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Taking My Medicine in Europe
updated: Apr 02, 2011, 9:30 AM
I wasn't thinking (a shocking surprise!) when I counted my meds for our two-month trip around Western Europe. I was OK with my ticker tabs, as I call them, but I had the panicky feeling of being low on pain pills, a codeine compound I needed when my right knee's cartilage began to disintegrate (this will NOT be an organ recital).
No problem, this was Europe, right? All I had to do was ask.
That was only partly true. The first druggist said "Nein" and shook her head, smilingly knowingly that this dumb American thought he could feed his drug habit in lovely Salzburg, proud home of Wolf Mozart.
But she directed me across the river to the local hospital, and another German woman, one of the house doctors, said "Of course" she could help (no fee necessary) and wrote me a prescription matching the name on my nearly empty pill bottle. The price without insurance was only slightly higher than my Santa Barbara price, so I was happy and secure.
She said she could not, however, give me the cortisone shot that I asked for.
No matter. We journeyed on, stopping in rainy Bergen, Norway, en route to the fjamous fjords. I'd heard that socialized medicine was in effect there, so I tried the hospital, on a hill above the town. A nurse put me in a wheelchair and we waited a while for the physician in charge. There was painting going on, and this joint was far, far from the palatial and expensive grandeur of Cottage Hospital.
This woman also said No to cortisone, but she could prescribe some codeine pills. "Fine," I said, and happily filled the prescription in the hospital pharmacy. I doubted that I would need the extra pills, but what the heck. Can't be too careful.
The doctor added that I might get a cortisone shot from the physician downtown in the free clinic.
We were really soaked by the driving rain as we walked to a bus stop and walked again into the clinic down below. It was a bit dreary, but the buildings were typical commercial types a couple of stories high, without fancy trimmings.
The waiting room was discouraging, with about 50 poor souls sitting around either reading magazines or staring despondently.
We checked in and were welcomed with smiles. (Americans seemed to be cheerfully welcomed wherever we went.) We watched the folks slowly entering and slowly leaving. (I'm guessing that, as in England, a few krones would get you a private doctor with fewer patients.) After about half an hour I told Sharon I wanted to leave, but she insisted on letting the receptionist know, who then invited her into a back room. She came back smiling and said, "Come on in!"
In only a few minutes a hefty, smiling guy with blond and gray hair sat in front of us and wanted to chat, which we did for a while (me feeling guilty about all those waiting outside). He was SO happy to see us! Made us proud to be Yanks.
When we finally got down to business he said the same old thing: "We don't use cortisone, as it's bad for the bones, but (trumpet fanfare!) I can give you a prescription for some codeine pills."
Trying not to grin foolishly, I said "Sure, thanks!" And after a warm farewell, we plunged again into the Scandinavian rain, headed for another drug store near our hotel, and once again stocked up on way more narcotics than I needed. I told Spouseperson, "I can start selling these puppies and finance our ride home!" This only drew an elbow in my ribs. Bad idea, I guess.
I soon ran out of my original prescription, so I took pills as directed, and threw in a couple more for good measure. The knee seemed to be getting worse, and the cane that helped me ramble didn't ease the pressure enough during the last few days, in Berlin and Frankfurt.
Take a pill, walk. Take a pill, hike. Take another pill, just in case.
The results: I was just plain stoned when I staggered, chuckling, into the Frankfurt Airport. Sharon tells me they wanted to put me in a wheelchair at the San Francisco airport, but I refused. I don't remember, but evidently I made it onto the plane all right. By the time we got to the Santa Barbara airport, a flight attendant asked, looking sad, "Sir, are you all right?"
I smiled - fetchingly, it seemed to me - and said I had nothing to fear but the steps down to the tarmac. "Just kidding," I laughed, and she let go of my arm. That night, home at last, I slept like a zombie and all ended well.
Doctor Taconelli said after my knee replacement surgery a few weeks later, "What on Earth did you DO to that knee? It looked AWFUL! The bone looked so bad I had it biopsied, just in case!"
Once again under the influence of miracle drugs, I smiled from my hospital bed and said "Oh . . . I probably walked more than I should have. But the codeine worked so well I didn't care!"
He weaned me off painkiller prescriptions a week or two later, and my "long strange trip" was finally over.
For a while there, I kinda missed those pills.
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