Thursday, October 13, 2011

Going to the doctor

There are many things we expats who have lived abroad a long time begin to do routinely, things that once caused heart palpitations and sweaty hands. We get so used to these things, we forget that we ever were anxious. We forget about the cultural differences. We become inured, hardened, which is perhaps another way of saying, we adjust. Going to the doctor is one of those things we adjust to.

I'm having one of those years. In a way, I always have diffculties, come fall. I have bronchial asthma, and so when colds hit, I'm stuck with them for weeks. And Germany, with its wet, rainy climate, is conducive to colds. Well, this year it hit harder than ever. I've been spending a lot of time at the doctor's office - first with a rash, then a bladder infection, followed by sinusitis, which developed into bronchitis.

My first "doctor's" visit was in the summer, in New York State, with a urinary tract infection. I had reverse cultural shock - the guy who examined me and wrote the prescription for antibiotics wasn't even a doctor! He was a physician's assistant. And he did all the things American doctors do. He checked my ears, my lungs, my throat, my weight, even though I was there for a UTI. I had forgotten what it's like because of all my years in Germany. Here in Germany, when you are sick, you must see a doctor. The only one who can prescribe medication is a doctor. But s/he doesn't check any of the things the PA checked. Here, doctors only listen to your story and then perhaps prescribe something.

I went from the US to Italy, on vacation with my husband. It felt like I had another UTI. But no one could come up with a doctor for me. "Go to the pharmacy," they urged. "There's always a physician working for the pharmacy, and they'll prescribe something for you." That's what I did, and got more antibiotics for what was possibly another UTI. This developed into a continued cold, which had been troubling me in the States. It became a bad sinusitis. Back to the doctor's, this time in Germany.

Here, the doctor said, "Your resistance is worn down from all those antibiotics. But you need more or you won't heal. Here's a prescription." I took the antibiotics until they were finished, but the infection didn't go away. "Sorry," she said. "No more antibiotics." Doctors in Germany are big on alternative medicine. I don't know if that is the case in the States - after over twenty years of being away, I don't know what it's like "back home" anymore. But now, I had zinc to order from the pharmacy. It cost over $20 for a two-week supply. Here, anything over the counter is over the sky in prices. And no neti-pot. Only saline sprays. And injections in my beehind, twice a week for five weeks, of my own blood, mixed with something homeopathic. My sinusitis turned into bronchitis, and I got scared, so went to the emergency room.

Here, the doctor gave me something to inhale and sent me home, without antibiotics. I should continue to inhale chamomile tea.

I'm still sick, and still getting those shots of my blood. If that doesn't work, my GP's next recourse is to give me acupuncture. Oh - she sent me to the ENT doctor, who prescribed a cortisone spray.

I told an American friend about my ordeal. She said, "You should have gotten more antibiotics. I don't think doctors there are as good or as thorough as those in the US." I didn't even tell her what went on in the X-ray department at the hospital, when the assistant told me to disrobe the top half of my body. Of course, I received no hospital gown, for modesty's sake. There's no need for modesty in Germany.

My friend's kind comments made me anxious about going to the doctors, all over again.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Black Bottom Cupcakes

Ever tried black bottom cupcakes?

I hadn't either, in all my years living in the US, but when I discovered that cupcakes were the latest thing in Cologne, I once decided to make a cupcake theme party, and found a recipe in my cooking bible, the Joy of Cooking. Black bottom cupcakes became part of my repertoire.

It seems I've started a little baking club among some of my young neighborhood friends. One of them, Katie, 10, asked me recently, "Noreen, when can we bake again?" I hadn't realized it was even on her mind.

A week later, "Can we bake cupcakes? Chocolate?"

Yesterday Katie and Sophia, 9, and I baked black bottom cupcakes. We were together for nearly three hours. It was nice, it was a lot of work, and then I spent the evening trying to relax. I thought no more of it.

This morning in my inspirational book I read, "I am aware of thoughts racing and crashing through my mind at an alarming speed - memories, broken promises, fears, failed expectations...chaos." This is a very familiar state to me. Films of my life flashing in fast-backward, no time to hold onto a snapshot because it's already gone. I read today that communicating with someone can help get a hold of what's happening. It can make life less mad.

My thoughts turned to my other writing friends who are keeping blogs. I keep a blog, I thought, why haven't I written? Because my life has gotten out of hand, unmanageable, at least in part, and I wasn't able to focus anymore. When these times come, I tend to think that I'm not contributing much of anything to life, and that all that's happening is that it's speeding by. Quickly. To its end. I'm not young anymore.

Then I remembered yesterday. This was important! Katie remembered, all those months later, that we had baked together. She kept reminding me of our baking date.

Katie is Cameroon. Once when she was here baking, we ended up talking about heaven, and I told her that the Bible says we'll have new bodies in heaven. "Then maybe I won't have to be black anymore!" she exclaimed, and ripped a hole in my heart. I tried to affirm her.

There's so much I don't know about Katie. Or Sophia, who is Czech. We're all from somewhere else, living in Germany, and I have found a way to touch these girls, only half aware of it, because life keeps rushing by.

Yesterday we baked without much incident, so it seemed unimportant. We decorated the cupcakes with chocolate butter cream, which we topped with "chocolate lentils", a soft, minty, German version of M&Ms, and Haribo candy pieces. Sophia dropped one she was trying to frost, and it fell, upright, to the floor, frosting a cupboard door first. They laughed when I licked the frosting off the door.

Today, after reading in my book, it occurred to me that yesterday was worth writing about. Life is composed of film strips which, if you can catch them, are all worthy of beholding and thinking about, even holding close, like looking at portrait of a loved one (which I also rarely do). There is so much depth in each of our daily lives, and we miss almost all of it, rushing on to the next thing, forgetting what we have just done.

I could have asked the girls what it is like to be a foreigner in a German school, or how many non-Germans are in their class, but we were too focussed on our project to talk much. I do know that Katie is going to America in two weeks, and she can't wait. I guess America, at least for her, is where it's all happening. Not here.

I'll have to invite Katie and Sophia over again to bake - Christmas cookies next time. I'll ask them about being foreigners. And next time I'll think to let you know about what they said. This time, I stopped the film in time to think about yesterday.

The cupcakes were delicious, by the way.