My 6+ Hour Visit To A German Emergency Room

I’ve been in Germany for a bit over two weeks now, and have had a great time hanging out with my family. That being said, ever since leaving the US I haven’t been feeling well.

Why I went to the ER

Rather than changing up the verbiage here, I’ll simply post what I wroteĀ on my personal Facebook page yesterday:

Not trying to turn Facebook into WebMD, but curious if anyone has any insight, since I HATE going to the doctor (especially when outside the US) and Google hasn’t been all that helpful.

Long story short I had too much to drink a couple of weeks ago, and felt disproportionately bad the next day. I thought it was a hangover, though I had an odd pressure/pain in my stomach/abdomen.

Over the past two weeks it has gone from being almost constant, to reappearing basically at the same time every afternoon for about an hour. It’s pretty painful, though at the same time it’s less bad now than it was (though seems to have plateaued).

Anyone have any insights/advice? It seems to be unrelated to eating, for what it’s worth.

Yes, I should probably go to a doctor, but since I’m a couple of days from returning to the US, I’d rather wait till I’m back, if that’s not stupid.

Top preference is for not dying, though… šŸ˜›

Thanks!

So to recap:

  • I’m honestly terrified of hospitals, and prior to yesterday have only visited a hospital once since birth.
  • I had a fair amount to drink the Sunday whenĀ it all started (I was at a champagne tasting, what can I say?!), but I don’t thinkĀ I had that much. Despite what some of you may think based on my trip reports, I’m not typically a heavy drinker — I often go a month without drinking any alcohol, and then might drink four times in a week if I’m somewhere fun and hanging out with friends.Ā So while alcohol could have been a factor, it might also be false causation.
  • I received some fantastic feedback on the post:
    • Doctors called me a dingbatĀ for not seeing a doctor after two weeks of pain
    • It’s better to see a doctor before a transatlantic flight than to cause a diversion
    • Someone I know from years ago mentioned how his partner suddenly passed away after 36 hours of abdominal pain

Suffice to say all that was the kick in the ass I needed to get myself to a doctor as soon as possible. I’d rather waste a few hours and spend some money to make sure I’ll be fine than to keep trying to be stupidly “brave.” So I’m extremely grateful for the pressure my friends put on me…

My mom and I immediately headed to the ER, especially since the pain was a bit worse than usual yesterday. And not surprisingly I felt even worse once I received feedback from friends, since my mind really jogged with all of the terrible things it could be.

My trip to the ER

So we arrived at the ER at 5PM. I was quickly checked in after paying 200EUR as an “admittance fee,” and then we had a seat in the waiting room. I’m literally the most squeamish person in the world. I wish there were something I could do about it, but I can barely watch a movie with blood in it.

At the time this was a pretty bad waiting room. The guy next to me clearly had an appendix which was about to pop, other people were crying, etc. It madeĀ my two week pain seem like nothing, by comparison.

I was impressed by how quickly I was called — it only took about 15 minutes. Woohoo, one point for German efficiency… or so I thought!

I explained my situation to theĀ nurse. She hooked me up to one of those 10-piece heart monitor things. My heart was fine. She had me pee in a cup.

Then she brought me into a “room,” where she told me to lie down on one of those rolling beds. Fair enough, though it was slightly awkward since there were two other people in the room as well just sort of standing there (I guess they were waiting on results for something). Another nurse came in and asked me all kinds of questions, also in front of these people. I didn’t have an issue with it, but can’t help but think in the US how that would be a breach of patient confidentiality to ask a bunch of personal questions in front of complete strangers, who had nothing better to do but stand there and watch.

Hospital-1

She then took my blood. Lots and lots of blood. As I said above, I’m pretty squeamish, so I just looked away and clenched my other fist. Rather than taking the needle out, she hooked me up to some sort of “drip” thing, which she said would help ease my stomach.

She left the room for over an hour. Only nothing was actually dripping into my arm, but instead the opposite was happening — blood was draining from my arm. There was no nurse in sight, so an hour later she returned and said “oops, that’s not supposed to happen.” She then “fixed” it, and then the same blood went back into my arm, and then a bunch of other stuff was dripped inĀ me.

In the meantime she said we were waiting on blood test results. I asked how long it would be.

“I don’t know.”

She doesn’t appear for another hour, at which point the “dripping” thing had already been empty for 30 minutes.

I asked if she checked on the blood results.

“I haven’t had time.”

Meanwhile I had heard her sitting in the break room for the past 30 minutes just chatting and laughing with colleagues (admittedly she might have been on break, so just observing and not judging that part of it).

She said the doctor should arrive shortly.

30 minutes pass.

An hour passes.

90 minutes pass.

