A whole new set of medicines

When you’ve lived in one place all of your life, you assume that illnesses are treated in the same way in different countries (at least, that’s what I assumed). Sort of like, if you go to the doctor with A, the doctor will prescribe B. But I’ve come to realize that each country has their own interesting remedies. In Mexico, when I had traveller’s diarrhoea and the usual Imodium wasn’t working, my friend’s brother (a doctor) suggested Pepto-bismal, a thick pink liquid. It worked immediately and consistently. Thrilled with this new discovery, I looked for it the next time I had an upset stomach in South Africa, but couldn’t find it anywhere. What a loss. We used to have another great diarrhoea / colic medicine in South Africa called Chamberlain’s that was great for treating stomach cramps. Unfortunately they stopped selling it. A google search revealed a forum of people who were really missing this medicine. Apparently the small company producing Chamberlain’s was bought by a larger company, and this company then stopped making the product.

Even the approach to illness can be different in different countries. In South Africa (and many other countries), people often feel bad about taking sick leave unless they are very ill, and often come to work with a cold or flu, which only spreads the germs to colleagues and is usually counter-productive. In Germany there is more a tendency to encourage staying at home to rest and recover, and not to come in and spread the germs around. There are some people who seem to take more sick leave than is necessary, but in general it’s nice to be able to stay at home when you feel ill, and not feel obliged to come in to work and struggle through it.

The willingness of doctors to put you off work really surprised me in the beginning though. Soon after starting my new job, I went to a doctor to check on a sore elbow and a little finger that had been numb for a while. I must have somehow compressed or damaged the ulnar nerve (as a neurologist said later). While she was asking me about it, the doctor asked “Does it interfere with your sleeping at night?” To an extent it did as it was only comfortable to sleep on one side, so I mentioned this. Immediately she got out her little notepad and wrote me a month long prescription for sleeping pills, and then put me off work “indefinitely”! I thanked her politely but never filled in the prescription or took the time off work – imagine leaving indefinitely when I’d just started the new job! And I’d rather change my sleeping position than take sleeping pills. The neurologist later told me it should heal gradually on its own, which it did.

Shortly after that, I went to a pharmacy to buy some probiotics, since I’d had problems with my gut since moving to Germany, and it was getting increasingly worse. Perhaps I just wasn’t used to the new food. Instead of just handing over some probiotics, the pharmacist interrogated me about my symptoms. She was very nice, and very enthusiastic, but as she asked in a very loud, very clear voice: “Do you have troubles to go, or do you go too much?” I found myself glancing around the shop, wondering who was witnessing this. When the answer was “both” (my gut seemed to be having a nervous breakdown) she held up a bottle of pills and boomed “These will help you! They will remove the wind and help you to go!” I took them quickly and fled, and only examined them upon getting home. It turned out they were not, in fact, probiotics, but something to do with schwein. Using google translate, I found out, to my horror, that it was pulverized pig pancreas, and even better, in the form of chewable tablets. I guess the helpful pharmacist had figured I needed the extra enzymes to help me digest my food. Now I am not a pork fan at the best of times, and squeamish about eating organs such as liver or kidney, so it is a testimony to the severity of my gut troubles that I actually tried the pig pancreas. At least they were pineapple flavoured. I wouldn’t say they were entirely useless – they seemed to help a bit – but when I was still having gut pains I finally went to another pharmacist, who handed me probiotics without attempting any diagnosis, and two to three days after taking them all the pain disappeared.

That said, I have quite enjoyed trying different medicines and remedies, as you never know when you might find something useful, and some of the suggestions work quite well. Before moving to Germany I was quite healthy, but since moving here I’m sick all the time with colds and bronchitis for some reason, so I’ve certainly had the opportunity to try things out. I do like the selection of sugarfree sucking sweets that they have here for throat problems or preventing coughing. There are interesting new flavours like sage (a herb that is good for sore throats), sanddorn (an orange berry) and Holunder (elderflower – I can’t get enough of the taste of this). They sell a huge array of herbal teas here too, including several versions of Hustentee (teas for cough). Some of them soothe your cough, others make you cough more. A popular tablet for cough here seems to be gelomyrtol forte, made from several plant oils – in Germany they seem to prefer more natural remedies. There is also a medicine called “Icelandic moss”, made from a lichen, that is supposed to soothe a cough. That’s another new medicine I haven’t seen at home. But there is one cold remedy that seems to be global: hot water with lemon and honey (here called Heisse Citrone). Some people add fresh ginger too. Although it doesn’t seem to affect the duration of the cold, it is definitely soothing. As they say, without treatment, a cold lasts 7 days. With treatment, it lasts a week.

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