Archive for May, 2012

 Today I had the accidental experience of attending Göteborgsvarvet, which is apparently “the world’s largest half marathon.” As a (former) half-marathoner, I am surprised I didn’t know this was the home of the world’s largest half! I should have had an inkling something was up when I saw a Swedish acquaintance’s Facebook post saying she was off to “toe the line.” It also suddenly makes the choice of our last book club selection make sense.

It was called “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.” I thought someone in the group must be a runner, or maybe all of them since I hadn’t actually met them in person yet. Otherwise, it seemed an odd choice for anyone who isn’t really into running. Even as a runner, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it but it was meant to be my first meeting with the group so I downloaded the Nook version. Turns out, I didn’t make it to book club, and I still haven’t finished the book. A bit anticlimactic after hearing of the main character’s actual death in the hills of New Mexico on a training run as I was just 10 days into reading it. Always a buzz kill when you know the end of the story.

My second clue came when the tram driver made an announcement. The stops are announced by automated voice so when the driver speaks, you know something’s up whether you can understand them or not. Turns out he was announcing that the tram would turn around at Centralstationen instead of continuing as normal. No biggie though, it was only one stop before my intended one so just a bit of a walk. After walking a couple minutes I saw the blocked roads, crowd and… runners! My heart did a skip. As much as I hated running, I also loved it. And I miss it.

But I digress…

So, the above was actually the second happy accident of the day. The first was at the local  Saturday outdoor market. It’s the typical sort of place where you find clothes, electronics, produce, etc. I was struggling a bit at the butcher though because the young assistant didn’t speak English at all, I didn’t speak his native language (Farsi, I presume), and obviously I’m still working on my Swedish. I’m not even sure how much of that he knew.

Anyway, after a few minutes, a lovely woman with Caribbean-accented English began to help me understand the cuts of meat they had, helped me pick one out for my stew, and even made sure I had a proper recipe in mind. She asked where I was from, then told me she was from Jamaica. She was sweet, and fairly representative of people you meet. Particularly those who are from somewhere else themselves. I guess they remember when they were new too. I didn’t want to let her go. I wanted to ask where she lived and what was her phone number, but at the risk of sounding like a crazy American, I let her slip away quietly into the crowd.

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WARNING: This post may contain information that certain people–specifically men–find difficult to read. I will be discussing “women-stuff,” but I do hope you can get beyond any squeamishness and appreciate the overarching healthcare topic.

If you are also a Facebook friend then you may recall a post I made directly on Facebook regarding a proactive invitation by the Swedish healthcare system for me to obtain a PAP smear. If not, here’s the text of that message: Say what you want about socialized medicine, but I’ve been an official resident in Sweden for less than 3 weeks and I’ve already been pre-scheduled for a cancer screening/PAP test. The cost is 100kr (less than $15). I wasn’t expecting this, they just sent me a letter welcoming me and stating women between 23 and 60 should have it done. They already set up the appointment should I choose to accept it. America – listen up, you could learn a lesson here. But people fuss about the so-called Obama Care. Not trying to say that’s the best answer either, but it’s a step in trying to provide for the citizens of a country. God forbid a country actually try to take care of its people. You might actually help create and sustain a healthy, active population. We wouldn’t want that now, would we?

So, today was appointment day, and I want to share the experience with you. Don’t worry, I won’t be too graphic but it may be TMI for some of you. If you are easily offended by body parts or functions, or the like; you can stop reading now.

My appointment time was at 13:30 at the local branch of Västra Götalandsregionen. There are dozens of branches throughout the region, this one happens to be closest to where I live, and also functions as one the after-hours clinics. Due to the proximity, I was assigned to this location but I have the freedom to choose any other location I prefer. At this point, they’re all the same to me so I stuck with it. I actually don’t even need the PAP since I had one done just before leaving home, but I figured I may as well go and get myself into the system. Plus, I wanted to inquire about birth control pills. Oddly, when they sent the appointment for the PAP, they advise that if you want to discuss anything else, such as obtaining BCP, you have to schedule that separately. I had tried calling to schedule that too since the supply I brought with me will run out in 2 months, but I couldn’t get through, or rather, was frustrated by not knowing what the AVR was saying.

