I’ve recently had the experience rarely given to exchange students: I had major surgery in a foreign country. While this may seem scary to some, and while a few parts of it were, I was mainly just excited by the experience!
I know, this is not the normal reaction to getting put in a hospital. What can I say? I’ve been in the hospital too many times in my life to be scared of them, even if it’s never been for me. My grandmother’s health has been failing for the past ten years (she’s still alive and kicking, though), and my dad works in a hospital. Add to that being the oldest of four, each of whom have had their own hospital experiences, and you’ve got a recipe for hospital time.
So, for all you curious people, I’ll give a brief overview of why I was in the hospital. I went to the emergency room on a Sunday a few weeks back because, being Sunday, it was the only place open, and I thought I had pneumonia or some kind of bacterial lung infection. I had a scratchy throat and a pain in my chest, and figured it’d be better to get antibiotics as quickly as possible, since the school year was starting back and staying in bed Saturday hadn’t proven to do me much good. Sunday morning at 10:30 I got to the hospital. At 15:00 they told me I was going to have to stay. For those of you keeping up with my personal blog, you’ll remember I have a child. So I called a fellow exchange student who was fluent in English and (fortunately) available. And then I called my mom, who managed to hop on a plane to Germany. Yay mom!! The next morning I was diagnosed with a tumor in my lung blocking off the passage to the upper section of the lung. Later they told me that the tumor, along with the upper section of my lung, would need to be surgically removed. I decided to stay in Germany for the operation because a) that way I had a chance of finishing my classes and not wasting a semester and b) German doctors are pretty good, from what I hear. Pretty darn good. So, long story short, operation was set for Friday, it went even better than expected, and now I’m just waiting to be released, which happens Tuesday, assuming everything’s still healing as it should.
Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s talk about some of the cool parts of being in a German hospital. First of all, the patients. I’m on a floor with patients primarily over the age of 60 that are from the local region of Trier. My most recent roommate was a half-deaf woman with a very strong accent that lives 20 minutes out towards the country from the university (which is already on the edge of town). I’m a big fan of accents. Dialects. Whatever you want to call them. They’re cool. So I got to spend a week of enjoying listening to the Trierisch accent that got even stronger when visitors came. It was also amusing to hear her talk on the phone, because she would talk about me. Nothing bad, just that I was a poor soul from America, very young, blah, blah. But towards the end of the week she was talking with a hospital hospitality representative (who are so much nicer than the ones I’ve met in the states, and actually seem concerned; I like them) about my German skills, and she said “but you don’t understand our dialect, do you?” “Doch!” I was happy to reply. Ooh, I wish I had a camera to capture the look on her face. “Surely not,” she said. “But I do,” I said, “because I studied Luxembourgish at the university, and Trierisch is a cross between Luxembourgish and German. I don’t understand every word, but most of it I can handle.” And I could! Especially after having listened to it every day for a week. A few of the nurses could speak Trierisch as well, and I always enjoyed it when they were on duty. But all the nurses were very nice, and it was interesting to learn where each of them were from.
The other cool part about being here was learning a whole new set of vocabulary. I learned everything from “bruise” –“blauer Fleck” to “dizzy” –“schwindlig” to “stairrail” –“Treppengeländer”. I also learned that it’s standard for German hospitals to administer a blood thinner to people who stay in the hospitals. This is because most people stay in bed all day, and they don’t want your blood to clot. It also hurts, and leaves a bruise at the sight of injection, which is either your stomach or upper thigh. I appreciate not having this in the states. On the positive side, though, German hospitals are much more free in that they allow the patients to leave their rooms at will. My first day here I asked someone if it was okay for me to leave my room. They gave me a very confused look before telling me it was. Last week I went out and got some ice cream with my mom in the afternoon. Very pleasant, and a very nice change of pace. I have no arm band, nor any kind of identifier other than the name tag on the foot of my bed. This is the same bed I’ve had since I was admitted. The sheets get changed every other day, but it’s my bed for everything until I leave the hospital. The only time I’ve been on something else was for the actual operation.
I also had lots of doctors. I met close to a dozen these two weeks, most of them in the same wing. They always came in twos during the week leading up to my operation, where I met 6 doctors and an anesthesiologist, and since then I’ve met a few more, not to mention the two I met in the ER. Honestly, I’m not sure why I met so many doctors during the first week. They all at some point either brought me a form to sign or explained some part of the operation, but it was still a little overwhelming, and I only know the names of a few. The doctor that operated on me, though, I saw every day both before and after my operation, including the weekend. I was very surprised when Sunday, two days after my operation, there he was again. By Wednesday I had to ask if he ever got a vacation. “Next week” he said. Crazy. I thought being a doctor in America was rough. But here? I saw my doctor as early as 8 and as late as 17:50, both times with his white coat on, and saw him for eleven days straight.
The other things I’ve learned are that the nurses, at least here, are really very nice, that Germans have their own version of American Idol as well as a dubbed version of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and that when Germans talk about “Abendbrot”, they literally mean bread. Dinner is two or three slices of bread with butter, jam, cheese, and meat. Now, being American, I like big dinners. So, that was hard to adjust to. Basically, I ended up saving a roll from the huge breakfasts they give you to balance it out.
I do like German hospitals better. They give you more freedom and more independence (two very different things), while at the same time being very aware of the needs of their patients. I didn’t sleep well the first few nights after my operation, and after two nights (maybe three…I honestly forget) I had another set of pain relievers for night time to help me sleep, and they did. And then when I could get to sleep again they stopped giving them to me, but told me I could call at any time. Basically, if they would do away with the stomach shots, I would come here for everything.
Also, I would like to thank DAAD for the health insurance they provide, without which, I would have needed to go back to the states and forego my first semester in Germany. Thanks guys!