You win some, you lose some: Doctor’s appointments in a second language

One of the lesser discussed items in the romantic adventure of moving to Europe are mundane things like going to the doctor.  If you think its difficult to call your insurance provider or navigate their website in the US to find a doctor in your network, imagine trying to find a doctor in another country when you can’t speak to the person on the other end of the line.  For a supremely independent person, having to rely on someone else to call the doctor and set appointments for you is one aspect of European living that is slightly less fun.

So, first things first–a women’s doctor.  Again, the joy in every woman’s life is obviously her yearly appointment with the gynocologist. But up the ante with a possible lack of communication and you’ve got yourself a reality show.  So, to combat this possible excitement, Thorsten called around for me, asking for a doctor who spoke English. Simple enough, right? Assured that this doctor would speak English we made our way to the appointment.  The ladies at the appointment desk didn’t really speak English but I could understand them well enough and they were very friendly.  Not too bad.  Thorsten helped me fill out the forms that contain very formal, official language. Then we went to see the doctor.  

The actual appointment was interesting in the way that a magic show or a car wreck is interesting. Upon realizing that I didn’t speak much German the doctor spoke mostly to Thorsten.  I caught a word here and there. In a way I felt like his pet cat, who he took to the veterinarian. Then it was time for the examination.  

In the US we are used to being left alone in the exam room to change our clothes.  We are given a robe to wear while we wait for the doctor to come back to start the exam.  In this case however, we walked altogether from the talking office to the exam room and basically the protocol was to just get undressed and sit on the table. Everyone was still in the room together and the exam started.  This was a little awkward but the I just said to myself, “Honestly, I guess it’s fine, because even when you are wearing the paper robe, the exam part is always pretty awkward  and luckily its over pretty fast.” I would not call this experience a win, but at least from what I could understand, the doctor was funny and very nice.

Next up, the Dentist. If you’re feeling traumatized from the last story, don’t worry the dentist appointment was an actual win. To be fair, the dentist appointment occurred after I had been in school a little longer so I had a much better chance at understanding and communicating.  Luckily, the dentist is a family friend so I already knew her.  And even more lucky, she speaks excellent English.  

The thing is if you’ll remember, when I first started writing the blog, I outlined the fact that a success or a win is decided by how well I utilize my German in any given situation.  

The perfect opportunity presented itself when I met the dental hygentist. She came into the room smiling at me and then said in perfectly clear and slow German, “You can understand some German, right?” And to this I was able to answer, “Yes, a little bit.” And then she said, “Oh good, so I will speak slowly and you stop me when you don’t understand something.” This was a great start. I felt confident because I understood her and because she was speaking directly to me and then I wasn’t afraid to speak German with her. Plus I knew that she was more comfortable speaking German than English and so I felt good about making the conversation flow.  We had one very funny conversation about how many times a day to brush and how many times to floss.  I mixed up the words for brushing your teeth and flossing your teeth and wondered if I had just told her that I only brush my teeth once a day.  When I asked her about it, she became worried that I thought she told me that I only needed to brush one time per day.  We had a good laugh over this, and soon my teeth were clean!  I really considered this appointment a win because not only did we understand eachother, we laughed together too!

Real success will come the day I can call a doctor’s office and make the appointment myself.  So far, the phone is an altogether intimidating proposition.

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One thought on “You win some, you lose some: Doctor’s appointments in a second language

  1. Pingback: Namaste sounds the same in every language | Being an American, becoming a Franconian

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