Thursday, October 13, 2011

Going to the doctor

There are many things we expats who have lived abroad a long time begin to do routinely, things that once caused heart palpitations and sweaty hands. We get so used to these things, we forget that we ever were anxious. We forget about the cultural differences. We become inured, hardened, which is perhaps another way of saying, we adjust. Going to the doctor is one of those things we adjust to.

I'm having one of those years. In a way, I always have diffculties, come fall. I have bronchial asthma, and so when colds hit, I'm stuck with them for weeks. And Germany, with its wet, rainy climate, is conducive to colds. Well, this year it hit harder than ever. I've been spending a lot of time at the doctor's office - first with a rash, then a bladder infection, followed by sinusitis, which developed into bronchitis.

My first "doctor's" visit was in the summer, in New York State, with a urinary tract infection. I had reverse cultural shock - the guy who examined me and wrote the prescription for antibiotics wasn't even a doctor! He was a physician's assistant. And he did all the things American doctors do. He checked my ears, my lungs, my throat, my weight, even though I was there for a UTI. I had forgotten what it's like because of all my years in Germany. Here in Germany, when you are sick, you must see a doctor. The only one who can prescribe medication is a doctor. But s/he doesn't check any of the things the PA checked. Here, doctors only listen to your story and then perhaps prescribe something.

I went from the US to Italy, on vacation with my husband. It felt like I had another UTI. But no one could come up with a doctor for me. "Go to the pharmacy," they urged. "There's always a physician working for the pharmacy, and they'll prescribe something for you." That's what I did, and got more antibiotics for what was possibly another UTI. This developed into a continued cold, which had been troubling me in the States. It became a bad sinusitis. Back to the doctor's, this time in Germany.

Here, the doctor said, "Your resistance is worn down from all those antibiotics. But you need more or you won't heal. Here's a prescription." I took the antibiotics until they were finished, but the infection didn't go away. "Sorry," she said. "No more antibiotics." Doctors in Germany are big on alternative medicine. I don't know if that is the case in the States - after over twenty years of being away, I don't know what it's like "back home" anymore. But now, I had zinc to order from the pharmacy. It cost over $20 for a two-week supply. Here, anything over the counter is over the sky in prices. And no neti-pot. Only saline sprays. And injections in my beehind, twice a week for five weeks, of my own blood, mixed with something homeopathic. My sinusitis turned into bronchitis, and I got scared, so went to the emergency room.

Here, the doctor gave me something to inhale and sent me home, without antibiotics. I should continue to inhale chamomile tea.

I'm still sick, and still getting those shots of my blood. If that doesn't work, my GP's next recourse is to give me acupuncture. Oh - she sent me to the ENT doctor, who prescribed a cortisone spray.

I told an American friend about my ordeal. She said, "You should have gotten more antibiotics. I don't think doctors there are as good or as thorough as those in the US." I didn't even tell her what went on in the X-ray department at the hospital, when the assistant told me to disrobe the top half of my body. Of course, I received no hospital gown, for modesty's sake. There's no need for modesty in Germany.

My friend's kind comments made me anxious about going to the doctors, all over again.

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