Monday, May 26, 2014

Weekend in Norway

So in the midst of the stress of last week, not only did I have to figure out exactly how sick I was, but also if I was going to be able to attend a weekend trip to Bergen, Norway. My friend, Anita, and I bought the tickets a LONG time ago when we saw there was a great deal on Norwegian Air's website -- roundtrip for 600kr ($90). I booked the hotel sometime after and had until the end of the business day before to cancel if I wanted, which landed me at Thursday afternoon. After arriving home from the hospital on Thursday afternoon, I went down the street to meet some friends for the Laleh concert at Gröna Lund and made it through with only minor pain, so I hoped that after sleeping in as much as possible Friday, I'd be all set for the weekend away. While it wasn't a pain free weekend, it was manageable, and I'm so thankful I went because Bergen (which is all I've seen of Norway so far) is ridiculously beautiful.

After a flight just over an hour Friday evening, we arrived in Bergen and hopped on the bus from the airport to the city. Even the flight in was gorgeous and the view from the bus was equally so. It's never occurred to me that Sweden has a relatively flat landscape (similar to what I grew up with in north eastern Massachusetts), and suddenly being surrounded by huge hills and some mountains was a big change. The little houses scattered down the sides of the hills were so beautiful, though I couldn't help but wonder if the beauty would be worth the impracticality of living way up there.

As we entered town, the sun was just starting to go down (sometime after 9pm). We quickly checked in at our hotel, dropped off our stuff, and headed out, walking as quickly as we could towards where we hoped to find the water. We passed some gorgeous little neighborhoods along the way, observing that the buildings were a lot more similar to what I'd expect to see in Tallinn than Stockholm -- many more wood homes and cute little streets. Soon after, we found the sea and the sunset!

We got a bunch of photos of the sunset just before a light rain started. We walked around a bit more and got back to our hotel sometime before midnight. The next morning, able to sleep in knowing that sunset wouldn't be until after 10pm that night and we had plenty of time during the day, we headed out around 11am.

Downtown Bergen is gorgeous. The sun was so bright and the weather couldn't have been more perfect. We laid out in the sun at Lille Lungegårdsvannet for a few hours in the later afternoon and ended up getting sunburns, of which I was not expecting after seeing the forecasted 15-17º temperature for our time there. For the most part though, we spent the day exploring streets that looked interesting, seeing the sights and getting a feel for the town.

The two above and below photos are of market areas selling all kinds of things -- especially seafood. Notable things sold were whale meat and from my calculation, king crab legs at just over $50 per pound (690kr/kg). Yikes!

Walking around the harbor, we walked through the carnival (playing all kinds of bad American country music), along the docks, and then back up through a beautiful neighborhood full of houses on the hills.

Later that evening, we had unexpected dinner plans. Upon arriving in Bergen, I discovered an internet acquaintance of mine lived there as well when she commented one of my photos posted online. Loving the idea of seeing the city through the eyes of a local, Anita and I arranged to meet up with our new friend, Amanda, for dinner at one of her favorite places Saturday night. It was awesome. Amanda is super cool and was a blast. We discovered a whole lot of unexpected common interests. After dinner, we headed to her favorite bar for a few drinks and then later, she came along with us up the closest mountain on the Fløibanen. I figured the view from the top would be wonderful, but I had no idea just how much. It was spectacular and we timed it to arrive shortly before sunset.

The fountain we hung out by earlier in the day

After braving the freezing (ok, well not quite) temperatures after the sunset, we parted ways with our new friend and headed back to our hotel, grabbing some snacks for the next morning's breakfast along the way as well as a bag of these strange chocolate things that, when I first saw them thought, "Those look like Bugles..." and then after buying and trying it realized they are precisely that -- chocolate covered ones! They were pretty delicious and though I haven't seen them in Sweden, given that some of the writing on the bag was in Swedish, I think I'll just have to keep a better eye out.

Sunday, our last day, was a pretty lazy one. The weather wasn't quite as good and it felt a lot colder out. We slept in, checked out of the hotel at noon, walked around a bit, grumbled about our sunburns, laid (under a tree) in a park for a bit, got cold, went back to the hotel, got our things, and headed to the airport to enjoy the warmth, electrical outlets and free wifi (though we were annoyed to find that the Bergen airport runs its wifi off what we can only assume is a dial-up connection).

