When Swedish minimalism is the last thing you want

How long can you go without swallowing? It’s actually a surprisingly long time. How about if you’re really dehydrated and desperate for a nice long drink of water? This week I’ve discovered that again, the answer is “a surprisingly long time”.

Ten days ago I came down with some kind of fluey virus thing. This is relatively normal for me – I get one every six months when my body decides it’s had enough and it’s time for me to stop working flat out every day and most evenings.

However, this time it’s a new variety. The lymph glands in my neck have swollen up to the size of duck eggs, I’ve had the aching all over and the sweating and being slightly delirious (primarily manifesting as dreaming insanely complicated spaceship parking games inspired by reading Iain M Banks before going to sleep). But my head has been surprisingly free of snot and there’s been no cough.

I didn’t bother going to the GP about this – I knew that they’d say “It’s a virus, drink plenty of liquids, get plenty of rest and take ibuprofen”. And that I’d have to beg and plead with the nurse even to be allowed to have an appointment to get that extremely self-evident advice. I had plenty of food in and, thankfully, not too much work to deliver (my body is clever like that – it always picks a week when I can actually be ill without worrying about clients).

Then on Wednesday I got a sore throat. “That’s odd”, I thought. Because I haven’t actually spoken to anyone throughout this entire thing – I’d cheerfully throttle whoever gave it to me and I certainly wouldn’t want an old person to have to deal with this. So where has an additional infection come from? I got out the throat spray that I bought on my last trip to the UK (the Swedes, for some reason, feel that if you’ve got a sore throat you should put up with Strepsil variants and nothing else), and thought no more of it.

That was until Thursday, when it started to get painful to swallow. I thought again about going to the GP. They do a drop-in time every day from 10.30 to 11.30 “for infections”, which has always conjured up images of everyone sitting in the tiny cramped waiting room producing interesting strains of cross-infection as they cough and sneeze all over each other. But it was 11 am and I wasn’t dressed and the GPs is 20 minutes’ drive away, and I did actually have a deadline to make.

“I can go tomorrow”, I thought. “It’ll probably be better by then anyway”.

Big mistake. Big, big mistake. By the evening it was really painful to swallow. Like, really really fucking painful. Like whole body wince painful. During the night I managed about five hours’ interrupted sleep, punctuated by taking a variety of painkillers that did absolutely nothing at all, and spending a good part of the intervening time the wrong side of the verge of tears. Many were the occasions upon which I berated myself for not having gone to the doctor’s the previous day. Especially in the morning, when I got up at 8 am, as dehydrated as a 3000-year-old mummy, only to find that it was a bank holiday.

(I do vaguely remember discovering this last year. Despite the fact that Midsommar is the main Swedish festival of the year, they don’t actually celebrate it on Midsummer’s Day. Instead they wait until the following weekend. To me, that’s missing the whole point of it. If you’re celebrating the longest day of the year, surely you do it… on the longest day?! And actually, if they had done they’d have had lovely weather, instead of grey skies and torrential rain. So nyer.)

So anyway, I finally worked out that there was a clinic open – but not until 5 pm. More self-recrimination. Fortunately I fell upon a combination of painkillers and other things that reduced the pain somewhat (primarily super high strength Sudafed, again imported from the UK because the Swedes only have plant-based medications for use against sinusitis. WTF? Have they ever actually had sinusitis?)

Finally the time came that I could set off. The directions said that I had to go to the grey building on the hospital site. Now, fortunately, I have had to visit said building before, so I knew where to go. But this is another case of Swedish small-town mentality. Because you were probably born at this hospital, you of course know which of these two blocks is “the grey building”. Except if you weren’t, of course, in which case, presumably, fuck you:

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One of these is “the grey building”. Answers on a postcard, please.

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So anyway, I got there. I went in. There was, surprisingly, no queue. I was seen immediately by a pleasant enough nurse. I explained that I wanted a stronger painkiller as I was having major difficulty in swallowing. She didn’t actually physically examine me, but she did take a swab from the back of my throat, which was only moderately agonising, and read my temperature, which was, surprisingly, normal.

After a few minutes’ wait, she came back and said that I didn’t have an infection, but that it was probably a virus. Big shock. She suggested I try Strepsils. “Or why not a warm drink with honey? And ibuprofen or paracetamol are usually quite effective.” I explained again that I really wanted a stronger painkiller as I’d been taking ibuprofen for more than a week and it wasn’t having much of an effect. She said, “but we haven’t found any infection”, as though that was an answer, and I realised that once again a ‘healthcare professional’ was hearing what she wanted to hear rather than what I was actually saying. Presumably ‘Cocking a deaf ‘un’ and ‘Treat the patient like a 5-year-old’ are major modules in Swedish medical training.

So that was that. I drove back home, climbed back into bed (where, despite having a normal temperature, I immediately had to wrap myself in a towel to soak up the sweat) and have been suffering moderate agony every few minutes since. Still, at least I’m no longer berating myself for not having visited the GP. Instead I just call that nurse a bitch.

Interestingly, the job that I’d had to deliver the previous day was a research application for a project studying Swedish doctors’ reactions to a political decision to open up medical records for patient access. Apparently in pilot studies doctors were shocked to discover that this led some patients to question the doctor’s treatment strategy. Or alternatively to check that what they’d said during a consultation was actually entered into their record. Because despite Sweden’s apparent feminism, this is still an enormously backward, paternalistic society in many ways. My feeling is that this is at the root of the hideously long waiting times here. If Swedes were a bit more bolshy then they’d make so much fuss that this kind of delay – in a wealthy country like Sweden? – would be a thing of the past. Instead, it’s the doctor-patient relationship that’s a historical relic.

 

 

 

 


Answer: It’s actually the white and blue one. Yes, really.
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