In order to get our visas to Spain, we had to purchase private Spanish health insurance. We selected very thorough coverage (for pretty cheap compared to the U.S.). The company we chose had a good reputation among expats for having online services and English-speaking doctors. Sounded good to me.
Having worked on web marketing for medical and travel insurance before, I am fully aware it is one of those products that no one wants to think about. It is hard to sell peace of mind. How do you convince people to think about worse-case scenarios without bumming them out? I was a pretty typical consumer in that way.
My point is, we had not thought too seriously about using health insurance here.
That ended abruptly on Friday.
At the risk of taking away from the suspense, I feel like I owe my readers an aside here: everyone is ok.
Fever in the morning, fever all through the night
Grant and I have been sharing a (what is to us who are accustomed to queen-sized beds, a tiny) double bed. Let me tell you, you don’t know your spouse fully until you have shared a double bed with them in a small room filled with luggage being lulled to sleep every night by the musical stylings of a harmonica player who seems to only know Twinkle, twinkle little star and just when you think you have relief because he’s called it quits, a pack of teenagers drunk for the first time come bounding down the street and through the center of your forehead. Where was I? Ah, yes, basically whenever Grant or I turn in bed or even bat an eyelash, the other is fully aware of it.
So when Grant woke up sweating with a fever early on Friday morning, I was wide awake too. Harmonica man had gone to sleep a while ago and we were well into drunk-teenager-zone. Grant’s skin was burning up, so I went on the hunt in the dark for the small medical kit we had packed with us for emergencies. He took a couple of ibuprofen, and we tried to go back to sleep.
In the late morning, when I finally dragged myself out of bed after a few hours of patchy rest, Grant was still feeling badly and trying in vain to fall asleep. I went out to try to get him some medical relief and something comforting for lunch. There are pharmacies on every corner here, and the pharmacists are comparable to family doctors in the U.S. They know how to treat basic symptoms and illnesses.
I went in and explained that Grant had a fever. They sold me some paracetamol, gave me a regiment of paracetamol and ibuprofen, and convinced me to buy a thermometer to monitor his fever. I’m so glad I did!
Side note about pharmacies here: they will give you prescription-level drugs on your word. I say my husband has a fever – wa-la! I have 50mg ibuprofen tablets. You had birth control in the U.S.? No problem, here you go! It’s kind of amazing.
I started taking Grant’s temperature every 30 minutes or so and recording it. His fever went up very quickly that afternoon to 102. At which point, I kind of maybe sort of…panicked. I was pacing our small room and thought, if his temperature keeps going up at this rate, I’m going to have to take him to the hospital.
I called the insurance company and explained what was going on. Thank goodness these people are trained to deal with crazies like me. I was asking how much an emergency room visit would cost – and they dumbfoundedly responded “it’s included.”
You mean I can take him to an emergency room and not have to worry about a co-pay or how much that will ultimately cost me? Gahh, this medical system is so much better!
Then the most magical thing happened – they sent a doctor to our house for the appointment – all within an hour and half.
I cannot explain to you how much stress that relieved right then and there for me – no having to figure out the address of where to take him or how we would get there, no having to help him get dressed and ready to go out, no gathering all our important documents, etc. Instead, we got to wait in the comfort of our home. If I could change something about the U.S. medical system, I’d say let’s bring back home visits!
Doctor, doctor, gimme the news
The doctor shows up, and it is immediately clear that she doesn’t speak any English. She goes to work checking Grant’s vitals and miming what he should do next. She had a backpack with a whole medical kit in it for running basic tests. I’m busy translating (wrong, most of the time) what she is saying.
The highlight of the visit, though, was me discovering I had been taking Grant’s temperature “wrong” the entire time. Apparently, even though the thermometers look EXACTLY the same here, people use them differently. While we put them under people’s tongues in America, they put them under someone’s arm in the armpit. I swear the doctor looked at me so strangely when I started to go put the thermometer in Grant’s mouth.
