My Danish Doctor Wears Diesel Jeans

diesel-jeans

Yes, it’s true. My doctor was strutting $200 Italian designer jeans at my last appointment. I don’t know why but it just struck me. I’m used to doctors wearing scrubs like a uniform of sorts that signals, “I’m a doctor, I know what I’m doing, trust me.”

I suppose it’s fine that a doctor chooses to wear the latest style and trend however I’m not sure if it’s the best message to send to patients. Patients that are paying their salary via high taxes (upwards of 50-60%). While I secretly wish for my own pair of Diesel jeans, I don’t know if I would flaunt them if I were treating ill patients. But this is Denmark, where sporting brand names like Lacoste, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana or Louis Vuitton is almost as interwoven into the social fabric as is eating rye bread for lunch.

This starts at a young ripe age and even includes underwear, i.e. the famous Bjørn Borg skibbies hanging out of the skinny jeans. I’ve even seen these brand names listed on a 13-year-old’s Birthday “wish list.” 

It’s not just the pants.

I went in for a month-long earache problem I’ve had and was told to try some over-the-counter nose spray. When I asked the dr. what to do if it didn’t go away after I tried the nose spray for the recommended 5-6 days and he simply shrugged his shoulders (insinuating “I don’t know”), shook his head and said it might take more time before it goes away.  That’s it. I’m not saying the doc is incompetent, it’s just all too familiar advice to be told to basically do nothing, which is essentially what I had done for the last month or so since it started.

The funny thing is that when I went to the pharmacy to purchase the nose spray, I decided to pose the same question. “What should I do if the problem doesn’t go away after the max. 10 days of usage?” “Well, I would go back to the dr.,” the woman said. Hmmm….P.S. the nose spray didn’t work and I ended up having ear infections in both ears that spread to my jaw. It is better now thanks to a substitute dr. that finally addressed the problem.

It’s almost like when my husband went to an ear, nose and throat speacialist for a tinitus problem and the dr. told him to put a piece of cotton in his ear. That was it. No other advice was given. Or when another person I know had the whole work-up for snoring and was told that it’s perfectly normal for a person to snore and that there’s no harm in it. Tell that to his wife. 

More recently a more serious situation occurred that required at 112 (911) call at 3:00 am and hospital visit for a most unfortunate and potentially preventable situation. When the person had this particular condition checked a month ago he was told, “let’s see what happens.” Well, we have seen what happened and it wasn’t good.

It seems the solution for most ailments is to do nothing and assume that it will simply go away. It only really leaves you with a feeling that you are stuck  with this problem and on your own with something that is unfixable. Live with it. I guess it could be due to the whole Viking mentality, which can be pretty raw and scary if you ask me.

This approach has been positive in many regards because I’ve drastically reduced the amount of antibiotics I’ve taken  and I do tend to nurse my ailments naturally now instead of going for meds. I also admit that Americans are more drug crazy and are taught that there is a magic pill out there for everything when in reality there’s not.

But to me it’s frustrating that when you have a problem it’s not taken very seriously until you are almost dying or it becomes extreme. There is no real preventative medicince practiced either. Tests are rarely offered and almost never for routine check ups — most times you have to ask for them yourself. Due to this I’ve learned that I need to take things into my own hands and ask for what I need. So has a fellow expat blogger at www.cantcopenhagenblogspot.com who wrote about her experiences with the medical system in here post, “doctor’s orders.” After reading her post, I know for sure I am not alone.

 In the end, I am a person that likes to get things resolved in the most efficient manner possible. It doesn’t mean that I’m impatient, but waiting for months at a time (and sometimes years) to see a specialist can test your limits. Time that people litterally die while they wait to get treatment. While it is truly fantastic that you can go to the doctor and see a specialists for “free” (free = high tax), the overall approach to medicine is more about treating the acute rather than prevent illness.

My experience with the system has not been entirely negative but unfortunately it has been extremely disappointing and concerning. I’ve consulted with doctors in the U.S. and I wouldn’t think twice about doing it again if necessary. You can get good care here, but you also need to really push for and ask for what you need because normally it’s not offered or suggested. This includes regular OBGYN check-ups, mammograms, blood pressure, cholesterol, thyroid tests, etc. It’s up to you.

To those that have encountered this problem or that don’t know how to navigate through the medical system yet, I have the following advice.

Top 10 Tips for Dealing with Danish Doctors:

1) Tell the dr. what is wrong and tell them what you want (ie., medicine, tests, a referral). Do not expect that the dr. will order any tests or perscribe medication.

