1,5 years in Sweden

It’s now 13 months that I was writing something here in my English blog and I’m wondering how fast the time is passing… In these 13 months happened so much! Now I’m sitting here, trying to concentrate on what happened and when it happened. I’m getting old… or maybe I’m getting “less young” as I use to say to my patients 🙂 .

Wonderful nature!

Actually the big events in life are only few but the small things in our daily-routine are keeping us more busy. Being stressed, tired, jumping from one appointment to another…

Well, I don’t want to discuss it philosophically (although it would be interesting).

1,5 years… Well, in the beginning it was really tough to learn Swedish within 3,5 month. Most of the people here are able to speak English but the language at the street, the school, hospital, bank – let’s say everywhere – is (what a surprise! 🙂 ) Swedish. Of course… To speak Swedish after the language course was like running a marathon on two crutches. You can walk, you will reach the finish but it takes time to get there. The language course and its structure was really great. One key-factor was that after we had passed half of the course we went twice a week to the places where we would work later. That was a fantastic training! When we started to work after 3,5 month we knew already our colleagues, the place and a bit about the routines.

I don’t know which season is more fascinating: Summer? Winter?

In january last year started to work in Rattvik, a 8000 people village, approx. 50 km to the northeast of Falun. The road to Rattvik is really nice: forrest, forrest, forrest. The road is climbing some hills, crossing small rivers and finally a great view on the Lake Siljan. My working place is something that I would describe as a “Primary Health Care Center”. We have doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, people who are doing some kind of psychotherapy (“light”) and we should also have therapist who takes care about hand- and work-related problems. I don’t know how many patients we have but people have to drive up to 60 km to reach us. Sweden is a big country with a small population, the distances are huge and it’s not rare that women have to give birth in the car. The next hospital is 50 km from our center.

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Our house in Falun – so nice!

We have found a wonderful appartment in Falun, the capital of Dalarna province. With around 38.000 people it has approximately the same size as Isa Town (Bahrain). The area it’s a bit smaller as Manama-City (Bahrain). The house is an old school from the beginning of the 20th century, renovated 2012, with large rooms (former classrooms). Our appartement has only one room but this one is really big! Behind the house a hill and forrest. Sometimes I see deers when I’m leaving in the morning. That’s really nice – and quiet!!! 🙂

Now, one and a half year later we’re going to leave this wonderful appartment. But not only the appartment but even Sweden. Why? Well that’s difficult to describe with few words.

The job turned out to be tough. More than I had thought. Primary Care is not just sickleaves, prescriptions for people who have a sore throat or teenagers who have these small little yellow spots in the face. The GP is overwhelmed by the whole spectrum of  diseases, problems and what I would call “disturbances of sensitivities“. The GP is also somehow the “doorman”, the “gatekeeper”. He has to filter this mix of “sickness-light” (that he can treat himself),  seriously sick people and clowns. Not everyone needs to meet a super-specialist. By the way: there is actually no real chance to decide as a patient to consult a cardiologist/neurologist/whatever-specialist in Sweden! In big cities it’s now possible to do that but doctors with their own clinic are very rare and almost exotic in the rest of Sweden!

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Twice a year: market in Rattvik, one of the biggest in Sweden but actually nothing special…

The Swedish system is somehow socialistic. In public areas such as the health sector there is a poor conception of service. Of course there is nowadays also a lack of money in Sweden and the Swedish health system but globally I see two different ways of “making money” and “saving money”. Sometimes it’s the same. In most countries that I know the people who are working in the health care system try to make money. They’re making advertisments, trying to make it more comfortable for their patients (clients), doing for example more diagnostic just to rise their income even if it’s not necessary. If it is private then it’s the patient who has to pay. That’s not really fair. If it is the insurance or the state (tax) who is paying then it’s not fair either – we all are paying. BUT: the patient (and his money) is getting more attention. So if you fell in love with the idea to get a colonoscopy and you will pay cash then you will get it here and now (even without preparation 🙂 )

In Sweden: no chance without a referral letter. BUT: even with this referral letter from a GP you often have no chance! I’m not joking! The specialists in the hospitals are sending the referral letter back with a note that they don’t want/cannot take the patient. That means that I’m not getting help from the specialist there and the patient has actually the bigger problem. The doctors in the primary health care are getting more and more things to do, more and more responsibility without getting authority and respect in return.

