05 December 2011

No, a fish pedicure was NOT on my bucket list!

One goal I will never attain is to work in East Asia. The opportunity has just never arisen for me and, since this is my last post, I’ve accepted that it’s not going to happen. So when a friend of mine invited me to visit her in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and I discovered there are direct flights from Karachi to Kuala Lumpur, it was too good an offer to let pass.

This past month, in the same week we celebrated the U.S. holiday of Veteran’s Day, several local holidays were also strung together. As a result, only one day of actual office time was required of me that week and thus seemed the perfect time to hop a flight.

When I arrived, I was surprised to find my friend was hospitalized, with discharge still a couple of days away. It gave me the opportunity to learn a bit about the local medical system and how care is delivered.

My friend had an attending physician and several consultants who visited her daily for examination and updates on her condition. The hospital itself might have been in any downtown U.S. city, complete with a Starbucks on the first floor. The only thing that set the Malaysian nursing staff apart from their American counterparts was that they have retained the custom of the nurse’s cap, a tradition I was very happy to see dropped in the United States. The only thing I noticed that was very different, at least from the hospitals I’m familiar with, is that each time a patient leaves the room, the door is locked until his or her return. Otherwise, everything was very familiar and that was a comfort to my friend. It isn’t easy to be in a hospital in a foreign country with no family present. Familiar looking surroundings are a real bonus.

After a couple of days, I brought my friend back to her apartment, and we basically became couch potatoes for the rest of my visit. I did take one day to use the hop-on, hop-off bus that ran through the city so I could get a taste of this peninsular nation. Wherever I travel, I try to use these buses when available, as they usually provide a great overview and an efficient way to cover the highlights of the city I’m visiting.

At the central market, I hopped off the bus to participate in something that has peaked my curiosity since the first read of it several years ago. I had a fish pedicure! I dangled my feet in a large vat of water while small, sardine-size fish hungrily attacked dead skin everywhere they found it.

The first two minutes were almost unbearable, not because it was uncomfortable, but because of the freakish sort of tickle. But after the initial shock, the sensation diminished and it was quite pleasant. A half-hour later I was done, evidenced by the few fish still paying attention to me.

Each time another person came to the tub, however, it was like a feeding frenzy. (Maybe we have different flavors.) The fish would swarm to the new feet and do their thing, then eventually lose interest and disperse.

I can declare two things. This was by far not the best pedicure I’ve ever enjoyed, but it sure was the most unusual, and I have a photo to document it.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.


  1. I had a fish pedicure in Japan and it was without a doubt the weirdest experience ever, but as you say, one of the best pedicures. Rod was in the tank as well, and you should have seen the feeding frenzy when he put his feet in. I guess that's because he didn't look after them when living in Pakistan:) I enjoy your posts and look forward to reading every one.

  2. Melanie here! I enjoyed this piece, please email me--I have a question about your blog. MelanieLBowen[at]gmail[dot]com