Monday, May 28, 2012

Europe 2012: Day 7 (Munich to Salzburg) Adventures in Austrian Health Care

Well, I got a chance to learn a little about Austria's health care system today. I woke up early today for a run and some street art photography along the Tumblingerstraße in Munich. Only I pivoted too quickly to avoid a speeding car and felt a stabbing pain in my right leg.

After trudging back about 1 1/2 miles to the hotel [today's a holiday, and I didn't see a single taxi], I went online and began the old RICE plan (rest, ice, compression, elevation). But hours later, after lugging my stuff to the train station and chugging south to Salzburg, I could still barely walk. At least I could hail a cab.

Checking in at the Schloss, the woman at the front desk heard my story and called another taxi. She said I'd be crazy not to get checked out at the nearby hospital. All my life I'd thought that these sorts of things are meant to be "walked off," but I just can't say no to an Austrian who means business. In this pleasantly efficient land of exclamation points [and honor-system newspaper stands too], there's little point in arguing.

So instead of tucking into some bratwurst at some cozy al fresco restaurant to celebrate my return to Salzburg, I found myself filling out forms at the hospital. My passport and insurance information were taken and I began to fret about the bill. The guy at the check-in desk assured me that the basic fee would be 187 EU - maybe more, but not likely a crazy amount. Almost reading my mind, someone nearby said, "You're not in America anymore."

I followed the blue line to the examination area where, after a couple questions, the nurse explained that I'd have to wait for an hour. She gestured to an old woman lying on a gurney in the hallway. I flashed back to that old Ringo Starr line: "I'm just happy to be here."

Assuring the nurse that I was in no rush, I asked if there was a restroom nearby. She replied, "no." Still smiling, I noted that, well, I'd have to pee sometime. I wondered how local folks manage this seemingly basic task. Luckily, an Australian visitor understood my plight. "He means the toilet." Oh, yeah... Once more my Puritan upbringing has jammed me up, inspiring me to select a pleasantly vague euphemism in a time calling for practicalities. "Cheers, mate!," said my new Aussie friend.

Soon enough I settled into a blue mesh chair in a long corridor. The guy next to me looked fine enough, until I noticed that his eyeball seemed ready to burst from his head. Maybe I'd overdone this whole thing. It was just a pulled muscle, after all. I could sit comfortably enough; I just couldn't, you know, walk. This guy's eyeball is pulsating out of its socket!

Still, I've got to admit, my situation felt scary. My research had confirmed that a really bad calf muscle injury could take weeks or even months to heal. Sometime (though rarely) these things require surgery. And I'm traveling all over Europe and China over the next two months. Still, sneaking a quick peek at the guy with that bloody, bulging orb staring back at me, I realized that I couldn't complain.

Almost exactly one hour later I heard an announcement in German that ended with "Mr. Wood." By this point, my leg had stiffened up pretty tight. I stepped slowly until a young woman gestured for me to quicken my pace.

Turns out, she would be my doctor this evening. She asked the basic questions, and then felt, prodded, and tugged her way around my leg. Little by little I became more certain that things would work out fine. Feeling a little silly, I said, "Really, I'll just be happy to know how should take care of this thing while it heals."

"You will have X-Ray," she explained. "Then I will tell you what to do."

Across the hall I endured a mild Pilates lesson. My X-Ray tech - all business - dragged my leg one way and then another to line up her shots. Looking up, grateful that she'd covered my genitals with a blue shield, I imagined myself back in the States, counting up the hundreds of dollars each minute in these rooms would cost.

Limping back to the hallway, I saw that old woman on the gurney once more. My X-Ray tech had slipped out another door and joined her. She still maintained her no-nonsense vibe, but I was happy to hear some kindness in her voice. I prayed that my visit had not wasted a single second that could have gone to that old woman's care. I remembered that I'd stammered a sheepish apology to the doctor during my initial consultation. "Better safe than sorry," I offered. Yes, she smiled.

Almost an hour later, the doc pronounced her verdict. My leg had good reason to hurt, she said, but there was no serious damage done. She gave me some pills and a reminder to walk slowly and calmly for the next few days. I thanked her and paid my fees. Cash only (due to a broken card reader machine). Exact amount too (no change available). I counted out each Euro, feeling nothing but gratitude. Now I'm back at the Schloss. My leg still hurts like hell, but at least I'm here.


Robin Mara said...

Wow, what an experience! I hope your leg heals quickly.

Anonymous said...

Wow. What an experience. I hope you leg heals quickly.