Being Sick Overseas

I don't have eye-candy today, but I do have lots of interesting insights into the UK health system...
     If you follow me on Facebook, you know I've been under the weather the last few days. I caught the virus that has been making the rounds: dry cough, swollen sinuses, etc. It really wasn't a surprise that I caught it — a fellow student on the far side of the studio had it a few weeks ago, and then another the next week, and then another and another. It was just my turn, dangit! And so began the adventure of being sick in unfamiliar surroundings.
     The first little hiccup is that we don't own a car. 95% of the time that is exactly how we want it here. We use public transportation (which works great) and we walk (which works off all of the wonderful food we eat). But oh, how I missed being able to slide into a quiet car to go home when I felt rotten!
     The second hiccup is buying over-the-counter medicines. Not only do the products have different names, even the names of the key ingredients are different. For instance, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is called paracetamol. Femotidine (Pepcid) is not an over-the-counter medicine over here, but you can get Ranitidine (in a much lower dose). Niquil doesn't exist here, but there is Night Nurse, which is similar and tastes a little better. But while these products help, I must admit, most of them don't work quite as well as their US counterparts. Except for one: Sudafed. Here, it has the same name and it's the real stuff - the stuff they used to sell in the US before folks started making Meth with it and turned it into a hard to get substance. Thank god for Sudafed!
     But what if you don't know what you need? They have this wonderful service here called NHS24 (National Health Service helpline, available 24 hours a day). Just dial 111 on your phone and you will get a helpful person who can talk through your symptoms and advise you on what to buy. I don't know about you, but I never know if I need a decongestant or an antihistamine. This service can answer that. It's awesome!
     But maybe the over-the-counter stuff isn't enough for you? It wasn't for me. I was just getting sicker.
     My doctor's office opens at 8:00am on Monday through Friday and is a 12-minute walk away. I called first thing this morning and they fit me in for a 9:20am appointment. It's a bit like Minute Clinics in the US, but with your actual doctor and an actual appointment. Again - awesome! (I'm not sure what would have happened if I needed the doc on the weekend - will have to research that one.)
     No, I didn't enjoy the walk, despite the lovely, sunny day. And the waiting room was full. This virus is knocking a lot of people down down right now and the docs are busy trying to keep up. Even so, I waited for less time than I used to in the states, and it was my doc, not a nurse, who came to the waiting room to fetch me (which totally threw me off). There was no 'strip down to a gown' thing. From my experiences so far, they tend to prefer to talk to you here and look for key physical signs. For instance, my doc listened to my chest and looked at my throat - she knew exactly what I had. (Heck, she had it too!) There seems to be a lot of common sense diagnosing going on here, rather than test, test, test. She got me all set up with something to help me actually sleep and handed me two prescriptions, printed out to be legible and signed by her. And then I left.
     Let me say that again... I left.
     I still can't believe that part. I went to the counter to ask and make sure. "You don't need anything else from me? Insurance information? I don't owe you any money?"
     "No, you're fine. Feel better."
     So, I walked to Apple Pharmacy, which is on my way home. It's a little one, so they're not open after 2:00 on Saturdays or on Sundays, but they were open today. (And there are pharmacies in the grocery stores open every day.) I waited for my prescription to be filled (about ten minutes) and they handed me a baggie. "There you go."
     And again, I left. No checking my insurance, no money owed - nothing. It still boggles my mind.
     So I'm on the couch, drinking more hot tea and honey, trying to finally rest. With any luck, I'll be back to my normal self soon. But in the meantime, it was lovely to have such an easy experience with the UK healthcare system. Because truly, who needs to add more stress when you already feel bad?


Carolyn Watson Dubisch said...

In Argentina the pharmacist told us what we needed if we had a cold, (and that awful time the kids got lice). All the meds had different names there, and were "products of Argentina". We even bought antibiotics straight from the pharmacist and boy was it cheap. I hope you feel better soon!

laurasalas said...

Feel better soon! Glad you had an easy first experience with the medical system! I tried to find Nyquil or something similar there while traveling and it was an education getting a taste of what is or isn't OTC there. Hope the meds are helping:>)

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

Wowsa Carolyn! And yeah on the antibiotics. On our honeymoon in Africa, they had them at the camp we stayed at - because a doctor or hospital would have been hours and plane flights away.

Laura, it has been eye opening for sure. Some things are weaker, some are stronger. Overall though, I have to say I prefer how it all works over here.

Daffodil Cards said...

Our NHS can be absolutely BRILLIANT, but sometimes not so good. However I have had reasons to thank God for it many times.

melinda beavers said...

Glad to hear it was such an easy, nice experience… I'm having rather the opposite back here in the US—but that's another story. While I was in the UK during my year abroad I dislocated my shoulder (while on spring break in Spain—another long story)… I have to say, check-ups and "physiotherapy" (physical therapy) were a breeze upon my return to the UK—and I didn't have to pay a thing. I loved it. I MISS it!

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

Melinda, I can sympathize. My last doctor appointment in the US, they wanted to run a routine test that they weren't sure my insurance would cover. So I spent a half hour on the phone at the check out desk trying to reach a human at my insurance company to find out if I was covered. I was so close to tears. I think the check out person was close to tears, my doctor too. It was such an unbelievably frustrating thing. My doctor finally said, "Forget it - if they don't cover it, I WILL." And she ran the test. It was completely and utterly ridiculous and the epitome of what my experiences with the US health system had spiraled into. I can't tell you what a relief it is to be under the NHS now! e