Our Experience with Hungarian Healthcare

Updated: Aug 26

I landed in Vienna, Austria Friday March 1st to spend my Spring Break with Randy in Central Europe. We traveled through Salzburg Austria, Neuschwanstein’s Castle, Munich Germany, Prague Czech Republic, Ostrava, Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland, Bratislava Slovakia, Budapest Hungry, and our plan was then to travel to Vienna, Austria to spend some time there. I had a flight booked back to the States on Sunday the 10th.


F R I D A Y:


On Friday the 8th we drove from Ostrava, Czech Republic, ate lunch in Bratislava Slovakia and were planning on spending a few hours touring around Budapest then heading to Vienna.

Randy’s stomach started to hurt midday. Not really questioning what was going on, he just made a few bathroom breaks. That evening around 6pm we were sitting on the stairs of the Fishermans Bastion overlooking the beautiful Parliament and Randy said his stomach was still really hurting.


It finally hit me and I asked where exactly his stomach was hurting, he said on his lower right side. I didn’t want to seem like a hypochondriac but I started to wonder if it could be his appendix. We made some calls and the one person we knew to talk to was a close friend of ours who had been through appendicitis herself. She also is currently getting her doctorate in physical therapy, so she knows a few things about the body. Per her request, Randy laid down in the middle of a park next to a statue and we had her on the phone telling me where to push on his stomach. After a few minutes of him telling her what he was feeling she advised that we find a hospital.


After driving to two different places, one of which ended up being a plastic surgeons office, we finally found a hospital. This place looked like something out of World War II. You know how in the States there are doors to protect a patient’s privacy? Well that isn’t the case here! Now I understand those doors are there to protect us from seeing what is going on behind the doors. We walked into the emergency room and went to the “front desk”. No one really spoke English and if they did it was very broken. Nevertheless, we attempted to relay what Randy was feeling and he was taken back for an examination while I finished the rest of his paper work. They took some blood and then he waited to get an ultrasound.


In the meantime, I am sitting in the “waiting room” which is the same area the ambulances bring people in on gurneys. Let’s add that I have a super weak stomach when it comes to medical things, to many bad experiences… I saw more broken bones than I could count. There was a homeless man yelling at everyone in Hungarian. I kept watching some old people to make sure they were still breathing… then there was me.


Randy came back and we waited for hours. It’s around midnight and at this point I know everyone’s story, or I made them up in my head. This man broke his arm playing soccer. This girl is with her family and her boyfriend; they had to cut her jeans off to put the cast on her broken foot. There is a 90 year old grandma with her husband and all of her family, who is about to die. And, every little girl in Hungry had a messed up knee. I started to think they would cast anyone that walked through the doors. The doctor came to get Randy and took him back again to tell him his results.

We didn’t know what we were getting into…


Randy came back with the doctor and told me to get my stuff, we were being taken up to his room. We rode the elevator to the third floor and talked to the nurses at the desk (the best we could, no one spoke english). They took our contact information and we were led into “Randy’s room”. Randy mentioned downstairs that the doctor said I couldn’t stay with him in the hospital because he was going to be in an all male room. What did that mean? Well, we found out quick! The room he is was put in had 5 beds and 3 of them were already occupied! What is this place? Where’s the coach I can sleep on, the TV and the remote controlled bed Randy would sleep in? None of that! The nurse came in with the IV and said to me, “Bye, you leave now!”


W H A T?! Where was I going to go? It’s 1am and I am in Budapest, Hungry with nowhere to stay! The doctor told Randy, “Oh she can stay here but downstairs in the waiting room.” Heck no! I’m not staying in the “waiting room” where the ambulance patients come in!

We tried to tell the nurse to wait on the IV and she went to go get the doctor. We called Randy’s parents and were trying to figure out a plan. Do we leave? But where do we go? Also, at this point the doctors told Randy he did have appendicitis but they were waiting to see if his white blood cell count would go down by morning to prevent having to do surgery. So, if we left what happens if his appendix burst? As long as this hospitals took, we did not want to risk that. We also didn’t want to try driving to Vienna in order to make it to a better hospital because that was 2 1/2 hours away.

Standing in this dark hallway of floor 3, we are on the phone with Randy’s mom and she merges the call with one of Randy’s dad’s friends who is a surgeon in the States. He asked Randy all that he was feeling. He had him jumping up and down and then proceeds to have him also lay on this NASTY floor in a hallway with bugs on the wall and a rusted wheelchair next to us. I push on Randy’s stomach again. Please picture the nurses freaking out and speaking in Hungarian to each other when they saw Randy laying on the floor and me pushing on his stomach.


