Culture Shock in a German Hospital

Culture shock in Germany is something that I have been fortunate to experience in only minor doses.  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 for example.  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:  Why I’m Afraid to Have Surgery in Germany, and it 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.

My shared hospital room was a good size, but there were no curtains between the patients. That's a photo of my neighbor's bed.

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 get 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.  While the process was definitely efficient (I had surgery one hour before my scheduled time), the nurses were very friendly, 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 were all about business. I can handle this type of culture shock as while I was expecting to receive good medical treatment in Germany, I was not expecting it to be warm.  Fortunately I received both.

When I woke up from surgery and saw a strange little device going into my leg yet not coming out anywhere, I panicked.  It turns out that I was also to experience culture shock regarding pain management methods. 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 strange little device was for pain management and was attached to a nerve in my leg that lead to the knee.  If you needed pain medicine it went in through the device, straight to the knee and left you completely coherent.  I thought this was the coolest thing ever, as I hate it when pain medicine leaves you feeling groggy and out of it.

The next culture shock came with regards to how much more conservative and concerned German

Crutches in Germany are much more comfortable to use than the crutches in North America.

doctors are than Canadian doctors. It was recommended that I stay in the hospital for 3 days and 2 nights.  I balked at this as when I had very similar knee surgery last year in Canada I stayed for 4 hours after my surgery.  Both of the German orthopedic surgeons were aghast by this, but in the end we compromised and I stayed for one night.

Everyone was also very concerned over the risk of blood clots and my entire leg was bandaged up to prevent against this, unlike the small bandage I had only on my knee in Canada.  I was in complete culture shock when the surgeon informed me that I would require an injection in the stomach for the next 10 days to prevent against 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 husband can” he calmly replied.  Seeing as how I did not receive one single injection in Canada against blood clots, I thought it was ridiculous that in Germany I needed injections for 10 days.  Conversely  J.P. (my German fiance) found the reverse in Canada ridiculous.  At his insistence and willingness to give the injections, “Germany has won” this one as we like to say regarding our Canada vs. Germany debates.

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.

So the lack of privacy issue.  Even though I knew this was coming, it still hit me like a ton of bricks and was the biggest culture shock of having surgery in Germany.  I discovered that my attitude toward privacy did not just change over night, even when I knew that Germans have a 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.  I later asked J.P. why she needed to watch me and he said it was 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.

Oh well, I thought to myself, at least we’re getting it over with, that should be it for the privacy issues.  If only…..

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 J.P. caught me in the act and told me to stop. In my defense 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.

That would have been bad enough, but then I had to go to the bathroom…..

The nurse calmly brought over a bed pan 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.  SO NOT HAPPENING IN THIS LIFETIME. I muttered something along these lines but with more profanity to J.P. who 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 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).



  1. Jessica says

    Just found this site and I enjoyed reading your observations as a Canadian living in Germany…it was interesting :) Glad to hear your surgery went well and you found the German hospitals good.

    I am German/American and I was raised here in Germany, so I’m used to the German way of things. I lived in the US for 5 years and honestly that was kind of a culture shock to me that the Americans are SO private about somethings and then throw their business on the streets, so to say, the next. Wierd but ok.

    Now, the thing about the Germans wanting to keep you in the hospital longer? Its because usually German doctors will NOT perscribe narcotics to patients to use at home. To control pain after surgery, you have to be in the hospital. Sucks but its true.

    I had my wisdom teeth pulled a few months back. I know in the US, they use nitrous to make you all loopy. Apparently in Germany, they numb you up real good but you are awake as they saw the teeth out of your head. My insurance wouldn’t pay for them to knock me out, so I paid out of pocket for that. The surgeon made me seem like I was being a baby, but I told him that it was either that or I die of a heart attack from panic half way through the procedure. After I woke up I was in a lot of pain, more than I should have been and I was given a dose of medication and a perscription for Ibuprofen, which really surprised me because I know in the US, Percocet is the drug of choice for those kind of procedures. Needless to say I was at my regular doctors office 2 hours later with my father, who had to drive me there, I was in so much pain. I was given some kind of numbing drops which didn’t really do anything. Turned out that I bled into my gum tissue, which caused extreme swelling and pain. I was in excrutiating pain for over 6 days and no one would really do anything. I am German, so it’s not like there was a language barrier there. This is the only bad part of the German medical system, the pain management part of it. Everything else, I’ve found has been great.

