Monday, September 14, 2009

Giving Universal Healthcare a Shot

No, this post will not have anything to do with my opinion on proposals for universal healthcare in the U.S. I know that it’s a hot topic going on back in the States, but here it’s already in place so I figured that I’d try it out. It all started Friday afternoon at school…….

On Fridays it is a tradition at my school for teachers to play indoor soccer against 10-12th grade students. This has been a great opportunity for me to get to know some of the students at the school in a different setting while trying to stay in some decent shape and keep up my touch on a soccer ball. Unfortunately, this past Friday I came down on my left ankle while lunging for a ball and rolled my ankle. The all-to-familiar popping sound of my ankle was like German techno to my ears as I knew my fun was over for the day. After quickly applying the steps of R.I.C.E., I hobbled to the train station and made my way home. I felt like an idiot because Marisa and I had planned on taking a hike in Königstein the next day and I could only see myself sitting around the apartment with my leg propped up all weekend.

After calling Marisa, who made a quick trip to the Apotheke (pharmacy) a block from our apartment for ibuprofen and a cold wrap, I started debating whether I wanted to stop by the hospital (literally a 4-minute walk away from our apartment) for an x-ray. Partly due to the convenience of being so close to the hospital and partly due to my curiosity of how the German healthcare system would work I decided to visit the emergency room. Here’s how it went down…

First I went in to an eerily quiet hospital on a Friday evening and found my way to the emergency entrance. The person at registration only needed my insurance card and 10€ for an “emergency fee” which is actually valid for the next month in case I return for any services (hopefully not). Marisa and I then waited in a small waiting area with two other patrons who were waiting for a relative. It took about 30 minutes or so before I was seen by a young doctor recently out of med school (he was 28 years old –made me think about my cousin, Jack). I explained the situation in German and he ended up speaking very good English, which took some pressure off of the situation. After a quick examination he didn’t think that there was any break, but he sent me upstairs to get a Röntgen (x-ray) to be sure. Again the hospital was very quiet, empty, and low-lit in an attempt to be energy-efficient. The x-ray process was performed exactly as it would be in the U.S., only with a smaller lead vest which was only designed to cover the ballsac area instead of your entire chest. I took the x-rays myself back down to the doctor who examined them and concluded that there was no break. A Krankenschwester (nurse – literally “sick sister”) came in to put a cool gel on my ankle and wrap it with an ace bandage. The doctor then typed up a report for us to give to our Hausarzt (primary care physician, sort of) whenever we get one, to put on my medical record. We left feeling pretty good about the situation, spending a total of about 2 hours for the entire visit. Compared to the U.S. in my opinion it probably took about the same amount of time, I received a comparable quality of care, and I only paid 10€ ($14) which covers any hospital trip for a month. Not sure what it would cost in the U.S., but I have to believe that it’d be a little more expensive.

I’m just glad that they didn’t make me use these ridiculous German crutches. They typically give these out for everything from stubbed toes, to blisters, to amputations. They might be the only assistive medical device that actually makes you more handicapped than with the injury alone. It’s entertaining watching everyone attempt to use these around town. I hope to never need them.


So, after one experience with the healthcare system, everything seems to be smooth sailing. Stay tuned 'til the next episode when I try to get my prescription drugs refilled.....
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