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A Healthy Surprise

By - October 10, 2005 (Updated: November 30, 2014)


Visiting the doctor is not generally my favorite way to pass the time, but when you have to deal with the medical system in a new country, it can be even more intimidating.

I always used to be a pretty healthy person; I never even had the typical kid sicknesses like chickenpox or measles; I only ever fractured my wrist in high school and aside from the normal colds and flues I was fine … until I hit university.

Late in my university life, I started getting all kinds of unexplained and very strange aches and pains. Doctors were never able to diagnose anything specific and I ended up taking a variety of pain killers.

I had another bout of pain two years ago — this time in my leg. It didn’t go away like the others and my leg swelled up to twice its normal size. I ended up in the emergency room where I was informed I had a major blood clot. It required daily injections, a few months of bed rest and lots and lots of tests to try and determine why it happened.

Since then, I’ve had more blood taken for tests then most people will in their whole lives. The result is that I am on medication daily and have to have my blood tested monthly. Other than that, it doesn’t really affect my daily life. Until I move to a new country that is …

With my prescription running out and my blood test long overdue, I needed to find a doctor in Belgium. And while I can get by in French and Flemish, dealing with medical jargon in English is difficult enough before trying it in another language. My medical records are also in English!

Besides, I had no idea if I could even choose my own doctor. When I lived in the Netherlands, doctors were assigned based on where you live.

However, my Belgian neighbor informed me that I was free to choose my own medical professional and she recommended a couple whom she thought spoke fluent English. One was even located in our tiny town.

So appointment made and with Andrew along for moral support, I set out in search of the office. Since I’m used to visiting doctors in medical centers or office buildings, I wasn’t prepared for what I found.

My new doctor worked out of her home. It was an evening appointment, so we had to be buzzed in. We entered a small waiting room with two closed doors. There was no receptionist counter and no one came out to meet us. We sat tentatively and waited.

One of the blessings and curses of being Canadian is public healthcare. We complain about the inefficiency, the long wait times and the doctor shortages. But we fervently defend our national system from privatization. That said, I was used to waiting for hours to see my doctor.

Within several minutes, one of the doors opened and my new doctor appeared. She ushered us into the surgery. I explained what I needed, expecting to be re-directed to the nearest blood collection facility which undoubtedly would have the world’s most inconvenient hours.

But instead, the doctor asked me to sit on the table, and she proceeded to take my blood then and there. I could call for the results the next evening. That evening, she was doctor, nurse and receptionist.

I was given a new prescription which could be filled at the pharmacy down the road — her brother’s.

Total time: 15 minutes. Total cost: EUR 19. And it didn’t hurt a bit.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison Cornford-Matheson
- 3 months ago
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