I have had two chronic illnesses for awhile now and sometimes they flare up a bit and sometimes they require some pretty aggressive treatment plans to control. However one of the reasons moving in 2015 felt like a good idea was because I was relatively symptom-free (or under controlled therapies) for 2014. Sure enough, 6 months after I got to Germany I had a pretty serious episode that went from “everything is fine, what a great Sunday we’re having!” to “SHIT SHIT EVERYTHING IS NOT FINE” in honestly, 13 seconds.
This ended up in a trip to a local hospital that turned into an overnight stay and a good story to share. My pain is your gain.
I’ve been to hospitals in the states and it’s all sort of the same. Get to ER, find receptionist behind reception desk (sometimes with bullet-proof glass, sometimes not), give them details and wait, maybe 30 minutes maybe 10 hours, to be seen. Then, receive a bill that causes more panic than whatever ailment brought you into the ER.
In Germany, (and I’m not an expert here but I’ve been twice (once because of me obvi, and once because our friend Will was ruthlessly mutilated by a rebellious wine glass)), it’s in a slightly different order:
- Drive around hospital campus looking for emergency room sign
- See a lot of signs that say “NOT” and continue driving
- 10 minutes later remember that “Not(fall)” is “emergency”
- Feel dumb
- Now can’t find “Notzimmer” (not a word) so continue driving
- Give up, drive into ambulance bay, use these doors, ignore all looks
- Go to reception in either pain and or bleeding
- Now you get to be grilled on your insurance
- Then you wait
- Then someone comes to provide treatment
- Then they infuse delicious pain relief into your veins
Insurance here is great (more to come on this ground-breaking statement later); it’s generally cheaper when one is on the public plan and it covers a much bigger variety of claims. I also think the reason I was asked for financial information first, is because I walked myself into the ER and didn’t take an ambulance. (I don’t have final information on this but I’m pretty sure there are emergency clinics that one is supposed to use if it’s not a “real” emergency, meaning one doesn’t require emergency transport.) At the time I was on private insurance that was meant for “temporary” stays in Germany but now I’m on the public system. I don’t have any medical stories to share since I’ve made the switch so I’ll save that commentary for another time.
What I wasn’t a fan of was answering questions about my symptoms in front of people at reception. There was no actual separation from waiting area to reception desk; everyone jammed into one small room together and we could hear what everyone was saying. There was a room around the corner with more chairs and looked like a proper waiting area, but no one seemed to be using this. The guy at reception was great though and tried his best to understand my Denglisch through tears and moans of pain. He was the perfect amount of concerned and getting us through the intake process. I felt like Z could probably have handled it all on his own while I was seen but they didn’t work that way. At the end of the intake, the man apologized because this was probably going to be very expensive, I would have to pay for everything out of pocket and work it out later. And if the doctor recommended an overnight stay I would certainly incur more costs. We get nervous and say
“What kind of costs are we looking at here?”
And he says “It could be as high as 2500 € I am so sorry for this”
I would have paid anything to make the pain stop but even this felt a little like “…that’s it? That was like, my co-pays back home.”
And then when I was asked to pee in a cup, the bathroom was down the hall from the small off-to-the-side exam room I was first brought to. This meant I got to carry my sample through the waiting room and through reception to get back the exam room, which is literally inside the reception area.
But anyway. When I was taken to see the doctor, it was quick to get scans, pain meds, meds to treat the actual cause and someone to listen to me whine (I will give myself credit here: turns out I had a serious kidney and bladder infection developing and some kidney stones because of a chronic issue so I had something to whine about) but what I wasn’t expecting was an overnight stay. Test results came back saying this was probably not something I should go home with so after a few hours of sich stabilisieren (it’s now about 11:30 at night) my IV bags and I are taken upstairs (along with Z in tow) to the room. Because I was private insurance at the time and the hospital cannot verify my means of payment (meaning I might cost them more in the long room if I skip on the bill), I did not get a room to myself. The room had 6 other beds in it and one was occupied by this poor dear who was recovering from some surgery on her midsection and couldn’t move without assistance from the Krankenschwesters.
This post is being written entirely as an excuse to introduce everyone to the word Krank-anything because it’s a wonderful word:
Krankenschwester, Krankenwagen, Krankenhaus, Kranker
Our Krankenschwester told Z he could go home and get a few things for me (which he did like a champ) and he said when he came back, he just walked through the entrance and up to my ward which to me, I feel, wouldn’t happen in a US hospital. I feel there would be some security somewhere, maybe a locked door, and this was all after midnight (maybe someone could comment here if this is out of the norm or not?). Since we’re also not big on privacy here, he was also able to walk right in my room while my poor roommate (Helga, I am not making that up, bless her) was alternating between trying to sleep and watching her soaps. I had two Krankenschwesters throughout my stay, both who were concerned that I waited so long before coming in (even though I had zero symptoms that would have indicated an emergency until that day) and also annoyed, but I don’t know why; probably my overly-American concern with neutral facial expressions is biasing the event here.
I did not sleep that night, except from 7:00am-7:30am, because of pain and a few Krankenvisits. When I awoke I was given more IV pain meds (yasssss) and a doctor came in to give me a bunch of different medications and advice and after that I was given this delicious breakfast:
After I finished my antibiotics and other medicines, I felt much better and haven’t had an episode since. German bedside manner may be a touch difficult to get used to, a little curt and perhaps cold, but it’s nothing to be take personally and I felt my treatment and complaints were taken seriously and professionally.
So then a month later, we get the bill. Remember, this is an emergency room visit, doctors, scans, meds, overnight stay.
…€650. For everything.
There are some people who say public health schemes and insurance don’t work, but that’s none of my business.