The Accidental (Health) Tourist

One of the great perks for our children of having parents brought up in different cultures – and for all that the north east of Scotland and south west Germany are on the same continent, the cultures are without doubt different – is the chance to experience celebrations in each. Christmas for us is divided equally between the two sets of Grandparents and this year it’s a German Christmas. It will surprise no one to learn that Germany does Christmas properly. The Christmas markets teeter for the most part just on the right side of kitsch. The shop windows are expensively dressed, and enough of a highlight to make window shopping part of the Christmas ritual. Everywhere street vendors sell hot chestnuts.

The downside of all of this is getting there. Flying is expensive at Christmas and it can be exhausting for R and for us all. So we took the ferry. In a gale.

I was concerned. I knew the forecast and managing a vomiting R in a tiny cabin was not appealing: R is unable to i) tell us when she is going to be sick or ii) aim for a basin or sick bag, when she is sick. It’s a messy business. I arranged for hyosine patches. This is the same drug that you can buy over the counter at any pharmacy as a travel sickness remedy and R has had it before. Only this time it didn’t agree with her. R became very unwell, distressed and agitated overnight and we still had a 5 hour drive to G’s parents house ahead of us.

By the time we arrived, it was clear that R needed to see a doctor. And so it was that we became “health tourists”.

A and E in Germany is rather different to the UK. For a start, the waiting room was almost entirely empty. We registered on arrival and were triaged immediately. In a room. With a door. We were seen very quickly by an extremely competent young doctor who on consultation with the on-call consultant (who was still in the hospital at 11o’clock at night and who came to see us directly) decided to admit R. And this is where it got positively weird. We were shown to the ward, which wasn’t. It was, instead, a series of single and twin en-suite rooms. The very friendly nurse asked if R needed anything to eat or drink. And then she asked me if I wanted anything (I said “water”; she said – I kid you not – “still or sparkling?”). I should point out to anyone reading this who hasn’t had a child in hospital, that in the UK, parents are not given food or drink on the ward. While this is not unreasonable, the problem is, that where your child cannot be left alone, there is never a member of the hospital staff available to look after your child long enough to allow you to grab something to eat. So you don’t. I don’t on the whole have a problem with the care that R receives at home but our experience over the last couple of days just emphasises how much more the NHS could do to make what is always a very stressful experience a little bit more bearable.

As a postscript, I should add that there was also much that I recognised from home, not least the junior doctor who after 2 failed attempts to take blood from R, was brushed aside by a nurse who with great efficiency got the sample first time. And the food when it came, wasn’t great. But at least it came.

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