I lived in Germany for four years…and some of that time I was ill. No one could figure out what was wrong with me. I just started to lose a lot of weight and couldn’t eat an amount that was more than a boiled egg without severe pain. I spent several days in a military hospital having some tests. One of the tests caused me to have a severe case of pancreatitis. I was at home when the unbearable pain began. I was admitted to a local German hospital.
The first obstacle to overcome was language. I didn’t speak German and the staff in the emergency room at the German hospital didn’t speak English. I remember trying to get them to understand where my pain was. After about an hour the doctor finally saw me, a female doctor, and she spoke a little English. She thought my throat looked really red and was wanting to do a scope. I had already had a scope done and knew that nothing was wrong with my throat so I kept telling her that my throat was fine. I knew enough about medical conditions to tell her that I had been diagnosed in the American military hospital with pancreatitis. She didn’t seem to understand what I was saying or else she didn’t believe me. I finally reached up and grabbed her white coat collar and said the words very slowly, “I have pan-cre-a-ti-tis! Do you understand?” She seemed to think I was a little demanding but she shook her head and repeated the word pancreatitis. I was then admitted with possible pancreatitis.
This was where my education began. The staff was kind but they spoke no English. I was admitted to the internal medicine floor and was in a room with two elderly German women. The room was small, three beds with a night stand in between each bed and it had a large window at the opposite end from where I was placed. Thankfully the room also had a bathroom and my bed was closest to the bathroom. There was also a small table for eating meals but of course I was unable to eat, I was on liquids only.
The families were required to bring most of the food for the patients. The hospital provided two meals per day, lunch and supper. Both of these meals included only the basic meat and potato or cabbage. And the only drink that was provided was hot mint tea, not water, but hot mint tea. For my elderly roommates, their families would bring fresh fruit and cooked vegetables as well as coffee, juice and soda. They would also bring extras like bread, butter, and jam or candy, crackers and chips. My family was required to bring me any liquids I required because I got pretty tired of drinking hot mint tea. I had bottles of soda and water.
One of the German women had family that visited every day and they spoke English so I was able to find out things of interest about my roommates. Her Mother was a nice woman in her seventies and her medical condition was that she was a diabetic. In order for her to receive medicine for her condition she had to remain hospitalized until her appointment with an endocrinologist. She had been in the hospital for five months and was still waiting for her appointment with the expectation of being there a few months longer. This was considered standard practice under the German universal health care system. Elderly patients were not considered a priority. Had she been in her thirties or forties or younger, she would not have had a problem getting an appointment in a timely manner. However she was elderly so her wait was lengthy. Other than the need for insulin to control her blood sugar levels, she was a healthy woman.
The other German woman was in her early eighties and she was in need of blood pressure medication. She had a lovely family who came twice a day and brought her the most delicious smelling foods to supplement her diet. She was also very nice and had been in the hospital for ten months. She had her appointment but it was still two months away. She was very healthy other than the need for daily blood pressure medicine. I found this system of health care so baffling. Why did these lovely little elderly women have to be confined to a hospital room for months on end just for a daily dose of medication? Why did they have to wait so long for a simple appointment to see a specialist?
As for my four days in this hospital, I was given liquids through my veins and the IV container was glass with no regulation what so ever. Sometimes they would have the flow be really fast which made me make a ton of trips to the bathroom. Other times they would have the IV a slow drip. I was having some problems with the IV staying put in my vein and the doctor, this time a man, came to look at it. He decided it needed to be changed so he pulled it out and began replacing it…without wearing any gloves. I was mortified! Did I say that he had grease under his fingernails and tobacco stains on his fingers? Yuk! And he was touching my veins! I survived!
Because I needed to have my pancreas explored I was transferred to another hospital in a different city in one of those tall European ambulances. This hospital had the machine I needed, an MRI. What a ride! I actually wondered if I would survive the bumpy ride! There was a two-man team for the ambulance, one to drive and one to keep my gurney from flying out of the back of the ambulance. It was a wild ride!
Once I survived the trip I was wheeled in my gurney to the basement of the hospital where all kinds of pipes were exposed and I wondered if I was going to the morgue. I was left with a file in my hand strapped into the gurney and outside in a hallway. I could hear people speaking German so I knew that somewhere there were others and I was not alone. I waited until every other person had been called and then someone came and pushed my gurney into a room where I saw the MRI. After the test was completed I was back in the hallway strapped in the gurney and my file in my hands. Soon the same two fellows came and pushed me back up the long hallway to the ramp where the ambulance was waiting to take me back to the first hospital. Guess what? They decided I had pancreatitis. I was given some pain medication…finally!
Because I was having great pain and the care was not the best it was decided that I be transferred to a military hospital and so I spent the rest of my hospitalization in a military hospital. Even though it was an American hospital it was still not quite like being in a hospital back home. I had mostly male nurses, wearing combat uniforms and boots. My bed was in a private room with a private bathroom that had certainly been a step up from my prior military hospital experiences where I shared a bathroom with other patients and was on a ward with other patients. I guess because I was so ill they decided I needed to be in a private room. I was glad.
I look back at the month I spent in Germany in several different hospitals and I wonder how in the world I survived! It was a painful time and I was very ill, but with the good care I received I made it…and today I am healthy. I appreciate the health care system we have in America because we do not make a distinction because of age. If you have the need to see a specialist, no matter how old you are, you can see them. What a blessing.
Until next time……Katherine