Friday, July 31, 2009

I had my first experience going to an Irish doctor, and I thought I would share. As you know, I came down with a bit of a cold a couple of weeks ago, and I just could not shake it for the life of me, despite various bottles of cough syrup, two different types of inhalers, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Then, to add insult to injury, I developed conjunctivitis! We hadn't received word that our Medical Cards had gone through, but I couldn't wait much longer so I called up and talked to a very nice lady who put it through and gave me the number over the phone. I then called up our doctor's office to make an appointment. Their next opening wasn't for over two days, but I figured I could hold on until then.

We had to select our doctor before we sent in the Medical Card application, and, not really knowing anything about local doctors, we chose Mark's parents' doctor, who actually is the daughter of Mark's childhood doctor. We had met her once before when she signed our form. I wasn't exactly impressed even then, but with no other ideas for alternatives, we went ahead. Let's just say, she didn't look healthy herself. I felt it was sort of like getting a hair cut from a hair stylist with a hideous hairdo.

Anyhoo - the way the doctor's office works is a little different from back home. Back home, you make your appointment, and then when it's your turn, the medical assistant calls your name and brings you back, then takes your height, weight, blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. Then he/she leads you into the exam room, where you wait for the doctor to come in. (Sometimes for ages.) Obviously I can't speak for the whole of Ireland; this is just my experience at this one office. So here goes.

When you walk into the offices, you are met in the hallway by a woman who takes your name and writes it on a list. Then you walk on up to the waiting room. Normally you go inside to this interior waiting room, but when I arrived the doctor herself wasn't it yet, so it was locked, and an elderly woman ahead of me was waiting in the exterior waiting room. I sat down in the seat next to her, even though there were half a dozen other seats, because, as you'll see, that's how it works. The receptionist unlocked the interior waiting room to fetch something, and when she left, the elderly lady decided we should go in and wait there. But then the receptionist came back and told us that we couldn't wait in there until the doctor had arrived. I have no idea why, because it's not like we were going to try to break into the locked examining rooms, but we shuffled back out to our former seats.

But then a bunch of other people started to arrive. The man who sat next to me reeked of booze, but if I got up, I would upset the whole order of things, so I put my scarf over my nose and mouth and kept reading my book. The receptionist came and unlocked the door again, but this time, the newcomers all decided jointly that we should go into the interior office. It was like mob rule! And I wasn't going to be the one to set them straight, and I didn't want to lose my place, so I followed suit (with a slight admonishment for my hesitation from one of the other patients!) Everyone sat inside the interior waiting room in exactly the order of arrival. And we kept waiting.

Let me describe this waiting room. It's a wood-paneled room about twice the size of a galley kitchen with one row of about ten chairs. You sit facing a wall of doors (the doctors' offices), which are all shut and locked. Every so often someone will go into one of them, then walk briskly out, locking the door with a key behind them. Every time someone leaves the doctor's office, the person in the far right seat gets up and goes in. Then everyone else gets up and shifts over one seat to the right, in unison.

Finally after nearly an hour since I got there, the doctor showed up. But somehow she saw two people before the woman who was ahead of me, per order of the receptionist. No one seemed to have a problem with it, and I didn't really care either, but it was just really confusing to me how there seemed to be such "rules," and then no one cared when they were broken.

When it was my turn, I walked into the office and had a seat at the other side of the doctor's desk. I explained why I was there, and she asked me a couple of questions about the nature of my cough (I'll spare you the details) and then she got up from her desk and came over to me in the chair and listened to my lungs with the stethoscope. Noticing on the computer that I am allergic to penicillin, asked which antibiotics I can take. I said that it's hard to say because I'm actually allergic to *most* antibiotics, and I just write penicillin because the list is so long. "Well, what can you take?" she asked again. I listed three that I know I can take. "So you can take [drug that I didn't list]?" she asked. "Um...I never heard of that one," I said. "Well, I'll need a list of the antibiotics you can take," she said again. I listed the three ones I can take. We went back and forth like this at least one more time until she finally concluded that since my lungs didn't sound so bad, she wasn't going to give me antibiotics anyway. Um. Ok.

So I told her that I needed refills of my inhalers and put them on her desk so she could prescribe me the closest available Irish products. And while I was at it, I also gave her another medicine I needed to refill as well. The process of figuring this out took at least 20 minutes. More than once, I told her that honestly I didn't need those *exact* drugs, but whatever she normally gave her asthmatic patients. These are standard inhalers: one is a bronchodilator and the other is a steroid inhaler. But no she insisted I have *these exact ones* even though I said I didn't think the Pro-Air Albuterol worked very well (which, ironically, is manufactured here in Ireland). At one point, she pulled out her iphone, and I swear to god she was googling it. Seriously? I could have googled it!

During all of this, we were interrupted by at least five phone calls from the receptionist. At one point, in reference to a terminally ill patient who was trying to get into hospice care because she was falling down so much at home, the doctor said, "Well, you know I'm very cross with her because she and her family have been calling me repeatedly..." and she went on essentially about how she wasn't inclined to help this dying woman because she was a pain in the ass!

Finally she was about to usher me out when I reminded her about the conjunctivitis issue, and she was all annoyed because now she had to go back into the computer. I explained that I had bought Brolene drops at the suggestion of the pharmacist, and she was like "Don't take Brolene. Never take Brolene. Rinse your eyes out with Baby Shampoo." I swear to god. I did not tell her that there was no way in hell I was washing my eye balls out with shampoo. I translated that in my head as "rinse with saline solution," and decided she was deranged. I got my prescriptions and got out of there, hoping I wouldn't be mauled by the patients in the waiting room for taking so long.

The hysterical thing is that when I filled the prescription, she had given me not only an antibiotic, but a prescription eye drop, and the pharmacist had no idea what to do with "Albuteral." Apparently the doctor had just given up trying to find it and instead of giving me another bronchodiliator that is available in Ireland, wrote down something she knew they wouldn't have. So she's going to be getting a phone call from them. haha.

But still, I was pretty stoked. I got my inhalers, an antibiotic (which as it turns out I don't think I need, so I can save it), eye drops, and migraine meds, at no cost to me. However, since I managed to get those things without a proper examination (she never looked at my ears, nose, or throat), I don't think I have much faith in this doctor and I hope and pray I don't become seriously ill while living in Ireland. At least not while I'm on the Medical Card!


  1. Hi. I just found on Wikipedia that the international name for albuterol is salbutamol.

  2. HAHA I had a feeling! The doctor kept looking it up in this book, and saying, "Well, there's SALBUTAMOL, but I don't know if that's the same thing...." And I felt like saying, "YA THINK? Albuterol Sulfate and SALBUTAMOL?" I should have been more assertive, but this was the kind of lady you really don't want to piss off. I mean if she was annoyed with a terminal patient, how's she going to be toward a pushy American one?

  3. Too funny... especially if she really was Googling stuff! BTW - the baby shampoo thing is a legit treatment. Well, at least it seems to be when I Google it. ;-)

  4. This reminds me of A.S. Byatt's description of dealing w/ English medical authorities during childbirth... in the late 1950s.

  5. omg! i almost died from a chest infection when i was in dublin and i still have a bloody cough. i feel your pain. i choked and started coughing when i read that she just wasn't going to give you an antibitotic because you didn't sound that bad.