Tuesday, June 26, 2007


A couple of months ago (22.04.07) I was supposed to meet Johanna Thompson and Tod Wodicka (author of forthcoming All Shall Be Well, and All Shall Be Well, and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well) at Yorckschlößchen for a beer. About three hours before the meeting my throat started seizing up and by the time we were supposed to meet my lungs had started seizing up and it was painful to breathe. I called Johanna on her mobile. I had no idea where to go, though it did seem stupid to die on the floor (as well as rude to die without telling people who expected to be meeting me for a beer).

Johanna came to my apartment. I tottered downstairs. She said we could go to the emergency ward of Charité, a hospital in Mitte. We stopped by Y'n to explain the crisis to Tod, who gave me a proof copy of his book. Johanna had her bicycle with her, so at first she thought we should take the U-Bahn -- but as we approached the Mehringdamm station I saw a big taxi/van and hailed it. Off we went.

Johanna saw me through admission. It seemed the tests would take a long time. She went home, I hung about in the waiting room, breathing with difficulty, drinking hot chocolates with extra sugar from a vending machine, reading Tod's Lynchean All Shall Be Well... Blood samples were taken, an X-ray was taken, questions were asked about allergies. I said I did not know of any other than penicillin, but I had eaten some peanut butter earlier in the day -- I used to eat it a lot but hadn't had it for 10 years or so, maybe an allergy had developed. Hours passed while the blood samples were analysed, the X-rays examined. Someone came in a white coat, took me back to the ward. I was given injections of steroids to counteract what he thought was an allergic reaction; I was given other injections. I went home, throat and lungs still in agony with every breath; a day or so passed, it went away.

Now a bill has come from Charité. Only an American, I think, can really appreciate the way I have spent the last two months trying not to think of how much this might cost. It's complicated to get health insurance; my normal practice, if I need to see someone, is to take Ryanair or Easyjet back to Britain and see my GP in Tower Hamlets. My normal practice, that's to say, is to lie in bed staring at the wall, fortifying myself with ginger tea, waiting for it to blow over, with the idea that if it gets too bad I can always nip over to London on Ryanair or Easyjet -- anything easier than tackling German bureaucracy. Thinking of American hospital bills I have seen I feared the worst.

243,87 Euros. About $320.

I don't know what I would do if I had NO MONEY AT ALL. And my guess is a lot of people have no health insurance, not because they can't deal with German bureaucracy but because they have NO MONEY AT ALL. So if you have NO MONEY AT ALL poor old Britain, with its crumbling National Health Service, is the place to be. But anyone who has seen what an American hospital can do with an uninsured patient about to die will be --

will be saying $320! $320!!!! $320!!!!!!!!! Is that ALLLLLLLLL? (Knowing an American hospital would have INSISTED on admitting the patient, and then charged the patent an extra grand for the night in its bed.)

The address of Charité is Hindenburgdamm 30.

(If this were a Wordpress blog I could put this crucial piece of information on a Page instead of in a Post, so it would be permanently available -- one more reason Wordpress is starting to look very good.)


"Post-Google" by TAR ART RAT said...

my former (uninsured) co-worker had a heart attack a few years back that lead to $250,000 in hospital bills.

Johanna Thompson said...

That's indeed very reasonable!!! After a car accident in San Francisco, I was charged around 800$ for shaking the doctor's hand, an x-ray and some tylenol (and still had no clue how to get home, since I was unable to walk).
I'll try to have any heartattacs while in Berlin.

Helen DeWitt said...

Yes, I was amazed. It did make me realize how reassuring it is in Britain, though, not having to worry about medical bills. In America one has the feeling that every health crisis will send somebody's kid to college.

Languagehat said...


*thinks about moving to Germany*

But I don't get the "permanently available" thing. Why isn't it permanently available in this post (as long as you don't decide to nuke the blog)?

Helen DeWitt said...


Sorry, I spoke carelessly. It is permanently available on this blog, but only someone who knew it was there would know to look for it. The Pages on wordpress can be listed in a sidebar (as it might be, Berlin info) -- so one could update the Berlin info page with further useful information and the topic heading would always be in the same place in the sidebar.

It's true that one can tag posts, but that's not as helpful, I think, as having all the information on a topic in one place.