At that point I roam the halls with my rolling drippy thing trying to find her, since I was pissed at how she wasn’t communicating. I said (all this communication was in German, so I’m translating here) “do you have any clue when the doctor will come?”

“Oh, she hasn’t been here?”

“No…?”

“Okay, I’ll go nag her. I’ll let you know shortly how much longer it will be.”

An hour later the nurse still isn’t back. At this point there’s literally no one in the section of the ER I’m in. Not a soul.

Hospital-2

Hospital-3

After an hour I roam the halls again looking for the nurse.

“Excuse me, what’s taking so long? I understand there are other patients who may have more urgent situations, but I’d appreciate if you could at least communicate what’s going on with me, as you said you would.”

“I’d suggest you write a complaint if you’d like.”

“So when should I expect the doctor?”

“I don’t know where she is.”

“I thought you said hours ago she would be coming shortly?”

“Yeah I saw her a couple of hours ago, but now I haven’t been able to reach her. She might not be here right now.”

“It’s 11PM, so is there a chance she’s done for the night?”

“It could be… but I doubt it.”

“Can you at least take this thing out of my arm, it hurts and I assume I won’t need anymore blood drawn?”

“Theoretically I could.”

At this point I’m just like:

Porscha-Glare

“Have my blood results come back?”

“Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Your blood came back fine.”

“Okay, then could you please just take this out. If it looks like there’s nothing urgent I’m just going to fly back to the US tomorrow and go to my doctor there.”

“Okay.”

She takes it out of my arm, which at this point just about couldn’t move anymore (the only way I could indicate thumbs down was by inverting the picture). šŸ˜‰

Hospital-4

Sure enough shortly after the needle is taken out of my arm the doctor shows up, who’s possibly even more arrogant and less communicative than the nurse, if that’s possible. She doesn’t ask me any questions and doesn’t do any stomach tests, but rather just says that my blood, urine, and heart are fine, and that it might be some sort of a stomach infection/virus.

Bottom line

Man, what a frustrating over six hour experience it was. I totally get there are often other priorities in an ER, so I didn’t have a problem with the fact that it took over six hours, as such. What I did take issue with, however, is how the nurse handled it. She kept telling me she’d provide me with updates, but instead kept me totally in the dark. Add in the level of arrogance, and I certainly didn’t feel like there was any German efficiency involved with the system.

On the plus side, I am happy I went to the doctor. Having sharp stomach pains every day for over two weeks is concerning, and I feel much better getting on a transatlantic flight knowing that it’s nothing immediately life threatening. Then again,Ā I’m not actually sure I feel any better about my condition, given that I don’t feel any better, and my stomach still hasn’t been scanned/no tests have been done on it.

And so concludes my second ever visit to a hospital…

Ultimately what I still take away from this is how important it is to treat your body well, and how grateful I am for my (overall) good health. I need to slow down my current lifestyle at some point, I think.

Comments

  1. Hi ben,

    next time, if you need an “urgent care” pls. let me know via phone. We (the insurance c.) have a lot of partner-doctors to get an apointment in nearly all german city “urgent”.

  2. As an Amex Platinum, AA Emerald, Hyatt Diamond you qualified for the fast lane at the hospital. How did you miss this? šŸ˜‰

    Thanks for sharing that story. Actually, it’s very frustrating when they can’t figure out what’s wrong. Hope you feel better! Safe travels home.

  3. The only thing that really matters is that it’s nothing life threatening. It’s a big shame they weren’t able to communicate, though. But, at the end your health is the most important.

    Hopefully you’ll feel better soon!

  4. As someone without German health insurance you’re probably at the very very bottom of their priority list. Doesn’t your insurance company have specific partner doctors and hospitals in Germany?

  5. Well I’m not sure if it’s for better or worse but in the USA you would have been fast tracked through a CT scanner for sure. Plus the physical exam for abdominal pain is quite uh invasive. Fdw

  6. No booze. No fat. Small portions. Especially on the flight. These are things that are likely to exacerbate the problem.
    Do you have any pain between in your back, specifically your shoulder blades? Anything coming out the wrong end yet?
    There’s a long list of things that could be brewing: kidney stones, pancreatic inflammation, gall stones…seriously, get to a hospital in the US and insist that there is something wrong. Don’t let them send you home without a CAT scan.
    Take care.

  7. What a freaky experience, hooked up to a machine for so long without any updates. So glad you went to the Dr though and got reassurance that all is ok!

  8. When you get back to the US, schedule an appointment at a real doctor – a primary care physician. Get a physical. Ask about diverticulitis.

  9. Lucky – Of course one shouldn’t generalize, but it looks like the once great German health care system is becoming just like all the rest! ” It’s a virus” and then they send you home after hours of waiting. If you drop dead, then it’s not a their problem.

