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.
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.
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