For more than a decade, I would have an average of 4 tonsillitis episodes a year and each bout of attack could only be resolved with antibiotics. I was constantly reminded by Heartland Girl that one of the well-known consequences of prolonged use of antibiotics is bacterial antibiotic resistance. She even remarked that she wouldn’t be surprised if antibiotics wouldn’t work on me when my body needs it the most to kill some super-bacteria. Therefore, I decided to nip this problem once and for all by going under the knife. At the start of the year, I had tonsillectomy surgery in a government hospital, here’s how much it cost and my overall experience.
Chose Public Hospital Over Private Hospital
I think it is important to declare at the start of the article that I have corporate insurance which would have covered my stay in a private hospital. For some reason unbeknownst even to myself, I was on auto-pilot mode and opted for subsidized treatment in a government hospital. Perhaps it was the Heartland Boy in me who is not used to the bells and whistles of a private hospital? Maybe because I was also gunning for the employee of the month award by saving money for the company?
Jokes aside, this allowed me to pen down my experience of undergoing a common but major surgery in a government hospital. As a result, I will touch on 2 factors commonly associated with a public hospital in this article.
The Waiting Period
To be eligible under the subsidized route, I had to first visit a polyclinic to get a referral to a government hospital. Given that my case was not urgent, the wait to see a specialist in SGH was about 2 months later on 6 Jan 2022. It was definitely long but I reasoned that Singapore was in the throes of battling Covid-19.
After assessing that my medical condition warranted a surgery, I was scheduled for surgery on 17 Jan 2022. I felt that this was quite fast, considering that I still had to undergo a battery of tests in the interim period. The results from these tests would help the doctors during surgery. 11 days was also just the right time for me to notify my employer of my expected absence from work and to ensure that all backlog were cleared before my surgery.
The Surgery and Recovery Process
I had the surgery in the morning and my last words to the doctor before the anesthesia took effect was,
“My CNY is in your hands, literally”
A couple of hours later, a nurse woke me up and I found myself already wheeled from the operating theatre to one of the wards at Outram Community Hospital. She proceeded to call my wife to inform her that the surgery went well.
On hindsight, I must admit that I was definitely too overconfident of my own recovery. The doctor cited a range of 1 to 2 weeks for the recovery and said she would issue me 2 weeks of medical leave to allow me to recover at home. The young and healthy me assumed that I would only require just 1 week to stage a full recovery. The doctor, who was a Muslim, even suggested that I only performed the surgery after CNY so that I can enjoy all the festive goodies. I did not heed her advice and agree to go with the earliest available date of 17 Jan. This turned out to be a very close shave as I took the full 2 weeks to recover completely.
Immediately after the surgery, I realized that the 2 major challenges I was going to face were talking and eating. None of this can be performed without causing immense pain to my throat. I thought that I could resume working after just a couple of days but boy was I wrong. Without the ability to talk without pain, I could not contribute to the digital meetings. Therefore, I only resumed working remotely during the second week. (yep, I confess that I am a workaholic sadly)
Post-op, my diet also had to be carefully managed. I was told to avoid hot food as it could potentially agitate my stitches. Soft solids were also advised as chewing was a strenuous activity. As a result, I was given porridge in the hospital for ALL my meals while I was hospitalized. Lunch, dinner and breakfast, rinse and repeat.
It is not that I am asking for lobster and caviar (they actually do serve that), but I was pretty upset at the lack of variety. If I recall, it was either chicken or fish porridge served piping hot for every meal accompanied with a piece of banana. Since I was unable to take hot food, I had to stir the porridge continuously to cool it down. If I leave it opened to cool down naturally, I run the risk of it getting “contaminated” in a 6-bedder ward. All I know was that after fasting for more than 14 hours for the surgery, I was definitely one “hangry” man.
Sending some bouquets to a nurse in Outram Community Hospital who bought me yoghurt after I complained that the porridge was too hot.
After I was discharged, my main meals at home were smoothies in the first week. I count myself fortunate that my helper makes very good smoothies too. After 2 weeks of such diet, I lost 3kg and saw my weight dipped below 60kg for the first time in more than a decade! This momentous feat was achieved despite not being able to exercise for 2 weeks. I often joked to my envious wife that my tonsils weighed 3 kg.
Cost of surgery in Government Hospital
The main advantage of seeking treatment in a government hospital is that the medical bill can be heavily subsidized. Diagram 3 shows the cost of my surgery in a government hospital.
Before subsidy, the total amount would have been approx. $4,800. After subsidy, I only need to pay $1,695. This amount can be paid using my MediSave, Integrated Shield Plan (less deductibles and co-payments) or my corporate insurance.
For comparison, I decided to get a bill estimate from the nearest private hospital, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.
As shown in Diagram 4, the average bill for the same procedure performed at a private hospital would cost $14,217, almost 3X more. As I have a NTUC Income Insurance hospitalisation plan, I would have paid only the co-payment component of $1,412. Regardless, I am quite dumbfounded at the price differential between a private hospital and a public hospital!!!
This sums up my experience of having a surgery in a government hospital. The cost was significantly lower, but I also had to deal with some pain points such as the wait time and food. Regardless, I am just happy to put this episode behind me for I see this surgery as another type of investment – 2 weeks of pain for a lifetime free of tonsillitis.
At the end of the 2-week recovery period, you can simply imagine the satisfaction on my face when I had steamboat for my CNY reunion dinner. All I remember was that the soup tasted especially sweet.