How Not to Get a Prescription in Edinburgh

I have epilepsy.

Luckily for me, it’s no big deal. I’ve had it all my life, but was only diagnosed when I was 16. After that, they quickly put me on an antiepileptic medication that controls it well – I’ve been seizure free since 2012.  In fact, if all goes well, I’ll even be off this mild prescription by next year. Everyone just thought it would be a good idea to keep up with it while studying abroad in a new environment. And while I thoroughly agree with that, it meant going through a lengthy procedure to get that prescription.

And I mean lengthy!

At first, my neurologist suggested that my mom mail my prescription to me every month from home. I quickly vetoed that one, knowing that there was no way insurance would let me refill the prescription even a couple days early so that I could have it before I ran out completely, considering it would take some time for a small package to cross the Atlantic.

Then my doctor suggested that I bring just enough to last me. Except, I’m out of the country for a year and even for a mild drug like the one I take, I would be hard-pressed to take that much of any drug through an airport.

Eventually, we figured out that, while a prescription written by a neurologist in the U.S. would be worthless to a pharmacist in Scotland, I could give it to another doctor here and basically have them rewrite it on more valid stationary. So then began the hunt for a Scottish neurologist. Except it’s not that simple here in Edinburgh; in order to see a neurologist (and get a prescription from them), you first need to get a referral from a general practitioner. This part was made a little easier, since it turns out I walk past a small medical clinic on my way to class every day.

Scenic path through the Meadows in the morning
It’s a scenic path through the Meadows that takes me to class- and this small clinic. No complaints here!

Armed with my passport and enough money for the short visit (the insurance that works with IFSA-Butler students, CISI, reimburses you for doctor’s visits and prescriptions), I was promptly turned away at the clinic. I’d forgotten to print out my housing contract, which acts as my proof of residency. So off I went to the library, where a printer awaited.

I walk by this clinic on my way to class, so it’s not very far. However, it does get busy very, very quickly. By the time I returned, the line (sorry, queue) had increased to the point that I wouldn’t be able to see the doctor before drop-in hours for the day had ended. I returned home and set an alarm for early the next day, determined to get it right this time.

Edinburgh street in the morning!
Still no complaints – Edinburgh is beautiful in the morning!

From here, things went remarkably smoothly. After about 20 minutes (waiting rooms don’t seem to change much from country to country), I was in. Another 20 minutes and I was out, prescription in hand. There was a little bit of confusion regarding payment and a receipt, so I had to make one more quick stop that afternoon, but other than that, I was set.

After the weekend, I dropped by the pharmacy on campus, a small room filled with shampoos and soaps, electrical converters and combs, lozenges and lotions, and every random thing you can think of. Now, back home, it would always take at least a day, if not two, for my prescription to be refilled. In Edinburgh, however, they were telling people to come back in 15, 20 minutes. So, I went across the street for a hot chocolate and returned half an hour later. My luck hadn’t changed. Turns out, they didn’t have my medication in stock and would have to order it. They expected it to arrive by 4:30 p.m. that same day; i.e. 30 minutes before they closed and in the middle of my last lecture of the day. I came back the next morning and, after a bit of searching (I guess my medication was hiding from everyone), I had it. I was all set. But for some reason I was still scheduled for an appointment with a neurologist at the Royal Infirmary the next evening.

Here’s when the mishaps really began:

Traffic gets really bad in Edinburgh after 5 p.m. Like, bad. Think Chicago during rush hour. Since I had been walking everywhere, I was not aware of this, or that buses would naturally run quite a bit behind schedule. Instead of taking the bus and arriving at best 10 minutes before my appointment with no idea how to navigate the hospital or if there would be any paperwork involved, I opted to take a taxi and have 25 minutes to spare. As I watched the meter tick, and tick and tick and the cars around us barely budge a centimeter, that 25 minutes dropped to 15. Which is still pretty decent, I thought. I made it to the information desk at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh at 6:20, asking about an appointment at 6:30.

Apparently, 6:30 is a very odd time for an appointment at a hospital whose outpatient services all shut down at 6 p.m. Especially when this appointment was supposedly at a hospital which sends the majority of their neurology cases to a hospital across town. To complicate matters even further, the Royal Infirmary is a massive place. I couldn’t even look up the doctor I was supposed to see without a ward name, which I was not provided upon scheduling the appointment with the insurance company. Guided by a very helpful nurse, I got a great tour of the hospital in the following 45 minutes, but never found that neurologist…

I hope I didn’t scare anyone. The process really isn’t complicated if all you want is for a local doctor to rewrite your prescription. In Edinburgh, it’s just a quick visit to a general practitioner and a second stop at a pharmacist after that; if anything, it’s simpler than anything I’ve done in the U.S. But there is a certain amount of luck involved. So my advice is to be prepared for the ups and downs; the sailing isn’t always smooth and it might take a little bit longer than you anticipated. Just in case, make sure you’re prepared for a lengthy, misguided journey like mine.

Megan McClory is triple majoring in History, Anthropology and East Asian Studies with a minor in English at Brandeis University and studied abroad with IFSA Butler at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland for Fall 2016. She was an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler’s Work-to-Study Program.

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