Experiencing the worst-case scenario - surgery abroad
If you follow me on social media you might have noticed that I have not been in my best health for the last two months. Since I am back from Christmas in Germany it was a rollercoaster journey with my health. I went to countless doctor’s appointments..each time assured that everything will be fine and each time I had to go back to just being told that it went worse. You start to prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario: Getting surgery in a foreign country with a foreign health system.
In this blog post, I will give insights into how it feels to be that vulnerable abroad. I hope my advice from my experience will help you when you encounter a similar situation.
The advantage of the Expat bubble: Health insurance
Most of us Expats live in a comfortable bubble as we get access to accommodations and school systems. From my side, I am so incredibly thankful for the great health package we received when moving abroad.
With this security in mind, I did not think about hospital bills or paragraphs. I was able to focus 100% on my health, knowing that I will get a good and adequate treatment.
Lying in bed waiting for my surgery I heard how two doctors talked about another patient who is not able to pay for her crucial operation. In that case, they send her home with painkillers. I don’t even want to think about that scenario and it makes me feel unjustifiably blessed.
How to select a doctor
Besides typical google research, I also consulted people in the “Germans in Chicago” facebook group. This was a really good thing to do as it’s the best way to get a personal recommendation from people with a similar cultural background. I was able to find a doctor who is interested in the German culture as his sister got married to a German. While I don’t expect my doctor to be familiar with my culture it was really nice just to felt understood during the treatments. He knew that Germans don’t like to be sugarcoated and that we prefer to be direct when it comes to diagnoses and steps to take. Moreover, he was fully aware of the language barrier it terms of medical vocabulary. This understanding was really helpful to me during this stressful and vulnerable period of my life. Maybe you are also able to find a recommendation from other friends and Expats in your social groups. In my case, it gave me some invaluable comfort.
Surgery: Do your research on where to go in an emergency
I recommend you to do your research right at the beginning when moving to another country:
– In what scenario can I call 911? When should I call 911? Or even more profound: Which number to call?
– Where is the best hospital nearby?
– How can I reach my doctor if something is not right?
If you don’t know that you will end up like me, lying in bed in pain in the middle of the night googling how to get to the emergency room. After taking the uber to the hospital I had to wait 9 hours for my surgery and I talked to endless nurses and doctors, repeating my story again an again only to be introduced to the next higher level of responsibility. I guess this is kind of a normal procedure in most country.
Differences in treatment US vs Germany
The worst thing you can do is comparing the health systems all the time. There is no benefit here. Knowing that the German doctor would have done several more treatments and that the German hospital would never let you go home the same day of surgery is no information which helps you to recover.
You have to engage yourself with the local health system otherwise you will go crazy. I kept thinking that America is a developed country and that I am not the first person nor the last one sitting here in pain with that problem.
If they tell you that this procedure is normal there is no good in disagreeing in my opinion. You are not the expert in this case neither is it the doctor from your home country who is far away and who does not know the local procedures.
For me it was vital to trust in the system I am now living in and to concentrate my energy on my body and my recovery. Going into a surgery with a positive mindset was my absolute priority.
It is ok to get a second opinion from your home country. However, don’t forget that you are not in your home country right now and that the person who can help you at this very moment is right here. Maybe the procedure is different but the goal is the same: To get you healthy again.
From my treatment, I learned that medication and procedures are quite different in Germany and the US. While these are two developed countries I am sure that procedures in other nations are even more different. What I can say now is that Germany is a bit more proactive and cautious, while the American systems trust a lot in their research and diagnoses resulting in less personal doctor appointments, less check-ups, and that you are leaving the hospital earlier but with endless pain killers to take. Also, I should have been able to work again only two days after my surgery. Lying in bed with my mind and body being completely weak and paralyzed by painkillers I don’t really see that speedy recovery. I guess that’s where the so-called sick days in the US come in handy.
Back at home, I am thankful for not being alone for the last couple of days. I am thankful for the encouragement from friends and family all around the world and the fact that I now fully experienced the cycle of moving abroad with all its ups and downs without losing my passion for being a global citizen.
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