There are different ways of getting medical treatment in Sweden. First of all you can call and make appointment with a certain doctor or nurse practitioner, which usually works out just fine for non-emergency stuff. Most of the time there are appointments available the same day or the next day to see a normal GP or NP. Getting an appointment with a specialist takes longer of course (and you have to be referred) but Sweden is certainly not unique in that regard.
However, if you need to see a doctor the same day, and there aren’t any appointments available, you have two options. Option number one is to do what I did this morning and have your name added to the drop-in list. This is like having an appointment without having an appointment. I called my local vårdcentral (medical clinic) this morning and asked if there we’re any appointments after lunch because I needed to see a doctor as soon as possible about these pollen allergies. The person on the phone said there weren’t any appointments, but that they had drop-in hours until noon. Otherwise I’d have to wait until tomorrow. I’d said I’d rather not so she added my name to the list. This meant that they could expect to see me sometime between the time I hung up the phone (around 9:30) and 12. I left work at ten and got the the doctor’s office around 10:30.
After checking in and paying for the appointment, I sat down and waited. And waited. Aaaand waited. There was a full waiting room today so I knew it would be a while. I was wishing I had my Kindle with me, but rather than amuse myself with the small selection of out-of-date magazines, I sat quietly and casually listened to the coughs and moans and complaints of other patients waiting for same-day but not necessarily emergency treatment.
Finally, after waiting for about an hour and a half my name was called, and I was taken to an examination room where I was left for another ten minutes: “The doctor will be with you shortly.” Why do that always do that?
The doctor came in and I told her about how I’d been up all last night and unable to breathe while lying down, and that my eyes and throat were so itchy it was driving me crazy. The two different allergy tablets I had bought last week weren’t helping at all. No, she said, it doesn’t matter how many of those you take, taking more won’t increase their efficacy. She prescribed me some stronger tablets and some eye drops for pollen allergy suffers. I asked about cortisone injections, since that was recommended to me earlier today, but she informed me that they no longer give those injections. (I wonder why not…) They do give cortisone tablets, though, to people who have it really bad. She said to try the tablets and eye drops for a week and then if I was still suffering, she’d prescribe the cortisone. The conversation I had with her lasted no longer than 5 minutes. I then spent another 15 minutes in the pharmacy waiting to pick up my prescriptions.
All in all, the whole process, from the time I checked in to the time I paid for the medicine, took about two hours. This is not bad at all, especially when one considers the second must-see-a-doctor-today option. Of course I mean the so-called emergency room. If you have to go to the ER, then don’t make any plans for the rest of the day. Or night. And you might want to clear tomorrow as well.
And it will cost you three times as much and you’ll end up waiting three times as long as going to the vårdcentral. Thankfully, I’ve had to visit the ER only once since I’ve been living in Sweden, but it was a genuine medical emergency. I was having an allergic reaction to a medication I’d been prescribed, and the person on the ask-a-nurse hotline told me to go to the emergency room immediately. She asked if I needed an ambulance as well, but the hospital was only a short bus ride away so I said I could make it on my own. When I got there I talked to the intake staff who took down my information and gave me some medicines to stabilize me. Then they sent me to the waiting room, where I believe I waited for at least four hours. By the time I got to see a doctor I was feeling pretty much fine, but they wanted to keep me overnight for observation anyway. This was because stopping my medication suddenly (the one I was allergic to) could bring on a seizure.
Everything worked out just fine, by the way. No seizures. Even the nurses knew there was nothing wrong with me. They delivered my medicine in the morning but said I could get up and get my own breakfast off the cart. No problem, I thought. Let them take care of the people who really are ill.