  10. Ugh, that’s horrible. Don’t you have year-long travel insurance? If not I’d get it just for the medical benefit. And don’t hesitate going to the doctor on your return. It could be any number of things and I learned the hard way that occasional abdominal pain can lead to something not great though totally fixable.

  11. I didn’t know the NHS had a German outpost.

    Oh, by the way, *most* doctors are arrogant. And in particular GPs, in my experience, are generally useless.

  12. Had the same kind of stomach pain happen to me while in Rome. I ignored it for a few weeks (okay I lie, several weeks) and continued traveling. After coming back to the US and it not getting any better but actually worse, I end up going to the doctor who sends me to get a CT scan. 30 minutes after leaving the scanning place I get a call telling me to rush to the ER because I have a severe case of acute appendicitis. Spent 7 days at the hospital, was so infected that they couldn’t even do surgery to remove my appendix. Had to wait another 6 weeks to go back and get it removed. Moral of the story: if in pain, don’t put it off and go to the doctor. I’ve learned my lesson!

  13. If you can’t get an appointment with your PCP right away, head to the ER. Better yet, forget your PCP and go to the ER as soon as you land. And don’t leave without a CAT scan or ultrasound, or whatever else they use to check for abdominal pain. Feel better soon.

  14. Wow, Ben, hope you are doing better soon, and what a story … this sounds even worse than some horror stories I’ve heard of big-city US ERs, and I would definitely have guessed a German ER would be a lot better.

  15. I’ve had appendicitis, and what you have sounds like it might be the same thing. You should prolly get a CT scan to check on that.

  16. I had the EXACTLY same experience on an ER in Milan two months ago. Same type of pain, same type of concerns after family and friends told me how idiot I was for not seeing a doctor. Spent 7 hours of my life in an ER in Milan mostly just sitting there doing nothing and waiting for a doctor that never came. Two differences: 1) I did not pay a penny (it seems in Italy you get free health care at least on the ER); 2) After waiting for 7 hours for a doctor and having stopped the nurses on the hallway to ask about my blood, urine and X-rays results (Oh, they are all good!!!!) I finally gave up waiting for the doctor to sign me off and left the hospital. Came back to the US and went to see my doctor that said it was probably something I ate that made my stomach upset. šŸ™

  17. You may have been better served asking your hotel to refer you to a local general practitioner. He/she could have examined you, asked questions and scheduled follow up tests more at your convenience, rather than being held hostage in the ER for several hours. I think ERs are good for trauma, and not so good for when you’re feeling sick.

  18. We’re all eagerly awaiting the “hard product” and “soft product” reviews to come.

    Glad you’re still breathing.

  19. Flyingdoctorwu, that’s way too much information.

    But all this happened to me once, years ago. Two hours after I walked in, I was scheduled for an appendectomy. Glad I wasn’t travelling.

    When I was travelling, I once had a temperature of nearly 40. In French. Strep.

    Some of your other commenters sound really knowledgeable, and I’d follow their advice for sure. Once you return Stateside, run don’t walk to a real doctor.

  20. Lucky, listen to meegabroad, get yourself checked when you get back to US. 2 weeks of pain is Not good.

  21. So you had two weeks to seek treatment and chose 5pm on a Sunday? Most of the world doesn’t operate on the 24/7/365 schedule that America does.

  22. You need to follow up ASAP. Blood work, EKG and a urinalysis does not substitute for a thorough history and physical, and likely CT scan. Belly pain is not something to ignore. Agree with the above poster who said you would have likely been fast tracked for a CT in a good ER in the US. In retrospect you probably should have contacted your US insurance company, or maybe AmEx Platinum travel services for referral to a good local MD.

  23. With all the travel that you do, do you have an annual travel insurance policy. Outside of covering the cost of the hospital stay, many of these policies have concierge people that become your hospital advocates and work with the hospital to get the fastest best care.

  24. Had the opposite experience in Lisbon when I fell and broke my arm. A 17.22 Euro “admit tax”, and four hours, an orthopedic surgery consult, four x-rays, a closed reduction of the fracture, and a cast, they charged me an additional 134 Euros and I walked out, to fly back the next day. The only issue was their pain management, or lack thereof–the surgeon suggested Tylenol. Really??? (It didn’t work). My “checkup” at an orthopedic surgeon in the US cost three times as much as the ER visit and initial treatment.

  25. As a German citizen would it be cheaper to get care in Germany as they have a universal health care system?

  26. Ben,

    I had the same thing from drinking a lot once. The first time it happened I just ignored it and it went away and life returned to Normal. But then I had another night out drinking, and it came back. At this point I went to the doctor and they thought it might have been Ulcers in my stomach that had been caused by drinking the booze.

    They did some tests and it all came back normal and I was fine. I did some investigated myself, because I noticed that even if i had a few drinks the pain would come back.