Diagnosis: the flu, gripe
Treatment: More aggressive alteration of ibuprofen and paracetamol to lower his fever. Let his body fight it out.
Hotel, motel, holiday inn
Did I mention that there is noise constantly on the busy street outside our window? Between that and a raging fever, Grant could not get any rest. By the time Saturday afternoon had rolled around and he was still running a fever, I had concluded that splurging for a hotel room for the night would do us both some good. We ditched the airbnb for what felt like a luxurious change – I had my own sofa bed and Grant had sweet, sweet silence (although he claimed he could still hear that damn harmonica). There has never been money better spent.
One more time
Despite the comforts of our new abode, Saturday night was rough. Grant’s fever was still pretty high. Since it got to 102 again early Sunday morning, I called the insurance company again. They sent an “English-speaking doctor.” Now, when they say English-speaking, they really just mean that this person can make pleasantries in English. When she started to make her diagnosis, I was relieved that she was seeing something else wrong that the other doctor hadn’t seen. However, she could only say it in Spanish and point. Ahh, the suspense! Some Spanish words have similar sounds to the English word, but unfortunately, amigdalitis does not sound like tonsillitis.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
The doctor prescribed a slew of pills to treat the bacterial infection as well as treat side affects of the medicine. Of course, none of these medicines were to be taken on the same schedule (that would be too easy). I had to write out his schedule of pills and verify it with the pharmacist to make sure I understood what to give him when. The doctor also had specific instructions about what he could eat. As Grant likes to point out, I was very pleased to be busy doing something to help him feel better – going to the pharmacy, getting groceries, etc. It is hard to sit next to your loved one and just watch them suffer and feel like all you can do is rub their back or run your fingers through their hair. Plus, I’m a rule-follower, so it made me feel better to have instructions and a concrete plan.
While I was walking around going these errands, I got to see the Joan Miró park in Barcelona. It was only a few blocks from our hotel. It was such a colorful and reflective palette cleanser for me.
On my way back to the hotel, I sat on a bench for a few minutes just watching other people walk by. While I was sitting there, an old man approached me and asked me in Spanish what are you doing? and can I sit here with you?
He lives in the neighborhood and was on his daily walk to Placa Espanya and back. I started out clutching my purse tightly, as I am always on the alert for pickpocket schemes, but I soon relaxed because this guy was the real deal. He just wanted my company for a few minutes. He told me all about what his Sunday traditional dinner meal is and how he always buys a cake with fruit on it for dessert. The cake costs 18 euro, but it is worth it for him. He was very friendly, which surprised me, because I have been told by several people that Catalan people tend to be closed to foreigners. This has not been my experience to date. Grant thinks its my cheeks that make me easy to approach. The walk and my conversation with this man re-energized me.
It’s a few days later, the antibiotics have kicked in, and Grant is feeling much, much better today. He is on the road to recovery.
Reflection on our wedding vows
Will you love Grant, comfort him, honor and keep him in sickness and health and forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?
This weekend was definitely one of those in sickness moments. What amazed me was how my patience grew, my selflessness grew, my love for Grant grew while we were battling this sickness. It was unquestionably easy to put aside everything else when he wasn’t feeling good. When I thought something might happen to him, I felt the hugeness and depth of that. Even in his sickness, Grant was sweet and kept trying to insist that I go out and see the sights, especially the Picasso Museum which I had talked about going to see on Friday. He didn’t want me to miss out while taking care of him.
I wish I could access this well of service on a more daily basis, but I can already feel some of the perspective slipping away as he starts to feel better. It is a paradox how we become super-human under stress but have problems accessing patience and grace daily. On a day-to-day basis, we take our health for granted, and we take each other for granted. I am looking for ways to treat Grant with the same tenderness, kindness, and care every day that I managed to channel when he was sick.
How amazing would that sort of love be, and what would it look like?