I woke up on Saturday morning with a poofy right eyelid. Surely, I thought, I’ve been overdoing it. After a long week of conference-going, networking, after-parties, staying up past my bedtime, and 2 visits to Oktoberfest, inclusive of that whole dancing on tables thing, my body was clearly telling me I needed a day off. Sweet Caroline.
I chilled all day, binge watched the newly-released season 3 of The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime (so good – watch it!) in between naps and took a short trip to Edeka for some provisions.
Shortly after sundown, I took half of one of my in case of emergency sleeping pill (thanks Cindy!) before turning it all off, shutting her down.
I slept like a rock but unfortunately woke up to an even poofier eyelid, now turned a chartreuse color. My worst nightmare: my eye looked like I had been socked by a heavyweight boxing champion and it was quite uncomfortable. And did I mention I’m kicking off a freelance project with a new client in London on Tuesday. Great timing huh?
In the past, I had often wondered how I would find care in Germany if something were to happen to me while there. My imaginary scenario was falling off a curb and not knowing where to go or what to do. This was even worst. On a Sunday, when pretty much everything is closed.
Alone in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language, feeling like shit, all I could focus on for a few hours was: “I want my Maman”. I cried; at least my tear ducks worked fine.
I eventually sucked it up, like I always do, and I relied on my always faithful: Google. “Urgent care near me open now”. After translating Google reviews on the one place reported as “Open until 23h”, on this grey Sunday, I put my rose colored sunglasses on and headed to the KVB, prepared to spend the rest of the day there. Look at that website, I dare you…
Two U-Bahn stops away and a short walk further, I stepped into a white-colored office. I was second in line to get checked in. The nice woman at the reception shortly greeted me in German. “I’m sorry, do you speak English?” To my relief, she did.
“Do you have German health insurance?”, she asked.
Here we go…
“Kein Problem, you can pay cash.”
Oh this is gonna be expensive… Knowing I have about €150 left in cash in my wallet, 7 weeks after emptying my business account upon leaving Virginia, I panicked a bit: what if I can’t afford this care?
“Oh, ok, how much do you think it will be?”, I said, acting cool.
Phew! But no traditional Bavarian jacket for me this trip. I must take care of this eye business pronto. Priorities…
I filled out a super short piece of paper to formally check in: name, sex, address, date of birth, and reason for visit: eye infection.
“Go to the end of the couloir, the waiting area is there.”
“Thank you, do you think it will be a long wait?”
“There are only 2 people ahead of you so it should not be too long.”
Super, danke schön.
In the waiting area, I observe mothers with young kids, English-speaking tourists in their Oktoberfest garb, clearly not feeling well, a few young women alone; probably about 14 people total. Hmmmm, maybe the receptionist fibbed me…
There are 3 doors adjacent the waiting area. A nurse comes out of the first door and calls a patient. Five minutes later, the patient exits the room. One minute later, the nurse calls another patient. Wow, they are moving through people surprisingly efficiently out of door number 1!
Out of the 3rd door, another nurse calls another patient. Four minutes later, the patient exits, blue-colored slip in hand. Not-even-one-minute-later: “Frau Trudeau.”
Wow, it’s my turn already!
I walk into a small examination room set up like my eye doctor’s office with all the eye exam gadgets and things. The nurse sets up at the computer and I am introduced to the doctor. They both speak enough English that we understand each other. But we don’t really need words to describe my condition: it’s obvious why I am there. Just look at me.
(I spare you the picture, you are welcome!)
First she checks my vision, exactly like Dr. Reisner has done every year for the last 18 at the The Eye Center in Sterling, Virginia. She is dictating what she finds, the nurse typing in what I imagine is my virgin German health file.
I don’t understand what she is saying, but I can tell what’s going on. By now, I have been training for weeks, maybe even years: I am quite proficient at listening to Germans. The context, her tone and discourse’s cadence tell me everything I need to know: all of it is reassuring. Alles gut.
The whole procedure takes about 4 minutes before she says: “You will be ok, I give you antibiotics”. All right then! After exchanging a few pleasantries, I offer my phone so she can use my Google translate to tell me what I have…
A stye, ewwwww. It sounds even worst in German!
No matter how careful I am about washing my hands and sanitizing practically everything almost all the time, some kind of bacteria got in my eye. And honestly, with all the running around I’ve been doing and some millions of people wobbling around my Munich neighborhood, I can’t exactly be surprised.
To my delight, she then informs me that there are a few Apothekes that are open all day on Sunday for emergencies and I can start my healing immediately. “Check with the reception for the list”.
This list, Google had not been able to help me with earlier, reporting that all pharmacies in the city are closed until Monday morning. In the reception area a few minutes later, I find the holy grail. Alléluia.
“No make up and antibiotics 3 times per day. You will be normal in a week to 10 days.”
That’s good news, but I can’t help but agonize about what first impression will I make in London in a couple of days. Ugh.
“Oh, I pay you?”
She pulls out a wallet to make change for my €120 and hands me my paperwork and my blue-colored prescription slip.
I was in and out of there in 49 minutes.
I can’t help but compare: I would have never felt this efficiency in neither Canada nor the US. And ironically, I was expecting experiences similar to those of my adult-life stuck in the American healthcare system after reproductive system issues, back surgeries, preventative care for Ironman, a Lyme disease diagnosis, and all the other health things.
I’m not saying one experience makes an entire country’s system better. Rather, I am aware of my pejorative biases towards healthcare systems in general. Yet, in a moment I didn’t have a choice but to get out of my comfort zone, my expectations were exceeded. I am reminded to always keep an open mind.
Later, I pick an Apotheke that is a 10 minute walk away, on my way back to my pied-à-terre. Five minutes later, I leave with both my prescription and a saline drop solution that should help with the swelling, according to the pharmacist. €39. I decide to walk the rest of the way home.
Side note, €157 total. My monthly COBRA payment is $403.82. Just saying.
Inside of 2 hours, I was back in my pyjamas, antibiotic ointment in eye, warm compress on rotation, episode 7 playing.
Later on that evening, Skyping with my family, the only human beings I feel comfortable seeing me like this, we strategize about what I’ll tell my new client on Tuesday and agree that humor is the only way to go.
My brother Julien comes up with the best line: “Caro, easy. Tell then you brought the Eye of the Tiger!”
Indeed, and on that note, I shortly proceed to get some shut eye.