    This all started 7 years ago, I have been to the doctors in both the UK and US over this matter and had every test under the sun you can think of …..and …….nothing has ever been found.

    I’m 31, 5ft 11, 175 LBS and overall in good shape.

    All I could really put it down to was the alcohol giving me the pain and it taking a few days for my body to process it.

    As hard as it was, basically I just had to give up alcohol. Maybe my body does not like it. Maybe I have some sort of allergy to Alcohol. I had a friend that could not drink beer for the rest of his life due to some reaction to it.

    Every now and then I have a beer, and I get the pain, just a bit milder.

    Just my story….not sure if its anything related.

  27. Hi Ben,

    as someone who is working in the German healthcare industry and travelling a lot between customers (hospitals) I’ve seen many ERs and by myself had also to visit an ER some years ago. In German ERs it’s basically treating in the queue regarding those with heavier pain or real injuries being in front of the line. So if youre not telling them it hurts badly you’re not on top of their list. That being said they shouldn’t have forgotten about you! That’s an unforgivable thing which should never happen….

    The other thing is: Due to the actual changes in our HC and insurance systems many hospitals are facing financial problems and so they are also acting like that. I think if u don’t ask for an ultrasound imagery you won’t get it. But if you ask (a doctor) or suggest it, you’ll receive all the care you need.
    So from the beginning of your visit: Ask for the doc, tell them clearly that you have acute pain and that you need a doctor and then suggest u would like to have an ultrasound imagery.

    The blood, urine and heart examinations were just the basics they are doing with all patients which come in for pain. For this the doc doesn’t even need to see you physically but just signs the assignement to the nurse.

    Sorry for the bad experience!

    Get well soon!
    Michael

  28. I’m also not sure the US is any better for patient privacy in the ER. I’ve been twice in the past few years, separated by other patients by only a curtain. You can hear everything going on, and I assure you the spoken part is the least distressing.

  29. Ben,
    Best wishes on a speedy recovery.

    Wow, I’m shocked at your experience there. I’m used to that sort of crap from US doctors, but have had far better experiences with non-US docs. I’ll echo some of the other commenter’s posts — Try to get a medical doctor referral from whichever hotel you’re staying at. They’ve not let me wrong over the years. Also, DO be glad this wasn’t in the United States — they would have definitely done a abdominal CT (huge amounts of radiation with these, btw.), an ultrasound, you probably would have spent about 11-16 hours there, run up about $15k of medical bills, and be no further ahead than now.

    I also am eagerly awaiting pics & a full review of the hard & soft product as well. From the pics, the lay-flat seat looks like it might be the largest yet! Although the blanket looks rather thin and cheap.

  30. I used to be a heavy drinker, along with other excesses from my youth, and had a similar situation in the ER after a particularly crazy night of partying. My realization that I was an alcoholic occurred in a most peculiar way. The nurse at the ER had me pee in a cup, and when I returned it there was an olive floating in it.

  31. We are stationed in Germany and I have a love/hate relationship with the Drs/ Hospitals. I think that (for the majority of the time) the healthcare is WAY better and less about making money , less obtrusive and more of a “complete” healthcare in DE. On the other hand, I don’t get their waiting room system and for being Germans (aka: so efficient/ on top of things), I have no idea how they don’t have bill payments for non Germans!!! I often chalk up the confusion to “language barriers” or “cultural differences” but hey, I LIVE in Germany and get to travel constantly, so how bad can it be???

  32. Follow up with your PCP and tell them your symptoms. You need a full abdominal work-up. The last time I went to my doctor with inexplicable repeated stomach pain, she made me go get an ultrasound. Could be issues with your gall bladder or liver. Definitely follow up.

  33. Yikes! I’ve had a few friends with appendicitis recently and symptoms sound similar though I’m guessing there are plenty of conditions with similar non-specific stomach pain. Wonder if the strangers in the ER were residents just observing though it’s quite odd they wouldn’t introduce them.

    While everyone has plenty of complaints about US healthcare I have to say I’ve always had excellent and low cost care (thanks of course in part to amazing insurance through work – no copays, no in-network requirements, etc). It helps to be in a big city with good research hospitals but I’ve never experienced anything like that in the U.S.!

  34. When I lived in the Netherlands, I spent a week in a dutch hospital. It was horrible. No such thing as informed consent. The nurses were NOT nice. The doctors were not used to discussing things with patients. They gave me oral antibiotics instead of IV, which would’ve worked much faster. They wanted to do surgery (I had a GYN problem) and I said no, but they didn’t want to listen to me. They sent a doctor in to see me – on his clipboard it said I was the noon surgery the next day. I immediately decided to check out and make an emergency trip to NY to see my regular GYN doctor. The hospital wouldn’t translate a copy of my report for me. I learned a lesson. Even when you live abroad as an expat for an extended time, never give up your health insurance at home even if you have local health insurance.

