Confessions of a hypochondriac who happens to live in a foreign country
So true story a few years ago I had been having the sorest throat imaginable. The kind where it hurts so much all you want to do is eat ice cream and curl up in a ball and sob for your mother. So after a few days of pain I head off to my fairly fluent English-speaking GP Doctor here in Vienna. She took one look at my throats and says very bad angina. Pronounced an- gee-na. I start to panic. What the fuck is in angeena? Is it fatal. I start searching my brain for a translation and come up with angina. As in an- gine-a. Kinda like vagina but drop the V and add a N.
I think ANGINA I think has vaguely something serious to do with my heart. What’s wrong with my heart it’s my throats that hurts? Is that a symptom of some bigger problem?
I ask her again what do I have? She tells me she doesn’t know the English word. She writes me a script for antibiotics and a sick note. Shakes my hands and dismisses me from her office.
I leave completely confused feeling out of control, alone and feverish. It wasn’t until I read my sick note and notice the word strepdocockal something did I realise I had strep throat.
Seeing a Dr at the best of times is a struggle for me. I am not the kinda hypochondriac who gets every test under the sun. And wants second opinions. I am more the avoidance type of hypochondriac that puts of pap smears for years. Have managed somehow to not get blood drawn in 10 years.
They call it white coat syndrome.
I have had a few health issues in the 5 years living in Vienna Austria. From basic sinus infections to hip bursitis. And it had been incredibly challenging to navigate a completely foreign health care system.
When I have something wrong with me medically. It helps my anxiety to be given all the information and feel like I understand it. I need a patient and understanding dr.
And TRUST me when I say Austrian dr’s are not known for their bedside manner.
The solution sometimes is to bring my partner to dr appointments. And while it’s incredibly helpful to have a translator. It’s also really un empowering. It makes me feel childish and dependant.
I had a friend who had to get her first mammogram here in Austria. Now a mammogram especially your first one can be completely harrowing. Even if you don’t suffer from any form of health anxiety. Maybe back home you would have your older sister go with you to the appointment. Or perhaps you have a lovely family doctor that you trust to walk you through something like that.
But being an expat you have to put your big girl pants on and fly solo .
Your thinking why don’t I just speak better German ? But when it comes to my health and perhaps a medical emergency where I don’t want t have to search for words. If I am already at the doctors or hospital or optometrist I am usually feel sick and scared. I don’t want to leave my health down to grammatically a margin of error.
Here are my biggest tips I have learnt on how to cope with accessing health care as an expat.
Try to find an English fluent dr. They all say English fluent. But look for a dr that has studied medicine abroad. Or a native speaking dr. (The only problem with this is most of these kind of dr’s seem to be the private kind) So consider getting private health insurance or paying out-of-pocket.
Find a fairly fluent pharmacist who can communicate with you on how to take any medicines. When. With food. Not food and any possible interactions.
Lean on your expat friends. They are all in the same boat. Some have been here longer. Know a good Orthopedic or a great gynecologist. They are your sisters from another mister. They are happy to support you.
If you do suffer from health anxiety be honest and upfront with your dr’s. Ich habe angst. Tell them they need to add a little more reassurance and understanding to your appointment.
And just be kind to yourself. And take pride you have the strength to live abroad. A lot of people couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. And here you are getting mammograms along with your schnitzel.