I am experiencing what many people fear: needing a doctor in a foreign land where you cannot speak the language. But, praise God, the body is the same wherever you go, so you only have to point to what hurts. Or, as in my case, the doctor could see that I would not move my left arm, and when I turned to look at him, he remarked that he could see that I was in great pain.
He examined my shoulder, inflicting much pain, just as American doctors do when it happens at home, and diagnosed that I had strained the ligaments that help with lifting in my left arm. He prescribed four medications, three of them for pain, and, needless to say, I slept well last night, oblivious to the world. The price was insane for an American: 45 Euros for the doctor and 26 Euros for the medications!
How can this be, I asked Douglas, because at home, the doctor visit alone would have been nearly $200, and the medications, without insurance, would have cost nearly $300. This means that excellent medical care does not have to cost an arm and a leg, and that access to medical assistance could be bestowed on everyone in America, regardless of their social class.
I was reluctant to go to the doctor here, mainly because I could not call the insurance company from which we bought travel insurance. No matter what I tried, my phone would not call America or the free 800 number. So, not knowing if they would honor the claim without prior approval, I decided to wait until I got home to deal with the shoulder, but the pain became so great that all I could do was stand and moan, not even lie down.
Douglas went on a reconnaissance trip, and he found a clinic about a block away, less than three minutes walk. And, because today, April 25, is a holiday here, no clinics would be open. I would have to wait for Thursday for help, so I decided to chance it, hoping they would accept my Visa card for payment.
From the moment we walked in, the staff was so nice, establishing quickly that we were English speakers and that I was in great pain. We did not wait even 15 minutes between checking in and being seen by the doctor, whom Douglas asked immediately if he was a “real” doctor.
The poor man looked at Douglas as if he had asked him if he spoke Klingon, but then assured us that he was a “full” doctor. Douglas, embarrassed at the reaction of the doctor, explained that in America, sometime you see nurse practictioners or physician assistants, and he wanted me to be seen by a full doctor. I explained that he would ask the same thing in America.
Thankfully, the doctor was an older man, who eventually found the question humorous, and the examination commenced. He checked the shoulder, as gently as possible, touching sensitive places, and I was so happy that he applied a gentle touch. He then gave us options. As a general practictioner, he could not give injections, but he thought that he could reduce the pain. As he wrote the prescriptions on his computer, the whole clinic lost power, and we were left in the dark, literally. He had to resort to pen and paper.
As we approached the counter after the power returned, I was so worried about the costs of the doctor visit, and when the nurse said 45 Euros, I could not believe her! What?! 45 Euros? Are you kidding me? But, that was the price to see a “real” doctor. I could not get a receipt because the router would not come back up after the power outage, so she asked us to return on Thursday for a receipt for the insurance company.
Then, we walked to the farmacia (pharmacy), and once again I worried about the costs, especially for the strong painkillers. But, when the young woman told us the costs was 26.20 Euros, I was astounded, and we paid with the Visa card. They explained how to take each medication, just as the doctor had done, and we went back to our apartment.
On the way back home, I said to Douglas that the costs of medical care here demonstrates that we overpay in America. Without proof of insurance, I am not even sure a doctor in America would have even seen me. The costs of medical care in America is at least five or six times more expensive than here in Portugal, but I felt that the service was great. Moreover, the doctor here listened to me and then examined me with care, not like as often happens at home, where they seem to have only 15 minutes per patient and don’t go any longer than expected. I felt like a human being here, not like I was on a conveyor belt.
Many things cost less here, but also there seems to be more of a care for the environment, as cars are so small that some of them seem like they could be folded up and placed in my purse. I have seem maybe 20 SUVs, small SUVs, not Navigators or Expeditions, and hardly any big sedans. It may have something to do with the costs of gasoline, but every car has to pass inspection every year, so there are hardly any old cars on the road, which constitutes cleaner air. The car we had the first two weeks used less than a half of a tank for 13 days! Then, there are great transportation options, such as buses and trains, that help make access to transportation more accessible for everyone.
Less costs mean greater access to those taken-for-granted elements across social class, and it means that people here in Europe are willing to pay higher taxes to ensure that everyone has basic access to the things necessary for life, like good medical care. Something else cheaper here is access to art museums, as we paid 2 Eurosport’s wonderful museum here (see the picture above). Art is so necessary for the soul to find joy and peace, and to know that it is affordable to all is wonderful.
I am so glad that I got up and went to the doctor, for my shoulder feels better this morning. The doctor reminded me to come back if no progress after seven days. I thank God that I am not alone here, and that my husband takes as good a care of me here as he does at home, although I hope he does not plan on asking every doctor if they are “real” or fake doctors. That gets a little bit embarrassing after a while, but he means well.