First Time with NHS: Acting as Dispatches for the Barbarian Horde

One of the most anxiety inducing elements of moving internationally with a pregnant wife is the issue of healthcare. At home, we had it figured out, and it was good (at least for us). Although our co-pays were occasionally more than we had hoped, we knew what to expect and understood how the system worked. The difference between an emergency and a routine visit were very distinct in my mind and if I needed to quickly make an appointment, I knew how to make that happen without calling 911.

In the UK, everything is different. For starters, we have the often derided NHS (National Health Services). Healthcare is, for lack of a better word, free. But the overall issue of whether or not “social medicine” is a good idea or not isn’t what I want to talk about. Instead I want to relay a cultural miscommunication regarding our first use of the healthcare system here.

One night, Stephenie wasn’t feeling well, and being that she is pregnant and I am paranoid (equally dire conditions if you ask me) I decided that we needed to go to the doctor. At home, I would have called the 24-hour line at our local practice, but here, I didn’t know what to do. After fumbling through various paperwork we have had to deal with since arrived, I found a NHS hotline number I could call.

Thankfully, the person on the other end of the line seemed to think what I was calling for was normal (trying to make an after hours appointment). I was nervous that an ambulance would show up at our apartment and I would have the awkward task of explaining that there was no emergency and that instead, I had accidentally called the wrong number.

But, as great as things began, they quickly started to travel downhill. As I was towards the end of setting up the appointment, the woman on the line asked us to bring a urine sample.

I was like….a urine sample. In what?

My facial expression was one of disgust, but my tone of voice didn’t communicate anything but confidence. I immediately agreed, wrote down our appointment details, and hund up the phone. After which I started thinking about what to do next.

I guess I’ll head to the kitchen to look for something suitable there, I thought. When I told my wife what we were supposed to do, she was not amused. So, after searching around for a something that I thought would work, I grabbed a coke bottle that was empty. Again, my wife was not amused.

Shortly after, we were waiting at the surgery. That’s what they call doctor’s offices here. I know, it seems terribly dramatic. When the doctor saw us she asked for a urine sample. I reached into my bag to pull out the Coke bottle and when I looked up I saw that she was holding her own empty bottle, clearly designed for samples.

There wasn’t time for me to shove our sample back into the bag before she saw it and realized what it was. Her faced mirrored my disgust at being told to bring a sample in the first place.

She ask, “is that?” and before she finished I said, “Yes.” It was an awkward moment to say the least.

There was then an unbroken duration of silence in which Stephenie and I felt like we had come from some underdeveloped nation that didn’t understand the uncouth nature of what we had done. We did understand though. And to be fair, I just wanted to play by the rules in this new country we now lived in. Apparently, most pregnant women have the specialized urine sample containers at home provided by their midwives, whom we had not yet met.

Needless to say, the doctor was very nice, if not moderately disturbed the barbarians that had come to visit her.


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