Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Going to the Läkare (Doctor) in Stockholm

I was a little bit nervous about having to possibly go to the doctor sometime while we were here but I figured it would probably happen since I work with kids.  I didn't know how similar it would be to what I was used to and I wasn't sure how to find a doctor.  Thankfully I am pretty healthy but I was worried that working at a new school would mean it would take me a while to get used to the new germs, teachers totally get that philosophy, and that I might get sick.  Well thankfully I didn't really get sick over the fall and winter but a couple of weeks ago I had to go to the doctor.

Without going into too many details, because some people don't like hearing about them and because I have a tendency to over share :), I had a rash and had to go to the doctor.  I noticed the rash and then a few days later it started to spread.  So the day before we left for London when I was supposed to be subbing I called in sick and instead tried to figure out how to make a doctor's appointment.

I didn't really know where to start looking but I remembered that when we lived in the hotel there was a doctor's office or something similar to that next to the hotel so I decided to try that first.  I also Googled family doctors in Stockholm and tried a few other searches on forums to see what I could find.  I eventually called the place by the hotel.  I got an automated message and thankfully I could understand enough to know which numbers to push to get to the right place.  Travel tip: If you plan on being in a country for a while learning the basic numbers can be very helpful!  I remember shortly after moving here we were waiting for food we had ordered and they called the number, in Swedish of course, and it took us a little while to figure out which number was ours :).  I heard on the message I needed to enter my Swedish personal number, like my social security number but they give it out all the time and use it for everything, and my telephone number.
About 20 minutes later I got a phone call back.  The nurse on the phone asked me what was wrong.  I told her I had a rash and tried to explain the symptoms but she had no idea what the word rash was in English.  I tried explaining it and that didn't help.  I tried to quickly translate it into Swedish to see if that would help but she said someone else who knew better English would call me back.  A few minutes later another woman called and we talked.  I told her my symptoms and answered questions.  I'm not sure what typically happens during these phone calls but since she couldn't figure out what it was over the phone she had me make an appointment.  I had an appointment for 1:15 pm that day which was great since we were flying to London at 7 am the next morning and I wanted to make sure that was still okay.  She also said that when I checked in I needed to ask for a separate room to wait in since they didn't know if I was contagious.  Awesome.

I got to the doctor's office and saw there was a place to take off my shoes or put on blue shoe covers.  I opted for the shoe covers and then I took a number even though the waiting room was completely empty.  They called my number right away and I walked up to the window.  After giving my name they said it was 200 kr, about $30, for the visit.  I paid the 200 kr and they stamped into a booklet that I paid 200 kr that day and then they gave me the booklet to keep.  Once you pay 1100 kr total you get a free card that you can use for a year from the time you started paying the 1100 kr.  So the most I will pay in the next year is about $167 and after that all doctor visits are free.  That seems crazy to me but taxes over here are really high, about 40%, which means a lot of things are funded by the government like healthcare and education. Side note: I have zero interest in turning this post into a political discussion so just know I'm sharing the information and not looking for a debate :).

They told me to go up one floor and wait there.  I didn't mention the "wait in a separate room" thing because that is just awkward.  Once I got to the next floor I was looking around for the waiting room and someone walked up and asked if I was Kara.  They escorted me into an office so I was not with the other patients, which at this point this person was the only other person I could see but better safe than sorry.

The room they put me in was an office with a desk and bookshelves.  There was an examination table but there was a cart and several other things in front of the table so they had me sit in a chair.  I waited about two minutes before the doctor showed up.  We talked; I showed her the rash and told her that I had already had the chicken pox.  She wasn't sure what it was so she wanted me to give some blood and a urine sample.  I walked down the hall to do both of those things and then waited for the results.  This time I was able to wait in the normal waiting room because she could tell it wasn't chicken pox and it doesn't look contagious.  I was the only person in the waiting room as well.  I have no idea where all the sick people are in Sweden but they aren't at the doctor's office which is strange considering it is practically free :) or at least included.
The exam table is behind all of that stuff.
The tests came back fine.  This is where I started to notice the biggest difference between the US and Sweden when it comes to healthcare.  She basically said "I don't know what it is and since it doesn't itch, isn't inflamed and isn't really bothering you, you can just go home and if it gets worse call us and come back." She said I could get some hydrocortisone cream or Benadryl for the itching but it didn't really itch.  She said something along the lines of "We are going to just have to be okay not knowing what it is right now.  That is the best we can do until it gets worse or goes away."  I don't think that line would ever fly in the US.  I don't want you to get the impression that she seemed flaky or that she wasn't a real doctor.  She seemed to know what she was doing and the office was legit but she just wasn't concerned about not knowing the exact answer.  She didn't give me antibiotics or a steroid to make it go away faster even though she didn't know what "it" really was.

I left feeling relieved that whatever "it" was it wasn't contagious and we could still go to London.  Thankfully it went away after about a week and a half and that was that.  And honestly I felt proud that my body fought off whatever it was without steroids.  Over the counter medicine here is pretty expensive and some things that you could normally pick up at a Walmart or grocery store in the US isn't available here like allergy and cold medicine.  They do have ibuprofen but Jake heard from his boss that they don't really take it unless they have to.  If they have a fever they don't just take it to make the fever go down.  His boss said "if you have a fever why would you take something to make your body stop having it.  If it has a fever it is fighting something off so why would you want it to stop?"

I like how a "simple" task of going to the doctor is a new cultural experience since I'm not in the US.  Much like grocery shopping can tell you more about the culture so can going to the doctor.  I've really enjoyed learning more about Sweden than I would able to if we were only here on a vacation.

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