It started innocuous enough. Three days ago, I noticed a light itch on the lower part of my face, two curious spots on my hands, and a discomfort between my toes as if from athlete's foot. The itch went with a bit of skin discoloration, suggesting an allergic reaction to shaving that I've never had. The spots on my hands were circular, with a white center and a deep red periphery. They were about 4 mm in diameter. Upon inspection, there was nothing odd between my toes.
Had these three symptoms not appeared at the exact same time, I would have dismissed them without a second though, gone to work and waited for things to improve. Time heals most ailments better than much else. But the strange synchrony kept me wondering. What was going on here? The next morning I did something I hadn't done in years. I went to see a doctor.
The Swiss health system is a strange place. Health insurance is mandatory. This doesn't just mean everyone needs health insurance. It means everyone is obliged to register with the national health insurance system that consists of what feels like a hundred providers competing for clients. You have to choose one of them and prove to your local authority that you've done so.
The morning I went to the doctor, my condition had changed somewhat. Yellow puss had started to appear on my chin. It had done so in small quantities and dried quickly, but it didn't look pretty. That's when my family started avoiding me. The soles of my feet felt as if a million small needles had been inserted in them. Walking was a murderous pain, but I could still not see anything wrong with my feet.
I had picked my health insurance for its price. All providers are required by law to offer the same benefits. The differences lie in customer service, ease of obtaining reimbursements, and the availability of mobile apps and the like. The monthly premium is calculated based on age, place of residence and deductible, the amount you have to cover yourself per year before your insurance kicks in. There are no discounts for insuring an entire family and no employer contributions, but since premiums are income-independent, they are relatively low if you earn well. My own contribution is less than what I paid in the UK.
I decreased my contribution further by accepting to have my freedom to choose a physician curtailed. For every illness, unless in an emergency, I'd have to consult my family physician – who would pass me on to a specialist if necessary. Being new to the system, I didn't have a family physician, but the walk-in clinic next door offered itself – with no appointment required and, it turned out, hardly a wait.
The assistant doctor was quick to diagnose something like foot and mouth disease, even though my symptoms didn't exactly match Dr. Google's. I had no fever, no painful throat, and no pustules on hands, feet or in my mouth. Plus I wasn't ten years old. Still, the soothing words of the medic comforted me. "Just rest a bit", she said. "You'll be better in a few days. Concern is only due when worms are starting to emerge from the spots in your face."
The concept of a deductible sounds rather strange with health insurance but it's common practice with car insurance. And as with car insurance, you have to trawl the new year's offers to identify the best deal and switch health insurance if necessary towards the end of every year. It sound unnecessarily complicated and rather inefficient to me, but it seems to work well – just like Switzerland in general.
I hobbled back to my flat and stretched out on my sofa. I had a certificate of incapacity to work – one beautiful long word in German – and no other option that to lie flat and wait. By Friday afternoon, most needles had been removed from my feet and I could walk nearly normally. In return, my hands felt as they had after the Challenge Dauphiné when I had cycled for seven hours through freezing rain. Back then I couldn't open buttons or turns keys with my debilitated hands for a week at least.
Today, the changes continue, for the better for the most part. My feet are almost fine. My hands have become speckled with hundreds of dark red spot, some large and translucent like a bag of old blood, but they've got some of their strength back. The dried puss on my chin is falling of. My body feels weaker overall than yesterday, but there are no worms.
With the sun shining strongly outside on what feels like the first day of spring at last, my hope runs high that tomorrow will be beautiful, spent by the river or on a ride to the convent where the children can see rabbits, cows, pigs and sheep. I might not look it, but I consider myself back to normal already.