Why I hate being sick in Istanbul…


One of the unfortunate results of teaching 5-year olds is the constant sickness that comes with the elementary school environment. During my first winter in Turkey I was sick every week with a different ailment. I was even lucky enough to bond with my future mother-in-law when we both caught the swine flu at the same time. While my immune system continues to grow stronger and more able to fight every variation of the flu and the common cold, I have also adopted a strict regiment of vitamins to ensure I am not constantly ill. However, it is not entirely avoidable. This week, I was reminded of this the hard way. Out of necessity, I spent my birthday and the day that followed it sick in bed. While everyone hates being sick, there are some more reasons to despise this miserable condition in Istanbul.

1.) There is not an emphasis on preventative medicine. Thus, you cannot stay home to ‘nip it in the bud’, you must be deathly ill to rationalize staying home from work. Unfortunately, this means sick colleagues, as well as sick children are potential carries of disease.

2.) If you do elect to stay home, you must call your boss at 7 AM to inform them of your grave condition. This is a call everyone fears, especially because it is a call everyone is discouraged to make.

3.) If you are sick, you must go to the doctor and get a doctor’s note to prove that you were ill. Thus, you must get out of bed (when bed rest is often the best cure), force yourself to go out into the chaos of the city and descend into the cest pool of public transportation as you attempt to secure the proper paperwork. It is often easier to simply go to work…

4.) There are not general health practitioners or local clinics in Istanbul. There are public hospitals which are very inexpensive, but require fluent Turkish (or a lot of humility) and a full-day to maneuver. Instead, I go to the private hospital Aci Badem which resembles a 5-star hotel. To use these facilities, you must call the hospital operator and arrange an appointment with a specific doctor, within a specific department. With a simple cold and cough, you must arrange an appointment with someone who specializes in Internal Medicine. The appointment itself usually takes less than 15 minutes, but costs more than 100 lira because you are paying an expert to diagnose you with the cold or flu you already know you have.

5.) The obvious: At your most vulnerable state, you miss the comforts of home the most. I crave a Winter Elixer from Blackbird Bakery, Chicken Noodle Soup and the eclectic mix of Celestial Seasoning teas. The child in me misses the sick beds my mom would prepare in front of the television, and the familiar sounds and smells of home.