Life has been a bit hectic here with classes finishing, shadowing some doctors in the surgery department, and thesis work, so I’ll try to catch you up on the last couple of weeks.
It’s odd to think that only ten months ago I came to Berlin and met all these people from far-flung regions of the world, and now they’ve become an engrained part of my life. Well, that is until this week is done, and then everyone starts to slowly trickle out of Germany over the next six months or so. But for now, we have a few more classes and then presentations on the health systems within each of our countries. Seeing as there are a few Americans in my class, I’ll actually be speaking about the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) rather than our health system as a whole. With the Supreme Court ruling only coming out a week or so before this, it is quite exciting and fresh. The only problem is that it now adds another layer to an already complex presentation I’m supposed to pack into 15 minutes. Oy vey.
This week also has one interesting event. The fourth of July. For obvious reasons, not that big of a celebration here in Deutschland. But it also brings about something very intriguing about German and possibly broader European culture. Patriotism, a cornerstone of American society, is not only kept under wraps here but actually frowned upon in many instances. For Germans, an overabundance of national pride seems to still bring back memories of a time they (and the world) would rather not see again. I’m referring to the nationalism that surrounded the Nazis back when Hitler was in power. Even now, too much patriotism is viewed by many of my friends here as something associated with right wing organizations (like skinheads; not something you want to be associated with). Anyway, being the patriotic American I am, I rock my USA soccer jersey with pride. The only other person I see all day with anything “American” is a dude with Uncle Sam on the front of his t-shirt, but even this guy, I’m like 99% sure isn’t actually American. Germans just have a very obvious way about them (maybe it’s the frowning).
My mind is blown this week. Hopefully you all are familiar with Carhartt (yes, I am referring to the clothes that are on sale right next to washers and dryers at Sears). Well, apparently in Europe it’s fashionable. Like insanely expensive fashionable. AND in my search for some tight, crazy colored Berliner pants, most of them were Carhartt. You gotta be kidding me. The same people who outfit your plumber outfit the hipsters of Berlin. The one difference is that I don’t think your plumber is paying 120 euro for his jeans…
Our second to last day of class, I give my presentation on the Affordable Care Act (I believe I faired quite well).The setup is that after every four presentations, the presenters are grouped together to give a 30 minute panel discussion. It feels a bit like being at a conference which is cool (except I’m now playing the expert; scary). Throughout the day, it is really interesting to hear how other countries tackle healthcare. From the equitable, socialized systems of Europe (which are still quite different between each other I realized) to the systems that are just trying to scrape by in the developing world. It really does remind me that we all come from such vastly different places.
Since most of my friends present on Thursday, we go out to dinner that night to a Turkish restaurant called Hasir’s. I get there a little bit before our scheduled meeting time of seven and tell the waiter we have a reservation for ten. He clears off a table in the middle and I sit down to wait. The place is quite packed so people are constantly coming over to ask if the other end of the table is free. I politely say no, but when no one has arrived by 7:10, I start to worry. I call one of my friends and she says, “We’re already here.” I am now incredibly confused. She then tells me that “Hasir” owns three restaurants… luckily, they’re all right next to each other, so I don’t have far to go. I gather my stuff up (they even let me take my drink) and sheepishly tell the waiter that I’m not at the right restaurant…
Since finishing school, I am spending the starting of my next week shadowing some surgeons at the Charité (the same hospital where I go to school). This is super interesting, but a bit crazy in terms of time. I average a good 11 hours in the hospital a day… needless to say, my feet hurt like the dickens (dress shoes were a bad call; the others rock Crocs, Birkenstocks, or even Shape-Ups). The main doctor who is my contact in the hospital is an Oberarzt. This directly translates into “upper doctor” which is fitting considering that he’s just below the head of surgery in the largest hospital complex in Europe. Interestingly, this guy has hair (or should I say flowing locks) to rival that of McDreamy (I’m not ashamed at all). I’m then floored when the only other Oberarzt looks just like McSteamy (for those of you thinking I just gave these surgeons really odd nicknames, a Grey’s Anatomy marathon will answer all your questions).
