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Health care experiences in the EU

Jan 08, 2014
By Ilze Powell

BERLIN - If you’re born in a third world country, you’re usually raised with the idea that your birthplace lacks good social services. Such concepts as government support, economic growth, financial security and, especially, quality health care tend to be placed on a little shelf called ‘inapplicable desires.’

Seeing that no matter the age, background, tax-paying category, religion, race or marital status, we all tend to agree that ‘health always comes first,’ so let’s look at this industry in different EU countries.
I come from a place that definitely used to be referred to as underdeveloped, or the Eastern Bloc, and ever since the fall of the ‘iron curtain’ I have lived on two continents, three states, five countries and almost countless cities and towns. And I would be lying if I said that the Western world is righteously proud of their superior health care, as opposed to our small and somewhat unknown Latvia, for instance.

Most expats living in a foreign country for a short while don’t have their own General Practitioners and when the need arises simply turn to the local emergency rooms. Only in Italy might this idea end in taking the wrong antibiotics, sometimes even repeatedly, until in such an acute state that the same ER doctors will have to admit their medical defeat – or indifference towards doing any kind of substantial tests – and push you forward to a more ‘qualified’ specialist on the second, or fourth, or sixth floor. This doctor might then look at you and, seeing that you neither have a record in his hospital, nor you ever will, flush your system with various pain killers and discharge you the same day. But hey, at least it’s all free of charge for EU citizens.

Most stories about similar experiences in the UK involve getting never-ending aspirin ‘prescriptions.’ Whether the English medical practitioners really believe in simplicity and the strength of people’s natural immunity, or just lack interest in their patients’ well-being, is an ongoing question. Most of my known acquaintances have ended up opting for a Ryanair ticket to Riga where, within a few visits to any private clinic that can be booked by phone and are considerably cheaper than in most other EU countries, you get a clear diagnosis.

Last September I was unfortunately diagnosed with a condition that required an operation. After consulting with several people with similar test results and seeing that I was already in Germany, all advice seemed to point towards one direction – Germany is the best place for such procedures in the EU, some would even claim in the world.
My story is of course one woman’s opinion and, moreover, I’d never been operated on before, but hearing the success stories from my peers-in-disease in Riga, I feel compelled to dethrone Germany’s highly rewarded name.
First, my doctor in charge from the very beginning kept giving me false and misleading diagnoses. Most of my initial clarity regarding my condition came from Google, and even then she hesitated to admit most facts until the very last minute when I confronted her and it was undeniable that I must get operated. With sadness I have to admit that even today I don’t have all my questions answered and feel somewhat uncertain about my future.

The narcosis and cutting-of-the-organs part itself went well, or so they tell me, but after that I was simply abandoned, lying helplessly in a room with another similarly sick patient. Seeing that my anesthesia had been strong enough to put down an army of Latvians, I remained motionless for most of the day and could only pray they wouldn’t mistake me for someone in a coma.

Nobody cared to figure out that I couldn’t move and couldn’t take medication that I didn’t even know I had to take, as I was too full of morphine to know what’s two plus two. Apparently my recovery had depended on a fresh ice supply on my wound – this came about only at the end of the second day when my friend, who happened to be a doctor, figured this out and got me some.

My first meal was a non-nutritious soup – one that consisted of some indefinable powder, several lumpy somethings and hot tap water. This ‘gourmet’ feeding was topped up by a small portion of artificial potato puree with marinated beets.
To make the nightmare story short, I was discharged at the end of my third day with dropping levels of protein – what a wonder – and almost dangerously low calcium in my blood to go home and take care of myself. But no worries, I was asked to sign an official paper that I, and I alone, am responsible for my health.

Almost at the same time, one of my friends underwent the same operation in a Riga hospital. She was awake and walking the same day, fed ‘grandma’ quality food and was back on her feet in a few days’ time. Whereas I discovered many unpleasant conditions that arose because I hadn’t been properly medicated post-operation, had to commit to a Google search for most explanations and am still receiving unexplained hospital bills.

Would I ever recommend any of above-mentioned countries as ‘high quality’ when it comes to health care? Definitely not. But I would rather passionately argue against those bad mouthing the Latvian health care as unsatisfactory or undeveloped.

It might just take that much more bureaucracy, waiting hours, mountains of bills and unexplained blood tests in fancy foreign clinics to realize that a quick appointment or a late showing up with a little bit of what we still call ‘the envelope’ might turn out to be a smarter investment when it comes to the dearest treasure we have – our health.

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