It seems that the specialists in the hospitals are just picking what they want. And if they’re taking the patients: often they put them on the waiting list and that a patient has to wait 6 months or 1.5 years (!!!) is not rare but often!!! Some time ago many patients died because they had to wait too long time… Now they have introduced a fast track for some cancer deseases but this only works if you have good reasons to justify your referral letter. That means in fact that you have to know already the diagnose before you can send the patient.  – But if it is accepted the it’s working quickly.

So all this blocking of patients, to refuse patients and to argue cost a lot of time and power. I’m feeling like an lawyer for the patient.

At least “some fun”: free condoms for the 15-25 years old (actually to obtain from the midwife 🙂 )

Another point is strengthening this feeling: the sick-leave procedure. In all countries I know the doctor has to write a short note about the diagnose and the duration of how long the patient cannot work. Then the insurance or the authority has to accept and if they’re not satisfied then they can refuse it but usually thet send their own doctors to check if the patient is able to work or not. This is another big difference to Sweden: Here I have to write a paper that is two pages long and I have to fill in several spaces. There I have to justify why the patient is not able to work. OK, so far so good. When I was writing the first sick-leaves, they came back. “You need to complete” was written there. OK. So I was writing again. And again the paper came back. This cost a lot of time and meanwhile the patient doesn’t get any money from the insurance if it is not fast enough. So I was completing again and wondering wtf I should write there. Then came one of my elderly colleagues. He was just shaking his head. “You cannot write it like that” and he was smiling. Why? I just wrote normal medical terms, international medical language! “No, that’s not possible. You have to write if you were explaining something to small children”. What??? But why? – “Because, the people who are sitting there and who are deciding if the sick-leave is accepted have no – NO- medical education usually.” Whaaaaaat???? Yes that’s true… There is one doctor in the background they could ask but they have the order to reduce the number of sick-leaves to get a better statistic and to save money. And: they’re getting points or something if they are doing a “good” job.

What kind of sick system is it? After 180 days it is extremely difficult for the patient to get money at all as I understood. Most of the people don’t need so much time but nowadays there is a growing number of chronically ill patients: back pain because of a disc, burn-out-syndrome, depression etc. There exist a pain-center in this province but there are so many people waiting for a chance that the center said that only patients that we treated in the primary health centers without any success for 6 months are accepted. At least accepted to wait for a chance. That means the patients are sick, cannot work (they are getting less money from the insurance) and we’re trying to help them. Then after 6 month we can send them but the insurance is saying “180 days – no money”. Then it is a hard fight for the patients and us as their “lawyers”. At the same time they have not even seen the pain-center from outside…

 

“You need to be healthy to be able to be sick”

It’s the whole package that makes me and other colleagues tired – and sick. In my center is only one specialist working full-time. He was in my Swedish course and is actually quite funny. But even he got once angry and said “I didn’t come to Sweden to be only busy with sick-leaves” (it takes sometimes 1 hour!). The center needs actually 6-7 specialists plus junior doctors like me. The other specialists are only working “sometimes”: 3 days a week or every second week, 50% and so on. One colleague repeated to ask me several time “You really, REALLY want to become a family doctor?” Now I understand why he asked me that way…

Another said “You have to expect a burn-out. I’m only working 50% because I want to avoid it”. Maybe he had it before… (?) A third one told me that he had a burn-out before and was 1.5 years sick. When he came back and tried to work 50% the insurance decided that he is also able to work the other 50%. They were offering to cut the grass on the street during this time. He said “thanks a lot” and retired.

My room (a picture from Oman in the background 🙂 )

It’s a strange system here, even more strange than in other countries. I didn’t expect that from a such highly developed country who is among the nations that are reminding other people to show humanity to others. “You need to be healthy to be able to be sick” said one retired colleague…

I have to say that these are my impressions and my experiences. There are also many people who are trying their best to make it better. I’m sure there are others who have much better experiencenses and who love to live here.

I cannot say that everything is bad but I cannot continue to work that way. I don’t want to get a burn-out and I don’t want to adopt this attitude of neglectance.

Ok, that’s all for today but I will describe little bit more the life here in on the countryside in Sweden later on…

Hope you enjoyed it!

 

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English, Svenska or “Svengelska”?

Svenska is the Swedish word for “Swedish”. So far so good. But what is this language like?

The sound and melody of the Swedish language was somehow strange for me – before I learned it. It was like all these nordic languages a mix of tortured vowels and konsonants. Actually I could not say if a person speaks Swedish, Norwegian, Danish or even Finish. It was just a miracle for me.

