Lucky had a pretty bad experience at a German hospital earlier this week so I thought I would provide a different perspective. Unfortunately, I’ve had experience with German hospitals as well and you can rest assured that not all German hospitals are bleak and beleaguered institutions of apathy.
Last autumn, while I was still living in Frankfurt, I did something stupid. I wasn’t speeding on the Autobahn (please, that’s encouraged..) or drinking too much alcohol or getting sick from the Leitungswasser (tap water) that I have to fight for at any German restaurant. No, something much worse.
I fell down the stairs in my home.
Like really bad. So bad I experienced a level of pain I had never experienced before in my life (not that I had ever broken a bone before). I did a classic banana-peel style slip and fell down about 20 wooden stairs on my back, using my arms to try to protect my head as I slid down to a heap on the tile floor below.
There were no bones sticking out, but my abdomen was in incredible pain. I dragged myself over to the couch and propped myself up, laying down but still wincing in sharp pain. John was in town and after scolding me for being careless said that ice cream might help. How convenient…
So I dragged down the street to our Eis Cafe and we each had a nice bowl of spaghetti ice cream. It satisfied John, but did not help the pain. We returned to my house and I laid down on the couch and popped two ibuprofen.
Heidi was at the gym and finally came home, affectionately noticing that I was in pain.
“Get off the couch! It’s too early to go to sleep!”
But when she saw I was in pain, she became the mother hen that I love and insisted that we go immediately to the emergency room. Being the cheeseparing person that I am, I told her my American health insurance would probably not cover a hospital visit and I rather liked the shirt on my back. Even though I was living in Germany at the time, I had held on to my U.S. health insurance and would visit doctors when necessary during my frequent trips back to California.
She wasn’t having any excuses. Good thing John had rented a sporty Audi, for we were soon off to the hospital in style. It was now about 9pm and we pulled up to a rather deserted-looking Nordwezt Krankenhaus, in Northern Frankfurt.
The hospital by day
A group of eight hospital employees in blue scrubs were standing around the door smoking.
Inside, I let my wife employ her far superior German to explain what had happened and was ushered into a waiting room, where I had to fill out a short two-page form. No money or proof of insurance or first-born child was requested upfront.
About five minutes later I was invited into a screening room and told to change into a stylish hospital gown about five sizes too big. I waited about 10 minutes and a doctor came in who spoke English, though we stuck to German. She listened intently to what happened and then took a close look at my abs and back, feeling for any bones that might be out of place. The pain was still present and she offered some sort of stronger pain medicine than the ibuprofen.
She stated she would take a blood sample and returned momentarily to draw out three small vials and also handed me a cup for a urine sample and pointed to a bathroom outside the room. That done, she told me to relax and left me alone for about 30 minutes.
She returned, without me having to chase her down, and said the blood looked fine, but wanted to perform an ultrasound just to make sure.
Uh, how much is that going to be?
“Don’t worry about it,” she said, “This is Germany.”
So I walked with her down a hall to what looked like an operating room. She lathered me up with that gel stuff and then performed the ultrasound. Everything checked out fine.
Heidi was called in and the urine sample did not reveal any problems either, though I was admonished for not drinking enough water. She was told to make sure I drink more water.
Frau Doctor gave me a few more pain pills, told me to take it easy, and that all would be okay. Her assistant prepared a list of what had been done and told me to take it to the cashier on the way out. We were done.
Now came the moment of truth. Had I just worked three months to pay this hospital bill?
The man at the Kasse took the sheet of paper, starting typing at his computer, and then presented the bill…
I laughed. Suddenly I felt much better.
John was so shocked he said, “I want an ultrasound too. For that price, why not?”
And get this for all of you have struggled with the inane cash-only policy at so many German businesses — they accepted my Chase Sapphire card.
As an aside, neither the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the American Express Platinum Card (the two cards I typically carry for personal spending) offer any sort of insurance programs for instances like this. But who needs it? First-rate, friendly medical care for $65.30. Amazing.
I don’t think I was at the poor people hospital — it was some sort of private Christian hospital — and even if it was, I certainly felt very well taken care of.
To be sure, I have lived in Germany long enough to see that health care system is not perfect there. But to a foreigner who needed unexpected medical care immediately, I was elated to see how well the system worked for me.