Health Care Challenges

My eye was hurting. My first thought was one of my eyelashes had somehow gotten a little twisted, so I flushed it out with water.
That didn’t work though. It was still itchy and red. Quite annoying really. Especially since I wasn’t sure what to do.

Back in Canada I might have called my doctor. We have socialized medicine, and his office is close to Parliament Hill where I worked. Sulzburg though has no doctors.

There are a couple of dentists. And a couple of pediatric psychiatrists (don’t ask why, I’ll probably get around to that post in a year or so). There’s a physiotherapist, but I doubt she has much to do with eyes. Oh, I just remembered now, there is an optician who might have been able to provide some advice, but I didn’t remember that when my eye was hurting.

Rather than try to find an English-speaking doctor in another town, I figured I would try the pharmacy. In Ottawa I know I can buy eye drops over the counter. Here I’ve been told you can’t purchase Aspirin without a prescription. Pharmacies here don’t have much on the shelves – you have to ask.

My wife had mentioned the pharmacy as an option, and had said she would go with me. She speaks German well. I don’t really speak it at all, though I am learning.

I was making a quick trip alone to the post office, and decided I could walk across the street to the pharmacy and see what I could accomplish by myself. After four months of classes I was confident in my ability to say “Mein Auge ist ein bisschen krank.” (My eye is a little bit sick.” Google translate gave me the word I needed: augentrophen (eyedrops).

It went well. I showed the pharmacist my red eye, just in case she didn’t get it, and asked for Augentrophen. She went to the dispensary, opened the drawer and came back with a small bottle. Then she gave me instructions. At least I think they were instructions. I explained I didn’t speak German, and I guess she speaks no English because she didn’t switch.

At home I told my wife that I didn’t understand what the pharmacist had said, but I at least had eye drops. Together we figured out the correct dosage. You would think it would be easy, but the extensive documentation had that information hidden.

Later that day my wife met the pharmacist on the street (they know each other through volunteer work with refugees) and said I had been in to get eyedrops and asked what instructions I had been given.

Turns out I was told if the drops didn’t do the trick that meant there was something in my eye and I should go to the doctor.  I think I would probably have figured that out on my own, but it is good to know.

The eye improved, with the drops easing then eliminating the irritation. I am left wondering though about how newcomers navigate the health care system. Health care must be much more difficult for the millions of refugees who have flooded into Europe in the past few years. How do you communicate simple things like a sore throat when you don’t speak the language. Yes, there are people who can translate, but they aren’t always available.

Just one of those things we don’t think about when we look at the situations newcomers face, in Germany or even in Canada. No wonder people feel a little (or a lot) overwhelmed, especially those escaping war zones. Each country’s health care system is different, and those of us who grew up in a place don’t always understand how challenging it can be for those who didn’t.
I don’t know how to make it easier or better, or even if that is possible. Having spent almost a year in Germany though, I do have a deep sympathy for anyone trying to live in a new country.

One comment

  1. Nicely written

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