  35. omg Lucky!!! PLEASE be careful! Please take care of yourself! I don’t know what to say or have any knowledge or advice to give about ERs or different healthcare systems, but we all love you very much and we do not want anything bad happening to you!!! Can G-Dawg or Randy help you in some way since they are “older”/wiser or something like that?

  36. @AlexS,

    Very funny comments regarding reviewing the soft and hard products! However….as to your other comments I hope Ben does not follow your advice as it is definitely not reality based. Based on your post, I’m pretty sure you don’t have any medical training.

  37. Sorry to hear about this – agree with all about getting to a doctor ASAP when you get home.

    If you still have a few days before you travel, I’d follow the suggestion of calling Amex Platinum and getting the name of a local GP there who will probably help you more than the ER.

    Greg

  38. *nice surname Mitch

    Since it happened after a drunk-fest, maybe acute HIV or an acute seminal enteritis.

  39. Welcome to socialized medicine. It’s worse in the UK. Wait until you get to try Obamacare – my emergency room visit last week in Virginia resulted in 6+ hours in the emergency room. Another hour in the room waiting for a doctor who never showed up. I managed to get onto my feet and get the hell out of the hospital and just waited until Monday morning.

    Turning up at my doctor’s office on Monday morning resulted in an eventual MRI finding a ruptured disc in my lower back – in for surgery the next morning.

    Back to your symptoms – worked with a guy last year on a customer site for two weeks. He started having some stomach pains on the day we left. Was fine before that. Got a call from his boss 2 weeks later – the guy died from pancreatic cancer – apparently by the time it shows up, the prognosis isn’t very good. Don’t jack around with that stuff – get to a doctor.

  40. @Doctordude – not sure if you’re trying to be amusing, but that’s actually a pretty barbed and unpleasant thing to say. And I’m normally the one rolling my eyes at how easily people get offended on here…

  41. What Richard said, Doctordude. That comment was way over the line. And please tell me you’re not a doctor because if you are I’m really embarrassed.

  42. just saw an report lately that people like you Ben are a “problem” for the emergency rooms in Germany. As anormal doctor treatment the treatment at ER are free of charge and as people have more time at the weekend they go to ER instead of going to a normal doctor during. Those people take away valuable time of doctors an nurses at ER. You had two weeks to see a regular doctor so no sympathy from my side.

  43. Glad you’re ok! Romanian hospital experience included elderly, mentally impaired men roaming with their hairy bottoms hanging out AND dogs running down the halls!!! Would love more info on the insurance thing Sven mentioned!

  44. @Kevin…in what sense is Obamacare “socialized medicine”? It’s private insurance between a private citizen and an insurance company. And by making it easier for people to get insurance it means fewer will have to go to the ER, where you got stuck for so long. (And sorry you did get stuck there for 6 hours…)

  45. But what credit card did you use for the 200 EUR? šŸ˜‰

    Glad you’re ok, but I’d follow up if it doesn’t get better soon.

  46. Dr. Google, meet Doctordude. Seriously??

    Note to Lucky, no more health-related blog posts! This has been a painful thread to read, no pun intended.

  47. Would a moderator please delete the repellent, bigoted comment left by “Doctordude”? This really should be a troll-free zone!

  48. @Kath, we have seen Lucky eat yogurt on his flights, so hopefully the airlines were serving live stuff and Lucky’s flora are doing good.

  49. Don’t go to the ER unless you had an acxident or something like that!
    Here we have something which is called “Ƥrztlicher Notdienst”.
    This are doctors on duty after regular working hours!
    Check the link http://www.116117info.de/html/
    Its in german
    You just have to call 116117 and they tell you where to go
    Save the number in your phone!!

  50. You’re a binge drinker, which is a form of alcoholism.

    Drinking is a situational habit of yours. Flying, travel and going out are habit triggers for it. If you doubt it, on your next five 6+ hour flights, don’t drink any champagne (or any other alcohol). Don’t drink when you’re out with friends. Blog about it. Let us know how you feel when you repeatedly say no to alcohol. Do you miss drinking during your flights or when socializing? If you experience any anxious feelings, that is psychological withdrawal.

  51. Your description sounds like service on a TransAtlantic flight with a U.S. carrier!!

  52. @peter is right
    Where was your status ID?

    It did help me
    I had booked a starwood hotel in MEL a couple of years ago and as I was carrying the family’s only large check in, my back gave a pop.
    I was in pain and fell. I had a wheel chair and the desk concierge called his orthopedist who saw me the same day at the end of his clinic and sent me for physical therapy and I was able to walk in 2 days
    So status matters!

