Health Insurance - don't leave home without it | Travelling Storyteller Photographer

Nothing says OMG than a medical emergency.

Medical anything is typically the start of a ‘not so good news’ story. But recent posts of gorgeous blooming flowers, videos of incredible mountain ski villages, blogs of living a charmed life with nothing but cardboard to entertain your kids would also imply that I never suck at parenting, my laundry walks itself across the parking lot to get done and my kids are never ever late to any of their Swiss activities. What a lie!! Listen…reading all that I would totally hate me too. The sunsets we marvel at can be over the top and the fact that each and every night I get to see the Big Dipper out my bedroom window right over my pillow is just taking it too far. ARGHHH!!! It is all too much.

With this in mind, and wanting to speak from the scar and not the wound, let me bring to you, dear reader, my patched up, struggling, wobbly family as we each emerge from our own dramatic adventures down Swiss health care lane (disclaimer, the Swiss heath care system is amazing…the issues we ran up could all be classified under ‘user error’). I assure you…we are one hot mess looking to capture the unreal and in the midst of it hoping we can do it in one piece. I introduce you now to our book..;

The Histon-Howes dose of Shadenfreud

chapter 1.

One. Wiggly. Tooth

Let me be clear….T’s LAST wiggly tooth. 5 months in. The tiny little wiggly tooth that our amazing health care professionals back in Canada reassured us would come out with just a few more days. Darn it we tried it all. Murphy’s law dictated that this little bugger would start to really wiggle the day AFTER we left the dental office and then like an annoying friend decided to ‘hang’ out (sorry couldn’t help myself), for another 5 months, finally requiring us to concede defeat and find a dentist. Crossing our fingers that the offending wiggler would come out easily and that the appointment wouldn’t break the bank, we headed out with our anxiety suitcases filled to the brim.

Nothing infuses the sentiments of ‘holy shirt balls scary’ and a deep wish to click ruby red heels together to vanish back into what we know - HOME…CANADA!… - than the sight of sparkly shiny dental instruments being wheeled towards you at what seems warp speed to want you to clamp your hands over your mouth.

Sigh, there was zero, none, absolutely no way that the dentist was going to be able to look in T’s mouth. That required trust, friendship, a plane trip back to Canada and likely a large exchange of beanie boos that wasn’t going to happen in this lifetime so off we went back to the apartment - hands still clamped over her mouth, me feeling like I was ready to explode, wanting to cuddle my daughter and trying to sort out creative solutions to our dental problem all while likely having become one dental bill poorer but we had no idea…dental bills are as secret as everything else here.

Communication is the key to getting to the root of the problem - too punny…? “He was scary”, “It’s not like home”, “Only MY dentist can look in my mouth!”, “I’m scared”, “I want the gas”. Ah.. Nitrous Oxide. Despite our wanting to tie the little thing off with a string and slam a door, it was the magic laughing gas that we were after. Done. I can do that.

10 phone calls later, an ever widening catchment area of dentists later due to ‘maternity leave, no available appointments until 2019, just learning (nope thank you - our wizard of a hand-mouth clamper needs a magician not a newbie) we found a solution...cough..a 45 minute drive away. Great.. now we need a car. Enter in amazing village and a car was procured for the time required.

Round number two = proffered 1 wonderful dentist and her lovely assistant, should have lasted 1 minute and instead was 15 minutes long punctuated with ‘horrible mother for moving us’ stories , 10 minutes of yelling by my daughter and us leaving with 32 teeth plus one protectively guarded by two hands clamped over a mouth, another secret bill and a dental staff likely relieved to see us go.

Dejected, Tony and I worried that saga would never end. We also realized that this would have to be on T’s terms so we laid out the expectations and real life consequences. No. Sugar. Of. Any. Kind until that tooth came out. She could decide when she wanted to see the dentist again. Did I mention we were staring down the barrel of December and advent calendars. I can still feel the pat of cleverness on my back.

Nothing is more motivating to a youngster and her need for goodies than an advent calendar you can open but just can’t eat! We swiftly had another appointment on the books in two weeks. Suffice it to say that despite our 3rd secret bill in as many weeks, one more car borrowed from our incredible village, our at home practice of laying back into dad’s lap with the gas mask over her nose and practice breathing into it worked to everyone’s advantage and to applause from the whole office, we nabbed that little sucker in 10 seconds and out the door in as many minutes - on our way to one macdonald’s lunch richer. Even better, the secret bills arrived having had a large portion being covered by the canton - that little red passport proving once again to be an ally!

