An American Guinea Pig and Socialized Medicine: My Trip to a German Clinic


Over the years, I have learned what you can expect as an American visiting a German health clinic, and I have thus outlined the following procedures for my fellow Americans abroad:

Step 1: The “Appointment” 

Appointments here are similar to invasion plans. If your appointment is at 10:00, this means that you and fifty other people show up at 9:45, grumbling about the people who got there at 9:44.

Plan to get there at 9:00 or 8:30 if you want to be seen by 10:00. Nobody has ever seemed to care what time I’ve shown up.

Step 2: Take a number

I can’t stress this enough: TAKE A NUMBER. Even if you have the first ‘appointment’ in the first wave of the first day of the first month; even if you hold open the door for the sleepy-eyed receptionist as she makes her way into the clinic, TAKE A NUMBER. Your appointment is really based on the number you have.

Step 3: Waiting room #1, also known as the Upper Circle of Hell: 

My number at the clinic Monday morning was F9, and by 9:40 they were at E 87, which actually wasn’t too terrible.

I felt badly for the people who had the 10:00 appointment who actually showed up at 10:00. They barged up to the reception desk and were promptly told to take a number. They said they had a 10:00 appointment. They were told to take a number. They said they had driven 30 kilometers. They were told to either come back tomorrow or take a number.

Meanwhile, thirty other people had taken numbers in the time it took them to complain. So please, for your own sanity: take a number!

Step 4: The delay

If you are an American being seen at a German clinic,  your paperwork will automatically take a minimum of half an hour to figure out.

In all fairness, I do NOT expect that any German receptionist, especially in an area where the American presence is down to one lonely family, should know how to fill out American paperwork. It is just that she doesn’t know what to do with you because you’re not like the thousands of other people she sees on a daily basis.

Plus, her computer often doesn’t input the weird things that are on our American paperwork, such as the mysterious AE (Armed forces Europe) listed on my address. She asked if I was from United Arab Emirates, which really made me smile.

So, keep smiling, send out good vibes to the poor Frau, and use every German word you know because even if you sound like a three year-old, every little bit of information helps. Eventually between the two of you, the paperwork will be complete and you can move on to…

Step 5: Waiting room #2 also known as Purgatory

If the receptionist takes pity on you, she will walk you to the next waiting room. Otherwise, you will wander in the hallway until you see F8 or F7, or a dazed E 98 and you follow them.

You give your paperwork to any guy who looks official, possibly a janitor, and he will stack your medical record at the bottom of a pile, while you wonder how many people got in front of you while your paperwork was being worked out.

The second waiting room is smaller, but you see a lot of familiar faces. There is generally more room here and more people talking (complaining) about something. If your German is good, you can contribute. If not, then bury your head in your book and wait for your name and ‘kabine’ number to be called rapidly over a loudspeaker.

Step 6: Winning the Lottery

When your name is called, collect your belongings with a smug look on your face and go to the room number they said. If you weren’t paying attention, but you THINK you heard your name, still get up with a smug look on your face and wander in the hall until someone says your name and directs you to the right place.

If they did NOT call your name, you will be shuttled back to the waiting room, where it is best to either avoid all eye contact, or dramatically pantomime that THEY had made a mistake, not you.

Step 7: Der Arzt

If your name WAS called, and you have made it into one of the many little examination rooms, AND you are at a University Hospital, expect to see 4 people wearing white lab coats. The one who is not smiling is the doctor.

He is also the one sitting at the desk, who gets to touch the computer. It will be hard to distinguish him from the other guys, because they all look to be the same age as your firstborn son.

Step 8: Communicating your problem

Because I understand enough German to say ‘ja’ or ‘nein’ in many of the right places, people tend to think I’m German. But after they hear me defile their verbiage, they ask if  I speak English, to which I joyously reply ‘ja!’

I am thankful for this, because while I can order two scoops of gelato in a Becher from the Italian guy in Rothenburg, I’m not so good with medical terminology. And I love the words that some of the fluent English-speakers use. The doctor said that the idea of my finger having an infection was a ‘fantasy.’ Yes, Germans can be rather poetic.

Step 9: Diagnosis, maybe

I genuinely liked this youthful doctor and his band of Lost Boys.

He told me that I may have ‘early’ arthritis. But he didn’t want to SAY arthritis because if he did say ‘arthritis’ and I was referred to a Rheumatologist, they would do surgery, which would be worse than living with my current symptoms.

He thus gave me a detailed description of arthritis and the terrible prospects for my future, including surgery, which apparently makes the problem worse, before smiling and shaking my arthritic hand.

The doctor gave me anti-inflammatories and because I’m “slender” (HIS poetic license, not mine, which…yes, made me feel slightly happier), he also gave me stomach medicine. So basically, I would need medicine FOR the medicine to help the problems from the drugs that are helping the problem.

Alles Klar? 

He guaranteed that the drugs would work and then added, “But if they do NOT work, come back in 3 months.”

I went ahead and took a number.

Step 10: Denial

At this point you will either go back to the American clinic and ask for a referral to a bigger American clinic, ask a friend or relative who is somehow affiliated with the medical profession, or do a quick google search.

I opted for the google search, and it turns out that my doctor is probably right.

It Gets Personal

I was hoping for a quick fix, but since that’s not possible, I am going to leave my drugs in their foil wrappers and instead try a strict, nutrient-dense diet for 6 weeks to see if it will help my arthritis, as Dr. Fuhrman in “Eat to Live” says it will.

I am skeptically optimistic, if there is such a thing.

So, this is where you find me, an American Guinea Pig in Bavaria, eating a no-gluten, no-meat, no-dairy, no-oil, no-sugar, no-refined anything diet, for a minimum of six weeks.

I am sharing this with you, my friends, so you can help keep me honest. And know that if I have to decline a bratwurst or pommes mit mayo (Alas, poor Pommes, I knew them well, Horatio), it’s not because I’m worried about my waistline.

It’s because I don’t want to become the claw-fingered old woman someday, I want to be the Oma Ultra-Marathoner! 


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