Being in the hospital is often scary. It can be even scarier if you’re in a country with unfamiliar customs and language.
If you find yourself in a Polish hospital, here are some dos and don’ts for making it through.
Bring all the helpful documents you can. That includes your passport/other ID, medical history, emergency contact numbers, and proof of insurance (if you have it). If you can’t get proof of insurance right away, don’t worry – you have a grace period either 14 days after commencement of treatment or seven days after release from hospital. You can find out how to prove insurance here.
Expect everyone there to speak English. In our experience, about half of the doctors in public hospitals speak English, and most of the nurses don’t.
Learn some key Polish phrases. Here are some handy words you might say to the staff, and here are some terms you might hear them use. When in doubt, though, if you just say “English”/”Angielski” then they will almost certainly find someone who can speak to you. And if it’s an emergency, remember that SOR is the Polish name for the emergency room, and 999 is the emergency medical phone number. (999 operators are required to know English.) On the other hand, if it’s an expected procedure like childbirth or a scheduled surgery, it might be worthwhile to have any special information for the medical staff professionally translated and printed out before the big day.
Expect privacy. You might be in a room with three or even more other people, with no curtains. Unfortunately this is just a reality of budget and space limitations in many Polish hospitals.
Bring some food if you can, or have some brought. Polish hospital food is notoriously awful – meals sometimes just consist of bread and hard butter. There may at least be a small refrigerator for patients and/or a small shop (sklep) that sells additional items. If you have a special diet, you can tell them:
- vegetarian – wegetariański
- vegan – wegańskie
- diabetic diet – dieta cukrzycowa
- dairy-free – bez (produktów) mlecznych
- gluten-free – bezglutenowe
- nut allergy (though it’s unlikely any Polish hospital food would contain nuts anyway) – alergia na orzechy
Count on there being Wi-Fi. Be sure to bring your mobile and charger. In some hospitals there are pay-as-you-go computer stations in public areas, or the hospital will let you use a phone. While you’re at it, bring a few books or other entertainment as well if you’re in for a long stay, because diversions can be hard to come by.
Reach out to your embassy or consulate if you need assistance from them. You can find a directory of embassies and consulates in Poland here.
Stay up late. The nurses in Polish hospitals start checking on patients as early as 5 or 6 am. If you have trouble falling asleep, they may be able to provide a sleeping tablet (pigułka nasenna).
Bring any clothes or hygiene products you may need. The hospital will probably expect you to mostly wear your own clothes, not a hospital gown. You should include in that wardrobe a pair of shower sandals, as the bathing facilities will likely be shared.
Worry about the level of care you’ll receive. Yes, the architecture and interior decorating (including a crucifix above each door) in Polish hospitals may seem dated. But Poland’s healthcare workers are highly educated and professional, and the medical equipment itself is usually quite modern. Your health is in good hands.
Jens Arnesen contributed to this article.