Episode of medical adventure chapter 1 done.

Still a little loopy but we DID it!

Still a little loopy but we DID it!

oh yes…our first outing to the Golden Arches.

oh yes…our first outing to the Golden Arches.

The deserts in our local McDonald’s, macarons anyone?

The deserts in our local McDonald’s, macarons anyone?

Chapter 2.

oh the tummy aches

“Kids are crazy resilient”. “They will get so much out of this move of yours”. “Youngsters adapt so well!”

It was everything everyone said. It was everything I knew to be true and BAM…we hit the brick wall.

Hindsight is 20:20 and when I look back on the photographs, the hallowed looks and bags under their eyes belied the challenges that they were experiencing. Tummy aches became A’s new norm and trying to navigate our new lives was a challenge to which degree I didn’t anticipate as well as I might have. Wanting desperately just to do what we could to ‘make it all go away’ there were so many times where we realized that it was less ‘warm fuzzy cuddling and taking care of business for them’ and more ‘push them into themselves and out of the nest’. As a whole…slightly more painful and decidedly less graceful than I had imagined in my piscean butterfly, bluebirds way. (If I have now scared you off of your own adventure, know that this also had the equal and opposite reaction of bringing us all closer together - need some more flowers and rainbows? read here).

Monday mornings were the worst, nausea threatening a full stop to the week. Wednesday afternoons saw a reprieve and the weekends allowed us to breath….a bit. With a strong desire to get out and explore, Tony and I ached to show the girls just how amazing everything was, A’s stomach proceeded to show us that no matter what and where, nothing was quite as amazing as we thought it might be and the threat of throw-up was never far away.

Getting through the every day and at the beginning of our moving here, doing it on my own while Tony travelled back and forth to Canada, her stomach aches started to become worrisome.

When nausea threatened once again, bags under her eyes had me googling myself into my own paranoia, enough was enough, the medical system learning curve had to be tackled and off the paediatrician’s office we went. In the rain. With umbrellas. That day sucked.

Coming off the misadventure of T’s first dental appointment, I anticipated the worst.

Thankfully the pediatrician’s office was within a 5 minute walk away, we had been there before to meet a friend and the staff could not have been more welcoming. After a relatively easy physical exam and questions, we decided a wait and see approach would be best coupled with slowing down our itinerary and more yogourt … or anything that would promote the good bacteria in our gut - which started a wonderful conversation about our intestines and poop. One more medical visit under our belt with another secret bill that we might see sometime down the road, we were already feeling better, until we didn’t.

Despite the reassurance from those around us, the tummy troubles were worrisome and with nothing pointing to anything sinister we pulled ourselves even tighter to sort it all out by slowing waaaay down. So our Marathon Harry Potter Weekend came to be. Shutting out the entire world save for anything wizardry and witch crafty, we sat in our darkened apartment and revelled in all things fantasy.

Slowly but surely as the days and weeks followed, we recognized that there were limits to what we could do. Listening to what our bodies were telling us was key - being able to articulate what we needed critical and taking the time to not rush…well…that was just a new European way of being that we needed to adjust to. Slow. the. heck. down.

I wish I could say that it was as simple as that and that we were able to wish this away with a promise of a tummy ache fairy like we could with the tooth (which by the way in Switzerland is a little mouse and not a fairy), we still relied on the amazing paediatrician office for two more visits and were so grateful that our medical insurance was covering a good portion of the bill. It’s much better now and more of a distant memory rather than an ever present worry, which was a good thing because I was next in line to add to the misfits of our adventure book.

chapter 3.

nothing more sexy than a hospital gown and mask

Sit with me here for a minute. Not two weeks before a scratchy throat would turn my life upside down, I was basking in my European sun kissed glow of eternal health and happiness singing (no really!! I was singing) the praises of our new found healthy lifestyle proudly patting myself on the back with what a treat it all was. “haven’t had a cold! This is just amazing. Europe is magic. I am awesome.” Apparently I had either forgotten to read the ‘traveling to a new country’ manual, let alone reminded myself that viruses can sneak up on you no matter what..

