For those of you not yet in the know about the Dutch healthcare system*, doctors in the Netherlands believe that everything can be cured by Paracetamol and bread**. I still remember the shock when I asked for the chicken pox vaccine for my kids and was told that such a vaccine does not exist. I know for a fact that it does exist, it’s just not done in the Netherlands because going through the chicken pox is “natural”. Dutch doctors and the Dutch in general are obsessed with all things “natural” or “normal”. “So it should come as no surprise that this preoccupation with “keeping it real” extends to all acts – birth being no exception!”- writes Colleen over at Stuff Dutch People Like. And it does extend to the rest of the healthcare system as well.
*This post is satire.
**Not really. I’m over exaggerating to make a point. Also, bread isn’t medicine.
I don’t know how many times I went to the doctor with a sick child only to be told to go back home and give them Paracetamol. My husband, however, always gets medicine when he needs it. I’ve been wondering how he does it. Many times, I send him to the doc’s office with whichever child is sick at that time and he comes back home, waving the prescription for antibiotics at me. For a long time, I wondered, how does he do it? What am I doing wrong? So I asked him. The insights he gave me are just too precious to keep secret*. Apparently, Dutch doctors require a special mode of communication.
*The following list IS NOT actual medical advice.
1) Tell, don’t ask
When calling to make an appointment, I used to ask if it was possible to see the doctor, pretty please. That was a big mistake. The result of which was that the secretary told me they’re full and if I was lucky, I may able to get a slot next week. My husband goes in and says, “I want an appointment ASAP.” The lesson is that if you want to be successful in getting to see your doctor, put your politeness aside and state your wishes loud and clear. Yes, you want your appointment RIGHT NOW. Yes, in 5 minutes is good. Once you’re in, tell your doctor what medications you need. You may still not get them but at least he understood what you wanted. Dutch doctors, like all Dutch people expect directness and will be confused by your attempts at being polite.
2) Never lose your cool
A friend of mine half-jokingly told me how you can get the otherwise calm Dutch people to take action and maybe even panic a little. When you call your doctor, say, in your calmest Zen voice ”Hello, is this Dr Soandso? I’m not sure but, you know, my child just drank a whole bottle of laundry detergent and looks a little bit blue. He’s not breathing either. So should I come and see you or is it not necessary ?” You need to say it in a very calm tone of voice or they’ll think you’re a crazy expat who freaked out for no reason. Speaking out is expected, but losing your temper is niet normaal.*
*Not actual advice. It’s satire. It’s meant to be funny. Also, do not try this at home.
3) Appeal to their expertise
The above example showed another thing you need to follow if you want to be successful in persuading your doctor to give you medicine. Even though Dutch doctors would never boast about their achievements, they still want to know they’re doing a great job at keeping people safe from all these bad medications. You can always ask your doctor questions like “So, I see I don’t need antibiotics. But maybe you can tell me why?” and listen intently to his answer. Try not to laugh when he prescribes bitterballen and Paracetamol. Then next time, the doctor may be more willing to give you real medicine at your next appointment.*
*Again, this isn’t actually medical advice. Please don’t follow it.
4) Choose your language and choose it well
My husband and I, we have a difference of opinions in this matter. I usually speak Dutch to show that I’m willing to adjust and expect the other side to do the same. My husband speaks English because he understands it and it puts him in a position of power. We all have our reasons for our choice of language but think hard about the consequences of each choice before you open your mouth.*
*This is a point you could actually consider, not from a doctor but from a linguist.
5) Use every trick up your sleeve
Take this simple advice from our book “Dutched Up!”* and, “when explaining your illness, double the amount of time you’ve been sick, triple your symptoms and that equals help.” I don’t care if you have to lie, bribe, threaten or kill to get your meds**. In tough times, an expat must do what she has to do in order to survive. Be cunning. Use your very cute child to get the flu shot right away instead of having to wait for weeks, I don’t care, really. You may lose your scruples when you walk into that practice door but you may gain meds and that is all that matters. Don’t worry; your conscience will heal together with your body.
*This is not a medical book. It was written by bloggers. Therefore, if you read it***, please keep this in mind. The advice mentioned in the book is not actual medical advice.
**This is a very very very bad idea. Don’t actually lie to, bribe, threaten or kill your doctor. Again, this is satire.
***Please please please, read the book. And leave an Amazon review once you do.
6) Never refuse medication. NEVER.
If all your hard work pays off, you will get your holy grail: medication or an appointment with a specialist. And I don’t care if you went to see your GP for a digestive problem but were sent to a cardiologist, or whether you got the right meds or not, just take them and run before your doctor changes her mind*. Remember that if you refuse, you may never get antibiotics again, ever. If you feel that you were given the wrong medications, hang them on your wall like a picture. Just don’t ever say “no” when a Dutch doctor gives you medicine.**
*If a doctor gives you the wrong meds (which they probably won’t), point it out instead of running away.
** Unless they’re prescribing bitterballen***. Then do say no.
***They probably won’t prescribe bitterballen though. Also, bitterballen is not actual medicine and I haven’t heard of any doctor who actually prescribed it.
You did all of the things I mentioned and it didn’t work? Well, you can’t always have what you want. And believe it or not, sometimes these weird Dutch doctors are right and you actually don’t need antibiotics and the Paracetamol will do the trick. You can even convince yourself that it’s actually a good thing and that at least they won’t over-medicate you here*. Then quietly, call your doctor back home or ask someone to stock up your medicine cabinet the next time they come to visit.**
*See? I’m not all against Dutch doctors, and neither am I arguing for liberal use of antibiotics. Sadly, this part was often left out.
** Remember when I told you about not lying to your doctor? Still valid. Don’t do that.
This post is obviously tongue-in-cheek and is to be taken with a grain of salt or two, but even if these tips are not necessary for you and your doctor is awesome, maybe at least you’ll have a good laugh.*
*It was meant to be funny, not actual medical advice.
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