Last night was one of those nights where you lie awake piling up the Kleenexes into pyramid, coughing, and drinking gallons of water due to the soreness in the throat. Waking up at 6:00am because I just couldn’t stay in bed anymore, I decided I should go to the doctor because of the aches and pains in my back and my inability to speak.

Going to the doctor in Brussels (and I think for the rest of Belgium it applies too), you usually need an appointment. Ok that’s normal. This morning I thought I would go at 8:30am sharp when they open to try to squeeze in an appointment. In Canada, I wouldn’t go to the doctor if I had a cold because they would just tell you to rest and that’s it. Also in Canada, to have a day off sick, all you have to do is reach for the phone beside your bed, call in and let your boss know (or the receptionist) than you’re sick and won’t be coming in today all while laying warm in bed in the dark. And that’s it: in 3 minutes you’re done. In Belgium, I had to get up, get dressed, put makeup on (because I didn’t want to look like a complete mess) and go to the doctor to get an official doctor’s note.

Visiting the doctor is quite an experience compared to Canada. I ring the buzzer of the unmarked old house. The only way to tell its the doctor”s office is the name tag on the buzzer with the doctor’s name. My doctor greets me and buzzes me inside. I walk up the dark stairs and enter a door with a piece of paper printed from a computer labeling the “Waiting Room.” I sit down on a chair against the wall and look at the old fireplace, which is unusable, and the table full of African woodworks for sale. My doctor opens the glass door, covered only by a thin white curtain and asks me to enter. I take a seat in the room of the old house, which was probably a sitting room or a bedroom at the time the house was built. My doctor sits in a chair in front of a computer and asks what she can do. I tell her I have a cold and she does the usual cold-stethoscope-on-the-back exam, asks me a few general questions and then confirms that I have a cold. She suggested resting and inhaling steam, which are both very good tips. At the end of the visit shepulls out a notepad from her desk. She writes up an official doctor’s note; at least it is on an official looking form. Then she pulls out another notebook with transparent paper and writes me up a receipt by hand. I get the white copy and she gets the yellow copy.

“That will be 25 euros please” she tells me in her sweet Irish accent. I open my purse and fork over a 50, which I had to stop at the ATM for on my way there because they don’t take plastic (no machine). She opens her drawer and sees that she doesn’t have enough change in her little metal box, the type you see kids using at a lemonade stand. She then takes the correct change out of her purse. Very professional.

I like my doctor and would recommend her to any fellow English speaker in Brussels. She is a very nice lady and she comes from the English world where a doctor’s office has a receptionist who greets the patients, asks them to take a seat in the waiting room and collects any fees or deals with any other paperwork. I remember one visit to my Irish doctor where she had to answer the door once and her phone twice for other patients wanting to schedule appointments. I usually make my appointments with her via email directly to her so I don’t call when she may by chance be with another patient.

After getting my doctor’s note, I go to work to fill out a “Leave Request Form” and put it in the accountant’s mailbox. Then I get to go home to rest.

I now regret not using my sick days in Canada when I was really sick. I always went to work anyways because I never felt ok about calling in sick. How easy life is in Canada, is something I won’t take for granted after living in Belgium.

Not to mention having English TV to watch while being home sick.

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