September 20, 2007

Pregnancy Checkups in Cambodia
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The cost of a quality obstetric (fetal) ultrasound in Cambodia: US$8.

It's been two months since Tatiana last saw a doctor, and now sporting a five-month pregnant belly, getting her in to see a physician for an ultrasound, exam, and any labs that need be done was a priority that had to be taken care of before we left the capital.

An inquiring visit to the local "maternity clinic" across the street from the Tat Guesthouse was a mess. I watched as Tatiana struggled to communicate with the woman who spoke just a fraction more English than the young girl working behind the reception desk of the dimly lit building, who spoke none herself. When it was revealed that the woman, with a less than pleasant disposition, was the doctor that would be examining Tatiana, I knew we'd be moving on.

The French did very little to encourage education in Cambodia, and by the end of WWII, after 70 years of colonial rule, there were no universities and only one high school in the whole of the country. There's a shortage of skilled labor in the country in general, as the majority of educated Cambodians either fled the country or were killed between 1975 and 1979. More than 40% of the population is under the age of 15.

From out of the guidebook came the next choice, Calmette Hospital, written to be "French-administered and the best of the local hospitals."

The worst part about Calmette is getting there. Hiring a tuk tuk or motorbike for a fair price is a challenging and tiring task. What we found upon arrival was a relatively small hospital complex that seemed up to snuff enough to fulfill our needs.

Inside the primary clinic we were greeted by a trio of friendly hostesses, dressed like candy stripers. These girls spoke good English, and gave instruction to the staff juggling paperwork behind the counter, who seemed only capable of speaking Khmer (Cambodian).

What pregnant Cambodians should eat

The paperwork handed to Tatiana was also written in Cambodian and French, and included a maternity progress booklet for her (written in Khmer) that included photos of things that a mother-to-be should be eating lots of—the illustration of a frog still has us smiling. Yes, I must make sure Tatiana gets a proper intake of frog. Oh, the French…

French wheel of pregnancy

We didn't wait long to see the female doctor that Tatiana thought was extremely sweet, but not very bright. Measurements of her abdomen were taken and recorded, as well as her blood pressure and weight. Tatiana hasn't gained any weight since her last checkup in the Philippines, and is rather concerned because of it, though the doctor seemed not to be.

Afterwards we were sent over to the lab. Tatiana and I were both amazed to discover that any expectant mother (foreign or local) that visits the hospital receives a whole slew of tests (ranging from an HIV screening to a urinalysis) free of charge—a fee of more than US$30 worth of labs, waived.

Next up was the part Tatiana was really looking forward to: The ultrasound. She loves seeing the baby, and knowing that he's healthy and happy floating around in her belly.

The female ultrasound technician couldn't speak anything except French and Khmer, but her assistant spoke decent enough English. What totally took me off guard was how Tatiana answered with a "oui" when asked if she could speak French, and then proceeded to converse with the lab staff throughout the checkup.

I was stunned—I didn't know Tatiana spoke French! She said she'd taken lessons ages ago, that her mother speaks it very well, and that she still remembers quite a bit. Amazing. What does that make for her, four languages? Spanish, English, Portuguese, and French—wow.

The technology of the ultrasound machine wasn't as advanced as that found in the Philippines, but Tatiana found the experience just as satisfying.

Afterwards, we went back to the doctor for a final review of the ultrasound results. I was rather disturbed that the doctor that inspected Tatiana's abdomen (by pushing on it quite painfully), incorrectly stated the position of the baby. She said it was perpendicular to Tatiana's body, whereas the ultrasound revealed the baby was in a birth position (head down).

The cost of the doctor's consolation was US$10, and would have been only US$2 if she was a resident. The cost of the ultrasound was the lowest yet—just US$8.

Calmette Hospital Hours of Operation

It should be noted that although the emergency room is open at this hospital 24 hours a day, the consultation clinic most visitors will need, is not. This is not openly disclosed, save for a tattered sign posted in a different building, in French and Khmer. Hours are Monday–Friday, 07:30–11:30 and 14:00–16:30.

For foreigners visiting the hospital, some proficiency in French would help, but it isn't a necessity. Just watch out for the video playing in the waiting room, displaying breast feeding techniques with some very unattractive Cambodian boobs.

Perception of Spoken Languages in Cambodia

  1. Khmer (Cambodian)
  2. Chinese
  3. Vietnamese, Lao, or Thai, depending on border proximity
  4. French
  5. English
  6. Korean/Japanese

You might find some older folks that speak French, but finding English in this country is far from common.

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