Culture Shock: My Visit to a Hospital in Germany

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Culture shock in Germany is something that I have been fortunate to experience in only minor doses. Until I had to have surgery in a German Hospital

The most culture shock in Germany I’ve had has been in my Intensive German Class. Where there were students from 17 different countries.  But the funny thing about culture shock is that it has a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it. Like when you’re having knee surgery in a hospital in Germany.

Why I Was So Afraid of Going To a Hospital in Germany

I knew from my own experiences with doctors in Germany that the lack of privacy would be an issue for me. And I was freaking out. And turns out my lack of privacy fears were well-founded.  In addition to the privacy issue, I was surprised to see how many other differences there were.  As I had very similar knee surgery last year in Canada, I was easily able to compare the cultural differences between a hospital stay in Germany and Canada.

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So What Is The Difference?

Firstly, it must be said that the quality of care I received in Germany was second to none.

I dare say it was the best I’ve ever had anywhere, including Canada.  Germany is known for its medical competence so this didn’t come as a surprise. But I was surprised that the doctors and nurses were so friendly and caring.  Germans often have a reputation for being cold and unfriendly on the surface (although once you get to know them nothing could be further from the truth). And I expected the stereotypical German efficiency and coldness while having knee surgery.

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While the process was definitely efficient (I had surgery one hour before my scheduled time), the nurses were very friendly. They were even chit-chatting with me and Germans are not known for making small talk.

It pains me to write this as a Canadian, but the German nurses were much friendlier and more caring than the Canadian nurses were, who was all about business.

I can handle this type of culture shock. While I was expecting to receive good medical treatment in Germany, I was not expecting it to be warm.  Fortunately, I received both.

Pain Management Is Different in a German Hospital

When I woke up from surgery and saw a strange little device going into my leg yet not coming out anywhere, I panicked. Another shocking experience to add to the growing repertoire it seems.

In Canada, they usually give you an injection or pill which leaves you incoherent and rather dazed.  Not so in Germany.  It turns out that a strange little device was for pain management and was attached to a nerve in my leg that leads to the knee.  If you needed pain medicine it went in through the device, straight to the knee and left you completely coherent.  All the relief and none of the grogginess you get when medicating. This was the coolest thing I experienced here yet.

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A Personal Touch


I couldn’t believe how conservative and concerned German doctors are. It was recommended that I stay in the hospital for 3 days and 2 nights.  I balked at this. In Canada for a similar surgery, they had me stay just four hours after the surgery. Both of my orthopedic surgeons were perplexed by this. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t budge on staying more than just one night. I would rather be home, to be honest.

Everyone was also very concerned about the risk of blood clots. And my entire leg was bandaged up to prevent this, unlike the small bandage I had only on my knee in Canada. What was more shocking was that I would have to take an injection in my stomach for the next ten days to prevent blood clots.

“Who was going to do this?”  I inquired, all of a sudden feeling sick to my stomach as I’m petrified of needles.  “You or your partner can” he calmly replied.  Seeing as how I did not receive one single injection in Canada for blood clots, I thought it was ridiculous that in Germany I needed injections for 10 days.

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The Crutches at a Hospital in Germany

Another surprise, although I had seen other people using them, was that the crutches in Germany are much different than the crutches we have in North America which go under your arms.  The crutches in Germany fit around your forearm and are sooooo much easier to use than the crutches that go under your arms.  They even have reflectors on the front!  North America really should switch to this style of crutches.

On to the Privacy Issue

The lack of privacy was the biggest downside for me. Even though I knew it was coming, it was still a shock and still really uncomfortable for me. I discovered that my attitude toward privacy did not just change overnight, even when I knew that Germans have different attitudes towards it.  The first lack of privacy issue hit me less than 10 minutes after I arrived for surgery.  I was to get fully undressed with a nurse watching me apparently  so that she could help me with my gown and then whisk me off to prep for surgery.  It was an efficient process, I’ll give it that, but more than a little daunting, and not necessary in my Canadian opinion.

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And the lack of privacy didn’t end here at this hospital in Germany…

I snuck this picture from my bed in the recovery room. That is the reception area and main hallway, where everyone passing by got a good view of everyone in the recovery room.

After the surgery, I found myself in the recovery room.  There were no curtains separating the beds, but I could deal with that.  A few minutes later when I was more coherent I noticed that I could see the reception area and hallway.  Yep, the double doors were wide open to the recovery room and naturally anybody walking by couldn’t resist looking in, especially small children.

I started pointing to my eyes, then pointing to the child giving the universal “I’m watching you” signal. Until my partner caught me in the act and told me to stop. In my defence, I was still on drugs.   It was a weird experience though. I really didn’t need the general public seeing me in the recovery room.

Just when I was sure it couldn’t possibly get worse…

Nature called…

The nurse calmly brought over a bedpan and lifted the covers off my bed.  She expected me to do my business in a recovery room with 5 other patients. And the double doors wide open to the public reception area.


I muttered something along these lines but with more profanity to my then-partner. He then tried to diplomatically explain to the nurse in German that Canadians are shier than Germans and that I would like to go in private.  She looked completely baffled. Clearly, she was not understanding what the big deal was.  Nevertheless, she wheeled my bed to another room to do my business in private.

I have never been so relieved in my life (pun intended).

All in all, I can’t really say that this was the worst experience of my life, but my stint in a German hospital was eye-opening as to how different Canada and Germany are, especially when it comes to privacy.