Expat Adventures

Thu, 24. Aug. 2017

I remember the day well. It was not long after we had arrived in Gstaad. My husband was at home with the children and I was travelling on a business trip. We were talking on a decidedly dodgy Skype connection.

By Anna Charles

“It’s not too deep, but I think it might need a stitch,” he said. “What do you think?”

I craned my neck closer to the screen and squinted. Our 18-month-old son had been playing overly-enthusiastically with his brothers and had fallen sideways into the corner of the coffee table. A scarlet gash glared above his left eyebrow.

Was the injury bad enough to rush him to hospital (wherever that was)? Probably not, but the cut needed medical attention and we hadn’t yet found our local doctor’s surgery let alone registered.

That was my fault. Expats get used to checklists: find somewhere to live (check), get a job (check), register with the authorities (check), figure out the medical system (ummm… not yet). I simply hadn’t got around to it and now this had happened.

What should we do?

Then I remembered chatting with a Swiss colleague about the excellent pharmacies here. He had been voluble in his praise. Pharmacists undergo regular training, he had told me, they are experienced medical professionals. Could they help our son? Less than half an hour later the wound had been treated and we were sold.


“When the dog bites, when the bee stings”

Julie Andrews sang about two of  the most common incidents facing pharmacists, but since moving to Gstaad I’ve learned they do far more than help with cuts and grazes.

A few years ago a friend came to stay from the UK. She had forgotten to pack her prescription antibiotics so off we trotted to the pharmacy. My friend was resigned to making do with an over-the-counter remedy. She explained her quandary to the pharmacist who, after a consultation, prescribed her an equivalent medicine to the one she had left in the UK.

This was totally unexpected and is well worth knowing. Medicines are often marketed under different names around the world, but pharmacists here have access to a computer system that lists the Swiss equivalents.

Pharmacists also offer a whole battery of tests (cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, and so on) and while they will refer you to hospital if your condition is serious, they provide a valuable service.



This extends outside normal pharmacy opening hours. There is always one pharmacy in each region that’s ‘on call’ (Notfalldienstapotheke/Pharmacie de garde). This changes every two weeks. It’s easy to find out which pharmacy is on call:

• Check in the Anzeiger von Saanen newspaper.

• Ring your local pharmacy and listen to the message on the answer machine telling you whom to contact.

If you urgently need to see a pharmacist they can arrange to meet you at the ‘on call’ pharmacy there and then. Alternatively they will make an appointment to see you at mutual convenience. Similarly, if you urgently need to speak to a doctor out of hours, you can call the following emergency number: 0900 576747 (there is a fee for this service).


Looking Back

With three active sons, we’ve made numerous trips to doctors and hospitals over the years. But we remain thankful to the local pharmacist for her professional treatment all those years ago.

As for our son, he thinks his tiny eyebrow scar is “pretty cool” and he’s thankfully now safe around coffee tables.


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