We were running some errands yesterday, Saturday, via bicycle. We were on our way towards our lunch spot when Dashiell slowed down and said,
Mom, I feel woozy.
I looked behind me and saw that he was white as a sheet!
Thankfully we were cycling next to a green space with a pond; I thought he was going to be sick–maybe food poisoning (he had just eaten half a chocolate croissant), so we brought him down to the water’s bank. I got a closer look at him and was very alarmed that even his lips were drained of color. I noticed his pulse was low.
This was near a busy shopping area with lots of people; a group stopped to ask if we needed help. I said no, I thought he had just eaten something bad. A few minutes later I laid D down on my rain coat (it was sprinkling now), and this I guessed caused alarm to other pedestrians because more people stopped.
A nice older gentleman walking his terrier asked if we wanted to call an ambulance. He could see from our confused faces that we didn’t know the system of how to get help.
We went back and forth a bit; the man explained that he would do the difficult phone talking for us, noticing our broken German.
(and indeed speaking on the telefon in German is something I have no experience doing and is incredibly challenging for a non-fluent speaker. Last week I had to muster some courage to leave a message at the neighborhood family practice; ironically enough I had just tried to get us set up so we’d have medical care when we needed it!! It turns out there are designated hours for phoning a medical practice. I did not call during that specific 30 minutes so my call will likely not be returned. ???!!!)
Without a car, and not knowing where the nearest hospital was, I didn’t know what else to do, so I decided he should just call for us. Jeff locked up the bicycles and we waited on the banks of the duck pond, explaining to several other passersby that the ambulance was on its way, but thanks.
We could of course hear the ambulance before we saw it, just a few minutes later, flagged down by our helpful stranger. We were greeted by two young men who spoke excellent English. They got D comfortable in the ambulance and checked his vitals and his blood sugar. The driver entered our names, address and insurance info into a tablet. D’s blood sugar was fine, but the EMTs recommended that we go to the hospital, since his pulse was low, but they were very calm and friendly and put us all at ease.
First-ever ambulance ride, first illness of our stay in Germany, first use of the insurance card. Here we go!
The ride to the hospital seemed endless–where were we going anyway? The suburbs? It turns out we only travelled a couple miles but the driver had to keep taking small streets to avoid the masses of pedestrians out shopping. I think the Christmas holiday shopping period had unofficially begun that day. That, combined with the nice weather did not easy travel by ambulance make.
During the ride, the EMT with us in the back kept watch on D’s numbers and got to know us a bit. He did a really good job of making the whole event seem very relaxed and normal. When I asked about the use of ambulances in Germany, he explained to me that people call an ambulance for even a small fever, and that taking an ambulance ride was not as big of a deal compared to the States. He discussed the difference between German and American ambulances and took D on a small tour explaining what each machine did. He spoke very good English and told us about how he also works in IT; he goes to Silicon Valley a few times year! So the world just got way smaller. He made us laugh as we discussed the craziness of the German language (die, der and das!), and D got to make a joke about the word Wohnünsgeberbestätigung.
At the hospital, the EMTs took us in to be triaged (D was doing much better now and walked easily), and then escorted us up to the children’s clinic on the 8th floor. The hospital itself was quiet and not chaotic for an ER. Maybe it was a slow day. Once in a room, the EMTs explained again our story to the nurse, and then gave us warm goodbyes. We felt truly cared for.
We sat in a private room with a door as the nurse, who also spoke good English, got us input into the computer and took D’s vitals. Our room had a giant window that gave us a panoramic view of the city, a welcome sight.
We only waited minutes and then the doctor arrived. He was a young bright thing in trainers and horn rimmed glasses, energetic and happy to speak his excellent English. His name happened to be A. Arndt, but I didn’t know this until I received the paperwork at the end, as he didn’t give us his name, or if he did I missed it. How’s that for co-incidence? (My sister is “A. Arndt”).
Dr. Arndt chatted in a friendly way with D, checked his lungs and heart, and did a physical test to rule out a neurological problem, where D had to hold his arms out straight, stomp his feet, and recall what he’d had for breakfast. He then ordered an EKG. The nurse had some trouble with the EKG machine but got some help.
By now D was almost looking totally well, with his color restored; he was just tried.
The EKG was normal, hooray. Dr. Arndt put the low-blood pressure spell down too much activity and dehydration, or the onset of an infection, and suggested he dial down his sports activities in the next few days. If it happens again he told us to see our pediatrician.
(help! I don’t have one! Dr. Arndt explained: you have to go to an office in person and make an appointment. Ah, all ist klar).
So, we were free to go, except for the ever-present paperwork. We knew we had to give a form we filled out to someone…the nurse said she didn’t know who, and consulted with other nurses who decided it belonged with the main reception downstairs…after several wrong turns we found main reception but the woman there, who was also trying to route phone calls, was herself in the dark about this form and who should receive it. She took it in the end and told us not to worry, that at least our address was on the form.
So we paid nothing and left, and managed to make our way to the lunch out we’d planned, just somewhat later. D was hungry by now and I was pleased to see him put away nearly his entire plate of mango chicken at the Indian spot we love so much in the mall.
During this whole episode I was without my phone and reading glasses as I had accidentally left the house without them. Thankfully Jeff managed to snap a few discreet photos and filled out the infamous form.
All is well now and as I type this, D is upstairs playing happily with his toys. We are pushing the liquids as the dehydration theory fits best.
We learned a lot about life in Germany yesterday, but upon reflection the most important thing we experienced is the level to which strangers will not hesitate to step in and help you when needed. I guess I could see the same thing happening in the States, but Jeff and I both independently came to the conclusion that this level of concern and involvement was at a way different level.
I had a related experience just a couple hours later the same day. After we were home and settled, I had to do the grocery shopping (remember–shops closed on Sundays!). I was not alone in my late pursuit of this task–me and a load of other last-minuters were browsing the slim pickings in the produce section and jockeying for the least-worst checkout lane. In my hurry to load up the groceries onto the belt to pay (more on this in another post: the dreaded checkout experience!), I dropped a pudding cup (Jeff’s new favorite!) and the thin aluminum foil lid split open slightly, leaving a trail of chocolate right where people need to step. As I was digging through my purse to find something to wipe it up with, the woman in front of me picked up the pudding cup and threw it away, or handed it to the cashier, I’m not sure. She just did it, without a word. It wasn’t like she smiled and commiserated with me or anything. She just did what needed to be done, in this “we can’t have that on the floor any longer” efficient manner. Again, this seemed like something you wouldn’t experience back at home, or if you did, it would have gone done much differently.