Baby’s First Hospital Visit in Brussels, Belgium

By sandra - March 22, 2013 (Updated: December 1, 2014)

Taking your baby to the ER is always scary

Taking your baby to the ER is always scary, even more so in a new country!

It’s scary enough visiting the hospital as an adult expat. But what do you do when your child falls ill outside of your paediatrician’s office hours? Today, our guest blogger, Sandra tells us about her baby’s first visit to the Emergency Room in Brussels.

Any new parent can tell you how anxiety laden it can feel the first time their precious, brand new baby gets sick. Usually all is well; you call the paediatrician, explain the symptoms and he or she assesses whether it is wise to bring your child in to see them or not. Unless, of course, it’s the weekend, the middle of the night, or a holiday which, sure enough, is usually when my children decide to fall ill.

The first time this happened to us was almost 4 years ago, but I can still remember it clearly. 3am, my little almost 4 month old Sprout couldn’t settle himself to sleep, his tired eyes looking up at me, unable to nurse, constantly vomiting. We weren’t sure what was going on, but knew he had a hernia that could become blocked and require urgent surgery. After debating for a short while if we really should take him out into the cold August night (this is Belgium – August nights can be cold) to the emergency room, or wait until morning and call his paediatrician, we bundled him up and headed to Cliniques Universitaires St-Luc.

Triage was quick. St. Luc is one of the hospitals in Brussels providing a paediatric emergency service (you can find a full list, with lots of useful information on hospitalising a child in Belgium), so there is a paediatrician on call 24/7. We were seen quite quickly. I honestly don’t even recall sitting in the waiting room. The paediatric emergency rooms are quite cold. Freezing cold actually, even in the summer, so if ever you go there be prepared!

The Assistant was with us briefly, taking notes, checking blood pressure (with this ridiculous machine which they ALWAYS use as part of the admissions protocol, but never seems to give an accurate reading for small children, so they ALWAYS end up dismissing the results in the end), etc. It was a severe enough case to warrant calling the ER Paediatrician who had us run x-rays and ordered an ultrasound.

That’s when the real wait began. The ultrasound technician was already busy with a life or death case and the regular service only opened at 8.30, which meant we waited for many hours. In the meantime, everyone was very kind and helpful, although I find it curious (to say the least) the only food available in the hospital was waffles, and coffee or soft drinks were the only beverages – no water.

Baby Sprout recovering after a hospital visit

Baby Sprout recovering after a hospital visit

After running all necessary tests, and giving us quite thorough explanations as to what was going on, they reached an agreement that the hernia was indeed blocked and urgent surgery was required. Our little Sprout was admitted to hospital for a two day stay, for the oedema from unblocking the hernia to heal, so they could perform surgery.

St. Luc is quite obviously NOT a shiny new hospital. However, we did find it to be very clean and efficient. The staff was quite friendly and one of the parents (obviously me, in this case, since I was breastfeeding) is allowed to stay in the room overnight. There is a room on the paediatric ward where parents can relax a bit and have their meals. A microwave and sink is available for heating up food and washing up. I was working, at the time, and ended up counting those days I had to take off work as leave instead of days off to support a sick child, so I could benefit from full pay.

We have a paediatric surgeon in the family who immediately put us at ease, informing us that the paediatric surgical unit of St. Luc was one of the best in Europe, and the surgeon in charge of the operation was quite famous (mostly for hepatic transplants).

On the day of the surgery, one of us was allowed to go in with Sprout for the general anaesthesia and again to be there for recovery so our face was the first he saw upon waking up. He was also allowed to take a stuffed animal into the operating room, which I found sweet.

Everything went wonderfully with the surgery and we were out the next day. Follow-up visits had much more of a wait, because St. Luc is such a busy hospital. If I recall correctly, all we paid out of our own pockets was about €100 and we don’t have any special insurance plan, just Euromut’s normal plan.

Since this first time, we have been in and out of ERs with the kids, countless times (did I mention they always get sick when their paediatrician is unavailable?) for far less serious issues. In Brussels, we’ve only ever been to St. Luc and St. Elisabeth. In my modest opinion, St. Luc is by far the superior choice, even though it isn’t as shiny and new as St. Elisabeth.

Quite frankly, the only advantage I find to St. Elisabeth is speed and the fact records are linked to our sons’ paediatrician at St. Michel. I find the ER staff to be quite rude and unhelpful. The last two times we’ve been there, the doctor seeing us told me to undress my son pointing to a gurney with a dirty white sheet with specks of blood on it. Both times, I had to point out I was not going to lay my child on a dirty hospital bed in order for them to change it. Follow-up calls for test results are worse than calling an IT helpline, and when you finally reach the doctor, there is not even the most basic hello. I don’t question their technical capability, but the human factor is a sub-par.

