Getting Sick and Hospitalized in Europe!

by Michelle Johnson

Whether a graduation present, a family vacation, or a relaxing break from work, a trip to Europe is always heavily anticipated. Every traveler looks forward to the European sights available for the lucky tourist: Renaissance art for the intellectual, Roman ruins for the historian, Alpine mountains for the adventurous, and the Mediterranean Sea for the carefree. However, whatever tops your “to do” list, a two-night stay in a Swiss hospital rarely hogs the number one spot. So how did a bizarre hospitalization become one of my most memorable European experiences? Take an American tourist; add a pinch of kidney infection, one punk rock star doctor, and spice it up with a German-speaking medical center. Now that’s a story. 

It was a dark and stormy night… Actually it wasn’t, because I was on the computer reading e-mails and everyone knows that being on the computer during a thunderstorm is dangerous. The e-mail was from David McGuffin about my approaching European vacation, detailing the optional health insurance coverage available for prospective tourists. I read it carefully. I deleted it immediately.

“I’ll never need it. Nothing like that could ever happen to me.” I thought. And fell flat on my face, tripping over one of the most cliché misconceptions. Still, for the first half of my trip I was right, nothing bad did happen until our first day in Italy’s Cinque Terre. I began to have intense chills accompanied by violent shivering although the local temperature was a blistering 4000 F (that may not have been the exact temperature because honestly, who can convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit?). I sat in my bed wrapped in every article of my clothing that was still clean and watched in a fevered blur as my roommates flauntingly jumped and frolicked in their tank tops and bathing suits. While everyone else enjoyed the true Cinque Terre, hiking swimming, and feasting, I laid in bed too weak to hike, too cold to swim, popping Tylenol fever reducers like candy.

By the time we reached Switzerland, David demanded that I see a doctor and kindly arranged an appointment at a local clinic. We both felt confident that since the doctor’s office was only a few houses down from our hotel, I could go alone while he guided the group through the Swiss Alps. The doctor spoke English and I explained my symptoms: fevers, pains in my side, and vomiting. I also mentioned that I had had problems with my kidneys since my early youth. He responded cheerfully with needles and a blood test.

I waited patiently for the results. Again, my doctor approached with a cheerful smile. I felt safe and relieved as he handed me two boxes of medicine. I could feel his smile being mirrored on my own face. The Swiss were masters of medicine, kings of the kidney, rulers of the renal system, emperors of the excretory system!

My doctor took a breath and I waited in awe of his medical expertise. “We don’t have the capabilities in this clinic to tell if you have a kidney obstruction, though we are sure you do have a kidney infection. We want you to go to the hospital in Interlaken, have an ultrasound done, and come back here after we make sure there is no obstruction.”

My smile faded. Interlaken was a 15-minute drive away. How would I get there? “How will I get there?” I asked.

My doctor smiled his cheerful smile again, although by now I wasn’t as taken in by it. “Don’t worry. We will call a taxi for you.” He continued to smile. I began to worry.

A few minutes later, the taxi arrived. Except it wasn’t a taxi, because it was Ursula, the owner of the hotel where we were staying in Laterbrunnen who volunteered to take time away from her busy hotel-running schedule to drive me to the hospital in Interlaken. I felt extremely guilty for imposing on Ursula’s valuable time, and as I climbed into her small fiat, I tried to make small talk in a peculiar and insufficient attempt to repay her kindness. Our conversation went as follows:

Me: So you live in Laterbrunnen?”

Ursula: “Yes.”

Me: “ How interesting.”


Me: “So you manage the hotel with your husband?”

Ursula: “Yes”

Me: “How interesting.”


Me: “Er..this is nice weather.”

Ursula: “Yes.”

Me: “ Ummm…how interesting.”


 Thankfully, we arrived at the hospital in ten minutes instead of 15. This might have been because Ursula was desperately trying to get me out of her car so I would not talk to her anymore. Nevertheless, she patiently waited while I received an ultrasound. The new doctor frowned and grunted at gray blurs on the screen while poking me with what looked like a baby monitor with hair gel on it.

I was just thinking fondly about how one could get used to misleading cheerful smiles when the new doctor stated flatly, “You have a kidney infection.”

Well, I knew that. No big deal. I already had medicine to make it better. “No obstruction?” I asked, taking his omission as a negation of such a complication.

He didn’t answer, and in my mind I translated his German silence into an English “no”.

“Okay” I smiled, feeling reassured. “Just a kidney infection.”

My new doctor did not smile cheerfully. Instead, he cocked an eyebrow and frowned at me. “Just a kidney infection?” He repeated. But for some reason I didn’t think that he was simply making sure he heard me correctly.

My doctor followed me to the lobby and spoke to Ursula in German. I watched the transaction stupidly, looking from one to the other like a spectator watching a tennis match. Except it was more like a spectator who didn’t really understand the game, but really liked that bright bouncing yellow ball.

Hopefully, one day Michelle will enlighten us on the rest of her adventures…. She stayed in the hospital for two days and then was released.  She and her teacher took the train to Paris where they met up with their tour group. – David

About the Author
David McGuffin established David McGuffin's Exploring Europe, Inc. in 2001 to formally offer European tours. Since then, he has taken several thousand satisfied customers on memorable and educational tours to Europe.

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