Monday, June 29, 2009

My Experience in a German Hospital - Part II

Damon walked home alone through the abandoned streets of Heidelberg. There was my curry, sitting there on the counter. (That recipe still reminds me of going to the hospital.) I can't imagine how he must have felt, but I know that if I'd just had to leave him behind in an operating room, it wouldn't be pretty. He gathered up a few things for me - like a stuffed animal that later caused the nurses to remark that coming to my bed was like visiting the childrens' ward - and came back. He was there when I got out of surgery.

I was really shocked to wake up somewhere other than my own bed. I was being rolled down the hall to the post-op area. The first doctor I had seen was waking me up and telling me that everything in surgery went perfectly. Surgery? Oh yeah. Effing surreal.

They asked me if I had any pain. I did, a little bit, on the left. They told me there was a drain in there. Whoa. I thought I couldn't feel my right hand, but it turned out they'd stuck an IV port there in the back of my hand sometime during the surgery, and that was why my hand didn't feel right. (By the way, if anyone reading this is ever in a position to determine where an IV port is placed in me, I would like to make note that the backs of my hands are strictly off limits!) My legs were shaking like crazy and I couldn't control them. They said they were going to give me something for that, and before I could ask what, it was already going in the IV port. I wondered if it was Demerol, a drug I was pretty sure was used for this sort of thing, and a drug which the director of pharmacy at my old job had repeatedly tried to have removed from the hospital formulary (because of some side effects - but to no avail, the doctors were fans of it and for this use it's still considered fine by most people). Whatever it was, it worked like a charm.

By this time, it was about 2am and they again made Damon go home, telling me that I would sleep better without him there anyway. Very funny. I spent the entire night awake, counting the hours. I had a great nap under anesthesia and wasn't really tired. I can't sleep on my back, but had no other options with all the fresh cuts on my belly. I was shocked at what had just happened to me. The woman in the bed next to me clearly had much bigger issues than just post-op recovery. About once an hour or so, she woke up and began moaning loudly while shaking the side rails and the bar above the bed. It was really dreadful. Around 8am, I just started crying from lack of sleep and shock. The nurses were in such a hurry to make sure I wasn't in any pain that they just assumed that was the problem - I was trying to tell them it wasn't, but I doubt the situation was helping my German - and gave me an extra shot of pain medications. (Later I found out one of the other patients in the room was wondering why I was crying so much. What the hell? Is emergency surgery and being in the hospital not enough!?)

I was allowed to eat breakfast and have some water, which was great! The only thing on the plate they wouldn't let me eat yet was some dark bread. The surgeon who operated on me came by to chat about how it went. After lunch, I got to stand up with the help of some really great, patient, English-speaking nurses and wash up at a sink. No modesty here - it was an open area with four patients and plenty of nurses wandering around. Visitors aren't allowed at this time, though. They also took me down the hall to use the real toilet instead of the commode. Woo hoo! For this I got two hospital gowns to wear to be totally covered. The gowns were nicer-looking - big white poofy things - than the hospital johnnies we had where I worked in Boston. Also, I was surprised that my IV drips were just that. There was no pump. I did notice the woman across from me had a pump, though. Maybe I didn't have one because the drugs I had infusing weren't particularly dangerous. I don't know if the hospital where I worked before still ever did IVs without a programmable pump, though.

I was bored and the hospital was near my former (and now current again) office so I texted my friends and a whole bunch of them came to visit me, bringing fruit, plants, and magazines! I couldn't keep the plant with me because it was a post-op area and not a regular ward, though. They let me keep it in the hallway outside the room. At this point I should have been moved to a ward, but there was no space up there, so I was kept in post-op. This is an extremely common problem in US hospitals, or at least the ones I knew anything about. In the US, it's because many hospitals were closed during a certain period, when people thought the trend would be toward less hospital usage and more home care, and also because smaller hospitals in the US often cannot stay afloat financially. I don't know the reason for this problem in Germany.

Thankfully, the woman who was in the bed next to me was moved away and replaced with a different patient. This one was an American woman from the military base, here to get an operation which is apparently not provided by the American hospital (or she didn't want to get there, or something). She was very nice, but spent most of the time sleeping.

The hospital food followed a typical German pattern. Breakfast was bread and cold cuts or jam. Lunch was a big hot meal and dessert. Dinner was bread and cheese or cold cuts, a vinegary salad, and possibly a cold Wurst chunk. (Dinner was definitely the most depressing meal of the day.) True to stereotypes, the food was really terrible. I think the worst was a green soup with an entire Wurst sitting in it. Is that healthy?

