My Afternoon as a Social Welfare Case: Treating my Eye Infection in a Thai Hospital

After three months working in Thailand and paying the premium of about $20 per month, I was given my “social insurance card” which entitles me to treatment at one of the local public hospitals.   I did not have a chance to do any participant-observer until yesterday though when for the second day I woke up with an eye infection. With diagnoses of Zika Virus dancing my head (put there by my daughter, I might add), I had to make a decision. Do I go to the hospital with my new card and endure the lines of the unwashed that some expatriates warned me about, or do I go to a private clinic where the wait lines are shorter, and come up with the ten or fifteen dollars or so such a visit usually entails?

By way of explanation, Thailand for the last ten years or so has a system of national health care such as the type I am now enrolled in. This was implemented by a former government, and is none as the “30 Baht Plan.” Every Thai is enrolled in the program (as well some of the foreigners who work here), and the guarantee is that if you show up at a public clinic, your cost will be no more than 30 Baht, i.e. a little less than $1. The succeeding governments have kept this program through elections, and coups. It is very popular with the rural and urban poor who otherwise cannot afford medical care. This was the program I was enrolled in.

So I decided to do the participant-observer thing, and go down to the public Lanna Hospital to get my eye checked. I went without an appointment because that is how medical care is dispensed in Thailand, whether you go to a general care office, or to a hospital. It is all kind of like the Emergency Room in the United States. No appointments necessary, as long as you arrive during business hours.

Anyway, I arrived at Lanna Hospital at about 11:30 on a Saturday morning, and after some searching, was sent to the line which in English is called the “Social Welfare.”. I will admit to feeling strange about this label—in English such labels are stigmatizing to someone of the middle class status to which I claim fealty. Social welfare, not me! Anyway, I reasoned to myself, this is just a bad translation of the Thai which is social insurance, not social welfare. In American English it is the difference between MediCare which is the system for all elderly and not stigmatized, and Medicaid which his for the poor, and is stigmatized.

So I swallowed my pride, and accepted the ticket marked “Social Welfare,” and was sent to the fifth floor, and told to wait in a big waiting room with roughly another hundred people, none of whom looked like a white foreigner. Walking into the room, I tried to figure out where to sit, when I was approached by a nurse’s aide within about 30 seconds:

     Are you Anthony Waters?


     Yes, how did you guess?

Come over here. I was weighed, my blood pressure taken, and asked about my symptoms in Thai. And then I was told to wait between door 1 and door 2—my name would be called, eventually.

And I was finally called. I went into an office where a doctor was sitting behind a desk. She smiled, and asked in English about my problem. I showed her my eye, and she examined it with a light. “Virus,” she said. No bacterial infection yet, though. I will prescribe an anti-bacterial agent as a prophylaxis, and some eyedrops to keep your eye moist. “If you still have a problem with your eye in 3-4 days, please come back to see me. In the meantime, you can pick up your prescription at the pharmacy next door.” She was nice, but efficient. I think I was in and out under five minutes.

More waiting. Then the pharmacist in called me. “Here are your prescriptions,” and he read off the English instructions about when and how to take the eyedrops. Medicine in hand, I left the hospital.

Now you are probably wondering what time this was. Well, I arrived confused at the hospital at 11:30, and I was driving out of the parking lot at 1:00 pm with my medicine, all of which was covered by my Social Welfare insurance. No co-pays, and even the parking lot charge was waived!

A Late Tribute to Workers

I had some fun on Labor Day last year. My husband and I went to a Billy Joel concert on the Saturday before Labor Day, and as I listened to the Piano Man sing some of my favorite songs, I realized, his concert was perfectly suited for Labor Day, given the tone of some of the music. So I woke up on Labor Day, and wanted to share some of my favorite working songs with my Facebook friends, then spent the next few hours digging up facts about workers, songs, and linking to YouTube. I felt like I was educating, in a way. Tony Waters even participated in the fun, and I realized sometime in late afternoon that my multiple posts on FB would be great for Ethnography. So, without further delay, I’ll share my Labor Day musical tribute with you. I hope you enjoy.