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The difficulty to learn a new language

Swedish might be the easiest of all Scandinavian languages. The Swedish king ruled once in whole Scandinavia and even parts in Russia and Germany were occupied.

Swedish, as a north germanic language belongs to the same family as Danish, Norwegian, German, English, Dutch… . Therefore we can find many similarities between all these languages. In my opiniond can we find a minor influence of English if we compare it with the impact of the German language for example.

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“å” is “o”

That makes it easier for Germans and Dutch people to learn Swedish but it is still a foreign language. It has three special character: the “å” (like “o” in English), the “ä” (like “ie” in “friends”) and the “ö” (I have no idea how to describe it…). The last two characters exist also in German but the “å” is quite unique.

 

A try to explain my shrinking English skills…

I noted that I started to think in Swedish. I’m even writing with a Swedish word-order (sometimes) which is wrong in English. The verb comes almost always at the second place, like in German.

An example:

English: Yesterday, I met some friends… .

Swedisch: Igor (Yesterday)  träffade (met) jag (I)  vänner (friends)

The funny thing is: The Swedish word-order should be easy for Germans because it’s almost the same in German. But people who learned English make surprisingly the same misstakes like people who spoke only English and have never learned German!

Some people are also mixing English and Swedish. “Svengelska” is the right expression for that (“Engelska” =  English and “Svenska” for Swedish). But I think only teenager and foreigners are mixing bot languages.

 

More headache with learning Swedish

Another really difficult thing is the definite and (un)definite article (the car/a car). In many languages it is only important if it is female or male (English, French, Arabic). In German and Russian e.g. we need female (f), male (m), neutrum (n)which makes it harder to study these languages. The Swedish system ignores it absolutely. They use only “en” or “ett”. And when you start to learn Swedish you cannot know if it is an “en”-word or an “ett”-word. And: the definite article become a part of the word!

English:                                      German:

a car/girl/man                   ein Auto(n)/eine Frau (woman, female)/ein Mann (a man)

the car/girl/…                    das Auto/die Frau/der Mann

Swedish:

en bil (a car)/ ett barn (a child)                        bilen (the car) / barnet (the child)

What the…??? Yes!!! It becomes a suffix! I have to say: This is really strange! And difficult by the way, especially the question if it is “en” or “ett”…

By the way: “ett” means also “one”…

 

 

Back to school!

Hi guys, after some days I have finally managed to continue my blog…

So, as described above, we spent our first month in Sweden in the tiny student’s “apartment”. Actually we didn’t have time to reflect thoroughly on our “first steps” in this country. On the 1st of September my language course started – exactly two days after we had come to Sweden. From then I had to learn Swedish. Six hours a day.  Plus two hours of homework. The first week was still quite an easy one. From week two we were only allowed to speak Swedish at school.

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View from our “apartment” – with a rainbow

 

The group was quite heterogeneous: two other German doctors, two German nurses, an Estonian guy who was of Azerbaijani origin, a Polish doc, a Serbian psychologist, a nurse from Iceland, a doc from Somalia who had studied in Italy and worked for many years in London and last but not least a physician from Belgium who looked like Mr. Bean. Many people with different backgrounds. That’s what I like.

I was sitting next to Ramid, the Estonian guy. The former Soviet Republic Estonia belongs to the Baltic states like Lithuania (hey Waldemaras!) or Latvia. Ramid’s father came as a soldier to this country and settled in Tallin, it’s capital. Because of the Soviet occupation many Estonians were forced to speak Russian and there is still a big Russian community in the country.

Ramid was a really funny, good humored guy and we made a lot of jokes, sometimes in English, sometimes in Russian. He was the person who reminded me most of the people in the Middle East. He was warm-hearted, outgoing and not so “cold” as the Swedes seemed to be at first. He gave me the feeling of being still in Bahrain…

The first weeks were really tough. Within two months we rushed restless through the whole Swedish grammar. There was almost no time to fix all the information in the brain. Still, every evening we had to fix the “läxa” (homework).

 

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Faluån – the little river devides Falun in 2 pieces. (å = Swedish, river)

 

After two months we were “ready” for the “real life”: We had only three days at school, the rest two we had to go to our working places to get used to the future colleagues and the Swedish language.

 

Plugga! Plugga! Plugga! – Study! Study! Study!

