Mama Called the Doctor …

July 4, 2011 at 9:04 am | Posted in Lollipop, Transylvania | 21 Comments
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… And the doctor said, “It might be scarlet fever.”

Then he said words like “family swabs,” “quarantine,” and “suppository,” and I kind of stopped listening. For self-preservation.

But now? I know what the normal Celsius body temperature is. 37 degrees. (You’re welcome.) I know that one of the tell-tale signs of scarlet fever is a tongue that looks like a strawberry. (Which we, thankfully, never got.) And I know that one sick child in 1,200 small square feet means that, at some point in the night, all three children will be awake.

There is not enough Nutella in Romania to quell this bone-aching, post-germy tiredness of mine. But with the exhaustion comes a small but fiery sense of pride. I did it. I cared for my children in a strange place with strange germs and a strange medical system.

I had at the ready a recommendation for a pediatrician another mother had given me. I called him. I called him. Not a nurse line, or an answering service, or a Minute Clinic. I actually called the doctor on his cell phone. I relayed Lollipop’s symptoms. He said he could be at our house in an hour. Yes, he came to our house. To our house. On a Friday night.

We talked, he examined her, and we talked some more. He wrote us a few prescriptions. He told us where the 24-hour pharmacy was. And he said to call any time, day or night, if we needed him. If anyone else got sick. If Lollipop got worse. If we had questions. And then he called me on Saturday to follow up.

In some ways, it seemed so much easier than the system I’m used to. (You know β€” call the office, leave a message, wait for a call back, figure out an appointment time, drag all three kids to the doctor, verify the insurance, pay the co-pay, wait around a while, talk to the doctor, get prescriptions, fill prescriptions, wait around a while, verify the insurance, pay the co-pay, and on and on.)

And in other ways, it was much more frightening. From the beginning of this adventure, I have worried most about not being able to care for my children here. Because of language barriers. Because of practices I don’t understand. Because of medical standards I can’t be sure of. Because there’s just so much I don’t know.

But in the throes of all this, I realized what I do know. I know how to take a temperature and dispense Tylenol. I know how to smooth sweaty hair from a hot forehead and rub tiny circles on a tiny back. I know when to relax the rules about ice cream consumption.

And I know that my instincts β€” to protect, to heal, to comfort β€” speak every language.

Have you ever experienced another country’s health care system? Ever called a doctor’s cell phone? Ever worried your child might be quarantined??


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  1. This would definitely be one of the scariest things for me, living in a foreign country. Germs that you’ve never been exposed to, doctors you don’t know, language you can’t understand…scary. Although I must say that their system sounds WAY better than ours these days! And I’m so glad that Lollipop is under the care of such a caring physician, not to mention the best care of all…her momma πŸ™‚

    Here’s hoping for a break from illness, for your sake and the kids!

  2. Poor Lollipop! It just hurts your heart to see your baby girl sick. Hang in there, mama!

  3. I can’t even imagine how frightening this must have been for you and the family. But, being a mother is a universal thing – you knew what to do and that transcended all language barriers.

    I was also seriously impressed that the doctor came to your house. TO YOUR HOUSE. That must have been such a relief.

  4. Good job momma!!
    I hope Lollipop is on the mend!

  5. I started out caring for my kids in a very different system in the USA,and when I got back to Canada? IT had changed again. ugh

  6. Wow, it is scary. I am glad that you figured it out. My parents had a Romanian doctor in the U.S. and he came to the house a few times as well, which is unheard of.
    When he retired we were all sad. I hope your little one feels better soon. Hang in there!

  7. When my baby got sick in a new city, the pediatrician wanted to wait two days to see me because we were new patients! Hysterical mama magic worked us in that very day. At least I knew the language.

    Sending you healing thoughts and hopes of rest!

  8. Rock on, mama!

    I’ve used health care in a foreign country (Japan), but not as I use it here. I was mandated to go through pre-employment physical screening as a condition of my last job. It was a very thorough screening, which I found unnerving given my very much non-existent knowledge of Japanese medical terminology. Luckily someone had an old medical dictionary on hand, so a few of my questions were slowly cleared up in a mish-mash of English and Japanese.

    As to the latter questions, no and no. For now. Fortunately . . .

