Baring my soul – redux

Hi folks – haven’t been here in a while, and I don’t expect anyone by Pam to read this – but after today I have to re-post this. Wrote it in ’09 so D3 is now 22 – and recently married. Other than that, pretty much everything stands as is.

This is the post that has been a long time coming and will likely be a long time reading. I am going to share with you a part of what has been the most painful event in my life (and like most folks I’ve had some very painful events – this one wins by far), but only that part that deals with my first hand account of socialised medicine. There is much much more to this story – maybe over time I’ll share more, or maybe you’ll get sick of it, but right now remember she is 19 now and fine.

You see when my D3 was barely four years old (at the time D1 was sixteen and D2 was six), and while our family was on vacation in Austria (visiting family), we discovered a rather large knot on the side of her belly. One afternoon, as we were sitting in my husband’s Aunt’s charming backyard in Linz, the young kids (my two and a couple young cousins) were splashing in a small pool al la Europe (which is to say the kids were topless, we hadn’t brought bathing suits) I noticed that D3′s little belly looked a bit lopsided. That evening when we had returned to the house where we were staying, we looked more closely and discovered the hard lump (maybe an inch wide and 3 inches long). Thinking maybe it was a hernia or some such we drove back into Linz to find a hospital, just to be safe.

This is where we began to experience the wonderful world of socialized medicine. Linz is a good size city with several hospitals. When we arrived at the first hospital they informed us they were not “on call” that evening so we’d have to go to another hospital. So off we go to find the hospital that would see her. When we finally found that hospital, they took her back to the exam room – I literally had to knock the dead bugs off the exam table before lifting her up to it. No kidding.

The (one and only)doc on call was not a pediatrician and though she could tell there was something seriously wrong, their ultra sound and all other imaging departments were not “open” at night and we’d just have to admit her and wait until morning to get a picture of what was happening. Now here we are admitting our four year old child into a hospital in a country where the language is not English. The Dr that night spoke enough to communicate with us, but not enough to really be clear, so we are now frightened out of our minds but getting no information.

Because we had the other two kids, I stayed with D3 and my husband returned to a friend’s home to the others and started making phone calls trying to get us a flight back to the US.

The pediatric floor where we were taken was a shock to me. It was hot (July 3rd) and there was no A/C in the whole hospital so all the large windows were open to let in air – and bugs. There was only one nurse on the floor, I was the only parent there. After the Dr got us into the room and left, that one nurse pulled two chairs together in the hall and went to sleep. The room we were put in had four patient beds (though none of them were occupied), a small sink, and one metal chair. That is all, no phone, no TV, no bathroom, no nothing. The one bathroom on the floor was down the hall. Several times during the night I saw older children leading younger children by the hand down the hall to go potty.

Around 1am The Dr showed back up and said they had brought in the ultrasound technician to check D3′s tummy (I’m bound to slip up and use her name somewhere along the line here). I think maybe the Dr (a woman) had contacted the head of the department about us and he demanded we get the attention (based on his behavior later, but I’ll share that then). So down we went. The technician, after the ultrasound, told us she had a tumor on her kidney, but that was all the info we had at that time.

Of course I wanted to call my husband right away to let him know but the night Dr would not allow me to use the phone! I has all righteously indignant with her, explained that he was trying to make arrangements to get us home and would need to know so that he could contact our pediatrician at home – but she said it is 2am and no one is awake – I told her it is not 2am where we live and the next day was a holiday so we needed to reach people now, but no go (no cells for us at that time, this was 15 years ago now).

Once the Dr left and I was sobbing as I held my child and tried to rock and sing to her to settle her down for some rest, the nurse quietly came in and led me to the phone – she spoke no English at all, but obviously understood my need to call my husband. I called him and of course he continued to try to make arrangements, just added more calls to his list to get her straight to a cancer treatment center (Duke University Medical Center) – being the height of tourist season it was not easy to get flights back home 10 days before our scheduled return, but that is another story.

So the next morning he joined us as early as he could and the head pediatrician came in to talk to us and explain what he knew. Thank God he spoke perfect Oxford English, literally, and was a very kind and understanding man. He told us she did have cancer (turned out to be stage 3 Wilm’s tumor) and that there were two possible types she could have but he strongly counseled that we should get home right away and have her treated at home. He explained very honestly that the level of care there was no where near as effective as the treatments used in the US, their survival rate significantly lower than ours, and that we should not even have a biopsy done there because the risk was too great. He also gave D3 a chocolate bar he had, she had eaten nothing because with her tummy trouble, nervousness, exhaustion, and such – the Austrian hospital breakfast food was nothing she would touch. But being a female, chocolate is always a viable option

So here are my observations of socialized medicine (and Austria has had it a long long time)
1) Limited access to hospital care at night – whatever you do don’t get hurt or sick after hours

2) Limited access to imaging equipment after hours – hope you don’t need and Xray for anything at night

3) Bugs on the exam table – what can I say? When electricity, by necessity, skyrockets due to taxes on power will our hospitals be able to continue climate control?

4) Spartan patient rooms – how many of you with children want to spend the night in a metal chair if they are in the hospital because we are cutting unnecessary costs to make health care “affordable”? – I actually climbed up into her bed (it was a large crib – and there I was in it, holding my baby)

5) Limited (severely) night staff? One sleeping nurse on the floor?!?!?!

6) The Dr telling you outright that the standard of care in another country is far superior?


And yes, even 15 years later my stomach is in knots and I am trembling as I type this. The number of misspellings is off the chart because my fingers are shaking so hard.

Please, all of you, fight socialised medicine. It is a very very bad thing.