Anyway, I walked out my door to the tram stop, rode about 5 minutes, and walked 3 minutes (if that) to the clinic. Since this is one of the primary care clinics they have wards for Gynecology, children, men, minor emergency, etc. The front desk directed me to the Gyno area in the back. There was no additional reception back there, she said since they were expecting me they would just come out and call me at my appointed time. There were 3 people ahead of me in the waiting area. The ladies from the back came and went a time or two making announcements in Swedish. I don’t think they ever actually called my name but once I was the only one sitting there, I knew the next one out was coming for me. She introduced herself as a midwife.

The clinic itself is bare bones, not so modern in appearance. The atmosphere was a bit reminiscent of the hospital from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, albeit (thankfully) without Nurse Ratchett. My midwife was a stern-looking woman but she had good humor. She helped me fill out the simple form, which was only in Swedish and then showed me a diagram of the vagina (pronounced, vah-geena) and depicted how she would collect the cell sample. A woman of my age has been through this many times but I was fascinated just the same. I went behind the curtain and disrobed from the waist down, thankfully no stupid paper gown required. Seriously, whose modesty are they pretending to protect with those things anyway?

I hopped into the 19th century chair and got cozy in the leg supports. I call them supports because they were long, padded braces, unlike the stirrups that you prop your feet in at home. My legs always shook when I got in those things. I was SO glad to see, they do not use the good ‘ole ducklips from back home. Man I hate those things! Instead, she had a more simple medical-grade metal “bar” sorta shaped like an elongated S but not quite that curvy. I don’t think she lubed me up first but it wasn’t uncomfortable. She explained the procedure as she dabbed down here, now I’ll dab up there. I never felt a thing. Wonderful! Was always so uncomfortable with the ducklips, lube and all.


The Good

  • I was in and out in less than 15 minutes, even with 3 people waiting before me. Total time, including commute, barely 40 minutes (includes wait time for tram). This is awesome! I have waited for hours at various Atlanta doctors, even when no one seemed to be ahead of me. Can’t tell how many times I felt forgotten in the exam room, freezing and wearing a stupid 2-piece paper dress. Then, it would easily take 40-60 minutes just to get to the office and same, or longer, for departure.
  • She made my appointment for BCP, so I didn’t have to call. I go back Monday for that.
  • Skillful, pain-free procedure.
  • They have the same proactive screenings for men and prostate cancer.
  • They will bill me for the visit, they don’t take payments at the time of service. Don’t you love that little sign at your doctor’s office that says payment is expected at the time of your visit (and the implication that if you don’t have it, you might as well leave)?

The Bad

  • If I have to say anything bad, it’s that they only schedule PAPs every 3 years for women up to 50 years of age. Then it’s every 5 years. Maybe this is sufficient, but I’m used to the annual PAP/Mammo combo at home. Of course that’s because I’ve been fortunate to have good health insurance. For those without, you get squat!
  • It takes 10 weeks to get the results. At home, it’s only 2. Not horrible, but long if you think you might have a problem.

Overall, it was a good first experience as a resident. I do hear that emergency services are spotty if you need an ambulance, but I hope I never have to find out about that. I would rather sacrifice posh, modern-looking surroundings for efficiency and convenience any day as long as the office is clean and maintained. Oh, and another observation; there was NOT ONE note pad, clock, calendar or anything else in the office provided by, or labeled with a drug manufacturer’s product! Refreshing — I don’t have to wonder if my doc prescribes a certain med because he’s getting the best kickbacks/incentives for it.

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I finally noticed this morning that the days are slowly getting longer. Got up for a morning bathroom run and thought it was about 9am. Nope, it was 5:33 am. The sun wasn’t shining so it wasn’t that bright, but it was light. In fact, it was like 9am on an average gray day in Göteburg.

And then this evening, at 21:45, it was still the color of dusk. I’d liken it to 20:00-20:30 during daylight savings time on the east coast of the USA. I guess my previous trips here have been too brief to notice the change. I have seen Stockholm, which is a 4-hour train ride north, dark for nearly 20 hours but that was in the dead of winter.

Silly me for not realizing that this area would also be affected by the longer (and therefore shorter-come-winter) days. So, to my friend Annie who asked me about this before I left, I apologize for thinking you were daft!