2) If you are not happy with your dr. and can’t communicate well with him/her — get another dr. Do not settle for less. There is a list of referrals on the U.S. Embassy web site. That or get a referral from a trusted family member or friend.

3) For anything more than a cold or flu, it may be best to just ask for a referral to a specialist automatically.

4) Know your rights. If you have a long waiting time for a procedure, there is a possiblity that you can get in to see a private dr./specialist earlier.

5) Know that you can always go to Germany or Sweden for care. This includes the dentist, which I understand is substantially less expensive than in DK.

6) Don’t take the fact that drs. have absolutely no bedside manner personally. Get sympathy from your friends and family.

7) There is no such thing as follow up so if have a problem that needs to be checked after treatment, schedule it on your own.

8) Be assertive. Be VERY assertive.

9) Put your dr’s phone number in your mobile phone memory so you can use the automatic re-dial when calling for an apt or to speak to him/her.

10) Share your stories and ask questions. The more information you have about the system from others, including Danes, the better. There seems to be an unwritten rule book that only exists between lips and not on paper. At least it wasn’t readily handed out to me when I met with my integration counselor.

And the bonus piece of advice: stay healthy so you don’t need the dr. 🙂

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12 comments

  1. Excellent. This is a very informative and balanced post, and will provide expats with a targeted approach to the Danish healthcare system. I especially agree with point 8! Being pushy, although frowned upon, is the only way to prod doctors into doing their job here. Not taking those shrugs for an answer may seem “un-Danish” but in Denmark, your health is truly in your own hands.

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  2. Spot on, Laura.

    Sometimes it takes an outsider to give a new perspective on different aspects of the system – for good and not so good. When people get too used to accepting things as they are, we dont question if it could be different.

    Keep blogging.

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  3. I fully agree with the 10 points list.

    I wonder if it has anything to do with the importance Danes give to having your own opinion and expressing it (in one way or the other), combined with the famous “Janteloven” (“everybody is equal”) that makes a doctor expect you to say your opinion and to not treat his/her word as a final truth.

    This might also explain why doctors wear designer-jeans as they don’t feel that they have an abundance of natural authority because of their profession. So they wear what everybody else wears – would like to wear – as they feel they can gain some recognition there and on the same time they state that they are just like everybody else.

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  4. Being Danish, and having lived abroad as an expat for some time, it’s always amazingly interesting reading about outsiders perspective on us Danes, I remember vividly talking to the Japanese about my frustrations about living over there. Anyway, having grown up in a house of a Danish doctor and nurse, I thought I’d chip in.

    To me it seems to be a cultural difference between Scandinavian doctors and most other western equivalents, and I don’t think it’s a bid to save money. I’m almost 30 now, and rarely (in fact never) go to my assigned doctor, but just drop my parents house, and get a home consultation. And I don’t remember ever being put on ANY medication, except for a family trip to the Philippines where I was so sick, that they were worried I might have caught Dengue Fever. And I’m fairly confident that as my parents wouldn’t consider petty economics dealing with their own children.

    And so I think you are right, there probably is a philosophy that letting the immune system take care of the problem, is almost without exception, the preferred option, and so is prescribing the lightest (less intrusive) possible medicines to treat whatever symptoms you may have. Probably related to that other little details of Danish parents putting their children to sleep outside in the pram, in sub zero temperatures – which is healthy – but always seem to chock foreigners. There is some old Danish saying for this (which really can’t be translated, but goes something like) “a handful of dirt keeps the doctor from your door”

    That being said, I think there is some truth to the above comment, doctors expect you to speak up, if you don’t agree or the treatment isn’t working.

    Anyway trust me, it’s not just expats who find this frustrating, I know plenty of Danes who have their complaints about this as well.

    – Stefan

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  5. Good post, and I’m afraid it’s also discouraging. I’ve been in Denmark a year and a half now, am struggling greatly with the language, and have been to see a doctor four times. I’m sorry to say I agree with your assessment.

    Even though my mother died from breast cancer, which I did tell my doctor, I was told that mammograms are not routinely offered in Denmark. He said I could probably get one if I asked for it and had some reason to suspect a problem. In the US I would get one every year due to my family history and age (over 50). Yet here I probably won’t get one at all unless I make a fuss about it. And I’m not good at that; I’m the quiet, reserved type. By the time I would suspect a problem, it may well be too late, since breast cancer in particular needs to be detected early to get effective treatment.

    Thanks for the list of ten tips. Your blog entry leaves me with deep thoughts.