See here for all my photos from the trip!

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Stay in the Hospital

The past few days have been quite the roller coaster. So, in writing this post, I hope to both tell the tale for those who've been wanting to know how I was and hopefully, so that if someone Googles related terms in the future, they can find a walkthrough of the system as I experienced it. That said, this is going to be a long one, but I want to write it all down before I forget, so let's start at the beginning...


On Tuesday afternoon, I went to a school concert for the middle child I nanny for, which was incredibly cute. It was animal-themed and they sang a whole bunch of songs in Swedish (some alternate versions of English ones I know and then in true Scandinavian style, danced to "What does the fox say?" to close out the show.)  

When it was over, the kids, their parents and I joined the rest of the families outside in the park for a picnic. I had normal picnic foods (this becomes important later) -- bread, cheese, deli meat, pasta salad, hard boiled egg and pear juice. Nothing too crazy. Later that night, I had a salad for dinner (vegetarian kebab "meat," lettuce, black beans, cheese, red pepper, black olives and honey mustard dressing). Also that day I had knäckebröd with cream cheese and cucumber as well as some M&Ms.

Tuesday night, around midnight, I had a terrible stomach ache just as I was going to sleep. I had no idea what brought it on and figured I might as well try to just go to sleep and hope it would be gone by the next morning. After failing to fall asleep because of the pain, I moved from the bed to the couch and called my mom in the US. Thankfully by 2am here, someone's always available to talk in the US. She said she'd have me call back soon, but while waiting in the meanwhile, I fell asleep on the couch, moving myself to the bed soon after.


On Wednesday morning, I woke up when my husband started getting ready for work and couldn't believe the amount of pain I was in (or how I'd been managing to sleep without realizing it moments before). Once I got out of bed, I realized it was far worse than I thought and standing made me shake with dizziness. As I laid back down in bed, I thought about how ridiculous this was and tried to figure out how I could make it go away by the time I needed to get to work later that day.

Realizing that this wasn't like pain I'd had previously, I started to Google what going to the doctor here in Sweden would even entail. Having never done it, I had no idea what the protocol was. The only relief I had was that no matter what, I would not be charged more than 1000kr ($150), as that's the yearly maximum an adult legally residing in Sweden can be asked to pay for healthcare. (The rest is covered by the government through our taxes.) So I started to find information. The most important thing was this, highlighted for anyone who may come looking for this info (as I did in the articles for expats that I scoured):

Anyone in Sweden can call the national medical hotline (Vårdguiden) for 24/7 help from professionals. The number is 08 320 100 (number soon to be changed to 1177). Press 1 for general info, 2 for children's advice or 3 for adult medical advice.

The wait was about 5 minutes, and the automated system tells you the number you are in the queue. Once up, I spoke with a very nice nurse who took down my symptoms, put me on hold as she did some research, and came back with a suggestion. She told me that I shouldn't be anxious but that I needed to go see a doctor that morning, just in case. In typical Swedish style, she repeatedly apologized for her English, which was perfectly adequate. After living here for almost a year, I'm used to this and it's not a problem at all to have the occasional Swedish word or sentence slipped in instead. She told me that the best thing to do would be to go to a local ER to be seen the fastest.

After taking down the name and address of the hospital she suggested for me, I took a fast but very painful shower, knowing I'd feel gross all day and regret it if I didn't at least try. As I got ready to leave, I thought back to what a Canadian friend had told me about their healthcare system (the only thing I could imagine was comparable to what I was about to walk into) and attempted to pack my purse full of what I'd be needing. From what she said, due to the universal care, the hospitals have very, very long wait times. For that, I packed both a book and my backup phone battery charger. While throwing all this together, I also realized that there was a small chance that I might not be going home that night if the problem was bad enough, so I tossed a few of my favorite things in a pile on the kitchen table, in case my husband had to bring them later that night.

Once ready, I hobbled down the stairs from our building, across the street and onto a bus, which thankfully had the suggested hospital directly on its route. This felt like the longest bus ride of my life, actually only lasting at about 25 minutes. After finding the emergency entrance (important word here for those who may be doing the same, look for "akuten" or "akutmottagning").

