Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Do you go to the doctor auf Deutsch?

19 comments
Fellow expats living in Germany: when you go to the doctor, do you conduct the appointment in German or English?

I have to admit that even after four and a half years here, I don't feel I could talk about a problem with a doctor in German without having to talk around something or leave something out because I don't feel I can completely explain it in German... and with health, you don't want to mess around. I'm happy to talk to the staff, nurses, and whoever else and fill out all the forms in German (okay, if the form has a complicated question, I will switch to English to respond), but with the doctor, I just don't think I can pull it off. It really makes me feel like a jerk to go in there and demand my own language, but I still think it's better than leaving without being sure I explained the problem correctly.

If you do conduct your appointments entirely in German, how long did it take before you felt you could do that?

19 comments:

  1. I totally understand where you are coming from. Not being able to precisely explain health issues is scary stuff. So while I always go to the doctor with the goal of conducting the visit in German, I always tell myself that if I don't feel like I'm adequately explaining myself, I can always drop in English where necessary.

    And quite surprisingly, this approach has really worked for me -- even through the extensive number of different doctor's visits and physical therapy appointments after I broke my kneecap.

    I also never pretend to understand something in German if I don't, so I ask a lot of questions. And I often repeat back to the doctor or PT what they said, just to make sure that I understood correctly.

    I've decided on this approach because I will be spending a significant portion of my life here in Germany and it just makes sense for me to try to master doctor-patient communication.

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  2. I do go to the Dr. auf Deutsch, but sometimes I switch into English. We've been here almost 4yrs, but I have some German language background that gave me a running start with the language when we moved over here.

    Usually I just tell them right off the bat that I understand German much better than I speak, so don't worry, just go ahead with the Deutsch. If stuff starts getting funky and I'm not exactly sure what's getting said, I just ask them to hold on a sec and then I repeat what I THINK I understood and make sure we're all on the same page.

    My German husband still accompanies me to specialist visits, at least the first appt, just to be sure (and to help with those crazy forms!) -although specialists generally have excellent English as opposed to my PCP...

    Also, I work as a freelance editor for (mainly) medical research, so I have added incentive to come across as coherent as possible in these appts; they almost always ask what I do for a living, so I better sound good, ha!

    Still, I wouldn't knock yourself out over it. Communicating in a foreign language when you're not feeling fit and when the vocab realm is not your forte is no fun. Although I think making the effort is always appreciated, I wouldn't feel too bad about it.

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  3. Hmm. That's exactly the reason I've been putting off some appointments... Because of that, I'm afraid I have no advice, but I like what the people above said!

    Good luck!

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  4. A little bit of both. My OB (whatever it's called in German) speaks perfect English, but some of his staff don't. They try, but sometimes it's easier for everyone if I talk to them in German. They use very basic words with me because they know my German is minimal. When I had to St. Elisabeth's back in Nov for food poisoning, some of the nurses spoke almost no English. That was a comedy of errors.

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  5. I do "go to the dr." in German, but I have on occasion grabbed my handy and called my husband to have him interpret (and I do ask him to be available when I have a specialist visit). I have had medical issues with him working in another city and that's how life rolls. But I have him ask for referrals and make original appointments and most of my drs can give me a few words in English if I get stuck (or Latin- took 4 years of that and it helps). I know that during my colonoscopy, when the dr woke me up and spoke to me, I seemed to understand and speak German:-).I think that's pretty funny! I also look up certain words before I go because the words I need will generally not be in my vocabulary.

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  6. In the tiny town of B, there were not so many English speakers and it would have been a bigger effort to haul myself into D'dorf or Cologne, so German it was.

    I did have my colleagues to phone ahead to make the appointments and they 'screened' the office, and asked if they could please speak German slowly. For the few offices that stated that they did not have time or could not be bothered, they kept looking until they found offices with friendly staff.

    My eye office even offered that I could be booked into a 'special' appointment--apparently they allotted a certain part of one day each week to patients who need extra time (such as mentally disabled) and these appointments were allocated to allow for additional time with friendly staff.

    In addition, I carried along my bright yellow Langenscheidt dictionary which definitely helped to remind people to speak slowly as well as one of those picture dictionaries where I studied the specialized words in advance.

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  7. Thanks for all your thoughtful responses!

    G: I also speak German coming out of anesthesia, even if spoken to in English. I wonder if it's from hearing German all around while out.

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  8. I almost never go to the doctor, but when I do, I try my hardest to do it in German. I'll look up vocabulary before I go and fall back on Latin terms if I need to.