    Lucky,
    You are in a imaginary bubble of status, living for most moments as the rich do.
    Welcome to the real world.
    There is going to be more of these over time
    Look after yourself and do not waste your youth

  53. @Michael T ā€¦in what sense is Obamacare ā€œsocialized medicineā€?
    “Itā€™s private insurance between a private citizen and an insurance company.”

    No, it isn’t. It’s government mandated coverage mandating that all medical records are warehoused for government perusal, it includes coverages for things I don’t want like pregnancy coverage.

    The socialized medicine part? That $3000 in subsidies that I was getting to help cover the cost… I can assume that it came from the government (taxpayer).

    “And by making it easier for people to get insurance it means fewer will have to go to the ER, where you got stuck for so long”.

    No ER stay for me, but I can tell you obviously have not had the pleasure of trying for 3 months to sign up for coverage. When I unfortunately had the chance to use it, I was denied since the doctor and insurance company could not verify the coverage was ever correctly entered into the system, even though I had paperwork with me.

    That was eventually sorted out but I was now responsible for $7,500 deductible – so unless I’m hit by a bus, or somehow get pregnant, all of this “great, private, easy to use” insurance is absolutely worthless. Don’t even get me started on the subsidy I was supposed to get to help defray costs – I have to return to the IRS $3000 because of a paperwork “error”.

    Come back and let me know when you drop whatever coverage you have for yourself and family and let me know how Obamacare ends up working out for you. I was all for it when it was being discussed. Now? In action? Not so much.

  54. A few years back after a 3 week trip to Europe with drinking every day I started having whirlybird pains in my gut that was always worse when I had an empty stomach, drank or are spivey foods. My father was dying from leukemia so I thought it was stress and did nothing but suffer. It went away then came back after another 3 week trip. That time I got scoped from both ends and I had a hole (ulcer) in my stomach. Omeprazole did the trick and slowly healed. The prep is really fun! Good luck!

  55. I love all the people who blame this on socialized medicine. Every time I’ve ever been to an ER in the US, I have had to wait hours upon hours for nothing much to happen unless I was visibly bleeding or about to pass out. That’s called triage, and it has nothing to do with socialized or private medicine. If anything, I was treated like a second class citizen in the US when I didn’t have health insurance.

    The German doctor does sound lazy and incompetent though. No way you should have been released without some sort of abdominal exam when presenting with abdominal pain. You need to get to a doctor stateside ASAP. I hate going to the doctor too, but you know when something is wrong with your body. Ignoring it won’t make it go away, and it may ver well well get worse.

  56. It sounds like it could be irritation of the stomach / bowel (gastritis) that was exacerbated by alcohol intake. Are the recurrent pains related to eating (i.e. after meals)? Is it worse with acidic foods (tomato sauces, OJ, vinegar, etc?) A 1-2 week trial of prilosec (omeprazole) or zantac (ranitidine) available over the counter may be worthwhile to reduce stomach acid levels and see if that gives time for the symptoms to improve (i.e. for gastritis to heal). Could also try Maalox.

    There could also be a component of reflux – in which case it would help to avoid lying down for at least 2-3 hours after eating meals. (though this may be difficult to do when traveling)

    Did the German hospital give you a copy of the lab results to bring back to the US with you? Most likely they they checked blood counts, chemistry, and liver function tests to rule out acute infections, metabolic irregularities, or liver dsyfunction. So, that crosses a lot of the big concerns off the list.

    Be well.

  57. welcome to the world of governmental medicine….coming to you soon. If you know what good medical practice is, you (as you seemed to be) would be horrified…..

  58. How they treated you seems obviously not acceptable, but why did you go to an ER in the first place? It’s called emergency room for a reason and something going on for 2 weeks can hardly be called an emergency. Even if you felt you couldn’t wait for the next morning (though you could wait for two weeks before) there are normal doctors available after hours (Ƥrztlicher Notdienst) which are much better suited for such a case and where your treatment won’t be interrupted by actual emergencies!

  59. looking forward to an all clear wellness post after you see a U.S. doc. FYI in case appendicitis turns in to a possibility as some have mentioned: new med reports in past week site a new study that surgery is not the only way to treat. Success has been shown with 3 days of antibiotic drip followed by 7 days oral antibiotics. Here is hoping for more negative results from further evaluations!

  60. Reminds me of the rumors back in the mid 70’s about Rod Stewart ending up in the ER and getting his stomach pumped….
    Oh, and LOL at all the medical advice being handed out in a BoardingArea blog commment section.

  61. Witnessed the same sort of thing happen in Germany to someone I was with…. Socialized healthcare for you!

  62. I had similar symptoms when I was in college and went to my PCP in Germany over summer break and he thought there could be several reasons but decided to treat me for damaged stomach lining due to my excessive black coffee intake during finals. I took meds for a week and drank coffee with milk in it and the issue resolved itself.

