Coming to Copenhagen has been a complex process. I am still waiting on my residency card and my CPR card which will give me access to the Danish healthcare system. My condition and my pain however, are not so good at waiting. Trying to get access to a doctor in a social welfare state, without having recognition from the government is proving extremely difficult. Last week I spent a copious amount of time, probably totaling four hours, on the phone with different hospitals, doctors, and specialists trying to get someone to see me. Finally after calling an organization that assists ex-pats I found the appropriate channels and was able to make an appointment with a GP in my neighborhood.
Last Wednesday, I went to my initial appointment to get a referral to a pain specialist and to fill my prescriptions. His office was conveniently located around the corner from my house. I knew I needed to pay out of pocket for the appointment, but upon my arrival I was informed that it was cash only. They see so few patients outside of the system that they don’t have a credit card machine. I was told I could return to my apartment to retrieve cash afterwards and that the doctor was ready.
He was a man in the later half of his sixties with a thick grey mustache. He ushered me into his office, briskly shook my hand and pointed to the chair adjacent to his desk. The room was a combination examination room and office. Yellowed papers were scattered throughout, the walls were decorated with watercolor scenes of wildlife, and the hodgepodge of furniture looked like it was left over from a late eighties estate sale. He asked for a few of my medical records and then began a heavy line of question. What are my symptoms? Who diagnosed me? Why am I taking these medications? Is this the right dosage? Am I sure the doctor wrote it correctly? Was I aware that this medicine was not available in Denmark? He continued like this for a while, until he called his receptionist into the room. They reviewed my file in tandem, and her far superior english acted as a translation guide to my medical history. The rest of the appointment was a conversation in Danish that I sat witness to. Every few minutes I was asked to specify something, and then they returned to a foreign tongue. Forty minutes later I left with my prescriptions and a referral to see a pain specialist.
As I walked out of the appointment I felt like I was treading water. I felt belittled and a little helpless, I had self-pity to spare. I was frustrated by being abroad and my inherent need to medical attention. I wanted someone who spoke english and I wanted to be treated immediately.
That same afternoon my class took a field trip to the Danish Red Cross Headquarters for Refugees. We spent the better part of the afternoon speaking with a women who advocates for and manages individuals seeking asylum in Denmark. She explain about the Dublin Convention and the toils which potential asylum seekers face in their attempts to immigrate. They are in reasonable, but cramped living conditions. It can take, on average, a year and a half for an application to be processed. During this time the refugees cannot work or really participate in society, since they do not speak the language and are given a small living stipend. Some cases can take up to ten years to process. Even worse when a refugee’s application is refused, but they are in danger if returning to their home country they are permitted to stay in Denmark. Under these circumstances they receive very little social benefits and cannot work. Perhaps the worst news I heard, was that refugees that have been tortured cannot receive appropriate counseling and healthcare for said torture until they reach a certain state in the immigration process, since their mental/physical state post-torture is relevant to how their case is processed.
Now Denmark is a country that struggles with diversity. It is majority white, obviously, and historically has had some issues with immigration. The Red Cross aims to “secure meaningful and dignified daily life to asylum seekers,” which can be quite difficult. The women we spoke with explained that after a fact finding report on conditions Eritrea was deeply tampered with, Danish public support for refugees has actually started to improve.
Going to the doctors and then the refugee office was one of those moments where life slaps you with the reality of your situation. I am a white american female, with enough disposable income to pay out of pocket for my manageable medical condition. I am accepted and welcomed to this country with open arms. I felt pangs of guilt that only arise in the aftermath of self-indulging pity. Furthermore I was deeply fascinated by the immigration process in this country. In the US we are protect by two massive oceans, from waves of smuggled asylum seekers. We have plenty of issues with immigration in the US, that for a time I thought were unique. Prejudice and borders of bureaucracy have reared their head in a different way here in Europe. As someone looking to work with refugee populations, I think being here this semester will really help me comprehensively understand the complexities of asylum and put a little perspective on my own situation.