    As for chiild birth, like some people posted, I think it depends on your situation. Mothers who had their children naturally really don’t need to stay in the hospital that long if there aren’t complications, so even in Germany they are released fairly quickly. I had my son via C-section in the States and I was in for 3 days, no complications. The experience in general was less than fun. I didn’t get to see my son until almost 6 hours after he was born. I was in a complete panic thinking something was wrong with him. What it boiled down to was that the nurses on night shift were too lazy to communicate or bring my son to me. I honestly would have preferred lack of privacy then being in a state of panic in a room by myself after major surgery.

    Every system has its good and bad sides i guess.

  2. sylvia says

    Were you in a private hospital or clinic? That really makes a difference. I have had awful experiences in 7 different public hospitals (with myself, my mother-in-law and my husband) and I can say that the doctors and nurses were horribly infriendly. One doctor told my mother-in-law that she shouldnt take any medicine anymore because she was doing to die within six weeks anyway. Another told my husband that he was faking his pain and she left him screaming in pain. Turned out, when they finally operated three days later (only after i called the hospital administration) that he had an obstruction in the intestine. I had a stomach infection and the only toilet was shared with the entire ward (about 20 people). Because I could not make it there they put a porta potty in my room which i shared with three other women (no curtains and explosive diahrrhea). The nurses were understaffed (at night only one for the entire half wing – about 20 rooms). So you were lucky it was a simple and uncomplicated surgery and you amazingly found one of the only friendly hospital personnel in the country.

    • says

      @Syliva, I was in a public hospital. Sorry to hear that you had such terrible experiences, that’s the last thing you need when you’re sick.

  3. says

    That was a great article about medical care in Germany. I am from Canada a well and I would have to say i agree that medical care is better elsewhere in the world. I dont know where people say Canada having best in the world.
    I really enjoyed your blogs on your site.

    I figure i leave you an email to say i stopped by. I also Liked your FB page and follow u now on twitter. Just looking to backlink abit now
    i would like you to if u have time of course check out my site at
    and Like my FB page as well and sign up for newsletter
    also my site I think is best in the world
    your welcome to use my site to leave articles on as well if you were looking for a secondary portal

    • says

      @John – Thanks for stopping by and agree that Canada does not have the best medical care in the world, although it is free, which it isn’t in Germany.

  4. Amal Alz says

    I just finished reading this article along with 3 other posts of yours and I can’t stop smiling and laughing to myself while I read such entertaining entries !!! Please keep doing what you’re doing; I love it <3<3<3<3<3

    P.S. I actually came upon your blog after googling "Nudity in Europe Saunas?" where "German Saunas: Why My First Visit Will Be My Last One" came as the first result! Why did I google that? Cz a (German) person started a thread in the IMDb Message Boards of the survival movie "247 Degrees Fahrenheit" aaaaand I was pretty shocked to find out that nudity IS the norm in supposedly "European" saunas and here I am; you confirmed it for me (at least in Germany). Thank you very much.

    You certainly are a very hilarious person and I appreciate the fact that I stumbled upon your blog. It was simply destiny. -sparkly dreamy eyes- I love your style of prose; it's very engaging u know. O and nice to meet you too, I'm Amal. A 20-year-old female waaaay from the U.A.E. <3

    P.S.S. My family and I traveled in the Summer vacation to Germany once, but that was along time ago and my memory fails m; I'm afraid I only remember the taste of German ice-cream, and it was certainly the tastiest ever. (Organic vs Hormonal?)

    May Allah bless your life. Cz darling, I was so depressed and stuck in a rut today, but your blog was like my silver lining. I am all giggles and chuckles right now.

    Good night. (or is it Good day?)

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