    Since you are presenting symptoms after a champagne tasting which means you consumed excessively acidic liquid in large quantity, I would say that what afflicted me could also be happening to you.

    Gute Besserung.

  63. If your problem was Diverticulitis (as pointed out above), then you need to go to an ER in the USA and have a CT scan, which is the only way to fully diagnose. Then you are put on a regiment of antibiotics.

    If the pain was real severe than you could have had a gall stone attack, which goes away after a while, but is so severe you need to be in an emergency room on morphine. If that were the case, it could reoccur and the only permanent solution is to have your gall bladder removed. Although you seem too young for that, but not out of the question.

    Another option in Germany, is to have the Hotel call a doctor. Big hotels in Germany have arrangements with local doctors which come to your room. The hotel books for you. The Doctor’s fee is added to your hotel bill. They can give you a prescription and assess whether you need to go to an ER. Back in year 1999 the cost was about 135E for the in room visit. So 200E today is likely the same in terms of cost.

    I once got sick in Germany with spiking fevers that would not go away. I suspect it was the result of eating some food in Germany (maybe meat not cooked enough). I had hotel doctors in Hamburg and in Frankfurt – both giving my antibiotics. But they did not help and I eventually made it back to USA and treated in the hospital to resolve what turned out to be an abscess.

    I suggest you get to the USA and go to the Doctor’s or ER right away.

    I would avoid public hospitals in Europe. Call you insurance company in the USA and advise them of the situation before going to the ER.

  64. Follow up – also as pointed out above – you need an ultrasound in addition to the CT scan. The abscess problem I had was only found with an ultrasound. But you need a CT for Diverticulitis.

  65. Firstly, you’re an idiot.
    Secondly, you’re an attention seeking idiot.
    Lastly, please stop using “literally” so damn much. Are you 15?

    In so much pain but had time to take pics and blog about your non experience.
    This site used to be informative.

  66. Don’t ever get sick at Heathrow. We were on our way to Mumbai, through Heathrow. My husband became unwell. Emergency was called and they took him to the closest hospital. After 8 hours, no doctor, no attention, we left and took a cab to a private hospital in London where he got the best care [and they swiped my Amex Platinum card immediately].

  67. @travel4b: I’ve been to medical school. Although I don’t currently have an active practice, I am actively involved in research in the medical field. Currently researching several novel cures for gastrointestinal diseases, Gulf War Syndrome, and autonomic dysfunction.

    Back when I was an intern, I had the misfortune of being at a facility which had a miscalibrated linear accelerator machine. For two years that machine gave a substantial overdose of radiation to patients who went for treatment. It wasn’t pretty. Thereafter, radiation safety became a big priority at the facility. (Gee, you think?)

    They brought in radiologists from around the country who were studying the failure, but also were giving lectures on the safe and judicious use of ionizing radiation in the medical field. I can’t remember the one gentleman’s name, but IIRC he was a radiologist out in the midwest. His own daughter received about five CT scans in the period of about two months after a vehicle accident, which prompted his own investigations into things.

    The TL:DR of his lecture and research: 1) CT scans are overused when other, safer diagnostic methods exist. 2) CT scans put out far more radiation than many in the medical field are aware of. 3) Use CT scans as a last resort, when the pt’s life is in imminent danger or you’re contemplating invasive exploratory surgery 4) There is no “safe” level of ionizing radiation.

  68. Ben,

    Sorry to hear your bad experience. But I can assure you such incidents are not isolated. I have lived in Germany for over a decade and have extensive contact with the health care industry — most German public hospitals are just abysmal. Long lines and/or indefinite wait, bunch of tests for nothing, seen by nurses or even “helpers” rather than doctors, and even doctors who are worn/uninterested/”keine Ahnung haben”. If it’s not immediately urgent (as in a road accident or something), I would recommend avoiding going to such hospitals at all cost. Instead search for individual practices with a good reputation on the web and call to ask for an urgent appointment. Some practices have a wait time of several weeks or more, but others might have open slots that same day. So after a few calls you should be all set. Alternatively, all major international insurance companies have partner doctors around the world (one has to be overall pretty competent to be selected), call your insurance company to find out and schedule an appointment.

    Get well soon!
    Art

  69. RE the current sorry state of German hospitals (and it’s only getting worse), talk about the welfare state and lowest common denominator…

  70. As a British doctor reading this, I am surprised about the care you received (or didn’t !). Regarding your diagnosis – probably gastritis given the fact you drank heavily 2 weeks ago. Diverticulitis is rare at your age. The British Health care system is criticised alot, especially in America, but you would not have been treated like this over here – at least you would have been examined by a Doctor!

