Becoming ill, alone, in a foreign country is not everyone’s ideal vacation. Normally, I am very independent and while I throughly enjoy the companionship of others, I also thrive on solitude. Loneliness is not something I often experience.
I recently suffered through an illness while traveling alone in Europe. While it left me with the normal symptoms of pain and weakness, it also left me with an incredible feeling of loneliness and sadness. I desperately wanted a loved one nearby to wait on me, encourage me and advise me. I just wanted to be near someone who loved me. Snickers, the cat that I’m cat sitting, never left my side. She slept with me and followed me from room to room. It was almost like she knew something was wrong. She brought me great comfort.
About my illness…at first, I thought the fever and pain were just a passing, minor thing so I didn’t pay it much mind. But, after a couple of days when I started to feel worse and my temperature continued to climb, I decided I needed to get some professional help.
But where should I go? Having a military ID I was eligible for medical care at the nearby Patch Army Base. I had been there when I was in Germany last summer and knew getting there without a car was no easy feat. It would take an hour to get there and required that I walk uphill for four blocks, catch a train, then catch a bus and then walk uphill for .5 miles. Being extremely frugal, I couldn’t bring myself to pay for a taxi for such a great distance.
I’d always heard Germany had an excellent medical system so I thought this would be a good time to see if this were true. Not knowing what they required, I took my Medicare card, government ID, passport, credit card and debit card.
Slowly, I walked to a pharmacy in a nearby mall hoping they could give me something for my pain and fever or guide me in another direction. I had written my symptoms on my iTranslate App in English and let my phone translate it into German. The pharmacist, a young, efficient, blond headed man, was very friendly and could speak English. He gave me some herbal medicine, painkillers and, with a smile, threw in a free tube of hand cream. He told me to take the medicine and then go see a doctor if my temperature rose or if I started to feel worse. He wrote down the name of a nearby doctor and the nearby ER in case I should need it. The bill was around $26 and I paid with a credit card.
I did as he instructed, took the herbal medicine, drank lots of water and improved a little. The pain in my abdomen lessened, but my fever, while not increasing, lingered between 101-103 degrees. I read that a fever can help kill bacteria so I did nothing to make it go away. I felt so cold and lay shivering under the covers. I had plenty of time to think and after three days, with Snickers’ encouragement, I decided to pay the doctor a visit.
After an eight minute, painful walk, I reached the doctor’s office only to find that he was not open on Wednesday’s. Discouraged, I returned home and went back to bed.
The next morning, Thursday, July 4, I got to the doctor’s office early at 7:45. In addition to the fever, I was becoming weak, and had completely lost my appetite. When the handsome doctor arrived at 8:15 he found me sitting on the staircase. He told me to come inside and directed me to his simple waiting room where I promptly found a chair, leaned my head against the window ledge and fell asleep. Soon he came back and told me I could check in. The two receptionists could not speak English, but I showed them my phone with iTranslate and they took some notes, asked me my name and address and told me to sit. No ID was requested. I sat and watched as the waiting room and hallway in front of the receptionist filled up. No one took my temperature, BP, weight or asked me to fill out any forms.
The doctor dashed back and forth, personally and patiently, tending to each person. There was even someone in a bed behind a curtain with a sign beside the door marked Labor. The doctor brought me a sealed container and told me to urinate in it.
Soon afterwards, he asked me to come into his office. He told me the urine test showed that I had two very bad bacteria and he was going to prescribe a very strong antibiotic. He told me the herbal medicine I was taking, while good, would never destroy the kind of bacteria I had. He instructed me to go home, take my medicine, drink lots of water and go to bed. If I did not get better then I would need to go to a hospital.
I thanked him, but when I tried to pay the $25 bill my credit card was rejected. They allowed me to go to the nearest ATM to get some cash. I returned, paid the small amount and took my prescription to the same drug store I’d visited a few days ago.
This time I was greeted by a warm, middle aged, buxom woman who looked of Italian descent. She seemed motherly and looked like she could enfold me in her loving embrace and make everything ok. Yes, I was lonely! She quickly brought me the antibiotics and also suggested that I use probiotics, explaining to me how the antibiotics were going to kill both the good and the bad bacteria and I needed to replenish the good bacteria with the probiotics. She was very kind and took her time to make sure I understood everything.
At the end she said she was going to give me something. I liked this, the last time it was hand cream. She pulled out a small spray can and sprayed it in her face. She said it would be so refreshing on a hot day. She asked if she could spray my face and I agreed. It felt great. I paid around $50 for the antibiotics and probiotics combined and trudged home.
Once I arrived, exhausted, at home I took the antibiotics, drank plenty of water and went to bed, only getting up to take my medicine, use the bathroom, drink some water and eat a little.
My temperature began to drop until by the third day it was at 98.9. I’d lost six pounds and still felt weak, but knew the worst was over.
In the meantime, my closest loved ones from home were staying in touch with me and giving me advice and encouragement. This made me feel less alone and I do love them for being there for me.
I’ve missed a week of travel experiences in Germany, but I gained a new appreciation for the efficient, streamlined, inclusive, caring, no frills, inexpensive German medical system. I also gained a new appreciation for my health. Take care of yours and if you are ever in Germany and need medical care, don’t hesitate to go to the nearest pharmacy. They speak English,are compassionate and will point you in the right direction. Stay well!
Snickers kept me company.