    It feels like, in English medical situations, patients often use (or at least understand) Latin-based terms for illnesses or body parts.
    Not so much in German; there seem to be two vocabularies. One for the patients with pure German terms and the doctors' Latin-based terms.

    The only time I fell back into English was when I had a wisdom tooth out. When I found out I had to stay awake during the procedure, I think I was in such a blind panic that German was beyond my capabilities.

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  9. I've always done them in German, though that first year I recall slipping in a few English words, which the doctor then taught me to say in German. Where else are you going to learn fun terms like snot and congestion? Bleg. And I second everything eveyone's already said about asking a ton of questions. But that's probably a good idea even when you're doing the appointment in English with an English native speaker.

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  10. Alright, I've heard enough. You all have convinced me I'm even more of a jerk than I previously thought. I'll try to do it in German next time. :/

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  11. I'm not using German because I think I should! It's because my Dr.s generally speak German and prefer not English (hate to show their lack of fluency)- although they will give me some English when we spend too much time trying to figure out what it means (from the German). I had bad experiences twice with English speaking Dr recommendations and now I get referrals from my German speaking pediatrician and they generally prefer to speak German. Use the Dr you are happy with in whichever language you want- being ill doesn't need to serve as a practice environment! It's bad enough being ill.

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  12. Now see, I'm TOTALLY doing it in German because I think I should. But I'm pretty susceptible to expectations and peer pressure.

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  13. I don't know, it does matter to me whether other people are doing it. My kinda-whiny (sorry) reaction above just came from pure surprise that everyone who reads this blog either goes in German or is afraid to comment that they don't. Perhaps HD is a bit different. I know several international students who don't speak a LICK of German - I mean people who can't even order food auf Deutsch - and they have gone to the doctor here. Then there's the perennial threads on Toytown of people seeking English-speaking doctors. I really thought it was more standard to speak English at the doctor than the reactions to this post would suggest, so I really had to rethink how I might be perceived by a doctor if I ask to explain my problem in English. Maybe he/she'd be quicker to write me off because I'm a pain in the ass. You just can't know what little things about these interactions may make some kind of important difference. I guess it's a bit of a toss-up because I could be on the bad end of it either way - via their imperfect English or irritation, or via my imperfect German or total embarassment and subsequent doctor avoidance. But based on everyone else being able to handle it, well, why shouldn't I?

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  14. Of course, there's always the off chance that any Dr. is having a bad day and gets irritated at anything you do, whether it's going for broke in German or doing English-only. Honestly, you never know. I really wouldn't stress too much about it and just do whatever you feel like doing! =)

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  15. I think you are overthinking. I was in yesterday with an asthma attack (new, so not under control). I totally blanked out when the nurse asked me if I would see the Dr. rein. I was having a lung test at the time and thought she meant a new doctor named Rhein and said that I would be seeing my regular dr., Hardin. A jolly laugh later, and we were fine. (The look of blank non-comprehension on my face is a giveaway). But I am pretty ok with my crap German skills- I generally apologize up front and then murder the language merrily.

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  16. I've only been to the OB and Dermatologist here, and I hate to admit I did both in English (both within my first year here). With some of the complications and questions I had, I knew I would never understand what I needed to know auf Deutsch. I do at least try to conduct everything with the rest of the staff in German, but sometimes do get lost. Next up, my German friend's recommendation for a good dentist - who speaks no English (eek!). Since I'm scared of the dentist as it is, I keep putting this off appt since the only thing scarier than going to the dentist is a dentist who's explaining things I can't understand!

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  17. Shoegirl: Last time I went to the dentist here I tried to talk to the dr in English since I didn't think it was going to be that complicated, but I got stuck on a word I didn't know and after he repeated it and I was still looking like a deer in headlights, he switched to English. I argued in German, "But I have to learn to speak German!" and he said "Yes, but this is not a good time."

    That was over 3 years ago. Could use a dentist, but I'm procrastinating big time because after this long I know I have to do it in German, even though he probably doesn't remember me anyway. :/

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  18. If you're comfortable speaking English with your doctor, do it. Who cares what the rest of us do? You don't even have to tell us. :)

    I'm fine speaking German to doctors because I started out with no choice (living in eastern Germany in the 90s, where most doctors didn't speak a word of English). Every once in a while I'll go to a doctor here in Munich who speaks fluent English, and it feels like a total luxury, but I've found that if the doctor isn't great at English, I'm more comfortable in German.

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  19. I haven't moved to Germany yet, and going to the doctor wasn't really on my radar. After reading your post (and the comments) I started making doctor's appointments...went to the dentist today! Thanks!

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