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    1. Mettaj · · Reply

      GR, it’s so truth!! I once told my doctor that I needed mammography and she didn’t trust me until I had gone back to my country and brought back my last mammo with the journal and just throw it out in front of her desk and without saying any words, he assigned a reference letter for mammo !! I were thinking, Gee… I pay your salary indirectly with my income tax to the government and I needed to prove to get a check up?!?!? In my country, I can go and chose the best hospital and doctor without any problem!!! So free medical doesn’t give any good benefit for health check up!!

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  6. Ole Odgaard · · Reply

    My Danish Doctor Wears Diesel Jeans:

    Min danske læge går også i cowboybukser (jeans).

    Jeg har de samme indvendinger angående
    den danske praktiserende læges behandling
    i almindelighed: “You are on you’re own here”.

    Jeg tror at mange danske praktisernde læger har
    “kunder” nok. Derfor oplever man nogle gange
    at man får en “lousy” behandling. Så er det bare med at få
    en henvisning til speciallæge og det kan ikke gå for hurtigt.

    Når jeg jeg gaber kæben helt op hører jeg en
    knasende lyd i højre ører efterfulgt af et trykudlignende
    pop. Ind i mellem har jeg ondt i højre side af underkæben
    og tænker: “I morgen må jeg få en tid hos lægen”.

    Sidste gang jeg var forbi checkede han min hørelse med sit fine kombi-kikkert-høretest-instrument.
    Han konkluderede: Din hørelse er fin.
    Jeg tænkte, “OK doktor, jamen tak for ingenting – det klikker stadig i mit ører”.

    Jeg tror snart at jeg skal forbi min læge desangående igen.
    Så må jeg slå i bordet.
    Netop som du har beskrevet det: “Be assertive. Be VERY assertive”.

    Det var sjovt at læse om dig på din blog.

    Jeg skulle egentlig bare lige læse lidt nyheder (hvornår spiller de Champions League finale etc.) Så gik jeg
    på Jyllands Posten’s netside.
    Læste om Laurie Susan Fulton. Hvem var det ? Surfede lidt rundt.Så kom jeg til at læse om grafitti i
    CPH. Det var en meget nøgtern dækning af en amerikanske jounalist. Og nu sidder jeg her og skriver.
    Det er meget sjældent at jeg farer i blækhuset på denne
    måde.

    Egentlig skal jeg til at få skrevet nogle jobansøgninger.
    Jeg kan ikke blive ved med at leve som daglejer.

    Nå, men det var hyggeligt at læse et indlæg fra en lidelsesfælle.

    Med venlig hilsen
    Ole

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    1. Hi Ole, I know it’s a long time since you wrote on my blog, but I just read your post again and wanted to thank you. I appreciate your comment and while it’s unfortunate, I suppose there is some comfort in knowing you are not alone in it, and that you can find ways of working with the system so you get your needs met. I think the best way to go about it, at least in my experience, is to go armed with the right questions and know beforehand what you want to get out of it. That way, you can be focused and know what to ask for. And if you need your dr.’s opion, to be very specific on exactly what you want to know. I recently had a dr. ask me a lot of questions concerning some syptoms that I did not have, just to see if he could give me a special kind of medication. It was like he was trying to just give me medicine even though I did not have the symptoms — so you have to really be careful and know what you need!

      At the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about it isn’t it — knowing what you need! That, and listening to your inner guide — it’s always there — you just have to be quiet enough to listen and then do what it says!!!!

      ALl the best to you, Ole! Stay healthy!!!

      Med venlig hilsen,
      Laura

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  7. Mettaj · · Reply

    Thanks for so helpful info!! I’m so agree with you and especially for point 1 and 8!!! I just argue with my dr. specialist that I won’t accept her decision and it supposed to be better service in Copenhagen than in Aarhus, where I lived there for 8 years with such better service to the patient than a big hospital like Rigshospital! I can’t be truth but that’s what I just experienced last Friday!

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  8. […] I have encountered this “shrugging of the shoulders” attitude and since I’ve spent months and even years to get proper treatment after […]

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  9. So interesting to hear this perpsective on the Danish healthcare system. My family lived in Denmark back in 1987, and when we had occaision to use the medical services, we were impressed with the efficiency and matter of fact-ness of the care received. We also felt a sense of safety and assurance knowing that having paid into the system (via income taxes) that it would be there without a doubt in a time of need. I would be willing to bet that the Danes’ overall health probably compares favorably to that of Americans… So maybe less hypochondria and more exercise, and healthier eating?

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  10. And make sure not to get sick on ANY sort of holidays. You won’t find any doctors in town that’s open except maybe the emergency room.

    Like

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