Once inside the ER, I was not surprised to find that I should grab a number and take a seat. However, as soon as I took the number, I was called (there were about four people in the waiting room). I walked up to the window and started to tell the clerk what was going on. She was very kind, took down my information, asked for my phone number [She first said, "What's your mobile number? Oh no, I'm sorry, what's your cell phone number as you Americans call it!" It was very cute she clearly made an effort to cheer me up.], she then verified my residency status (a constant surprise to everyone I met throughout this experience) and told me the fee for an emergency room visit: 400kr ($60). I paid with my debit card, took the papers she gave me and sat to wait to be seen. A pretty short time later, I was called in.

Next, a nurse took all my stats and sent my blood and urine off for tests. After waiting a few more minutes after that, a doctor saw me. He was very kind, asked me a few questions about where I was from as well as the more necessary ones about what I'd eaten, how the pain was, etc. After he checked me out and the test results came back, he said I was very borderline problematic and said he recommended I stay the night for observation. The result seemed to show that I was having an issue with my gallbladder, though further exams would be needed to know for sure. I think the look on my face of "PLEASE, NO." said it all. He said he'd check with his supervisor for a second opinion, and I thanked him for that. I sat watching a documentary via Netflix on my phone for a while and when he returned, he explained that his superior said I should be admitted as well, though he also reminded me that legally, I was permitted to leave. I said I'd stay, and so then I resumed my Netflix while awaiting the person who'd bring me to the part of the hospital I'd be staying in.

Ultimately, the most annoying thing of the whole experience was the waiting in between each event. It was typically 30 minutes to an hour between each thing, and not fully understanding what was being said some of the time, I was never quite sure if I should keep waiting or speak up (and risk seeming like an impatient jerk). So to anyone looking at a similar situation, just be prepared to keep yourself occupied. The only time I really spoke up was when I realized I was clearly forgotten after having waited a long time to be taken back to my room, falling asleep while sitting in the chair waiting.

A photo snapped while awaiting test results in the ER examination room

Once up to the room I'd be staying in, I was given clothes, socks and a towel. While the hospital onesie (a bit different than the typical American hospital gown) was an option, I said I was all set, as I planned to put on the yoga pants and t-shirt my husband would be bringing soon enough and I didn't really understand why the nurses were surprised I didn't want to wear that ridiculous thing. So then I was hooked up to an IV, reminded not to eat ANYTHING AT ALL, and sat down to wait. There wasn't a TV, only the book and my iPhone that I'd brought, so it was pretty boring. At the least, the view was pretty awesome from my bed:

After some time, my husband arrived with all my things. I was immensely thankful for it all, but more so for the company. The visiting hours were set to end in just an hour, but I convinced him to stay until they threw him out, or until it got uncomfortably past the deadline enough that we couldn't stand it any longer. When he left, it was disappointing, but at least then I had my computer to distract me. Chatting with friends and watching videos occupied me for the most part. Nurses were in and out, checking things, adding a new bag of stuff to my IV, and my main doctor came as well. She was a very British sounding woman (so much so, I'd assume she wasn't natively Swedish, but she clearly was) and very to the point. She examined me and was very straightforward. She left and the nurses resumed with my incremental care.

Throughout the experience, I really can't say enough good about the nurses. While one or two wasn't that comfortable with English, the majority happily chatted away with me, asking questions about my life, telling me about theirs, laughing that neither of us knew the English words for most of the medical terms, and generally just being awesome. The evening nurse joked with me that she used to love Grey's Anatomy until she began her medical studies and can't stand it now that she sees how fictional it is. The night nurse talked with me a bit longer than the others, asking me what I thought of all of this, checking if I had any concerns or unanswered questions, making sure I was all set to sleep, and allowing me to disconnect the IV for the night, with the understanding it'd have to be reconnected in the morning -- better than nothing, it was driving me crazy, dragging that pole around! Soon after, I fell asleep watching Maya Rudolph's variety hour from Monday (quite funny, but I need to watch it again to actually remember it).


