Sunday, October 26, 2014

Need to Know Basis

I, like the overwhelming number of Americans, would like to think that the health care systems in every other country stinks. Well, people who have lived in another country know that is not true.

I've just finished a stint in a renowned hospital in Kiel, Germany. The "health" part was excellent but the "care" part was a hot mess.

My eye doctor sent me to the emergency room for neurology patients. [Yes, that's a thing here. A ER for every problem and a neurology ER or problems specific to the nervous system. See, the U.S. doesn't have everything.]. She sent me there because I couldn't get an appointment for tests for a suspected problem for three months. One point for the United States.

Before I went, she told me that there would be a long wait. Cool. I checked my schedule and picked Thursday, October 16. I went in around
3 p.m. My work day was done and I assumed that all the morning rush hour problems would be cleared out and the after-work emergencies would not have occurred by then. I happily showed up with my iPad stocked with magazines and television shows. I was so wrong.

Like everything in Germany, there was poor signage. It took me a while to find the Neurozentrum Notfall. When I got there, there was no one and no sign telling me what to do. After five minutes, I went to the only open room and asked if I was in the right place. There, someone told me to stand against the wall and someone would help me. That made no sense, so I just sat down. Around 4, I snagged someone rushing by in blue scrubs and asked if I was at the right place. She said I was and took a DVD that held an image of the inside of my skull and some forms from my eye doctor and radiologist. About an hour later, she returned the disc to me. That would be the last time I would speak to someone officially for hours. Asmus came to keep me company around 6:30. I was getting hungry, so I was happy to see him because he brought some nuts and grapes and water.

My beloved is so laidback all the time, so it was shocking to discover that he cannot wait patiently. His irritation led to my irritation. I timidly went to the first room I visited to ask where I was in line. Two women barked at me that someone would be with me in a minute. I knew that couldn't be true. About an hour later, Asmus asked if we should go home and come back in a few hours and a woman told us they have no idea when something may happen but we shouldn't dare leave the ER.

The force that kept from punching a hole in a wall from a delicate combination of frustration, boredom and disgust.
Thank you, Cecilia.

After a while, we gave up and decided to leave but someone somewhere had the documents that I had brought with me and I needed them back. When we went to get them, we got a bunch of apologies from the new shift and were told that there were only two people in front of us. We waited. Around 11, a doctor apologized and said we would be seen in about 15 minutes. At midnight, we were taken back to see a doctor.

Nine hours after I entered the ER, my reflexes were tested, I was asked the same questions that were answered on my documents and I was strongly urged to check in to the hospital.

I took the advice. With only my iPad for protection, I entered a hospital at 1 a.m. In a daze, I hurriedly made a list of things for my husband to bring me. He rushed home and rushed back.

The lack of information I experienced at the ER was not an anomaly. Like the rest of this nation, the hospital did not give up information without your specifically asking for it. Every day was an adventure because I didn't know what was planned for me each day. I quickly learned that my alarm clock was my blood pressure check at 7 a.m. by someone wearing white scrubs. I didn't know anyone's name but I learned the people taking my blood pressure were nurses. I eventually learned that my pressure was checked at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. What happened between then was a surprise. One day, on Monday, nothing happened until 3:30 in the afternoon.

At that time, I was wheeled down for a lumbar puncture. A man rushed into the room and said there was a mistake. "We" [I was not included in this "we." "We" were some group of doctors.] had decided to do a special MRI, then do the test and then do another MRI; this way we can compare images, he explained. He had run up stairs to try to stop them from bringing me down. I wondered why he didn't use a phone but didn't ask this. I was wheeled into the hallway, while they found someone to wheel me back upstairs to my room. This meant that I would be in the hospital an extra day. This also meant that I was going to break my hospital stay record of five days. I was not happy about my days of bad sleep and boredom but I was accepted it. While I was thinking of all the things I would need to do to accommodate this extended stay, the same doctor came out to me and said, "We" had been talking and decided because of my symptoms, there was no need for comparison. I hadn't had any symptoms; my eye doctor had found a problem that she wanted investigated. I didn't question this new decision.

The assumption was now there was a problem. One minute, I needed two MRIs and a test. The next, all of that was unnecessary. This all should have been very confusing but it wasn't because after three days in the hospital, I had become immune to expecting courtesy, logic and scheduling.

After four days in the hospital, no one told me when visiting hours were, how I got television and telephone service, if there was a lounge, and who my nurses and doctors were. Luckily, Cecilia, a friend who worked in the hospital, told me what she knew.

I was cool with not knowing. On Tuesday, I was sent to the ophthalmologist right before lunch. Of course, I didn't know I was going to the eye doctor and I didn't know what for. A gruff man came to my door and I left with him. Shockingly, he was not medical personnel. He was a taxi driver. I was driven to a different building on the hospital campus. I didn't know that was coming. That was an annoying surprise. I missed my lunch and didn't bring a jacket to the cold four-and-a-half-hour wait and cursed my life.

When I returned to my room, I pressed the call button because there was no one at the nurses station. I asked her what was happening to me next. She politely said, I don't know.

The care was great. There a lumbar puncture attempt Friday afternoon. It went so badly that I was crying and screaming during the whole thing. One of the doctors performing the procedure rubbed my back and said, I'm sorry, over and over again. That lumbar puncture attempt failed. During the session on Monday, it failed twice and succeeded once. Those failures went as badly as the first. Those failures were also accompanied by crying, screaming, soothing and back rubs. Comforting from people in scrubs went way beyond the call of duty. I was embarrassed and very grateful for that.

On Monday, I was allowed to leave my room and give them my cell phone number. I would be called if anyone wanted to poke me or question me. I was allowed to go outside. I used this freedom to connect to a hot spot and, thus, the world. [Since Thursday afternoon, I had no newspaper, no television and no radio. That is not completely true. "They" wanted me to stay in the hospital all weekend. I asked for a furlough and I was given an urlaub [vacation]. I left my hospital room Saturday morning and returned to it 7:58 p.m. Sunday night -- two minutes earlier than my deadline.] I was sitting on a park bench outside the hospital on Monday and Tuesday, when I was called in for tests. I appreciate not being cooped in my box all the time. That was caring of the staff.

Zero Forks

I would not consider myself a foodie, but the images below do you depict the most unnerving things that had ever been put before me as vehicles for nutrition and enjoyment. Perhaps that's it! As I typed that sentence, I realized, the food may have only been for nutrition. To heck with enjoyment. If that is the case, then The mission was accomplished.

This is breakfast. Yum!
It was a traditional German breakfast -- bread with deli meat and/or cheese and yogurt. This was supposed to break the fast from the previous evening's dinner. That was one piece of mortadella with either pistachio bits or mushroom bits. I couldn't tell, so I didn't eat it. The idea of processed laced with nuts gives me the willies.

This ws dinner. Look familiar? This is what an older German might eat for dinner. Of course, there was bread on the plate to the left. I could recognize cheese on the plate to the right but that was all. I had even nibbled on one of the pieces of meat, but I still couldn't tell what it was. The dish in the center holds BEETS.
BEETS. Ugh. Why beets? No one likes beets. There must have been a sale on the root.
For dessert, yes, that was, yogurt.

This was lunch. As it turns out, the big meal of the day. If I hadn't had the menu, I wouldn't have even known what it was. After I tried it, I wasn't even sure what it was. This is a picture of roasted chicken covered in hollandaise sauce served with mashed potatoes. The chicken deflated when I dug into it with my fork and so did my heart.

This was not cafeteria food but hospital food. My expectations were low but not this low.