Randy told the doctor that his pain had gone down some compared to where it was. For a few minutes he told us that he thought it would be okay to get in the car and drive to Vienna, Austria for the hopes of better healthcare. We were trying everything to get out of this hospital. After Randy mentioned to this doctor that his white blood cell count was up, he advised that we actually stay in this hospital…

In the meantime, there is a lady with a drainage tube coming out of her neck standing two feet away from us just staring. Probably because I was crying and we were being loud on the phone at 1am.


Now our only option was to stay here. I’m terrified. Randy asked the doctor if he would be able to drive me to the hotel and come back, but he said no. If he left, he would be leaving the hospital’s care. So, now I have to get to a hotel by myself in the middle of the night in Budapest. We found an Ibis supposedly in walking distance. We said goodnight and I left.

When I walked outside, it was freezing, raining and my GPS said it was a 16 minute walk to the hotel. I wasn’t about to do that. My mom has friends with military connections in Budapest that said they could come get me. But, I didn’t want to try to talk to anymore strangers. I got in our rental car and drove to the hotel. Did I mention I was terrified? To add, I had Randy freaking out because I also was not legally supposed to be driving the rental car.


I checked into the hotel and thank the Lord there was 3 rooms left. This hotel was Pac-man themed and my room had Galactica above my bed. I showered and went to sleep around 4am.


S A T U R D A Y:


Saturday morning Randy said the doctor came into his room, pressed on his stomach and left. They did more blood work and we had another waiting game. We thought it was going to be 6 hours like the night before.


I stayed at the hotel for a bit and made some calls. I talked to the US Embassy in Budapest and explained our situation. I asked them if there was any other hospital Randy could possibly be transferred too. I talked to the nicest lady from Texas and she gave me the name of two hospitals. She did suggest if we had the time to try driving to Vienna because their healthcare would be so much better but we didn’t know how that was going to work.


A few minutes later Randy called me and said the doctor told him he had to have surgery…

He hung up quickly as he was trying to talk to the Embassy as well. Since it was too late to be transferred at this point they reassured him that the doctors knew what they were doing at this hospital, even though it might not be the cleanest or best situation.


I left the hotel quickly and was trying to make it to the hospital before they took Randy back. Randy called me again and said “I am going into surgery, I love you. All my stuff is in the room” and hung up. I thought I was too late and I lost it. Sobbing in the hospital parking lot, I didn’t know what to do. I walked into the hospital and went back to the front desk where we were the night before. I asked if anyone spoke english and they said no. She then said to me, “what your problem?” and handed me a piece of paper trying to ask me to write my name down. I handed her my phone with Google Translate on it and I typed out that my fiancé was having surgery on his appendix, I was trying to find him and that we had been there the night before. She handed me my phone back and said “don’t understand.”


Randy’s Side of the Story:

“OPERATION NOW!” The nurse loudly and annoyingly yelled at me as I was talking to Caroline over the phone about my current situation. I immediately gestured for him to calm down. I was out of options. The drive to Vienna for better healthcare was too far and I couldn’t hold off surgery any longer, according to the Hungarian doctors. The nurse wheeled me to the surgical room and proceeded to hit every wall along the way. I believe he somewhat enjoyed seeing how much paint he could take off the walls. I was then left in a dark empty room with one single overhead light and a push pin board on the right wall. Instead of posters on this push pin board, someone had drawn creepy faces with pencil.


Back to Caroline’s Story:


I called Randy’s parents because at this point they didn’t even know he was heading into surgery, everything was happening so quickly.


I sat in the car for a bit and just cried. Then, I decided I was going to go back into the hospital to the 3rd floor because the nurses there would know where he was, if I was able to communicate with them. The elevator doors opened to the third floor and a nurse walked on the elevator. I asked her if she spoke English and if she worked on the left side of the third floor. She said yes! In slow broken English, I explained that I was looking for Randy and that I was his fiancé. She said I could see him and we rode the elevator back downstairs. I followed her to the hallway of the surgical room. There Randy was laying on a gurney! I was relieved that I got to see him before he headed back. The nurse told me I could only be there for 2 minutes. With tear filled eyes of terror we said goodbye. I headed back to the car again with so much relief, but I still was terrified for him.


Randy’s Side of the Story:


About 15 minutes later, another man was wheeled up next to me. He sat up in his gurney, eyes wide and groaning. He then began to thrust his head back and forth in agony. At this point, it took everything in me to not walk out of the hospital and risk driving to Vienna for better care. Thankfully, Caroline worked her way into saying goodbye to me and my mind was put at ease, at least until I was rolled into the surgical room.


