Berlin tallied its first death due to swine flu a couple of weeks ago, in Kreuzberg, the neighborhood right next to ours. The city was then working on rolling out vaccines, but serious bureaucratic tangles delayed their availability. One member of our household was incredibly concerned about contracting die Grippe, especially because of his upcoming conference in Amsterdam. So, we feverishly (not literally – that was the whole point) sought information on which doctors would have the vaccine, when they would be open to administer it, what we foreigners could expect on our first trip to a German doctor.
Our panic was for naught. Getting a swine flu vaccine, which I understand is still not available in the U.S., turned out to be the easiest official business we’ve conducted here in Deutschland. The city of Berlin published a list of vaccinating doctors online, including their email addresses. Aaron painstakingly mapped these doctors (there were only 200 to serve the entire population of Berlin), and emailed the nearest 20. Within hours, responses were pouring in. We didn’t know this, of course, not having the internet. But by the time Aaron went back to the internet café the following morning, nearly all the doctors had replied. (How do German doctors have time to respond to patient inquiries via email? And yet each of the responses was factual, encouraging, and apparently from the M.D. him- or herself.)
So, we took ourselves off to the nearest, soonest appointment, which turned out to be a Turkish-German practice. We signed in, filled out a form, showed our identification (our certified copies of our passports – the passports themselves are still with the foreigner’s bureau), and removed to the waiting room where a couple Turkish parents soothed their nervous children. Minutes later, the nurse ushered us into the vaccination room. The doctor, in English, explained what he would do and what side effects we could expect. He told us everything from personal experience, reassuring us that his own shot, a week previous, had incurred no ill effects. We submitted to our painless shots, received a confirmation form that we had been vaccinated, and went on our merry way. We never showed our insurance documents and paid not a cent. Our immunization is courtesy of the German government.
The next day, we felt a bit wee, or as the doctor explained, “Maybe you think you drank too much last night.” But our side effects were not enough to interfere with our activities. I met with my conversation partner, Oksana, as planned, and we attended the theatre with our new friend Jessi that evening. By morning, we felt back to normal.
Now that I am invincible, I fearlessly intercept careless sneezes on the subway. I do not worry if someone offers me a piece of Berliner donut and I have no chance to wash my hands first. I do not avoid people even if they claim to feel a bit sick. In short, I highly recommend a German swine flu vaccine administered by a kindly Turkish doctor in Berlin.