The Dirtiest Word

For the most part, I really like the medical system here in Switzerland. See my previous postabout delivering a baby here. And when I had my gallbladder out five weeks after that, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay. My hospital even sent me a Christmas card. Josh says he thinks they are trying to drum up business. “Remember us if you have other extraneous organs to remove. And Merry Christmas too.” I think it’s more like the time we spent so much at Cabela’s that we qualified as a corporate client and were sent a ham. I am probably in the top ten percent of guests for the hospital- not the best but certainly a frequent visitor.

The one part of Swiss health care that I do not like? The pharmacy. Ahh, the Swiss pharmacy. It sounds amazing. Many people love it because they can get all sorts of cosmetics there that you cannot get in the States. I’ll admit it. I love some of their products. If it were simply a cosmetic store, I would give it an A+. But as a pharmacy, it is somewhere in the D range. What makes a good pharmacy? Well, the first qualification is a drive through but alas, that will not happen in Switzerland so I will forget about that. No, I like my pharmacy to be efficient, organized and helpful. Our neighborhood pharmacy is none of these things.

I have a prescription I need to get filled every month for a year. I went into the pharmacy to get a refill in July. The pharmacist asked for the paper prescription that my doctor had written. I gave her the benefit of the doubt. It was a little confusing because my mom had filled it for me in June while I was in the hospital. So maybe this lady needed to see the paper copy to verify the prescription. Sure. Then August came. I went back in to get my refill, presented my insurance card and ID to a different pharmacist and was told that she needed to see the paper copy. I said, “No, it’s in the system.”

She said, “No, our system does not keep track of prescriptions and refills.”

So I said, “But they typed it in the computer last time.”

She replied, “Yes, I see that you have gotten this filled twice here but I cannot give you a refill without the paper copy of the prescription”

To which I said, “In America, they keep that information in the computer.”

At which point she informed me that the Swiss system was completely different than the American one. I almost said, “Yes, obviously since you cannot even keep an Excel sheet of my refills.” But I bit my tongue and unfortunately I got a little teary. The nice pharmacist then informed me she would be happy to sell me these other medicines I had brought to the counter but could not refill my prescription. Please note, these other medicines? Baby shampoo.

Prescriptions in general are different here. I asked my doctor to write me a refill for my medication a week before I was leaving on a trip. She called me and said she had written it and would mail it to me. I offered to pick it up but she had already put it in the mail. Doctors do not call prescriptions into the pharmacy here. They write them on paper, then you take them to the pharmacy who may or may not keep the medicine in stock and then you can get it filled. And then you keep a tiny piece of paper somewhere safe so you remember where it is next month. As a doctor friend of mine said, American patients would never get their medications refilled if it required all this work.

The Swiss, ironically, seem to hate efficiency. It is a dirty word here. I know. I know. They basically invented clocks and their train systems are second to none in terms of timing. But everything here seems to require extra steps. For instance, there is no such thing as auto billing here. We get bills in the mail and have to pay them ourselves. Simple enough, right? But each bill has a twenty digit reference code and account number and we have to key in all of it in order for our bank to pay the bill. Like I’ve mentioned, there are no drive-throughs. Dry cleaning takes a week. To be fair, they do have grocery delivery. But refrigerators are small and thus, you have to do your shopping every day or every other day. Stores are closed on Sundays and from 12-2 every day for lunch. Even my Internet slows down between 12 and 2.

I’m torn about this. On one hand, I’d like someone to usher in the twenty-first century with our super fast cell phone banking and drive through everythings and double-wide refrigerators. But it is probably good for me to move a little slower. Don’t get me wrong. I love convenience. But I also appreciate quality– of food, of life. Yes, things are slow but they are also prettier. We might have to shop multiple times a week but our markets are gorgeous and the food is delicious. And while we tend to want to export all of our good ideas, the Genevois (and I) might not think all our ideas are good. I’ll admit, when I go back to the States, I question our noise level, our willingness to have phone conversations anywhere (anywhere!), our obsession with being connected, anything other than silence. I understand that each culture has its strengths and weaknesses. I go back and forth about efficiency but I do know that if I move back to the States, I will never take it for granted again.

My friend Cheryl, another Geneva resident, sent me this article when I was describing it to her. It’s by a man who lived in France. He describes better than anyone what I have experienced:

“Efficiency for the French is a poor measure of the good life, just as making a buck from the sale of a house pales before the expression of feeling about what a house may represent. Whether this is good or bad hardly matters. It is often bad for the French economy. It is also a fact of life.”

It is a fact of life and I’m almost used to it. Sundays used to stress me out because I would worry I wouldn’t have food for dinner. We discovered our local Thai food restaurant is open on Sundays and that gave me enough peace to actually enjoy Sundays. I still try to do my grocery shopping in advance but I know that if I can’t get to it or burn everything, we can always eat delicious Pad Thai.

To finish my story, I went home, found the paper prescription and filled it elsewhere. I still have to keep the paper copy. It was a small victory. It might be a minor amount and I may be more tolerant of the French/Swiss lifestyle now but I am not giving it to the pharmacy from the fifties. Maybe if they get Windows 4.