BAM. Straight into the wall.

nothing screams sexy more than a mask and pale blue hospital gown

nothing screams sexy more than a mask and pale blue hospital gown

Scratch scratch. It’s just a sore throat. No big deal. Sniff sniff…sigh…the nose - no problem, in comes Tylenol cold and we’ve got this. Working with a sniffly nose and sore throat wasn’t the end of the world, it seemed to be a bad season for viruses this year, but all that rest, the fresh air, walking, great food and general well being was going to carry me through. Not least of which the little Canadian pharmacy that I had decided to bring along…’just in case’.

…few days later…


What started as a little sniffly nose quickly escalated into fever, shore muscles, achy joints and a general feeling of turning 90 in a 43 year old body all while razor blades were wreaking havoc on my tonsils. GAH!! Sound the alarms, bring out the village, someone needs penicillin…stat…on a Sunday…when everything is closed.

Except the hospital. The hospital is open on Sundays. And so I went. With my village who dropped me off because when you are sick and have razor blades for a throat and knees of jell-o the 1000m walk is Just. Too. Much. In my defence it is uphill. Not gonna happen. My penecillin bacteria needed a ride.

And then I came back home. With my village. Downhill. With a virus because my fake little step bacteria did not cooperate with the rapid strep test despite my feeling like H**l. And so I took my own advice that I had proffered to all my patients over the past few weeks and was deftly reminded by my tummy aching daughter - REST mama. SLOW DOWN mama! Lie in bed, read, sleep and just get better mama. Nothing says ‘holy shirt balls wanna go home’ than feeling like crap, lying in bed during the nicest week of the winter, missing out on skiing with all those amazing villages and trying to sort out major life decisions. Oh…wait a minute.

Speaking from the scar rather than the wound has a way of allowing for reflection. Too much going on with too little knowledge about how to sort it out will do a number on your health. To put it plainly, life challenges while sick was like going into the cafe of viruses and for each indecision I heaped another serving of a complimentary virus and simultaneously voraciously ate my way through it while not washing my hands. GASP! Figuring out what to do with work = Sniffly nose and pounding nasal headaches, served up. How to manage the complications of children and train schedules = Cough coupled with productive lungs - pipping hot. Trusting your kids to come home without you there and using their own key = Shivers, fatigue, aching limbs and wait…Asking for help from others = WHAT..full body rash for dessert…WHAT THE HECK?

Ah…back to the doctor we go - those sneaky bacteria…they were hiding the first time! Haha….so silly! Gosh - Here we go again - another strep test, even a culture - not gonna hide on us now! Gonna walk my red lobster sniffly and sore and achy self in there and out with the magic pill that is gonna make all this better. Annnndddd I exited with the diagnosis of ‘sorry…still a virus’. No problemo - gonna sleep this off and rest - between the bike rides to school, grocery runs and figuring out how to help getting the kids to where they needed and back. Nothing slaps of reality than having to ride your bike around town when you feel like crap with a 38degree temperature.

And juuuuust when I figured things were winding down my body decided to shed a layer and full on hand peeling crescendoed me to the finish line towards health…because hand/foot/mouth. I would like at this point to put a plug towards the Body Shop and their hemp healing hand creme that coupled with a trip to Paris and a good pair of gloves was the antidote that I needed to see everything fall back into place. That city truly is magical.

In an ever present effort to stay positive and see the good in it all - I am thrilled that it was me and not the kids that went through this and grateful that from this perspective I now have chapter number 3 done, complete and sent off to the printers for our new book! After this little saga, who wouldn’t want to hang with us?!

chapter 4.

last but not least

Sure…on hand happy family - but then that squinty eyeball of the man on the left..eyeball trauma. Of course.

Sure…on hand happy family - but then that squinty eyeball of the man on the left..eyeball trauma. Of course.

As if he was jealous of all our medical adventures, Tony wasn’t one to leave us out of all the fun. Paris is magical and apparently highly dangerous. In that gorgeous boutique hotel bathrooms doors can be horrible and in the middle of the early morning no one is immune…apparently.

