True Life: What happened when my child fell ill on our Turkish sun holiday
Published 29/04/2010 | 05:00
The plan was a simple one: we wanted a cheap, relaxing holiday, preferably somewhere warm.
We booked seven nights in Kusadasi. The week flew by in a blur of sun, sea, luridly coloured drinks and the smell of suntan lotion. Our last day was spent lounging by the hotel pool, the flight home that night still very distant.
An hour before the airport bus was to arrive, disaster struck. Marnie, my 11-year-old daughter, became deathly pale, dizzy and vomiting. When she refused to take any water, we decided to call a doctor.
The medic who arrived looked like he could not be more than 14 years old. A quick examination was enough for him to inform us that she could not travel, and that she would, in fact, have to be hospitalised. I experienced that awful sinking feeling -- these are times when the universe reminds you that you are utterly powerless.
I like to tell myself that I am open-minded and reasonably without prejudice. Yet, as we tried to make my deeply distressed little girl comfortable in the private room we were brought to in the local health centre, I found myself checking things: the decor, the cleanliness, the equipment I could see and identify, all to compare and contrast with what such details might be like at home.
To be honest, I was looking for faults. It was not long before I realised there was nothing to complain about: the room was comfortable and spotless.
The staff were remarkably attentive, too. Our young doctor spoke fluent English, and every procedure was explained to us in detail. Blood, urine and stool samples were taken, and to our amazement results were back within half-an-hour. Coming from a country where such tests can take upwards of a week, we were dumbfounded.
The results did not bring good news. Marnie had a nasty bacterial infection, most likely picked up from one of the pools she had swam in on the holiday. The bug had colonised her ear, urinary tract and bowel. She would need a course of intravenous antibiotics.
During that first night, a nurse came in and checked my daughter on the hour. I remember her whispering in Turkish to Marnie. A word I often heard during the hours before dawn was "bebek". I learned that it means "baby", a word mothers use to comfort infants. I found this profoundly touching.
I also remember waking from a doze at five in the morning to hear the morning prayers from the nearby mosque beginning -- that incredible, haunting, utterly foreign sound. Marnie was in a stupor, looking tiny and very young attached to all her wires and tubes. I don't think I have ever felt further from home.
The next morning our thoughts turned to the not insignificant matter of insurance. It has to be said that, if the issue of insurance had been left with me, we would have done with the bare minimum, but my wife is a far more thorough individual. We had both multi-trip health and travel insurance, from reputable providers.
I was amazed at how the staff at the hospital responded to our insurance: we were assured that all procedures and care would be lavished upon us. "You have very good insurance," one of the doctors said, admiringly.
The real benefits of our gold-plated insurance -- or perhaps the gulf between healthcare in Turkey and the shambles of our hospitals -- occurred on our third day at the Saydam Health Centre. The paediatrician came to see us -- on his day off.
Our holiday ended up being extended by a week. The insurance paid for Marnie and Deirdre's flights and accommodation, but we had to shell out for mine, because only one parent is covered on even the best plans.
What the experience has left us with are two things: firstly, despite everything you might read about Turkey, and the reluctance of many to permit it into the EU, its private healthcare system is streets ahead of Ireland's.
Secondly, never, ever travel without decent insurance. I learned yesterday that the strain of bacteria Marnie was infected with is the most frequent cause of death in Turkey, particularly among children. You simply never know when you're going to need that insurance cover.