  9. Oh, Stacia. So glad Lollipop is on the mend. My family experienced sickness in India and although we speak the language, knowledge of how great medical care can be in the United States, left us a little speechless at certain infirmary settings in a very rural India. Let’s just say we passed on anything that required a sterile needle. At the time (which is about 20 years ago) I watched them boil needles in hot water. I remember telling my mom I wasn’t going to get a shot at this place. My parents agreed and luckily the symptoms passed.

  10. Good, brave mama bear! I’m glad your sweet girl is starting to feel better. It’s always a challenge and a fright to have a sick child and I can only imagine adding to those feelings, uncertainty about language, cultural differences, etc. Though, a doctor making house calls sounds glorious to me, almost as glorious as that drive-thru library lane you told me about once.

    • Ahhhh, the drive-through library lane … It is indeed glorious. And missed, though if Romania had one, I’d probably use it just because it was there, despite not being able to read but maybe 20 or 30 words in any book. And all those words are prepositions, conjunctions, or food items. =>

  11. Aw, poor girl! I loved that last line about your mothering instincts speaking any language, it is so true of us mama bears!!!

  12. So cool that the doctor came to you. I can’t even imagine. Healing thoughts to Lollipop.

  13. I don’t know how I missed the move to Romania. The only entries popping up in my Reader were haiku. But I’m glad to see you’ve all arrived and I’m hoping your family is healthy and happy in the new place. I’ll be looking forward to reading about your travels.

    If you’re looking for a good American book that deals with castles in Eastern Europe, read Jennifer Egan’s The Keep. I think you’d like it.

  14. Hope she gets better!

  15. I am so happy that you survived this first. I am fortunate to have a rockstar pediatrician and she gave me her number and has on numerous occasions told me to call her if I needed her.

    I’ve never experienced a foreign country’s medical system except for the hotel doctor in Mexico. That doesn’t count. But prescriptions and directions in a foreign language sound quite intimidating. Good job mama.

  16. This was so lovely and strong in the face of such uncertainty. I usually feel like I’m flailing when my kids are sick, to do so in a strange country must be so much more upsetting, as you’ve written. I hope she’s feeling better now.

  17. Wow, it’s so hard even when you already know the drill – I can’t imagine when everything is new and different. But I’m so glad that the new drill worked, that you had someone come to your home and help when you needed it. I hope you can feel confident going forward and let that part of the stress of illness go, at least.

    And I hope all are well now:)

  18. Ugh, how scary. I’m so sorry you went through that. I hope that Lollipop is now well on the mend and that the rest of you have stayed healthy.

    My only adventures with healthcare in a foreign land came in Austria when, on a high school trip, I cut my left ring finger while spreading Nutella on a roll. (Yes, I am very graceful at all times.) They stitched me up for a whopping 38 cents. That fact combined with the house call-making Romanian doctor really do make me think hard about healthcare reform.


  19. Oh Stacia, this post so resonated with me. I totally hear you. I became a mom in Japan and like you, I was both terrified and grateful. Japan has a national health insurance system, so even when my husband and I both resigned from our work to start a business we never for a second had to worry about healthcare (which was also very affordable). On the other hand, I was TERRIFED of my inability to communicate well. I also was uncomfortable with the Japanese tradition of not questioning your doctor or not really being able to talk to your doctor. The first time my son got really sick – throwing up violently and inexplicably – my husband happened to be home with me and he called the clinic just as they were closing, but they agreed to have us come in. I know I could not have negotiated that had I been home alone. brrr!

    But you are wise – and you are now there as a fairly veteran mom – your experience and confidence can compensate for whatever language and cultural gaps you have. I love your last line, so beautifully said!

  20. I’m glad that Lollipop is all better, but I can only imagine what a scary time it must have been for you and your family. I didn’t realize doctors still made house calls! But then again, I’m only used to the horrendous health care system here so what do I know?

    I was in Greece when I was violently ill and all we had to do was explain my symptoms to the pharmacist and he dispensed antibiotics that got me well in two days. It’s the same one that I took back in college where each pill cost me $35 each (in the US). And I had to have five. In Greece, they gave me five again and it cost me 18 Euros. No co pay. No appointments. No sweat. Just a happy healthy girl in two days.

    Yeah, our system here sucks.

    But your last line – so very right you are. As a mom, your care and your instincts, will overcome all barriers, including language and culture.

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