In 2014, I experienced the British NHS (National Health System) when my feet gave out six weeks into a 13 week trip.
A young lady at the hotel front desk helped Barrie secure an appointment for me on a Thursday evening when the clinic in the little village was open for walk-ins. A small village and a small clinic - growing up in Herrick & Burke, SD, I was very familiar with this.
A female doctor came into the waiting room to greet the patients and take them back to her office. There was little she could do on my first visit as she did not know my medical history. My feet were swollen and I was afraid I had broken bones (lots of them!). She looked at the swelling and was afraid I might have kidney failure! Yikes!
Two lab tests (which proved no kidney failure) and one week later, I was sent for an x-ray of the feet. Because I had private insurance, I went that same day. No waiting. I was told that if I had used NHS for the medical coverage, I would have waited a long time. If I needed a podiatrist, it was a 9 week waiting time! I was back home before then! The x-ray showed I had no broken bones in my feet, but nothing was accomplished in making them any better.
I limped home - much the worse for wear! It took a podiatrist, two walking boots, physical therapy, an orthopedic surgeon, 6 shots of cortisone, the wearing of really ugly but comfortable shoes and lots of rest to get me walking again without excruciating pain!
There was no easy fix in either country.
- Cost in UK: $400 total
- Cost in USA: Thousands of dollars paid by my insurance. I don't have my medical bills at my disposal while I am writing this, but by memory, $7,500 +.
Now we are in Madrid and a minor health issue arose. After enjoying two weeks of lovely times and cool weather, I was suddenly hit with very high blood pressure. I became a Cyberchondriac,* looking up my symptoms online. The omnipresent and all knowing internet was telling me that I needed to seek medical help immediately! This all resulted in going to the ER at a nearby hospital. Twice in one night. The second doctor in the ER told me I needed to see a cardiologist! Not a comforting thought in a foreign country! Not in any country!
Within a few days, our wonderful new friends and Home Exchange partners had secured an appointment for me with a top Cardiology hospital in Madrid and one of their finest cardiologists who spoke English. It is nice to have friends with connections!
When we arrived for the appointment and were checking in at the front desk, the doctor (we call him Dr. Joy. His name is Dr. Alegria, which translates to "Joy" in English) must have heard me struggling with the language and he personally came out to greet me and introduce himself, then asked me to wait a few minutes while he finished with other patients.
When it was time for my appointment, Dr. Joy took me to his office, sat across the desk and started to ask questions. One of my first statements was, "I'm scared"! He acknowledged that it would be very scary to be in a foreign country and be told I needed a cardiologist!
He spent 50 minutes with me. When was the last time that happened in the USA? Unfortunately, our doctors are being held to timeframes by big insurance companies and big business.
He had me bring Barrie into the room and explained what was happening. It seems that because I live at sea level (Naples, FL) and have now been at a higher altitude in Madrid - even though it isn't THAT high** - coupled with the unseasonably warm weather - it is not uncommon for blood pressure to spike. It has something to do with the barometric pressure and he said it was even in the news (which we cannot translate very well). He assured me that it was NOT serious and that they sometimes see the same thing in reverse, when someone living in Madrid, goes to the seashore. I'm sure my anxiety contributed to it also!
To be certain all was okay, he checked my heart and again reassured me that I had nothing wrong with my heart.
He then wrote a prescription for my blood pressure, made some medication changes and was confident that I would start to feel much better.
Then - are you ready for this? He gave us his private cell phone number and told us he lives only one mile from the hospital. If I feel something is wrong, I am to call him and he will meet us at the hospital!
For more than 20 years, I have not even had a primary care physician that had hospital "rights". If you end up in the hospital, your are assigned a "hospitalist" - who doesn't know a thing about you - to coordinate your care.
Next stop - the pharmacy to fill the prescription he had written, the lady took the paper, walked in the back, came out 30 seconds later and gave us the medication. Muchas Gracias! When our meds are filled back home, the reply is, "It will take us 30 minutes, 60 minutes, we will call you, it won't be ready until tomorrow." Take your pick.
In full disclosure, we have private health insurance and always buy travel insurance for emergencies, so do not know what would happen if left to the healthcare system of the countries we have visited, but have been told that it would be a very different experience.
So - to answer the original question - No, we are not afraid. We have found kind and caring healthcare professionals and, in fact, have experienced more of the type of doctor that some of us had as children. The type of doctor that treated "you" because they got to know "you". They also encompassed the wife/husband/family in the care and didn't have to worry about HIPPA and government regulations.
So once again, we have experienced the Real Madrid: The comfort of the Real Physician, the friendship of the Real Madrileños - Ivan and Pila - Muchas Gracias!
Now I am back to feeling healthy, grateful and taking on new adventures! Also staying off websites that diagnose every symptom known to mankind.
Te Amo Ivan & Pilar, Dr. Joy, y Madrid. Muchas Gracias.
*Cyberchondria is the kind of fear brought on by web-based self-diagnosis. We all know someone who does this, don't we?
**Madrid is situated in the middle of the Meseta, and at an elevation of 646 meters (2,119 feet) above sea level is the highest capital city in Europe.
PS: The cost? The first ER trip: $225. The second ER trip: Free - they didn't want to charge me twice! The 50 minutes with the cardiologist: $210. From past experience, I imagine there would have been several tests and a few referrals to specialists at home. Cost: unknown, but it would have been MUCH more than $435.
Footnote: The Spanish healthcare service is regularly rated among the world’s best, guaranteeing universal coverage and no upfront expenditure from patients apart from paying a proportion of prescription charges. Spain spends about 10 percent of its GDP on healthcare. A 2012 World Health Organization survey showed that Spanish women outlive all other nationalities (apart from the Japanese), so they must be doing something right.