The surgical room was freezing and in the U.S. you are usually put to sleep before having to see the surgical room. But, in Hungary I guess they want you to see their decades old equipment and the surgeon’s pre-game antics. One surgeon picked up the camera and began pointing it in the faces of his colleagues who reacted by throwing up amusing hand signs. I even joined in with the entertainment because at this point I figured, “I might as well have some fun before I go see Jesus.”


One surgeon simulated his favorite basketball players and began shooting things into a garbage can about 10 feet from him. He was 3-3 on these shots and was quite happy about it.


Soon after, they strapped me down and it was at this point where pure panic almost began to set in. I couldn’t get up to run away. The anesthesiologist, who was Hungarian but born in North Carolina, finally put me out of my misery.


Although an appendectomy is very routine, the experience in this Budapest hospital had been everything but.


Back to Caroline’s Story:


Crazy side story, one of my roommates in college in West Palm Beach is actually from Budapest, Hungry as her parents are missionaries there. She had told her mom what was going on and I finally reached out to her mom asking if she would be willing to come to the hospital in order to interpret what the doctors were saying when Randy got out of surgery.


Since this hospital couldn’t communicate anything, I knew the best place for me to wait would be in the main hallway of the 3rd floor because Randy would have to come up the elevator from having surgery at some point. The hours passed and it felt like days. My sweet friend’s mom, who I will call Mrs. P, made it to the hospital and sat with me for a bit. I voiced that I was a tad concerned it was taking as long as it did. She went downstairs to ask someone if we were able to get an update on him. While she was gone, the elevator doors open and coming out of them on a gurney was Randy! I can’t explain the relief I felt to finally see him!!

After some time the nurse came and found us and said we could come see him (I had already snuck in there and checked on him). He was waking up when we walked in and gave us a thumbs up but tried to tell us his was in a lot of pain.


Most of the afternoon into the evening consisted of Randy sleeping. Mrs. P had another friend come to the hospital because she spoke fluent Hungarian and would be able to communicate what we needed. My cousin, who lives in Florida, also has two friends that are teachers at a Christian school in Budapest, Hungry. They texted me and said they were on the way to the hospital to take me to dinner. When the other two sweet girls arrived and came up to the third floor we all embraced in a hug even though I didn’t really know them. Come to find out, one of the girls had actually lived with Mrs. P and my roommate when she first arrived in Budapest. It’s a CRAZY small world and someone commented on my moms facebook post saying, “Small world when God is Lord of it.” I thought that couldn’t have been more perfectly said!


Randy’s Side of the Story:

When I woke up from surgery, I found myself in my room that I shared with 3 other gentlemen. One of whom, a very nice man, enjoyed listening to his handheld radio the entire day. Occasionally, it would go out and he would murmur under his breath while constantly banging the radio against his hand until it worked again. The elderly man next to me was incredibly compassionate and helped me often. Although neither of us spoke each other’s language we communicated with thumbs up/down, nodding, and smiling.

At night, we would be woken up from our precious slumber at 4am to get our sheets changed. It was at this time that I would hold my breath and try to use the bathroom adjacent to our room. There was fecal matter on the floor, no toilet paper (Caroline had to buy some for me along with towels for showering), and it smelled like a year old Porta Jon. However, after my 2nd day they “cleaned” it and the floors were nicer. It still reeked to high heaven though.

When the time came for shots, the nurses would give you a shot and leave you bleeding all over yourself. If you were lucky they would wipe it for you but I never saw a band aid used once.


So, all in all it was a shocking and completely different experience than America. Although the hospital looked like something out of a horror movie, I’m very grateful the surgery was a success. Also, I’m very glad I got to meet some awesome people that I shared a room with and I wish them all swift recoveries. Without Caroline’s help, I don’t know what I would’ve done. I’m so very blessed by all I learned through it and the great people I met because of it.

Randy’s mom found a ranking of healthcare and hospital in 83 countries, Hungry was ranked 80th… Also, I was talking to the front desk tenant at the hotel paying for my next nights stay and I told her what was going on with Randy and why I kept staying at the hotel longer. Her response was, “at the hospitals here you’re lucky if you make it out alive!” WHO SAYS THAT?! 😂


We both can’t thank you enough for the prayers and support, they were truly felt even from afar. Randy is recovering well and we both are resting a lot after being in fight or flight mode for five days straight. God’s hand was seen through it all and we are so thankful Randy is out and healthy.


What a crazy experience… we are now able to look back on it and chuckle a bit.


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