In the morning, I woke up around 5:30am to the last nurse from the night before reconnecting me (just as she promised) and most kind of all, whispering that everything was all set, I didn't need to move and should try to go back to sleep. In my half-asleep state, it was just so comforting.

While I tried, I wasn't able to fall back asleep, though thankfully the pain had decreased a lot. Instead, I watched some Friends reruns and looked at my list of friends on Facebook to see if anyone was awake to chat with. Around 8:30am, I was disconnected once more so that I could take a shower. This was not enjoyable with the IV needle still in my arm (wrapped up), but I knew I'd feel gross all day if I didn't just do it.

Soon after that, I was taken for transport down to have more tests. This transport was probably my favorite. (To save on time and because the hospital is quite large, they employ a company that does the patient transport services -- I'm not sure if this is common in the US and elsewhere, since this was my first time experiencing such a thing anywhere.) This transport was done by a guy who could have easily been my grandfather. He approached me, asked my name, and if I spoke any Swedish. I replied to everything in Swedish, but told him my spoken skills were pretty bad (and especially so when exhausted and in pain). He apologized for his bad English, but then when on to chat with me the whole trip, missing words here and there, but it was no problem. He told me how he wasn't taught English in school and instead had to learn through evening classes when he was older. Later, he asked me where I was from in the US and when I replied "Boston," his eyes lit up and he said, "Bruins!" I laughed and then he started to tell me how he has a "Bruins dress" at his summer house that he uses while grilling... It took me a moment, and then I realized he was describing a cooking apron, so I told him the word and he was very excited to tell me, "Yes! I always, always wear my Bruins apron while grilling!" It was very cute and really, was quite emblematic with the general way I was treated during my stay.

Another while later, the doctor from the previous day returned and said she'd viewed all my test results from today and that the issue seemed to have decreased on its own. She said she could refer me for further exams if I preferred, but also agreed that given how things were going, it would also be okay if I went home, to return if anything got worse again. I was very relieved to hear this and couldn't wait to get packing. Before I could though, she said I needed to prove I could eat a normal lunch. Having not eaten in well over a day at that point, I was both ready to eat anything and slightly afraid of overdoing it. To be safe, I went with something guaranteed to be delicious -- meatballs and mashed potatoes with a sauce that I have no idea how to translate, but was ridiculously delicious.

At long last, after having no issues with lunch for about an hour, my IV was removed, I was tested for MRSA, and set free! The last thing I was told was to expect a bill for the overnight stay, which is an extra fee on top of the emergency room fee. I was a bit concerned by this at first, and then the nurse let me know it would be 80kr ($12). I couldn't help but laugh at that, and then talked with the nurse briefly about what a relief the prices were every time I encountered anything during this whole fiasco. We were lucky growing up, we always had decent (if not superb) health insurance, but we still had the possibility for hefty copays at times.

This whole experience was just so incredibly reassuring in almost every way. I'm also very impressed with how well they catalogue everything -- that is, rather than hordes of paperwork everywhere, they use each patient's personnummer to keep track each dosage, test, and just about everything else that can happen, asking the patient to recite it back to them for confirmation before each step. They also were incredibly willing to do as little or as much as I wanted. I tended to say, "I trust your judgement" rather than choosing the easy options out at times. If I'd asked for a billion tests, I know they'd have obliged as well (crazily enough, at no extra cost). They really just wanted to make sure I was on the best possible track for me.

So there it all is. I know there must be pieces I've forgotten, so I'll add them if I think of them. For anyone reading through websites and blogs frantically trying to decide if they should go get checked out, pack some things to keep you busy and get going. With a system like this, there's little excuse not to. Additionally, if you happen to be a Swedish resident (like me or a standard citizen) abroad, you should also have the European Health Insurance Card, permitting you access to emergency health care at Swedish prices while abroad in 32 countries as well.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Evening Walk

So with the hassles of our housing situation, it's nice to take a moment to just enjoy the neighborhood where we live for now and with the nice weather lately, we've been taking some really nice evening walks, which I really love. I normally wouldn't be so interested during rush hour or in the middle of the day with strong sun, but this time of the year, right around 9-10pm when the sun starts to set and everyone's already inside for the night, it's just so perfect. I'm already not enjoying the 2-3am sunrise (it's just too much when you wake up at 6am and it's bright like noon!), but at least we can enjoy the late sunsets.

