When I headed off to Europe this year for my three-week vacation, I got a little more than I bargained for when I got to experience the health care system of Poland first hand.
Within hours of my plane touching down in Prague, I slipped in the shower and managed to slice my big toenail partway off. People have kept asking me what it is I sliced it on, but honestly, I have no idea. All I remember is slipping, feeling pain, and touching my big toe nail and feeling it move. After that I sat in the shower feeling nauseous and trying not to vomit for 20 minutes. I eventually managed to move to my hostel bed where I lay for a few hours feeling massively sorry for myself and imagining that this had to be one of the worst starts to a trip ever.
In the morning I was meeting my tour group and my toe wasn't hurting too badly, but I could tell that the nail wasn't in the right place. Unable to face it, I put antiseptic ointment on it and bandaged it up and hoped for the best.
A few days later, it really wasn't looking so good I'll spare you the details and at the advice of one of my fellow travellers who happened to be a nurse, I went to see a doctor. I wound up in an emergency room in the beautiful little mountain town of Zakopane, Poland.
After trying to lift up my toe to the reception desk to point at it to the receptionist who didn't speak much English, I got admitted to the waiting room. It didn't look too much different than what I was used to in Canada, although I could only see three doors coming off of it: one that appeared to be for X-rays, one with a word that looked like consultation, and one with a word that looked like the French word for surgery. Eventually I was summoned into the consultation room.
After being briefly flummoxed by the fact that I have a super Polish last name but can't speak any, the doctors managed to communicate to me that I needed to get the nail off. Feeling a bit freaked out that this would happen in a hospital where no one could speak fluent English to properly explain anything to me, I asked if it would be ok if I did it back in Canada, but I was told no. They sent me off to have an X-ray done (no lead apron for me here) and summoned a general surgeon to take a look. After an animated conversation in Polish between the surgeon and the doctors that left me feeling somewhat uneasy, they told me that the surgeon would reposition my nail rather than remove it entirely. As I looked away from what they were doing to my foot, I locked eyes with a man with a head wound being treated just a few feet away from me. Not much privacy in here.
When all was said and done, I left with my first toe bandaged up with my second, leaving my foot awkwardly jammed in my flip flops. I had a prescription for a spray that I later learned is only approved for use on humans in Poland it's only used in veterinary medicine in the rest of the world. I'd been in emergency for about four hours and had seen a doctor, a general surgeon, had an X-ray, and a tetanus shot, so I braced myself for the final bill. The receptionist handed me a piece of paper and said 180 zloty. Thinking I misheard, I took the paper and looked at it. Nope, she was right, 180 zloty about $60 Canadian. Geez, barely even worth claiming through my insurance, I thought. No wonder I'd heard so much about medical tourism to Eastern European countries.
So there you have it. Although the language barrier was undoubtedly a bit terrifying, health care in Poland was decently efficient, and certainly cheap.