Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Weekly Interlude 32: A Brand New Side of the City

I don't think you can say you've really lived in a foreign country until you've made use of their healthcare system. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I'm proud to say that I have OFFICIALLY lived in Austria!

My medication collection
Three weeks ago, I woke up with a red, swollen eye and the hint of a sore throat. Being a Saturday, there wasn't much I could do, considering that everything shuts down in this country for the weekend. (As though people can't have medical emergencies on a Saturday or Sunday.) My first line of defense was to visit the nearby Apotheke, or pharmacy, and describe my eye symptoms to see if they could give me anything. On Saturdays, some apothekes are open from 9am-12noon and then close until Monday; others are simply closed all weekend long. The rare pharmacy, however -- and luckily the one by my apartment falls under that category -- has a person on-call in the back room. When I arrived at 1:30, I rang a little doorbell, and a woman came out to speak to me through a little window. I pulled out a scrap of paper while explaining (auf Deutsch) that my German wasn't so good and proceeded to to describe my symptoms using all the words I'd looked up: rot (red), angeschwollen (swollen), ein bisschen verkrustet (a little crusty). One bottle of allergy eyedrops later, and I was good to go.

View from Mariatrost, Graz
Over the next few days, my eye barely improved, and my throat grew worse so that it was incredibly painful to swallow. I finally returned to the Apotheke on Tuesday and, after describing my long list of symptoms, asked if they thought I should see a doctor. Yes. Could they recommend one nearby? Yes. Address in hand, I proceeded to walk five minutes further to find Dr. Claudia Dworsak. Thank goodness for Austrian healthcare; for just 50 euros a month, I am completely covered.

The doctor's office was like nothing I had ever experienced. Located in a janky apartment building with overgrown grass and peeling, beige walls, the office was situated up one flight of stairs. I walked into the waiting room, which was basically a small room with many brown chairs and tables and piles of magazines, and headed to the receptionist, who was very friendly. "Someone recommended Dr. Dworsak to me," I said in German. "What do I do?"

Enjoying a wine spritzer at Schönbrunn
The receptionist was very friendly and reassured me that it was alright that German was not my first language. She accepted my e-Card and BAM! I was on the list. I sat down to read Pride & Prejudice and wait for my name to be called through the little intercom in the corner. Nervously, I kept looking around, glancing at the fellow patients, trying to assure myself that I would be fine, just fine. Whenever a new patient walked in, they exchanged a cheerful "Grüß Gott!" with everyone in the waiting room; when people left, everybody shared a pleasant "Wiedersehen!" People spent only 5-10 minutes with the doctor before emerging with a prescription. I had my list of vocabulary -- like die Bindehautenzündung (pink eye) -- within easy reach. I should simply take a deep breath, tear my gaze away from the drab walls, and return my attention to Mr. Darcy.
A lovely birthday breakfast with friends

Finally, after about 25 minutes, my name was called, and I entered a rather spacious room. Dr. Dworsak sat at a desk with a computer, and I was too nervous to look around much, instead sitting down immediately and telling her that mein Deustch ist nicht so gut. She took a brief history, and the only word that tripped me up was "pine" when we were discussing my allergies. Then I described my symptoms, she looked in my throat, declared that I had tonsillitis, and prescribed me antibiotics for it, as well as for my eye. Seven minutes -- all done!

The Mariatrost cathedral in Graz
It was all too simple, but I went with it. Immediately after leaving the office, I headed back over to the Apotheke, where they gave me my medications and sent me on my way.

Life improved immeasurably for a week, but then tragedy in the form of another sore throat hit again. Two days after finishing my antibiotics, the strep throat/tonsillitis returned in full force, and I returned to the doctor. She put me on stronger antibiotics for a longer stint, to be taken more frequently, so hopefully now we've killed off whatever bacteria seems intent on attacking me. I haven't been sick in Vienna all year, nor have I had strep throat since early high school. When it rains, it pours, I suppose!

After it was all said and done, I acquired a rather nice collection of medications to deal with strep throat, sore throat, dry throat, cough, allergies, and pain. A rather amusing souvenir collection, wouldn't you say?

The Graz Opera House
In other news, I went to London again in April and Graz again in May; celebrated my birthday by lounging around, recovering, and watching old movies; and spent some quality time with friends in and around Wien. Vienna has had a remarkably warm spring, so my roommate and I have taken full advantage on our walks through the city. Graz was rather cold and rainy when I went, but that only meant Lizzy and I spent time in museums and cafés. Not a bad alternative, let's be honest.

Beautiful view of Graz
Shockingly, I had the most beautiful weather in London -- four days of solid sunshine and bold blue sky. The highlight of the entire trip (and there were so many!) was seeing Once, the musical, at Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road. I'd bought a ticket for literally the second-to-last row of the entire theater, only to show up at the box office and be informed that I'd been upgraded! And not just upgraded, but upgraded to the stalls: on the floor, front and center, with nobody sitting on either side. I've never had such good seats in my life! The musical itself is subtle and brilliant, with carefully nuanced plot and character development. It's one of those shows where you don't see things sneaking up on you and are left open-mouthed once they do. The music, too, is both folky and deceptively complex. Here is a link to one of the most famous songs of the show, "Falling Slowly," and to my personal favorite, "Gold."
Parliament Square in London

I will admit that I'm completely in love with London. It seems like the opposite side of the same coin to Vienna. One city is small and quiet; the other is massive and bursting with energy. One is traditional and reserved; the other is youth-centered and unequivocally cosmopolitan. One is world-renowned for its opera and classical music, the other for its theater and musicals. They complement each other very nicely.

In six weeks and two days, I'll be home. It doesn't feel like it, but I must say that I am looking forward to summer. (Please don't ask me about my plans beyond that. Not yet, anyway.) After a week of cold rain, the sun is back out here, and (fingers crossed) I'm feeling healthy. Add in a little Innsbruck in June, and it's shaping up to be an excellent final few weeks.

Enjoying a day at Schönbrunn with Eliza