.
“Yes it is, there are all kinds of doctors here. Today!”
Finally the nurse walked away from the reception desk. Not to be outdone, I sat down on the chair and refused to move.
I won. She found an Iranian doctor who spoke English. We explained the problem. He found a doctor to do the ultrasound.
I admit, I loved having the ultrasound done. I loved watching Wade’s eyes grow really big as he watched the screen. I loved the doctor jiggling my belly with the wand to try to get the baby to move. I loved watching him squint to see my baby’s tiny developing organs and hands and feet. I loved the little pictures they gave us at the end, and, most of all, I loved him telling me that everything looked perfect.
Though I mostly believed in a low intervention pregnancy, it was super reassuring to have an ultrasound test tell us everything was okay.
On to Iraq!
Read parallel entries from Wade at Prenatal Care Istanbul Turkey and Medical Care when Traveling Abroad.