Expat Tips: When It’s Time to Call the Doctor

by farrah on March 23, 2015 · 1 comment

There are a few things I really miss about being back in the States. One of them, is the ease with which I could take care of any kind of medical situation with a quick dial of the phone, chat with a receptionist, and the making of an appointment. This sounds simple enough. Really, it should be. Chances are you’re not relishing the fact that something is wrong and you are at the mercy of the medical community at large to assist- so making this an obstacle or hump to get through as an expat can be one of the most frustrating things you do.

formOur emergency laminated form

We have been here just about two and a half years. In that time we’ve navigated child quasi-emergencies (late night sicknesses, bumps to the head, almost knocked out teeth) and adult appointments (check-ups, mysterious pains, my infamous stair tumble) without much panache or ease. This isn’t surprising. So while that might be the case, it still doesn’t make it any less frustrating when you have to buck up and get on the phone to call for help. That is, if you CAN. It’s rare that I can even make it though the automated menu.

Today this is what’s on my mind. I have a suspected hernia in one of my abdominal muscles and after seeing my ‘house doctor’ last week- he advised I have an echo. I’m not really sure what that is, but it sounds like an ultrasound type thing. Anyhow- he gave me a piece pf paper with some scribbles and some numbers and we agreed that I would go on Monday morning.

It’s now after 11am and I have been to the office and attempted two phone calls of my own and one to my husband in order to make this appointment. I couldn’t get through the menu, and when my husband tried he didn’t have the right codes. He told me the number to use on the menu to be directed to the right person- but once speaking to her it was clear that I didn’t have the right form or information to make the appointment in the first place. Back to the doctor I will go since calling didn’t do me any good when I tried that the last time.


Thankfully, when we arrived our relocation company supplied us with our dentist/doctor/emergency information on a laminated sheet. Over time I jotted down the correct number for each menu and I am now able to at least call the ones we see on a regular basis. I can’t stress enough how important this is to get out of the way as soon as you arrive in your expat location. I put together a few things to think about when you first arrive to help with what could be a very stressful situation:

  • Figure out who your house doc (or gp) might be right away. They see you and your kids and you’re going to need them for everything. If you don’t like who you have, ask for another one from your relo company (or if you’re on your own ask neighbors/parents at school for a recommendation). You don’t want to be caught with some kind of emergency with no idea what to do or who to call. Thankfully, my possible hernia situation isn’t dire and I can deal with another few days’ worth of waiting or logistics juggling.
  • Additionally, practice calling. Sounds stupid- but figure out the automated menu and write it on your emergency sheet. Learn the address of the office and the location of an after hours emergency building. Know how to tell someone in their language that you speak English, can they help? I always say: ‘Ik spreek Engels, is that ok?’ and from there they can at least say yes or hand me off to someone else.
  • Keep your BGNs handy. It’s like your social security number. They needed mine today just to make this appointment and since I didn’t know it I had to ask my husband what it was.
  • And just remember- our US ‘911’ is ‘112’. Know your address, phone number, and anything else. Sounds pretty basic- but when you are caught up in an emergency speaking to people where English isn’t their first language AND have a new address you’d be surprised at how quickly it can all jumble. Write that at the top of your laminated emergency info sheet.
  • Get to know your neighbors. Introduce yourselves. Force yourself to say hello. What if you have to go to the hospital yet you have other little kids still asleep? We’re in the land of not having relatives to help anymore. You are all you’ve got. Do what you can to rally a village if need be. Write their numbers on your emergency sheet too.

What has your experience been like calling/contacting a doctor? What tips might you offer someone who has just moved to a new country when it comes to safety or emergency situations?


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Ace CB March 23, 2015 at 12:30 pm

Ugh, oh no. I had an “echo” done in December (it is an ultrasound, btw) and had a lot of the same trying to call and make the appointment. They were also asking for all sorts of numbers – apparently I had to have already been registered in some magic system somewhere but it wasn’t even straightforward with hospital staff to get it done. And then they gave me entirely new and different numbers on location. I hope the huisarts’ office can/will help you out with this. Relax if you can – I know this sort of stuff is wicked stressful!


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