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My First Swiss Hospital Stay

It was about a year ago, I started having trouble with my neck and shoulder. A bit of stiffness, tingling in my fingers and troublesome aches and pains in my left arm. I thought it was quite painful until a Sunday morning I woke up, and I realised what pain really meant…

I hadn’t realised the whole new panoramas of pain that are available when your body stops functioning as it should. I mean, have you ever had a hang nail? This was even more painful than that.

So I explained to my wife that I was suffering, and, having managed to convince her that it wasn’t a hangover, she drove me to Liestal Kantonspital. Though she is an excellent driver, and took great care to drive me smoothly, I can say that I am now intimately acquainted with every bump and swerve on the road between Pratteln and Liestal.

We arrived at Kantonspital, with me having added only a few colourful words to my young daughters’ vocabularies. On entering reception, I realised we’d made an awful mistake. All the lights were on, but there wasn’t a soul in the waiting room. It was clear; the hospital must be closed. How else to explain the lack of patients? Fortunately, the reception desk was manned, so I approached, intending to ask where we should go.

My wife explained my condition, and the receptionist (naturally speaking excellent English), asked for my passport.

Passport? The nearest hospital is across the border – is this some law that EU citizens get sent back into the EU if sick?

“I need your passport until we get confirmation of your health insurance”, she explained.

So, the hospital is open! But, no-one in the waiting room? As a lifelong user of the English NHS (God bless it), I found this almost unbelievable. What other, new, strange experiences awaited me? Can a health care system really work like this?

My wife handed over my SWICA card to the receptionist, and started filling in forms (this is Switzerland after all), and a nurse took me to a cubicle. She connected me up to some electrodes, explaining that she was checking that I wasn’t having a heart attack. Once that was established, the doctor came to give me a once over. I explained as best I could my symptoms – a brief summary is “ouch”, and then she uttered some words to me, that filled me with gratitude, and I will never forget.

“I’ll just give you something for the pain”

My wife and daughters came into see me to say goodbye , as it was clear I would be spending some time in the hospital. I heard my youngest (5 years old) say “I’ll never see him again”. 🙁

It gets a bit hazy after that, especially as the Doctor kept upping the dose.

I remember she had four patients, me (English), an Italian speaker, a German speaker, and a Swiss German speaker, and she was very adept at switching from language to language as she attended to us all.

I remember the neurologist saying he would come to see me on his way home from Basel, so there would be no need for an ambulance trip into the city and back.

I remember him poking me with sharp objects to identify the precise nature, and extent of my problem, eventually diagnosing a slip disk (discus hernia) in my neck. ( He was wrong, there were two slipped disks, between 4 and 5, and 5 and 6 ).

I remember going for a CAT scan that very night, and thought I must be hallucinating as the radio-therapist had a beautiful North Yorkshire accent. It’s funny where you meet English people.

I remember the German now for “pain” and “injection please”!

I remember that the nurses and doctors were very kind to me, always working hard to communicate with me, and keep me comfortable. And that they bent the rules a little so that I could go home on Christmas Eve, and be at home until my surgery in January – in Basel Kantonspital.

I’m happy to say that I am (almost) fully recovered, and entirely pain free. This was my first experience as being a patient, of severe pain and of any kind of surgery. Without knocking British health care, I’m very glad that I fell ill here in Switzerland, rather than in the UK.

2003-11-26 13:39:03

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