BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY

My arthritic knee continued to hurt during our two-month trip around Europe, and by the end of two days of hiking all over Salzburg it was really annoying me. The “Hillbilly Heroin” Vicodin mix I brought helped, but the trouble was that we had 11 days of riding the rails and hiking to go, but only half a dozen pills. I forgot to get a backup Rx from my doc in SB and I was worried.

So I limped into the Salzburg Krankenhaus (krank means sick, and is the source of our word “cranky,” which I was also getting). Went to the emergency room to ask for more pills, armed with my prescription on the bottle and my US insurance card. I told the receptionist, who spoke English, about my problem. She dialed an extension, talked briefly and told me to go down the hall to “Not” (pronounced “note”) something-or-other, “Not” meaning need, including urgent care, which I wanted. As I entered an open space filled with wheelchairs but only one patient, with his arm in a cast, I was greeted by a tall, pleasant woman of 35 to 40, Dr. Birgit Regensmann. Also fluent in English, she listened to my sad story as we stood in the hall, said “Just a moment” and took my card and prescription bottle down the hall. She returned shortly with a prescription for a codeine compound —  Vicodin, a mixture, not being available. She directed me to the pharmacy down the lane and we shook hands happily, like new best friends.

Nothing happier than an old crip with a new bottle of drugs. The dozen pills cost me 4 euros, or about $6 US. Not bad for a non-resident. The consultation cost me nothing. Compare this to what it cost me to have an abscess lanced at Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital one crowded weekend: $200 “copay” and ten (10) tedious hours of my life of lying in wait. I’m not saying we should adopt Europe’s ways, but . . . Maybe some of our folderol and expense is due to the shadowy menace of lawyers lurking in the background? Cross examination: “So you gave this elderly cripple some narcotics without even listening to his heartbeat? A-HAH!”

By the time we got to Norway (I love the sound of that…) I felt better, with ample access to lightweight narcotics, but I decided that what I really needed was a shot of cortisone, right in the knee. We dropped into the “sykehus” (pronounced Seek Huse, as in Sick House, as in Krankenhaus) in Bergen one rainy (surprise!) afternoon. I explained my problem to a tall nurse, who looked remarkably like Santa Barbara’s Rep. Lois Capps, and she insisted on wheelchairing me into the depths of this really beat-up hospital (upgrading work was in progress all around, I’m glad to say). We landed in a ratty, drafty hallway and waited as long for the Norwegian doctor as we usually wait in Santa Barbara.

We were about to give up when young Dr. Brigite Lindemann, another tall brunette, came in smiling and prescribed a nice big batch of codeine pills, costing $15 US. She said I could take them as needed,  but if I took too much I would get sleepy and uh… “Stoned?” I asked, flopping my head to one side. “Yes,” she laughed. No worries. If the old goat wants to go nighty-night a little early, what’s the problem. I wasn’t pregnant, didn’t drink alcohol at the time and wasn’t going to operate any heavy machinery.

But what I still really wanted was a shot of cortisone. “For that you have to go to the clinic,” Brigite said, and gave us directions. The clinic was jammed with about 30 exhausted-looking people, but Sharon managed to get me in after only a half-hour. The doctor, built like Santa Claus and just as jolly, said smiling that “We don’t use cortisone. It’s bad for the bones.” He saw my expression sag and added quickly, “But I can give you some codeine pills. No charge.” OK.  I said, smiling at the prospect of free drugs. I said,  “I guess just don’t take too many,” and made tipping-over gestures. He laughed again and said “Yes! Don’t fall down!”

So there I was in Norway, carrying almost as much drugs as an American college student. Let’s just say I arrived home two weeks later a little off-balance, but oddly happy. The trip was a success, pills and all.