In pain while away?!

Question: How did you end up in pain in Croatia?

Anne Churcher: Zagreb, Croatia at 4 am in the morning I wake up with an excruciating pain.  With less than 8 hours before we were due to fly home to New Zealand we needed a diagnosis and a decision on whether to board the plane.  A desperate call to the obliging minder of the apartment we were staying in elicited an offer to drive us to the nearest hospital, a maze of forbidding, grey buildings.  The Emergency Department was found behind an ambulance bay and consisted of a large, dull, shabby room with an office in one corner. There were no patients to be seen as would be expected at 8.30 am in most large New Zealand hospitals.  Our minder had a conversation with the receptionist in Croatian and my passport and insurance documents were taken down the corridor, an alarming sight.  A few minutes later I was ushered into the same reception office by a woman who introduced herself gruffly as the doctor.  She and another mystery man whose role I never worked out, wrangled for a few moments with an old fashioned privacv screen, the likes of which I’d not seen since doing work at Coronation hospital in Christchurch in the 1980s.  After a brief “pummelling” the Dr announced a suspected infection and instructed me to go to the Urology Department.   I was pleased to have my passport returned at this point.  The mystery man kindly showed us how to get to the Urology Department in another shabby, grey building.  This waiting room was over-filled with patients sitting and standing.  There was no reception and a door containing the names of several Drs was firmly shut.  One look at this room told me that it was going to be a long and pointless wait with no paperwork from the Emergency Dr, no receptionist and potential language difficulties.  At this point an anti-inflammatory I’d taken before leaving the apartment had dulled the pain enough to allow me to consider attempting the flight. 

For many patients approaching the health system in New Zealand, they probably feel a little like I did – in a strange environment with a different language and uncertainty about what was going on.  I reflected on the things that make a big difference to that experience in the New Zealand health system.

·         Helpful and pleasant reception staff to provide the initial contact;

·         Clean fresh surroundings, with space and light.

·         The professionalism and caring approach of health professionals and particularly the clear explanation of what is going on.

I was grateful to survive the 30 hour flight without incident and even more grateful to be able to trot along to my GP and begin a familiar process of diagnostic tests with everything fully explained. In particular the refreshingly friendly receptionists everywhere I go.

In spite of my medical adventure, we found Croatia an easy country to travel in.  The population is similar to New Zealand at 4.4 million. The people dealing with tourists are helpful, pleasant and speak good English.  The scenery is stunning and the historical sites are fascinating.  A reasonable level of fitness is needed for walking the sites and stairways such as the old city in Dubrovnik and Diocletian’s Palace in Split. There are many options for island hopping along the Dalmatian Coast. I also recommend the fresh salted sardines.

Anne Churcher

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