Tonight we left around 9:00 and enjoyed the last hour of sun, walking through Ladugårdsgärdet and then along Djurgårdsbrunnsvägen and to the water towards Djurgården. If you know the area, this might be helpful -- if not, just know it's lovely and scenic. We're not sure where our next place will be, and in all likelihood, its neighborhood will have its own perks and beauty, but I'm happy we can take advantage of our current location while we have it. Some scenes from this evening:

The US Embassy -- owner of at least 90% of the security cameras in Sweden
I wanted to get some pictures of the Embassy after walking by it a whole bunch of times, but usually hesitate, worried the people sitting in the guard house will yell at me for one reason or another, which I've heard of happening when people try to photograph them abroad. It was quiet tonight though, and hoping I looked honest and well-intentioned enough, I managed to snap a few.

Happy Monday everyone!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Season's End

Last night was my final practice of the season. All the rinks around here close for the summer, so we're off now until August. It was bittersweet in that I'll miss seeing everyone over the summer, but am also very happy with how much progress this particular part of my life here shows. As with a bunch of things that I've entered into since moving abroad, I started off coaching last fall with an exceptionally small understanding of what I was getting myself into. Over the last nine months, I've learned leaps and bounds, a good deal of which has been simply being able to practice Swedish with the littlest kids I coach, who happily practice their English back.

Dress rehearsal for our spring show
One initial challenge that I wasn't prepared for was that even when translated, a lot of the Swedish jumps and spins have different names in English -- their British versions, I assume. So even here, demonstrations were often required until I'd memorized the names of everything in Swedish. Although, as is often the case, if things are pronounced wrong, no one has any idea what I'm saying, so getting the inflection of certain words down was key too. For example, the jump called "toe loop" in English is "toeloop" in Swedish but is actually pronounced "taw-ah-loop." It's hard to accurately convey in writing, but trust me, it complicates things until fully memorized to the point that it's a reflex to say it that way and not the English way.

Looking back at the start of the season, I remember standing back and listening as the head coach gave directions for the hour ahead, awaiting when she was done and would quickly summarize it for me in English. I could catch a word here or there and perhaps know we were doing this jump or that, but there were so many words surrounding it that I couldn't even start to wade through it all. Now, it's a relatively reversed situation. As directions are given, I listen in and at the end, likely have to check the meaning of one or two words that I didn't know throughout the opening speech. It's a feeling of great relief to have one of the other coaches give me a "did you catch all that?" look and be able to nod "yes." And so now, mistakes are made largely when I am not 100% paying attention for a moment. [A good example of this was last week when we had a meeting with the parents of the team I'll be coaching in the fall. The club director was giving the parents all the info and my mind started to wander off a bit when suddenly she looked to me and the last word I caught was "...heter" (Swedish word for "name/called") and so I hesitantly replied, "Jamie...?" only to immediately realize the second I started to say it that she was looking for the name of our new team, as like our other teams, its an English word, and she wanted me to pronounce it for the group first so they'd hear it best.]

My red group at our spring show

The above group is definitely my most challenging. They taught me my least favorite Swedish sentence: "Vad ska vi göra?" (What should we do?) I always tell them if I hear that once more, I'll give them something boring and tedious to do next, but it never seems to work. With them and the older kids I teach, much of my approach is based on the best aspects of the coaches I had when I was younger. For some, careful encouragement and praise of the small successes is needed. For others, chasing them around the ice, holding their hand so they can't slow down or get lazy about it is the best form of encouragement. And for all of them, constantly correcting the basics before they become bad habits.

After everyone left last night and I was awaiting my skates to be done getting sharpened, I thanked the head director for all her patience with me over the season and being the incredibly kind woman she is, she thanked me right back, give me a hug and said we'd have to grab coffee over the summer to keep in touch before the new season starts in August. Then, one of the other coaches who's about my age and I left together and went out for a nice end-of-season dinner at Vapiano downtown. A lovely end to the season, but I'm already looking to get back for the next!