Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Romanshorn, Switzerland–medical emergency

Germany trip 465
The allergist was at lunch,
but the orthopedic doctor was in.

Mein mann ist krank!”

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were in a foreign country, had a medical emergency, and nobody spoke much English? What would you do? Go to a hospital? Find a doctor, or at least a pharmacy, right? Well, it isn't quite that easy, as we found out in Switzerland.

Germany trip 459
The calm little Romanshorn harbor.

Even though it always seemed to take longer than we thought to get from one place to another, we stuck with our original Plan A and drove toward the Alps and Lake Constance. We wanted to see the the lake and look at boats in the harbors. This route would take us from France into Switzerland and Austria, as well as back into Germany.

We had a delicious lunch here, but then bad things began to happen to Mark ...
We don't blame the restaurant;
the food was wonderful.

We stopped in a little town in Switzerland called Romanshorn. We found a cute little restaurant, and ordered lunch. I was impressed with the food – everything seemed locally grown and fresh, right down to the little sprig of herbs garnishing my plate.

Germany trip 457
A familiar sight: Volvo Ocean Race.

After lunch, we went for a stroll around the marina. Mark was very quiet. Eventually he turned to me and said, “I feel like shit. My throat and tongue are swelling. I feel like I’m going to throw up. I need to go to the bathroom.”

I waited outside, wondering what was going on. When he came out, he could barely talk but he managed to tell me that he couldn’t swallow.

“Can you breathe?” Yes. But, for how long, I wondered? Obviously, he was having an allergic reaction.

Germany trip 472
The town was out to lunch.

Where would the nearest hospital be, we wondered? Never mind, we would go to a pharmacy first, and at least get an antihistamine. They could tell us where the hospital is, if we needed it. We drove into town, and I ran to the pharmacy door – closed for lunch for two hours. A woman was crossing the street, and I ran to her. "I need a hospital. Doctor! Doctor!” I said. “Doctor?” She gestured up the street, and held up three fingers. Three blocks? Ok, I’ll try it.

Miraculously, I found it. And, believe it or not the name plate on the building said “Allergist.” But. Closed for lunch!

All this time, I was thinking that I needed to be able to communicate our problem in German. What the heck is the German word for sick? And husband? I should know the word for sick – my father used to say it, when we kids were sick. I could hear him in my mind, but what’s the word?  It’s a short word, one syllable. What is it???

Mark was so puffed up he could harldy talk.
Smile or grimace? You decide.

“I need to go back to that bathroom,” Mark gurgled. I drove him back to the marina.

While he went in, I checked my little German cheat sheet. Of course, when I saw the word I couldn’t believe I forgot it. Krank! After checking on Mark, I ran to the little marina cafe.

“I speak English,” I said to the woman at the counter. She began to shake her head. “But,” I said, “Mein mann ist krank!” Luckily, the word for allergy is the same as English. She called a doctor – first the one I had found, who didn’t answer, and then another one. “It’s ok,” she finally said. “Doctor is coming.”

Germany trip 468
The whole scene was surreal.

And that is how Mark ended up sitting on a park bench in the marina with a needle in his arm. The doctor brought his medical suitcase and hooked him up with IV steroids right there. Then he drove us in his car to his office right around the corner from the pharmacy, where we stayed for about two hours, getting more steroids and prescriptions.

Slowly, Mark got better. But, the doctor warned, he could get worse again.

Allergic reactions can be deadly, if the airway swells so much that it prevents breathing. Mark has been having increasing problems with sage allergies in Nevada, but never so dramatic as this. I was worried, and kind of in disbelief. How did this happen? From one bite of my food? Did his contain some of the same fresh herb? We’ll never know.

Germany trip 471
I wish we had more scenes like this
in the USA.

I made the ten-minute walk back to the marina to pick up our car,sightseeing along the way. Hundreds of bicycles – not cars – were parked at the railroad station.

The Swiss flag resembles the sign for "Hospital."
Swiss government buildings could be
mistaken for hospitals.

It occurred to me that the Swiss flag looks a lot like the red cross symbol for a hospital. I kept thinking, what would have happened if he had gotten so bad he couldn’t breathe? Or was having a heart attack? It would be a good idea to have basic emergency vocabulary when we travel. And to know the location of a hospital. It may seem like an overreaction, maybe overly cautious, but … you never know.

Germany trip 470
Swelling slowly receded.

I don’t want to go through that again, but I certainly don’t want to go through something worse.

It could have been worse, though. Mark got better quickly, and the doctor only charged us 136 francs, or about $145 US.

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