Click on the link under each entry to be taken to a video of each song.


In honor of hard working people everywhere, today, I’ll share some of my favorite songs about working.

Dolly Parton – 9 to 5

7:45 a.m.

Did you know that longshoremen have one of the most dangerous jobs in the US? Here’s a shoutout to fisher men and women everywhere.
Btw- this in concert Saturday night was amazing.

Billy Joel – The Downeaster Alexa

7:56 a.m.

Did you know? Coal miners are 6 times more likely to die on the job than the average private sector worker.

Tennessee Ernie Ford – 16 Tons

8:10 a.m.

Did you know? Between 1969 and 1996, the Steel Belt region of the US lost 33% of its manufacturing jobs. Here’s a shoutout to all those men and women working the line.

Billy Joel – Allentown

8:25 a.m.

Did you know? Long haul truck drivers average about 100,000 miles a year, which means they are away from their loved ones much more than the average worker, and they are much more likely to die in a vehicle collision. Of the over 2 million long haul drivers in the US, about 700 a year die in crashes.

Kathy Mattea – 18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses

8:27 a.m.

Our favorite trucker song. Here’s a shoutout to all the big rig drivers delivering our food, clothing, household goods, cars, and toys.

C.W. McCall – Convoy

8:51 a.m.

Did you know? When a big box retailer comes to town, independent retailers are more likely to go out of business and unemployment increases because big box stores don’t employ the same number of employees as the displaced workers. Also, wages are lower at big box stores, compared to independent retailers, and cities and towns lose tax revenue for years after a big box comes to town.
Here’s to all the local, independent small business owners out there.

Alan Jackon – Little Man

9:48 a.m.

Did you know? There are just over 2 million farms in the US today, down from almost 7 million in 1935. Most farmers can’t survive on the profits of the farm alone so they either sell the farm, or go to work full time somewhere else, then tend the farm after they get off “work.” Less than a third of farmers in the US today have a family member who plans to take over the farm in future generations (For more on American farming, click here).

This is a shout out to all the farmers who toil in the earth, who feed Americans and the world with their labor.

John Mellencamp – Rain on the Scarecrow

9:51 a.m.

In the words of Paul Harvey: A shout out to farmers on this Labor Day.

Paul Harvey – So God Made a Farmer

10:02 a.m.

Did you know? There are over 2 million active and reserve military men and women working all around the world to protect and serve you today?
Here’s a shout out to the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and National Guard, both active and reserve, for your work today and every day.

John Michael Montgomery – Letters from Home

10:14 a.m.

Did you know? The greatest power ballad (don’t question me on this, just go with it) is also a working song?
Shout out to all of the traveling working men and women, whether you are musicians on the road for months on end, or weekly commuters away from home, this one’s for you.

Journey – Fathfully

10:23 a.m.

Did you know? The average American worker works 47 hours per week.

Article: The 40 hour workweek is actually longer

Alabama – 40 Hour Week

10:29 a.m.

Did you know? Country music used to be about the lives of people who grew up in rural America….
I learned a lot about how other people lived their lives from country music. I didn’t know what cotton picking was, but became interested due to this song. I never would have questioned what it was had it not been for Alabama. There’s not much harder farm work than cotton picking; the South’s wealth was largely built on cotton fields and poor people who scraped and scrimped every fluff of cotton to make ends meet.

Alabama – High Cotton

10:33 a.m.

And for all the families of long haul drivers.

Randy Owens (Alabama) – Roll On

11:23 a.m.

An ode to working housewives everywhere. And yes, this is for the women out there. Sorry guys who stay home and raise the kids: you’ve got my respect, but you’ve never been in this position of pregnant and taking care of several children.
BTW- Tony Waters, this is another Shel Silverstein classic.

Loretta Lynn – One’s on the Way

Happy Labor Day to you all!


Originally Posted at, Septembe4 10, 2015.