I started having heart palpitations for the first time this weekend. At first I wasn’t too concerned, but when they lasted into Monday and I found myself lightheaded and out-of-breath by early afternoon, I started thinking about how there are all these studies that talk about how heart diseases manifest differently in women, who often don’t go to the hospital until it’s too late. I decided to get checked out just in case.
I had written earlier about how frustrating it was to enroll in Swiss health insurance so I had assumed the entire healthcare system was a giant mess and had avoided going to the doctor up until this point. Today my mind was definitely changed for the better.
I went to an emergency clinic highly recommended by a colleague. The receptionist took my insurance card and handed me a simple one-page form to fill out. I waited for 10 minutes before a nurse met with me to ask about my symptoms. She was thorough and patient. After 10 minutes with her, I went back into the waiting room and waited for maybe 45 minutes. It was long enough of a wait that I dialed in to a work conference call.
After that, they took me into a separate room and things got intense really fast. I had to change into a hospital gown, then lie down on a bed. The doctor came in and listened to my heart. Nobody’s English at the clinic was stellar (not that they need to be, of course), but it was extra challenging for him. He would begin a sentence in English and switch halfway into French, and it looked to be a genuinely strenuous effort. Later, when a nurse came in to check on something, she mentioned offhandedly that the doctor was from Spain. “Hold up, what?” I exclaimed. “I speak Spanish! Are you saying he and I could have been communicating in Spanish this whole time?”
The nurse must have relayed this discovery to the doctor, because the next time he came in, he regarded me with suspicion. “You just told me earlier that you were from the United States,” he said in Spanish. “How is it that you can speak Spanish?”
I got hooked up to a machine for an ECG test, something I didn’t expect would need to happen. The young nurse who attached the electrodes and wires to me, Anais, was super sweet. She apologized for her poor English (for the record, it was totally fine). Later, I heard her in the hallway talking to another nurse, in French, about me. “The patient from the United States, I try to speak English, but my English is not good! I only know the most basic words, like shopping.”
The heart monitor didn’t seem to work at first and spouted off insane numbers, and the doctor and the other nurse stood watching it, captivated by the rapidly changing charts. “It is crazy!” They said to each other, more mesmerized and less concerned about fixing the machine. Inexplicably, the doctor only spoke in Spanish and the nurse only responded in French, and they seemed to understand each other just fine.
Next up was a blood test, which again was not something I expected. Nurse Anais pushed a very painful needle into my left arm and held it there. I was stressed out from the abundance of unnecessary tests, and I was cold in the hospital gown, so I started trembling involuntarily. The other nurse left and returned with a white blanket, wrapping me in it.
I finally left the clinic after 2.5 hours. According to the doctor, I am fine, and also I need to see a cardiologist. He said that I had a soplo in my heart, a murmur. “Do not be too stressed,” the doctor warned me in Spanish. And later, in English: “I hope you get well.”
Before I left, I inquired at the reception desk whether I needed to pay, since when I lived in DC, I had to put down a $50 co-pay on the spot whenever I visited the emergency clinic. I was told that they’d bill me afterwards, but it is unclear how much I am on the hook for after all of these lab tests, and I am afraid to ask. I hope they do not cause me further heart palpitations.