  71. @lol

    Can I add ‘gorgeous’ to your list, please? Just about every hotel lobby/room/view is ‘gorgeous’ in the Reviews. I enjoy reading the blog but think use of the synonym option in whatever word-processing software Ben is using would be useful.

  72. Get well Ben! I’ve had a CT scan before, and its fine unless you need to be IV’ed again…

    But I couldn’t help but notice the logo on that bag on the first picture… nice

  73. Hey Lucky, what was the 200EU admittance fee for? I have a UK passport but only used UK hospitals.

    With the waiting problem the same thing happens in Aus. I waited 3 hours to get my toenail ripped off (dont ask). However, I really wasnt in a position to complain when it was 100% free.

  74. LOL to all comments, besides AlexS’.
    I used to think that medical care in the US is a lot better, than anywhere else. Surprise surprise, it is not. The major difference between medical care in the US and most other places is that elsewhere medicine is patient-care, whereas here it is customer-care. The patient wants a CT – they’ll get it. The patient wants to get more narcotics – they’ll get it. The patient does not want to hear about quitting smoking, loosing weight, or wearing a seatbelt – they won’t hear about it.
    Was Lucky’s experience a bad one? Absolutely. It was inaceptable to wait so long and then not getting a proper history taken and a thorough exam performed. Did they do that to piss him off, or because they did not take him seriously? No. I concur with the suggestion to talk to the hotel or the local representative of your insurance company and find out what to do in situations like this. Most likely they would have suggested to contact a local family practioner or internist and see them in their office, as emergency rooms in Germany are clearly the place to go if you’re missing a limb or vomiting blood, but not for belly pain for a week after a bubbly binge.

    @Lucky: feel free to contact me before or during your next trip to Germany if you need advice from somebody who knows both medical systems – unlike most other people that commented here, actually from the inside.

  75. TIP: Once when an American friend came to visit me in Israel and he needed to go to the ER, I told the doctor (in Hebrew) that Americans like to sue people and he should be carful (I said it in a friendly way) – from that point on my friend got a really good service…. Sometimes the best way to get what you want is to be the rude loud American type of person….

  76. Lucky…. you should probably do a post on the importance of travel insurance, which ones are recommended, what they cover, etc

  77. Unbelievable how far more comments were made on this than anything related to credit cards and aeroplanes.
    Bravo AlexS for your comment. As a medical practitioner in a large city in the US, I won’t deign to diagnose anyone based on a blog post as so many have here. When I travel all over the world and am not in a crippled state, if my own OTC pain relievers or antibiotics don’t work, I seek a local reputable MD. In the US, you should seek a good PCP, see an MD that takes care of a friend or go to a reputable walk in clinic. Never go to an ER, and anyone who suggests a CT scan without an in person physical exam needs to be educated.

  78. Hey Ben,

    I am glad that everything turned out alright! This sounded like a pretty unpleasant experience and I would have been much less patient than you were!

    I actually had a somewhat opposite experience happen recently when I was traveling in China and had to go to the ER because of kidney stones (I wrote about it here http://goo.gl/48RjoQ). The hospital was absolutely filthy and there was no such thing as an individual room to wait in, but luckily I was in and out fairly quickly.

    Going to the hospital in a foreign country can definitely be one of the worst things you will ever have to do!

  79. Interesting that you rather fly back to NA to see doctors. I just did the exact oppostie and flew from YYZ-MUC just to see a couple doctors in Germany! BTW, another solid performance by Lufthansa First Class on their A330.

  80. Just came back from ER in Berlin following a fall and a cut lip which needed stitches. At 9:30 PM I was in and out in 90 minutes. The doctor was a very caring young general surgeon who spoke excellent English and everybody else was friendly and helpful. They called a taxi for me afterwards.

    Total cost about $100.

  81. I just returned from my second trip to a Berlin ER in recent months, both for relatively minor injuries but which required stitches. The first time I paid about a $150 upfront fee (no German health insurance) and had a very friendly and competent young English speaking surgeon- in an out in about two hours on a weekday evening and they also called me a taxi. Today, at another hospital I asked if I could get looked at without the paperwork which they did and I again had a friendly English speaking young surgeon and was in and out in two hours. I don’t seem to have paid anything (maybe some confusion?). In any event, no complaints really although the staff at the first hospital were much friendlier than the 2nd but hey, this is Berlin.

  82. You think that’s bad? Had a particularly bad case of tonsilitis, ended up in an Irish A&E in Dublin. Seen straight away, Nurse gave me painkillers and an Anti- Inflammatory, waited 4 hours to get my bloods taken, waited a further 12 hours in the same seat with no bed to be seen by the doctor and I didn’t leave the hospital for another 6 so all and all 22 hours in A&E.

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