I have been experiencing the Swedish healthcare system up close and personal for the past week, so in light of the debate in the US, I thought I might share that experience. It is a universal healthcare system, but it is well to remember that I am here as a foreign visitor, on my Fulbright. Nevertheless, the system has welcomed me in, supported me, and provided outstanding care in a trauma situation.
The trauma? A small patch of the slipperiest ice I have ever encountered in my life came my way last Wednesday, March 8, when I arrived in Uppsala (North of Stockholm about a half hour, site of the oldest university in Sweden). I had spent several days in Ireland delivering lectures, then was coming to Uppsala for a full day Fulbright program involving all the Fulbrights in Sweden (students and faculty). A mere 50 meters from my hotel, I fell. I made it the rest of the way but with increasing difficulty. So imagine yourself in a place you have never been before, trying to grasp what has happened, and what to do. Eventually, paramedics were called because I was not sure I could walk, and there was no one to come with me in a taxi to the ER. And thus began my entry into the system. I was transported to the University hospital, which, like UF, is a renowned hospital that receives many referrals, and I was not the only fall that icy evening. So, yes, it was quite a wait. But when I did get to the doctor, he was fantastic, other than when he had to tell me that, as he had suspected, it was not a sprain, it was a break – in fact, three fractures – and surgery was necessary. I had to wait to have surgery because my leg was too swollen. So, what then occurred was arranging the next steps of care, deciding whether to stay here or be transported back to Lund (6 hours away), and scheduling surgery, which for anyone, any patient, could have taken several days or several weeks. So the challenge of the system was timing, and also whether to shift locations, but imagine the same in the U.S. Here, it was resolved by Friday, with a call that I could have the surgery on Monday, the earliest possible time. I think I got extraordinary help in this from the ER doctor, who was exceptionally kind and caring, and even provided his cell so he could remain in touch with me, something unheard of here and I think unlikely in the U.S. as well. The choice of surgeon is made by the system, but this is a world-class hospital, located where such injuries are common and, thus, there is tremendous expertise. I was uncommonly lucky, as I drew the best of the best, Dr. Pelle Berg, the best for this surgery in all of Scandinavia.
The day of surgery, in contrast to the ER wait, things were incredibly efficient. The nurses were outstanding, the care gentle and supportive, and all of this was in English, with some interesting conversations to get over some puzzling questions and answers, but the near universality of English in Sweden made this easier as well. I woke up after surgery with no memory of what had happened, thankfully so, as I now have 7 screws and a metal plate – my new bionic leg! Both the ER doctor and the orthopedic surgeon visited with me several times before I was discharged the next day. On the regular floor, I was in a semiprivate room, with lots of care and attention, the universally bland hospital food, but outstanding care. Before I left I was given several hours of PT to learn how to use my crutches, put weight on my leg, go up and down stairs (which I hope I do not do at all!!!), was given my medicines (for payment of about $40US), and then begged for a wheelchair, which I am borrowing until I fly back to Lund.
It has been amazing care and, as I have talked to others here, it is clear that this is the standard here. Sometimes some waiting, especially in the ER, but high quality care available to all. Care for children is given extra resources so that the wait time for them is not too long. And part of the delays is due to the influx of immigrants and the system being under-resourced to account for that. But no one blames anyone.
Care is emotional and psychological, not just physical. The warmth and support have been sustained and amazing. I think it is also connected to the pride in their system, but also their empathy for a traveler without family here. The Fulbright staff is incredible. I also lucked into staying at a great hotel, Villa Anna, where the staff has gone out of their way to be helpful.
People are wonderful. Everywhere. We should embrace that! The smallest acts of kindness mean so much. And the big ones too! UF Law sent flowers after the surgery that found their way to my hotel, not an easy feat! It meant so much to me.
So that leads me to immigration….For some reason since I have been here going through this, I have run into an amazingly diverse group of immigrants. The two Syrian men, one born here, one going to school and driving a cab. The Eritrean nurse. The Brit server married to a Swede. My wonderful Bosnian Vanja who has helped me so much including painting my toenails on my bad leg. They have such stories of movement, choices, cultural change and border crossings of place and culture, full of joy and life and so much to offer. I have asked and they feel welcome, supported, and valued here. It is not perfect; but it is not governed by fear and hate. It was gratifying to see that spirit reflected in the Dutch elections this morning. It was equally positive when I was in Ireland, where there is a history of outmigration, but now also some challenges wrought by Brexit. Immigration is a positive, it contributes so much, and our humanity is reflected in our reception, in particular, of refugees. That is the lesson reinforced here, one which my incapacity has given me time to witness and observe from all those who have helped me.
A final insight from my Swedish perch is that there is no place like home, one’s family, friends, and colleagues. I have had so much support. And then was delighted to hear of UF Law’s climb up the ranks. Awesome! Imagine me waving my crutches wildly! Meanwhile, I will be returning to Lund and hope to carry on with my Fulbright, with the assistance of folks in Lund at the University and at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights. I suspect there are more lessons from Sweden to come that I will bring home on my new bionic leg!
Nancy Dowd, from the Villa Anna in Uppsala Sweden, after surgery at the university hospital.