Bottom line, if ever I thought my children could have something seriously wrong, in Brussels, I would take them to St. Luc University Hospital or the also well-reputed Queen Fabiola’s Children’s University Hospital. I’m sure there are other good ones, as well, and would love to hear your recommendations, as well as hospitals to steer clear of, in the comments below.

Looking for more resources for living in Belgium? Check out our Expat Resources page.

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Sandra Amorim is a Portuguese-American expat living with her family in Brussels since 2006. Former legal consultant, she now stays home to parent her two Brussels born boys, also known as Sprout 1 and Sprout 2. She writes at BxlSprout where she shares her thoughts and experiences on parenthood in Brussels and beyond. You can email her or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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  1. Comment by Lia

    Lia March 22, 2013 at 11:53

    Hi Sandra, I have to agree with you the ‘warmth’ of the staff especially when taking a child to the ER is very important.

    Last year we had 3 ER visits with our little guy and Reine Fabiola was the hospital we chose. The last ER visit turned into a 6 day hospital stay (since he had a pretty bad abcess). The wait has always been pretty reasonable, maximum 15 min.(And never problems with it being cold in the room)

    The facility is pretty old, recently they are doing lots of work to paint and ‘freshen up’ the place . (they are also doing work outside, so getting to the ER was a bit of a maze when we went)
    They have a playroom for the children and during the day a volunteer from the Red Cross comes around with a ‘floating library’. As far as food, one must leave the floor to buy anything; making a one parent stay a bit tricky. Unless one asks if it possible to have a meal brought as well.

    For the bathroom situation there is one for the children for every 2 rooms (right outside the door) for adults there is a communal shower/toilet mid floor. (there are also other bathrooms without a shower)

    I have to add to your list of hospitals Leuven Gasthuisberg campus which I have to say for pediatrics is very good. I have had a pretty busy 3 yrs with visiting hospitals for my son’s health and in Leuven the staff has always been nice.

    A big hug to you and your Sprouts 🙂


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  3. Comment by -Agnes-

    -Agnes- March 22, 2013 at 15:15

    Just been to a children’s hospital ER in Dublin, Ireland…. our case wasn’t life threatening so we ended up sitting for 2 hours in a crowded waiting room in order to get a urine sample. 2 hours didn’t seem that bad but my, have I been regretting it since… Next time we are going to produce that sample walking the streets with baby in the pram, I can tell you. After no illness whatsoever in her 8 and a half months of age, we all caught a pretty bad stomach flu. I had it first, without even eating or drinking anything in that room, but I had been using a fabric handkerchief for my cold might have helped transferring the airborn virus into my system. Next time it’s back to disposable tissues, at least around sick people…. sitting in a closed room with lots of sick children, some of which were attending for diarrhea and vomiting (which they didn’t do in the ER while I was there, but the parents told me) wasn’t best for our health.

  4. Comment by Raf deroo

    Raf deroo March 22, 2013 at 17:44

    Do not take your children to the Leopoldskliniek in Etterbeek, because, although they have an ER reception, they refuse to treat little children. We brought in our 3 yr old, half unconscious after a fall on her head and we were refused access. This illegal practise is well known in the surrounding hospitals and considered highly illegal. do go to the brussels’ hospitals with complete ER services, like St Luc, Etterbeek- Elsene or St Elisabeth (in Brussels’ east).

  5. Comment by Sandra

    Sandra March 22, 2013 at 22:57

    Lia, wow! Sounds like you’re quite experienced with hospitals! Good to know the children’s hospital is indeed quite good, and great tip regarding the one in Leuven. Hope your little guy is doing good now. Hugs

  6. Comment by Sandra

    Sandra March 22, 2013 at 23:03

    Oh, Agnes! I know what you mean! I hated taking Sprout 1 to his well visits because he entered healthy and nearly always came out sick. Nothing as bad as a stomach flu (hope you’ve recovered), but still… I say yes to walking the streets. Definitely. I always cringe when I see my little ones wanting to play with the toys available as well, or with the other children for that matter.

  7. Comment by Baiba

    Baiba April 13, 2013 at 13:59

    Thank you , Sandra for the “hospital review” :)! I truly hope and wish that Sprouts are in excellent health by now and so are you both!
    We had to go to St.Luc emergence last december after a stair-fall of my little one. It turned out fine (he was all by him best self already in witinfg roomn, but that was for being sure. Well that time also was good lesson for me for, hopefully no next times, but still – evaluate weather it is neccessary to head to the ER. I think the whole evening in its unpleasancy was divided in two parts – the Fact and Being in ER. The staff was healpful and all was fine, but the waiting – that same heart rate machine that was not working in the 1st room again waiting.. then dr. worries about my sons elevated heart rate (he was obviously freaked-out, of course his heart rate is not as he would be sound asleep!)..again more waiting… But it is still good to know that St.Luc is in 10min reach if neccessary !

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