Most of my time is spent with the doctors in the ICU who are awesome. For the first hour or so, we speak English and then one of them says something about it being difficult with patients if I can’t speak German. I then say that I kind of can. From there, we proceeded to speak German the rest of the day. They were shocked which felt really good. I don’t know how many times they said, “Your German is really good. I mean, really good.” It’s nice to know it has actually gotten better since getting here especially when I seem to constantly doubt whether this notion is true.
Anyway, I spend a fair amount of time with an anesthesiologist whose company I enjoy. Once, we go to help put in a catheter, because the lady needs to be knocked out. The anesthesiologist pulls out a bottle of a white liquid that’s a bit thinner than milk. It’s called Propofol and as he holds it up, he looks at me and says, “Michael Jackson,” in reference to this being the drug he OD-ed on (too soon? not in Deutschland). It’s quite effective.
I also get to go into the operating theater. I’m told to go find theater five and just walk in. Well, this poses a slight bit of a challenge seeing as I need to find this place first. I apparently look so flummoxed that a lady actually comes up to me and asks, “Are you lost?” She’s real nice and leads me to where I need to go. I then don on scrubs, a mask, a hairnet, and some slip on shoes. Now that I feel all official, I leave the changing room into the place with all the operating theaters. There are a ton, but seeing as they’re in numerical order, finding five isn’t too hard. The difficult part is deciding what to do from here. There’s a big door that leads into the theater, but I have no idea whether it’s actually cool to just walk in like that. Also, more challenging yet are the sinks on the side with three different kinds of soap/anti-bacterials. Not really sure of the correct process of mixing these together, I wash my hands with soap and then apply the other two which seem more like alcohol based stuff that will evaporate. Apparently I’m wrong, because my hands still feel soapy. I decide to rewash my hands with a different combo. Same effect. In the end, I just lie to myself and say that everyone’s hands must be soapy, put on some gloves, and then wait for someone to come out of the theater (I’m not brave enough to walk in unannounced; having a group of German surgeons question me seems terrifying). I’ve now been standing there for ten minutes uncertain of what I should do when McSteamy comes out of nowhere to wash his hands. With this man next to me, nobody is going to say anything/they probably won’t even see me. As we walk in to the theater, I ask something along the lines of, “Should I just stand over there and watch?” I’m not sure if my German wording of this insinuates that I actually want to do the cutting, because he responds, “This one’s already is progress, but you can probably be in on the next one.” Terrified that I just volunteered to cut someone open, I freak out a bit and say, “I can’t do that. I really can’t do that.” Explaining that I have no medical training probably would’ve been a better thing to go with, but that’s not where my head is at.
As I watch a liver resection, I’m hit by how incredibly fake all of this looks. I mean the patient is swathed in blue so that the only thing you see is his or her (I’m not even sure if it’s a man or woman) abdomen cut open. The rib cage is pulled back and it’s truly hard to believe that that’s a real person. As all of this is going on, my biggest concern is not that I will pass out due to seeing blood (actually kind of enjoy that which is maybe odd), but rather that I’ll touch something and ruin the sterility of the whole place (I even stay away the walls). Once the surgery is nearly complete, I decide to go back to the ICU to check out what’s happening up there. Little do I realize that I am now locked out of the surgical ward. Oops.
Later that day, I go with one of the doctors to witness them find the source of blood leakage within a lady’s liver using angiography. Once they locate the bleeding arteriole, they start placing these little spiral coils to cut off the blood supply to where the blood is spewing out. It’s definitely interesting, but after like 3 ½ hours and missing lunch, I’m over it (and also a bit hangry). Luckily, when we return to the ICU, one of the doctors realizes I haven’t eaten and gives me a brötchen and some honey to tide me over. So nice. After only ten hours this time, I get to call it quits. I definitely enjoy my time there, but it sure does feel good to walk out into the sunshine.
Hugs and hand pounds,