That was the next exhausting experience because everyone was talking to us only in Swedish (not really surprising, isn’t it?). The Swedes were really helpful and tried their hardest to speak clearly and slowly. Only if we didn’t understand anything at all they would switch to English. That was a stressful but also a very beneficial experience. Our brain nearly exploded after each “reality-day” but we started learning very quickly.

I have to say, our two language teachers were really brilliant. The first one, Helene, was from Kiruna, a city in the north of Sweden and married to a Romanian man. She was very open-minded and supportive – something that we started to appreciate later on even more.

Our second teacher, Christine, was originally from Switzerland, having lived for more than 20 years in Sweden. She helped us as much as she could, too.  Helene and Christine were really great! An amazing teaching strategy combined with wonderful personal qualities! They managed to motivate us and helped us to succeed in the language course.

After four and half months of intensive studying we had our final exam in Swedish and almost everyone passed. But even for those who didn’t pass the test Helene and Christine found a solution: a weekly personal language training alongside the job. In other countries the working contract would have been cancelled and the people would have to leave…

 

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Saudi dates – I’m missing Middle East!!!!

Heading North

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Hey guys,

this is my first post in my english blog. For the German version go to http://www.docmatti.wordpress.com

I’m just starting and I’ll continue writing regularily…

Well, it’s now more than half a year that we left Bahrain. Somehow we were sad to leave the wonderful people we met and who became close friends (thank you so much!!) . At the other hand were we very excited to discover new places, to have new challenges.

After a wonderful journey that took us through Jordan, Istanbul, Russia and Germany were we heading north, to Sweden. (I will describe this journey later on.)

There were different reasons why we had chosen Sweden. The most important reason was that I want to continue and finish my specialization in Family Medicine. But as important as this is my wish to have a family life and in Germany are the conditions (not only) for doctors quite bad right now…

But I don’t want to complain too much, it’s also our nature to be courious and to discover new things.

After long time and preparations (the Swedish authorities are very very slow) could I sign a contract. The destination was Falun in the Province of Dalarna, Middle-Sweden.

 

Berlin to Sweden

After buying a car in Ingolstadt, visiting our friends Verena, Ibrahim and Jusha we filled the car up to the top with our stuff: clothes (especially for the winter), books, food,… everything. We knew that Sweden will be much more expensive.

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Waiting for the ferry from Rostock (D) to Trelleborg (S)

 

The way to Rostock at the Baltic Sea was short, the trip with the ferry relaxing and in the evening could we enjoy a walk through Trelleborg, the southernmost city of Sweden. After a night in a Hotel we  reached our destination Falun after more than 700 km in the evening…

 

The Start

It was a bit exhausting in the beginning. In Falun and many other Cities in Sweden exist a huge lack of apartments. If you’re looking for a flat they can put you on a list but it can take long time and the flats are still expensive. In bigger cities like Stockholm is it possible that people have to wait 15 or 20 years!!! That sounds a bit socialistic and reminds me of what the people in the former GDR (former East-Germany) did: When I was born  my Dad decided to apply for a car that I could get (maybe) when I was 20 years old! And now Sweden..? Sweden had indeed a period of socialist-like policy. It didn’r really work but there is still a big influence of that experiment on the Swedish society today! But I will describe this later…

Due to the lack of apartments (it was not possible to get an apartment for September 2015) we decided to lower our standarts and expectations which were high because of our experiences in Bahrain. AirBnB was the only option to get a bed – and this was literally one bed. We had found a guy who was living in a small apartment that belonged to a student’s accomodation and he was willing to let us live there while he was travelling abroad.

It was a room of maybe 12 sqm with a bed (for one person) and a sofa. The sofa was too short so we had to sleep both on the bed. “The cell” (I cannot call it an apartment) had a “kitchen” in the short corridor and a bathroom but when someone was staying in the “kitchen” nobody could pass towards the bathroom or the maindoor.

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This was the view for one month… and around 13 boxes should be still delivered from Bahrain.

 

The bed felt as if an elephant had been sitting on it: it was so soft that we could get backpain. It had several layers of matresses and we didn’t understand the sense of this strange system. My Swedish teacher explained later that the Swedes have a very special construction which is actually hard to understand why and how…

Anyway, the room was actually too small to stay more than 2 nights and with all our boxes and bags it looked more like a storeroom or a cellar room than an apartment. It was depressing…

To be continued soooon!