I spent one more, much better, night in post-op. They had told me on Friday that they thought I'd get to go home on Sunday. But on Saturday, things looked so good they let me go home then. Later I looked up my procedure on the internet. In the US, it is an outpatient procedure and they send you home to deal with all the misery alone. You might get guilted into going back to work three seconds later, too. I got a letter from the doctor saying I should be excused from all school expectations until the end of January. I prefer the more conservative approach.

They sent me home with a little plastic cup with a couple of doses of paracetamol and another with a couple of doses of potassium. Electrolytes and paracetamol were, with the exception of surgery and the maybe-Demerol, about the only drugs I got in the hospital, too. They apparently don't move up to the narcotics for pain unless necessary. My instructions were to come back to the hospital in case of certain problems. That was it.

Certain problems came along at about lunchtime the following Tuesday.


  1. Hi,

    I looked again at both of your posts but I can't find the reason WHY you had to have surgery. What was the illness?

    I hope you're allright now?

  2. Hey C! I'm with Sebastian. What were you having surgery for exactly? Having seen you since Jan, I know you're better, but is this something that can cause you problems later?
    Also, green soup with a Wurst sitting in it? Gross. As someone who doesn't eat meat, my biggest fear is having to go into a German hospital and starve to death.
    I had to go with my neighbor to the children's hospital (near the zoo) back in Dec in the middle of the night and it was a very similar experience to the one you had in your first post. Everything was locked and closed and there were no signs anywhere. How do sick Germans find their way around?

  3. I don't know if that is different from America but here the A & E department normally has an extra entry / road which is open 24/7. I never had problems with locked hospitals when I was there for an emergency. But perhaps that was just my luck. :)

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  5. Hey guys, I really appreciate your concern. I debated whether to post about this experience for many months because it is more personal than what I normally want to share. I decided there was some value in posting what it's like in the German hospital/health care system, enough that I should go ahead. However, I hope to be able to do it (and think I don't detract too much from the main point) without having to go into the really personal stuff. :)
    Of course I can't stop people from speculating and that is totally fine, but I prefer any speculation on this be done in private and behind my back. :) And I am okay now, with all future risk being the same risk that comes with any surgery (risk of adhesions or things like that). Thanks!

  6. This is B3rnd's comment reposted sans the speculation :) -

    I'm stumped for the reason of the op, too.

    @Mom in High Heels: German hospitals typically provide more than one type of meal. I think the usuals are "Vollkost", "Leichte Kost" (for people on a diet), "Vegetarische Kost" (vegetarian) and something pork free. In any case, if you don't want meat, the kitchen can accomodate you :)

    And re. the green soup: sounds like "Erbsensuppe" (pea soup).

  7. That sounds so scary. Being told you need to have surgery right away is so shocking and it takes a while to deal with all the confusion of being put under and the anxiety after you wake up of not knowing what could have happened. Hope you're feeling better.

  8. Naechste: It's definitely the weirdest that something turned out to actually be wrong. I thought of myself as going to the doctor to make sure something WASN'T wrong, not to find out something WAS!

  9. This is really interesting, CN and pretty much echoes my experiences in January except that my surgery wasn't emergency and I had a bad reaction to the anesthesia threw up four times in the course of 12 hours when I was back in my room. Bleh.

    Yes, terrible, terrible food. I can't believe they expect sick people to eat that stuff!

  10. I don't speculate about your illnesses and I don't welcome speculation about mine (which is why I didn't really mention my experiences when they occurred).
    I had great trauma with the food. In an area with a 10% Turkish population I was offered a slice of pig meat and when my husband asked for a non-pig product (I say this so that there is no misunderstanding- he is German and therefore there was no communication problem)- the woman suggested he go buy me something.
    On your other post HB8 apologized (to Cliff!)for stating that there are consistent cultural issues here in Germany. I do not apologize for stating this. It's true. And, before folks start- it's clearly not all Germans. Just a sizable enough group that a stereotype has formed communicating the attitude.
    oh- and my hospital(s) had lines drawn on the floor that were color coded. Helped me a lot.

  11. What a scary experience, good thing you were treated so well and quickly!

  12. Wow. Thanks for sharing your experience. I know medical stuff isn't always something people want to share - nevertheless you did a great job of sharing your story :)

    By the way, the military woman didn't have surgury on post because we don't have a hospital here anymore - just doctors offices. They don't have all necessary doctors either, which is why I had to go on the economy to see a dermatologist a month or two ago.

  13. I can relate to part of that.

    When I was having a problem with my foot while back, I cycled to the doctor (I was able to cycle better than walk) and hopped into the doctor's office on the ground floor – visibly in pain.

    After looking at it, the doctor told me to go to the 2nd floor for an ex-ray. I reminded her that I couldn't walk and she said, 'There's a lift in the hallway.' How silly of me to hope to be offered a wheelchair, crutches or other assistance.


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