Monday, December 23, 2013

Having a medical emergency in Germany

This year I had planned to take Sophie to the zoo on my birthday but instead I got to go to the hospital.

Having a medical emergency in a foriegn country can be scary.  To be totally honest I almost gave myself a panic attack because I didn't know what to do and I had to think of Sophie.  I am thankful for the months my husband was gone.  This isn't the first time I've had to deal with some kind of problem by myself.  When I stopped being able to breath I knew that panic was going to make everything take longer than it should.  I decided to focus on one small task at a time and keep it together.   Taking care of my daughter, bringing her from doctor to doctor and trying to entertain her in waiting rooms while dealing with horrible pain is the hardest thing I have ever done since becoming a parent. 

It started with Sophie being sick last week.  I wasn't getting much sleep caring for her.  Then H and I came down with whatever she had this week.  No fun but whatever.  Something strange started happening to my hands on Wednesday.  I noticed one little bump like a blood blister.  I had a sore throat and was feeling exhausted and unwell.  My hands started to hurt.  I thought it must be from all the hand washing.   Stay at home moms wash their hands all the time which can dry the skin and irritate it.  But I woke up at two in the morning on Friday with pain in my hands so bad I couldn't sleep.  It got worse and worse and worse.  I tried taking something for the pain but it did nothing. There were fair red dots all over and some were starting to rise into weird bumps.
the beginning
What I should have done was call the Notartz (emergency doctor) and go to the hospital.  I was still in the mindset that this wasn't an emergency.  When I think of emergencies I think of heart attacks, not weird burning hand syndrome.  My husband didn't think it was that serious either so he went to work. I waited until 8:00 when I could see the Fachartz.  I thought my general physician could prescribe something and I'd be fine.  In hindsight that's silly.  I felt like hundreds of burning needles were stabbing my hands and was near tears.  After waiting an hour I finally got to see the doctor.  She prescribed something.  I went to pharmacy to pick it up.  As soon as we got back to the car I tore into the medicine and put it on my hands hoping for instant relief.  Nothing.  I went back home and waited for an hour.  This is when I had the almost panic attack.  Sophie didn't understand what was going on and was crying a lot because I wasn't able to respond to her needs the way I normally would have.  I was desperate so I went back to the Fachartz in tears.  She told me to go to the hospital.

At the hospital the front desk directed me to the non emergency dermatologist.  He was able to see me pretty quickly which was nice.  At this point Sophie hadn't eaten a proper meal and it was almost lunch time.  He prescribed cortisone cream.   This didn't work either.  Not knowing what else to do I went home and made her lunch.  Thankfully my husband was off work and called the hospital.  He spoke to someone who said I could meet with the head of the dermatology department.

When I got to the hospital a nurse told me off for not following proper procedure, which is to arrive by ambulance.  I was so demoralized I asked her if I should leave.  She continued in German so fast I couldn't understand.  Pain makes it difficult to concentrate and this person had no idea what kind of ordeal she was putting me through.  I didn't have to deal with her meanness for very long before she called the doctor I needed.  The doctor was surprisingly kind and had me admitted immediately.  My hands looked really horrible by then.  I won't subject anyone read this to a picture of them.  Super gross.

The nurses and doctors were great.  I had a fabulous sixty something roommate who kept me company and put up with my terrible German.  We did nothing but talk for the two days I was there.  I felt awful but having company was a nice distraction.  Though she was only a little older than my Dad something about her reminded me of my grandmother a little bit.  Sophie took the first day pretty hard but after the first 24 hours she was fine.  Getting sick on the day my family does laundry put me in the funny situation of having no clean pajamas.  I made due with some ancient leggings from my c-section.  I will be using this as a reason to buy two sets of lounge wear.   I could be dying and I'd still care about what I was wearing.  Let's not get into the gendered implications that even when women are terribly sick we're supposed to be cute.  Moving on.  All German hospitals feed their patients is bread.  Not kidding.  I feel for the people who have to be there for a long time.  I discovered a basket of fruit by the water at the nurses station and made do with that.  

My mysterious burning hand syndrome was a cross infection from the cold I had.  I also got a fun skin rash. 
skin rashes, yay

It was not a happy birthday.  I spent 48 hours wishing for nothing but enough respite to sleep.  I'm going to be ok and I don't have to be in the hospital over Christmas.  I am thankful.



  1. Wow. Sounds scary! Glad you are home and on the mend.

  2. Yikes! That looks painful. Glad you are OK now.

    Your emergency was a wake-up call to me. I'm new to Berlin and don't have a doctor and have no idea how to go about getting one. And I don't speak German... If you have some time, please post something on how to get a physician around here.

    1. If you have an emergency you can call 112 and give them your address. They'll take you to the hospital. More than half of the doctors in Germany speak English fluently and almost all the doctors and a lot of nurses understand at least a little. Your chances of finding someone who speaks English are very good. I'll try to put together a post soon :)

  3. Sorry to hear about your b-day trauma, hospital visits are never fun :( Danica

  4. I know the feeling of being in the hospital on your birthday, it happened to me last year and was there for 8 days, overpassing New Years! hope you guys are all doing well :)

  5. I remember that! So glad you made it through ok, must have been really scary :)