Austrian Salvation

Last week’s instalment described Grace and Husband’s predicament worsening as their expedition was interrupted by Husband’s faulty inner plumbing…

The Austrian town of Sankt Polten is undistinguished in any historic or geographical sphere although I imagine the residents enjoy a good standard of living. It is pleasant enough, surrounded by attractive landscapes and served by excellent facilities. But for us its overriding, stand-out feature was a large, modern teaching hospital situated slap-bang in the centre and crucially offering an Accident and Emergency department.

I felt a simultaneous wave of relief [that we’d brought up-to-date EHIC cards] and anxiety [that we wouldn’t be able to park the van]. The hospital sat among the streets and offered parking-but of the underground sort. The height barrier was 3 metres. We could do it.

We stepped out of the lift into something akin to the inside of a space ship with a reception desk. At Accident and Emergency I proffered Husband’s European Health Insurance card and passport and answered a few questions-posed in perfect, classy English. ‘You will be seen in 15 minutes; take a seat back there’ smiled the nurse. ‘Back there’ was a small portion of corridor with no more than 8 waiting patients. As people came and went I realised that of course, if waiting time is 15 minutes a vast aeroplane hangar full of chairs is unnecessary.

A trio of medics took us to a room and quizzed us further then we were taken to the urology unit across a courtyard. The accompanying nurse exclaimed, ‘you’re from Christchurch-it’s a lovely place!’

Upstairs in the urology department we waited for a short time before being taken into a consulting room where Husband was quizzed, taken samples from and examined by ultrasound so I am able to say, now [having watched the screen] that I know my husband inside and out…

One prescription for antibiotics and one doctor’s letter [for home] later we were on our way. The staff at this modern, state-of-the-art hospital had been charming, fast-acting and efficient and I silently thanked fate for our having entered Austria, for having been unable to access near-to-Vienna sites and finishing up at Sankt Polten.

It only remained for us to hand the prescription into the pharmacy-of which there were none in the hospital; the chemist’s lay in a pedestrian precinct. I left Husband in the van, parked in a small lane off the precinct and dashed in for the medication; again, while I was dismayed by the throngs waiting with prescriptions those in front melted away in moments. All the medication was stored in a wall of small drawers behind the counter-so no rummaging was required.

Twenty four hours later we were in Germany [Wurzburg] and Husband was feeling much, much better. What, we wondered would have been the outcome if we’d been in Bulgaria? And what would be the outcome if this potentially dangerous health problem occurred next year, when we are no longer ‘Europeans’ in the proper sense, when we have no European Health Insurance Cards? I imagined the nurses shrugging, showing us the exit. It was a sobering thought.

 

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The Haves and Have-nots of Old Age

Prince Philip [for the unaware or hermits, Prince Philip is the husband of Queen Elizabeth 2nd, queen of The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland] who is ninety-six years old, is going into hospital for a hip operation.
You have to assume that the Prince will not have been hobbling around in agony for about two years. He has not had to first visit his GP [local doctor], waiting a couple of weeks to get an appointment, having had to convince the receptionist that he is in great discomfort. He has had some difficulty for ‘about a month’. He will not have had to get himself to a hospital for an appointment, pay to park, sit around in various waiting rooms and corridors, wait for scans, x-rays and investigations. He will not have had to return home with the vague promise of an operation, his name having been placed upon a waiting list.
No-the Prince will have attended a private hospital. He will have been given a prompt appointment, been chauffeur-driven to a luxurious venue akin to a top-class hotel, sat on a plush sofa to drink tea and nibble pastries while his personal consultant explains how they will fix his hip.
This extraordinary treatment will all have been paid for, reader, by we, the tax-payers.
I’m finding it difficult not to relate this my father’s death, at ninety-one in his local hospital’s men’s geriatric ward, in a bed with curtains drawn around it. I sat next to the bed as he wheezed and stared uncomprehending, while visiting times came and went, greetings sounding from outside the curtains and sometimes a chair pushed back into our tiny space by visitors to the adjacent bed’s occupant. Occasionally a staff member would come to tell me my father was dying and administer to him another dose of morphine.
The Queen Mother, I learned, had two hip operations in her nineties. Surgeons have to be confident that the very elderly are fit enough and well enough nourished for a general anaesthetic to be administered. Not much chance of the royals being under-nourished, is there? And Prince Philip has enjoyed the benefits of plenty of fresh air and exercise over the years, on royal estates and various jaunts.
Of course, in a democratic society we allow privilege and the way that life is for the [increasing numbers of] elderly is under debate. Some will always be able to afford any kind of care they would like, for as long as they like. Others must fend for themselves. For most, financial circumstances will play the largest part. While it’s as well to be prepared it is also a blessing that we don’t know what’s in store for us as we age. We can try to stay fit, eat sensibly, follow the rules, ensure that pension provision is adequate. But how many of us, if we achieve the age of ninety-six, would get a hip replacement operation within a month?