Wow, getting a check-up in Penang, Malaysia is a pretty eye-opening experience! The medical lightsaber wielded by one particular doctor certainly made my eyes pop out, but more on that later…
Not only are health evaluations here a fraction of the cost than in California (where I’m from), but it’s also the most comprehensive one that I’ve ever had. My husband also had one and is equally stunned that such thorough and affordable wellness exams exist. No wonder people fly to Penang from all over the world to get their physicals and medical treatments. My exam and tests took more than half a day, cost me about $150USD/642rm, and I left with a binder detailing the state of every part of my body. It utterly blew my mind, especially since I’m used to having 15-minute physicals in the US, the extent of which amount to: “Any health problems? Need any prescriptions? Okay, go get a blood test and I’ll mail you the results.” (And that shitty service costs about $350USD/1500rm). Expat living is damn nice in Malaysia, and very affordable.
Penang has many fantastic hospitals with state-of-the-art equipment and all their doctors have done their residencies in top university hospitals around the globe, so you’re in good hands. Our friends have been very happy with the exams they’ve gotten at Adventist, Gleneagles and Island Hospital. But I decided to do mine at Lam Wah Ee Hospital since their packages were roughly half the cost of the others, and I’ve had great experiences there in the past. I’ll go through some of the details of my experience below, but spoiler alert: I was super impressed. So was my husband when he had his there, too. Lam Wah Ee’s Health Screen Centre was extremely efficient, professional, organized, attentive, caring and thorough.
I splurged for the top-of-the-line “enhanced package” and opted to add on a few other tests and services, like mammogram, bone density scan, and nutrition analysis with a dietitian. Because, well, why not? It costs next to nothing to add things like cancer screenings, so I went for the works. As with most hospitals, you can choose your screening package and go in for whatever you want – basic package prices start at $50USD/250rm.
The White Glove Treatment
(And no, I don’t mean the “bend over, I’ve got my white glove on now” treatment.)
Thanks to their online reservation system and easy-to-follow instructions, the day started with a fast check-in at Lam Wah Ee’s Health Screening Center. Within minutes of paying, I was taken in to have my weight, height, blood pressure measured, my eyes checked, have my blood drawn and pee in a cup. Then they gave me a brown bag with breakfast (since you have to fast for your blood test), which was a thoughtful touch.
This little break gave me time to look around the waiting room a bit, which is when I realized everyone was staring at me. And then they all smiled in unison and started happily chatting with one another, and with me. Yep, I was the only Westerner there, and they all thought it was either hilarious or super cool – not sure which. Or maybe both? In true Malaysian fashion, everyone – even the other patients – were so friendly and they all went out of their ways to make sure I felt welcome and let me know whenever a nurse called my name. Not that they needed to – throughout the day, nurses attentively usher you from one screening to the next.
Anyway, a few minutes later, a nurse whisked me off for an echocardiogram. Then she handed me off to a super friendly dietician to discuss my diet, exercise habits and nutritional concerns. He took various measurements, calculated my body mass index, body fat percentage, muscle mass, and calculated my “body age,” which can be quite different from your actual age. And perhaps this colored my experience at Lam Wah Ee a bit, but he said my body age was 8 years younger than my what my passport lists as my age. Well all right! (Now if only my “face age” were 8 years younger too…)
My package also included a “stress test” to see how healthy my heart is, so they hooked up a bunch of electrodes, which made me feel like a very unsexy robot, and got me on the treadmill.
Then another nurse ushered me off to have my chest x-rayed, get an abdominal ultrasound (which verified that I do, in fact, have all my organs – nice to know – and no alien trees growing inside me or anything), and a DEXA bone density scan (usually reserved for older patients, but since osteoporosis runs in my family, I wanted to see where I stand…or stoop). And then I got to hang out in these spectacularly hideous (but comfortable) velveteen chairs that must have been stolen from a 1970s swinger’s lounge while awaiting the dreaded coconut-smashing machine, otherwise known as the mammogram.
Cimeron Versus the Lightsaber
Before long, a nurse delivered me to the last test of the day. I missed which doctor she said I was visiting – I’d seen so many, so I just nodded and followed. But next thing you know, I’m pantsless and pretty sure of what would come next. Ugh…
The OBGYN introduces himself, grabs a gigantic wand, and it moves it alarmingly southward, out of view. I sit bolt upright. “Holy shit, is that a lightsaber? What the f*&ck are you planning to do with that thing?!” I say as calmly as someone about to swallow a sword with something other than her throat.
He chuckles, thinking I’m joking, until he sees the genuine horror on my face. He clears his throat politely and adopts a calm, reassuring tone. “You’ve never seen an transvaginal ultrasound? But how is this so? How do they do gynecological exams in America?” he asks.
“I don’t now,” I stammer. “She usually just asks me about my last vacation, I avert my eyes and we both pretend that her fingers aren’t squashing my ovaries while we intently discuss the tacos in Mexico.” The doctor says something – possibly about how much more precise this method is, or maybe that a battle with Darth Vader is going to happen in my lady garden – I’m not sure because things are getting fuzzy. One thing is clear though: he’s not talking about tacos, but mine is about to take a trip to Weirdville.
I blink profusely, hoping I’m not seeing or hearing things correctly. The kind doctor tells me to relax. I ask him to bend over while I hold that thing and tell HIM to relax so he can see just how challenging it is to chill out while someone is about to poke you with that f&*%ing wand.
It’s likely I black out at this point. I fade back in and he’s telling me to look at a screen while something is nudging my innards. “Look, there’s an ovary. It looks great. And there’s a…” (I don’t know what else he says since I am actively involved in erasing the experience before it has a chance to become a memory.) And then, voila: my pants are back on, and I’m leaving with souvenir photos of my uterus and its zany trip to Lightsabertown. What the hell just happened?! Nope, never mind – I don’t want to know.
The Results Are In
After lunch, I go in to see the doctor, who hands me an impressively large, bound copy of my personalized medical report. He goes over the summary with me, and patiently explains all the details and answers my questions, as if he has all the time in the world. What a difference – in the US, my doctor usually checks her watch each time I ask a question. Meanwhile, this doctor even takes the time to give me some great ideas to correct course on certain lab results that I’d like to improve. For the first time in my life, I actually have a clear picture of the state of my organs, bones, muscles, and the overall status and trajectory of my health.
All in all, the Lam Wah Ee health screening process was comprehensive, well organized, efficient, affordable and eye-opening for me. And not just the lightsaber part…
Here’s to your health, my friends!