July 4, 2013

german healthcare: some thoughts on medication

Last week something unusual happened: I got a cold. I'm blessed enough to not get sick very often, but between handling money at my cashier job and visiting my in-laws (who had just recovered from it) I suppose it was inevitable. However, the cold part wasn't my biggest problem. For as long as I can remember I've suffered from awful post-nasal drip after any kind of head/sinus related illness. Even months after the cold passes I'll still have a slight tickle in my chest and an annoying "gotta clear my throat" cough. I visited the doctor once or twice in the States, who usually blamed it on allergies and prescribed some kind of antihistamine. It wasn't until later in my teens that one of them finally told me that it was post-nasal drip... and that he couldn't really do anything. Fast forward to today and lo and behold, the terrible throat tickle has returned. Of course, the difference between now and my teen years is that I'm no longer sleeping alone: And my poor husband has to suffer the nightly hacking right along with me. 

Thus after some coercion I let Daniel make me a doctor's appointment this morning. We were able to snag a 10:45 slot, which was nice since usually the earliest someone can get in is the following day. There are several myths floating around the US that in countries with socialized medicine you must make an appointment months in advance or else it's a no-go. I can tell you from experience that it couldn't be farther from the truth, at least here in Germany. I've never had to wait more than two days for a pressing issue, for example I had a toe infection last year and even with several different practitioners I never had to wait long. Anyhow, after visiting the doctor I was prescribed an herbal tablet that has to be taken every hour for about three days, another cough-drop type medicine that has to be taken five times a day, and sage tea. Here comes one of the big differences between German and American healthcare: Throughout my entire childhood I never remember either my sisters or myself ever having to take something so frequently that wasn't antibiotics. I don't know if it's because Americans can't be bothered with remembering, if it's just an unattractive notion, or if it isn't satisfactory to the pharmaceutical industry, but over here taking a tablet frequently is common practice. Maybe it's because a lot of the medications here are herb-based, thus requiring a more constant dosage? Who knows?

Another example: My husband's knee injury a few years ago. Daniel, like lots of German men, enjoys running around with a soccer ball when possible. Well, one sliding tackle later he had nearly torn his knee ligament and it was swollen to about twice its size. To prevent thrombosis the doctor gave him shots... to take home. Each day he had to inject himself in the stomach - something that I doubt I could ever do to someone, let alone myself. That blew my mind, and yet it's a perfect example of how German healthcare is different. It is simply inefficient and expensive to have staff do everything for you, thus the doctors choose to let people take their health into their own hands. This is both proactive and holistic, since no one cares more about your health than you do. It also removes a lot of unnecessary legal, administrative and staff costs thus making healthcare a possibility for everyone - not just those who have personal insurance. And I'll tell ya, there's nothing cooler than strolling into a clinic and strolling out without having to pay a cent.

The bottom line? Socialized healthcare may be different than it is in the US, but that doesn't mean it's worse. In fact, America could learn a thing or two from their friends across the pond when it comes to keeping people healthy. As for that post-nasal drip, we'll have to see how my herbal remedy works out. Now where's my kleenex...