The previous evening we had all felt knackered and fallen asleep quickly after the most incredible day of exploring, biking, lining up in long lines because the guy both pointed in one direction and mumbled in French in another for the catacombs. Happily, fully fed from Pizza Wawa and pooped we all fell into bed that night tired and ready for a good night’s sleep. The amazing thing about hotel rooms is their ability to make it feel like the middle of the night despite the time of day. Having kept the light on in the boutique washroom for the kids, my amazing hubby decided that on using it in the wee hours of the morning that in order to keep to state of sleep, it be best to turn off said light and that…dear reader…is when a simple, albeit gorgeous, bathroom moves into the realm of torture chamber.

Not seconds after entering and without going into excruciating detail, my dear husband staggered out of the bathroom holding his orbital socket and straight to the bed needing to lie down. Oh goodness…here we go again…through experience, I have learned that one of us clutching our face with our hands never turns out well.

Not knowing what else to do and wanting to feel helpful, I immediately dropped to my knees to search for a spare eyeball…with my gloves…because peeling hands, while mentally calculating how we might still make it to breakfast before a hospital run.

Despite his moaning and all my efforts, I only came up with 1 pair of dusty socks and the internet told me we needed to either get to a hospital stat or that if he started to see double and in rainbow shades that he would be totally fine - despite all my self help googling, I never seem to learn so my person disclaimer here = don’t ever believe everything you read.

Thankfully it was our last day, we still managed to have breakfast and Tony assured me that with time on the Train À Grand Vitesse (TGV) where he could sleep off the effects of bashing in his eyeball he would be fine. His newly squinty face and oozy eyeball had me wondering but he had to be the one to say how he felt. Off we went onto the TGV and through 3 hours of snooze, sleep and too many survivor episodes to count we made it back home with all eyeballs ‘seemingly’ intact.

Until…the next day.

Nothing creates more frustration than having your translator at work while your eyeball decides to implode while you yourself are at work and the need for imminent (read NOW) cornea appointment becomes apparent. Just shy of double rainbow vision happening Tony texted me at work stating that he needed professional help…ya know..kinda now.

With our living where we don’t necessarily have a handle on … well… anything, we typically like to play the game of life with our favourite weapon “call a friend card”. It typically involves us gathering up our humility to call someone who knows more than us (anyone), asking questions that likely sound mundane and silly (always), and pleading for help (begging). In this case it required an imminent specialist appointment to help keep tony’s eyesight. Fairly important. Our ‘Call a friend cards” work magic and we have the most AWESOME phone numbers that stay vaulted into our phone - on speed dial - and within minutes Tony had a specialist appointment 10 minutes away from the train station in Lausanne. After the amazing health care system worked its magic, he was sent on his way with the reassurance that as long as he followed their treatment regime and no longer went into bathrooms with the lights off, his eyeballs would be safe.


chapter 5.


Life and adventure are fraught with crazy and being far from what we know, despite being in a western country and having the best at our fingertips, when s**t hits the fan, it is still unsettling and the feelings of - home come flooding back in a way that you might least expect it. With mounting experience creating notch after notch in our belt, we have started to feel like we can do this. Don’t believe us? I almost didn’t either but then the fork in the back incident showed us just how we can pull together as a team when we need to.

Recently T and I were on our bikes circling around our town looking for the orthodontist’s office to sort out an appliance issue dogging us since shortly after the wiggly tooth episode. Gone was my bribing her with everything under the sun and a not very good for us lunch and rather a break from a morning of school was enough to get her out the door.

In hollering back to my kiddo while watching my iPhone maps for reassurance, I stated to her that I wasn’t sure if we were on the right track. Confident as ever, I heard this kiddo yell back to me

“Mama! don’t worry. If we find it perfect and if we don’t

we have another story for our adventure book!”

I just about fell off my bike there and then.

She had been listening.

The lesson, it seems, came full circle in that moment. Suffer through the moment, be present and get help when you need it. Take time to slow down and take care of yourself, and then…when you feel able to, reflect on just how funny it is. Model life for your kids. They are watching…and listening…and just as capable of laughing.

Life is an adventure.

All toothless, peeling hands, tummy aches and eyeball trauma of it.

Once we figure it out we will be sure to let you know.