That Time I Went to an Albanian Hospital

That Time I Went to an Albanian Hospital

This month I also had the unfortunate experience of testing out the American Hospital in Albania. I have mild seasonal allergies occasionally, but last week my eyes decided to manifest a major allergic reaction. I left school Monday afternoon concerned about increasing swelling around my eyes. I took two Benadryl and went to sleep. I woke up at 3am with eyes completely swollen shut. I called in sick to work, scheduled an appointment at the hospital online, took two more Benadryl, and went back to bed. (slept a total of 12 hours that night with all the Bendaryl!)

It baffles me that I took a total of four Benadryl that night and my swelling was as terrible as it was, but apparently my allergic reaction was that bad. I hardly found it bearable to show my face in public! In my vanity, I put on some sunglasses and walked myself to the hospital.

My heart sank when I stepped into the reception area. 10 people were all huddled around the receptionist, each pressing to be admitted. (Albanians don’t understand the concept of standing in lines.) I wondered if I would ever be seen. I felt very self-conscious, standing there uncertainly. After a few minutes of waiting and elbowing my way to the front of the line, I requested to speak to someone in English.

“Hi, I have an appointment at 9.” I said from behind my sunglasses. I showed her my iPhone, where I had the online calendar pulled up and my digitally confirmed appointment. She looked at me, confused.

“I’m sorry, what is that? We don’t have an online appointment scheduler.”

I showed her the website and online calendar for her very hospital, and she shook her head. She told me that such a website and feature doesn’t exist. That’s Albania for you!

Then she said I needed to go to Tirana, the capital city, for treatment.

In my desperation, I did something I would have never normally done: I refused, and demanded treatment. “No,” I said firmly, “someone here needs to see me, today.”

“Wait one moment.” she said, and disappeared.

After a few moments, the administrator returned and took my hand.  “Come with me,” she said. Then she marched me up several flights of stairs to the top floor of the hospital. At this point I was completely at her mercy, just doing whatever she said, all the while feeling very uncomfortable to be the weird foreign girl with sunglasses on indoors. She marched me right up to the office of the head doctor who oversees the entire American Hospital.

Without hesitation, she pushed me into his office, passing by other patients who may have been waiting, and plopped me down on his examination bench. I reluctantly pulled off my sunglasses to reveal puffy, swollen eyes, as she graciously translated everything between me and the head doctor.
Now, Albanians have a much smaller “personal space bubble” than Americans do, so the entire time I sat on the bench, both of them had their own faces about 4 inches from mine.

After a 3 minute consultation and some more exchanges in Albanian, she took me back downstairs to the main floor, and led me into the back door of the pharmacy. There, she instructed me to purchase a prednisone shot for myself, while she continued to translate for the pharmacist.

Prednisone vial in hand, next she led me back upstairs, and shuffled me into a public hospital room. 6 other patients lay propped up in beds facing each other. As the door closed behind us, all eyes turned to look at me: still the awkward foreign girl wearing sunglasses indoors.
My translator handed the shot to the nurse, and then turned back to me.

“Pick a bed and roll over.” she instructed.
I hesitated awkwardly.
“What, are you shy?” she said.
“Yes, Americans are very private…” I said. “Oh!” she laughed, finding this highly amusing for some reason, “Albanians aren’t. Roll over!”

5 of the 6 other patients in the room were male, and in my self-conscious paranoia, I swear to you that every one of them were smirking at me and my obvious discomfort to receiving a shot in this manner. Although receiving an unexpected booty-shot in a public hospital room was not an ideal way to spend my Tuesday morning, my allergic reaction was so bad at that point that I was thankful for the shot.

After thanking the nurse and the translator for their help, I gathered up my things to leave.  “No, I’m taking you to the public hospital to see the optometrist. We don’t have optometrists at this hospital so I’m taking you there.”
I insisted that the shot would be sufficient, but she insisted that I go to this second hospital.

So, then she walked me from the American Hospital across the street to the public hospital of Durres. She marched me in the front door, straight past reception, straight past the people waiting in line, and pushed me into a room with about 6 eye doctors in it. She began explaining some things to them in Albanian, and immediately all six doctors stood up and came over to examine me. I had one doctor examining my eyes and another doctor taking my coat and a third doctor asking me about my patient history. In five more minutes, they agreed on a few prescriptions to give me, and sent me on my way.

As she explained to me as we walked out, the reason those doctors were so accommodating is because the American Hospital is very well respected, and the head physician who sent me there is even more so. When she walked in and dropped the name of the previous doctor who had just examined me, they all jumped up to assist.

At the end of the day, they gave me a shot, eye drops, topical medicine, and oral medicine to help with the reaction. Four different medicines, and the total bill was around 10 dollars. I’m not even filling out an insurance reimbursement form because honestly filling out the form would be more of a hassle than just paying those 10 dollars.

Even more amazingly, the entire experience took a half hour. I saw multiple doctors at two different hospitals in exactly 30 minutes. I didn’t wait in line once, because this woman just barged through every closed door and insisted that I be seen. I can’t even tell you how many times I thanked her.

It’s been a few days now, and my eyes are much better. I am thankful because purchasing drugs in Albania is extremely easy actually—everything from Tylenol to Prozac can be purchased by strolling into a pharmacist and asking for it. So now, I am grateful because if I ever have this reaction again, I can just go buy the antihistamine medicine I need without another trip to the hospital.

So, in the past few weeks, these are my bouts of bad luck that I have encountered. But, I can’t end a blog post without counting my blessings, so here’s a hint of some good luck to possibly come…

There is a chance I might get to move into an amazing penthouse apartment in my current building. The current tenant has assured me he is moving and that I can move in when he leaves, but it’s so wonderfully good to be true, I can’t bring myself to get my hopes up…
So I’m holding out, but hopeful that I’ll be due for a stroke of wonderfully good luck soon!

Originally Posted on my Private Blog, November 2015

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