We’d been in Romania for about three weeks when the mystery illness hit and hit hard.
Over the course of about 24 hours, Chad went from standing desks and daily runs, vegetarian lunches and bright eyes, to sitting with his head in his hands, dehydrated no matter how much water he tried to keep down.
And so on a Wednesday in late September we found ourselves hailing an uber and zipping deeper into the city to the best rated clinic I could find. And then climbing back into another uber to zip to a different part of the city where their sister clinic had a doctor available to see us.
The doctor didn’t speak English (which is a rarity, even abroad, I’ve found), but had a fondness for Americans and kept making jokes about our government that I’m not sure either of us fully understood. But he was nice and happy to help. And an administrator from another part of the building swept in to translate.
Bacteria, probably, the doctor said, scratching out instructions for blood tests and IV drips and four different medications. And then we were back in an uber to the main facility across town for the tests and IVs themselves.
Which is when things got interesting.
They settled Chad into a chair in quiet, white-walled room. I slipped in behind them and after a curious look or two, they likely assumed I was family and let me stay instead of ushering me back out to the waiting area. There were no extra chairs, so I tucked myself against the wall, out of the way, as the nurse attempted to find a vein.
Nothing. Nothing. And nothing again. Chad was too dehydrated and his body didn’t want to cooperate with the blood draw. So much so that after about 30 seconds of attempts, the color slowly drained from his face and he started to pass out.
It’s strange how calm I felt. With my anxiety, I can work myself into a pretty epic panic over half of nothing. But when there’s a real emergency, I’m clear-headed and present. Standing against the wall and helping the nurses keep Chad engaged. Talking to him about Luna. Asking him questions. Canceling my appointments for the day and planning for an afternoon of soup-making and care-taking.
He was just dehydrated, I told myself. If he was going to pass out, well, the clinic attached to a hospital was the place to do it.
Four nurses surrounded him. He stayed with us, but stayed pale and unfocused. Blood was drawn and then he was hooked up to an IV. Glucose, I think, and medicine. And it’s hard to say whether it was a minute or thirty, but eventually, now lying on his back on a simple cot, his color came back and everything came back into focus.
And then he was on his feet and we were at the pharmacy, in the uber, and back home for soup and, in his case, drifting in and out of sleep for the rest of the day. I walked to the store for herbs and onions and bone-in chicken drumsticks and simmered up three batches of chicken soup over the next two days. The best was made with drumsticks, green onion, dill, and salt, simmered for 30 – 45 minutes and served up with tender chicken shredded from the bones and fat carrot slices simmered for the last few minutes in the broth.
It took about a week for him to get back to veggie lunches, standing desks, and diets that involved more than chicken soup. But every day was better.
And here’s the thing that never fails to astound me (and now Chad):
The care was great. The nurses kind. The doctor knowledgeable. The facilities clean. And the cost of all that–IV drip with two medications, a nurse to sit with us for two hours, blood tests, doctor consults, four different medications–was less than $150.
As Americans, even after years abroad, going to the hospital sounds foreboding. A single blood test cost me $500 out of pocket a few years ago. A series of tests cost Chad $1200. A day in the hospital can reach easily into the tens of thousands. And so our hearts contract and our minds hesitate when it’s time to go to the doctor.
And in Europe, at the end of a day like this one, the incredulous, breathtaking relief of the $150 invoice is so sweet it sometimes makes me laugh out loud.
This, friends, is one of the main reasons I can’t imagine ever living in the States again. Because being hospitalized twice on Malta cost me $150. Chad’s bill here in Romania was even cheaper. My therapy in Czechia was around $30 per hour. My birth control costs less than 1/5 of what it did out of pocket in the States. Even Switzerland, the most expensive healthcare in Europe, is magnitudes more affordable.
And the care here? It’s better than I’ve received in the States. Doctors give me more time. Nobody skips things to save money. The facilities are state-of-the-art. The nurses speak English.
So, yet again, I’m reminded why I feel safer here, why we’re on a quest for a European home base, why getting sick in Europe doesn’t feel quite as dire as across the pond.
And I’m grateful.