Never Give Up

Sometimes things just take time. Language barriers can be a big issue. Especially when health issues are involved. Yeah, I’ve had that little issue with a kidney stone a few weeks ago. After that, I decided I was well enough to go all the way to Germany with Jeff to get his motorcycle. Maybe not the best idea, but I did it.

On the way back, I started having some issues but I took some pain meds and we made it home. We need to prepare for Emilie’s imminent arrival this Saturday and we have train tickets to got collect her on Saturday morning. We needed to get ready for that. But I have still had some pain and acquiesced to going to the Dr for a follow up.

I like my Dr. here. She doesn’t take our insurance but an office visit costs almost nothing and she has an ultrasound machine and a EKG and a bunch of other stuff – right in the office. She does it all and it’s all part of the office visit. Unheard of in the US. The tests they’ve run in my Dr.’s office would have involved nurses, radiologists, phlebotomists. Not here. My Dr draws her own blood, does her own ultrasounds and reads the results. She’s from Venezuela, spent nearly and hour talking to me on Monday and she’s great. And she’s referred me to a specialist for some complications.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had ridden more than 1700 km on the back of a motorcycle last week. I could hear her silent head shaking without asking me what the hell I was thinking. I felt I could avoid it. So she gave me a referral and I came home and reached out to my insurance company. I don’t know how authorizations work here for insurance and visiting a specialist so I needed to make sure I was doing the right thing. That was the first challenge.

Using Google Chrome, it translates their website automatically. But the drop down menus are still in Spanish. I did the best I could, but couldn’t find the name of the specialist she was referring me to. The phone menus are not in English calling the phone number on the back of my card. I started pushing buttons, got a guy on the phone, he couldn’t understand me and hung up on me. I took a deep breath, got a glass of wine (yeah – I know I’m sick but needs must), and dialed again. I started understanding some of the words on the menu and pushed a button. Someone came on the phone and I asked in Spanish if they had any English. They didn’t but they got someone who did.

This new person was determined to help me. Hold, checked back with me, hold – he finally took my phone number promising the ‘person in authorizations who knows English will call you back, OK?’. Well, of course I said OK. I waited 24 hours. No call back.

Today, I called again and pushed the same number I pushed yesterday. They got me an English speaker – told me I don’t need an authorization for a specialist, however, the Dr. my Dr. referred me to is not one of their Docs. So I would need to go out to the website of another local hospital and find someone who specializes in the same area.

So I did that and found a doctor that takes my insurance and is that kind of specialist, but I couldn’t make an appointment online. So I called. More menus in Spanish. I heard a couple more words I have started to recognize (and understand) and pushed that number. Bingo! I got a receptionist who listened to my Spanglish, explaining what I needed, and she was sympathetic.

‘Please call back at 4. Doctor here at 4’

I thanked her and then I called back at 4. They talked to the nurse of the Dr and they couldn’t see me but they got me in for tomorrow at 6pm to see another similar specialist. Here, Dr’s keep hours in the evening. So civilized. It means you can have a job and go to the Dr. after work. America – are you listening?

So, it just required me NOT to give up, get too frustrated, and being willing to sound like an idiot on the phone to get what I needed. And it required some very patient people at the insurance company and the local hospital to try to help me. Between all of us, we got it done.

I felt embolden enough to tackle getting some prescriptions filled at the pharmacy, knowing I have and appointment tomorrow with the Dr. The pharmacist was so helpful and explained everything. She asked a lot about my condition and wanted to help me understand what I was taking and why. Such great service and care.

Am I nervous about going to see a Dr. I will struggle to communicate with? Yes. But I’m doing everything I can to mitigate it. I’ve printed out allergy information. I’ve writing up my history in both English and Spanish (yes, using Google translate, but its the best I can do).

It’s funny – Jeff hated going to the Dr. in the US. Even for very serious conditions, he never wanted to go. But here, we’ve both been so impressed with our experience so far, we’re willing to take more of a leap of faith. Well, and I’ve researched the specialist and read the papers he’s written in medical journals and education and residency history – so yeah, I feel OK with his qualifications.

Like most things in life, persistence pays off. Lets hope tomorrow I get good news and my baby steps into the medical/insurance world in Spain can be short lived. I have too much planned for this summer. And being sick in any way isn’t part of them.

 

The Business of Living

I awoke very early this morning with serious stomach pains. My whole left side was in such pain and it hurt to even touch it. Ugh. We have been so busy with other things, like living and working, that we haven’t established a relationship with a Dr. And finding one that speaks English – my preferred medical language in this situation – will prove a challenge. I already know that.

So I didn’t go. I just sat here all day. Yes, I Googled possible symptoms and learned I might have some things that would kill me very soon. Or things that will resolved themselves in a matter of days. Some things recommended no food or liquid orally. Others recommended that I do nothing but drink gallons of water. So I did the only sensible thing on a Friday and I went to sleep.

I slept for many hours today and now that I’m awake and it’s past 5 in the afternoon on a Friday, the time when 90% of the world gets sick (the most inconvenient time) I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have sought medical attention earlier. Pretending this is going to go away quickly isn’t a strategy that is panning out for me right now.

This is the first time since we’ve come here that I’ve felt truly insecure. Medical things tend to do that. When my daughter and I were walking the Camino, she had an allergic reaction on an early Sunday morning in Melide. That was very scary trying to find an urgent care or emergency room to stop the flaming rash from her neck crawling all the way to the top of her head. We got her some prednizone and the Dr. at the ER was very nice.

It’s harder when it’s your kids. If one of mine had awakened with this I would have moved heaven and earth – dialing 112  (911 in the US) or shouting for help in the street if need be – to get them medical attention. But for myself? I tend to take a more laiz-a-fare attitude. But then I thought ‘If I was in the US, would I go to a Dr.?’ and the answer is YES! I would have gone first thing this morning when the office opened. It’s a Friday and if this gets worse it’s an expensive ER visit. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $1200-$1800 for them to look at me in a hospital on a weekend back home.

But I have health insurance here. Full coverage and yet the language barrier is stopping me. I know its because I’m afraid I’ll have the same experience I had in Milan when I dislocated my shoulder and broke my wrist, and the orthopedic surgeon was the spitting image of Mussolini. I think he went the University of Mussolini where they shave the Dr’s heads and teach them to twist broken limbs and shout at patients in Italian. It was like being in the triage in the TV show MASH, only the Korean war tent hospitals in that show seemed better organized.

So, I’ll just wait a bit longer and drink more water. Maybe when I wake up tomorrow I’ll feel better. My fever will be gone, this raging headache will have cleared up, and I’ll be able to stand up straight without pain in my stomach. Between now and then, perhaps more sleep might do me good. There have only been a few, but it’s moments like these that even with as broken as some of our systems and institutions are in the US, I miss knowing how to navigate them. How to communicate what I’m feeling, ask questions and understand the response.  But for now, I’m getting off WebMD, crossing my fingers, and going to sleep.