October 26, 2006
Its been about 6 weeks since I last posted anything here. Well, for the last week I have been in my bed…sleeping…trying to get rid of this damned cough. I have heard from a few others who had roughly the same symptoms: unproductive cough, total exhaustion, ravenous hunger. Its a bizarre sickness. Every time I lie down, I start coughing. As soon as I get up, I stop. Breathing deeply seems to stop the coughing too, but that seems to cause hyperventilation. I am stuck. Well, I was until I saw (virtually) a doctor.
I started coughing in Budapest early last week. At first I thought it was nothing. There was no fever and it was an occasional cough. After taking the hydrofoil along the Danube up to Bratislava, then a shared taxi ride to Piestany, Slovakia, it started getting a bit worse. That first night in Piestany I didn’t get much sleep, mostly because I was thinking of the big-ass bugs that were living on the curtains in my hotel room, hoping they wouldn’t migrate to my nice warm bed. Day 1 of the class seemed to go OK, and then I moved to a different hotel which was far nicer. But that night’s sleep wasn’t much better. Thats when the coughing really started.
Day 2 of the class was tough and the third day was exhausting. By that night I was really starting to get tired, both because of the class and the fact that I was getting so little sleep. Alain (my host) and I wandered through the gorgeous grounds of the old spa in Piestany while sucking through a boxful of Strepsils cough drops. This is really a place that deserves a return visit…when I recover.
For the two hour taxi ride the next day from Piestany to Vienna, I managed to keep myself relatively quiet by guzzling two liters of water and going through a few more Strepsils. But the few hours in the departure lounge then a couple more on the KLM flight to Amsterdam made the cough even worse. I could see the woman next to me was not exactly pleased to have me as a seat mate. By 6PM that night I was home but not feeling much better. And as much as I tried to go to sleep, the cough wouldn’t let me. Every time I lay down, I had to get up to stop the coughing. Finally at around 4AM I gave up and went downstairs to try to find a solution.
For a local, this wouldn’t be a problem. They just contact their family doctor and thats it. I am not from around here. In fact, I keep moving around so I don’t really have a family doctor. I have insurance in the Netherlands, but I haven’t gotten around to picking a doctor or setting anything up. So I took out my Avero Achmea insurance card and started calling the phone numbers listed. The first was just a recording and was just in Dutch. I think it said we are closed, call back Monday. The second was answered but it turned out that it was only for international emergencies. If I was still in Piestany, she could help me, but because I was in Amsterdam, I would have to wait till Monday. Ugh.
Soon after I moved here I picked up a few books targeted at expats in the Netherlands. So I flipped through them looking for a health section. Once of them pointed to a service called Access NL. If you are an expat in the Netherlands, visit this site. Keep it in your favorites. It may become important. Looking around on their site, I found their listing of Important and Useful Phone Numbers. There is even a PDF version of the phone list which I have now printed and taped to my desk. One of the first numbers is for a 24 doctor service in Amsterdam. I called it around 7:30AM.
After giving them my info, I got a call back 15 minutes later. I spoke with a GP who told me I had some sort of virus which is going around that doesn’t respond to antibiotics. The best course of action was simply some variant of codeine to make it possible to sleep. The problem was that if he initiated a prescription, it would be handled by a pharmacy in North Amsterdam, which could be delivered but it would take several hours. An alternative would be to wait till 8 when the next shift starts and they could work with a pharmacy on Leidsestraat a couple blocks away from me. That sounded better to me too. So I called back and within 15 minutes I had a prescription prepared for me that would be available for pickup when the pharmacy opened.
This was all without actually seeing anyone. So at 11 I was able to go to the pharmacy to pick up my codeine. First I was shocked at how cheap the meds were: just over 6 euros for 5 tablets. I expected it to be much more. Then I was shocked that insurance covered it all…no co-pay, no deductible. As soon as I got home I took one and after 45 minutes of the usual coughing I managed to get to sleep. Later that night I took another and slept till 2 or 3 the next afternoon. Over the last few days I have taken 4 tablets and seen only the covers of my bed for most of that time. Sleep is good and I can’t seem to get enough of it. I am still exhausted but I can see a full recovery coming soon. Hopefully this is before the class I am supposed to teach next week…