Friday, February 24

ON THE GREEK DOCTOR'S COUCH...

Well I'm back from a week long trip to a plethora of doctors' offices. Seriously: my every waking hour this week has been spent either in my chair at work, or on a couch in a doctor's waiting room. Fun, fun - well, not for me, but hopefully for you, cause here is a detailed account of my journey through the various rooms.
The beginnings of this journey can be found in my post called MY LITTLE ENDOMETRIOSIS.
Since then I've been waiting for the right time of month to embark on the second round of doctor's visits. Well, the time swung round, and off I went.
First, my wonderful sweet kind cousin, who is a very... shall we say, alternative kind of girl, insisted I see her gynaecologist to get a second opinion (in addition to the first, given to me by MY HERO, the doctor at IASO). Rather reluctantly, I went, and not surprisingly, (as this was no regular gynaecologist but rather a family friend) the waiting was funky lo-key: big overstuffed couches splayed around a homey kind of living room; millions of tiny baby eyes staring down at you from collages covering every available wall space; a collection of rather bedraggled plants, and a serve-yourself filter coffee machine.
Unfortunately, after a two hour wait (we'd already shown up 3 hours late, as recommended by the receptionist) the doctor was less homey and comfortable than her workspace. In fact, the 75 euros I paid got me the conviction, held for two days, that I had cancer and was going to die. I was just working on the third draft of my will when my first blood test results came back.
To go back a little - this is important cause Greece gets yet another point in the ongoing Greece vs. Canada Battle: BLOOD TESTS IN GREECE ARE A MILLION TIMES EASIER THAN IN CANADA. It's like this: I am (was?) DEATHLY afraid of blood tests. Days before the appointed time, I start getting strange numbness and weakness behind my knees and elbows, and little whimpers escape my mouth whenever I am reminded of the awful fate that awaits me. On the day itself, I am fairly composed before the ordeal, but afterwards I emerge ashen-faced, hyperventilating, with pain and numbness coursing through my entire body. I swear I am not exaggerating. Ask my friend, Liz, who came with me once. She still has nightmares about the day, and has developed a (previously non-existent) needle-phobia herself.
So, here in Greece, I started getting the same symptoms, started coaching my boyfriend so he wouldn't freak out completely and run out of the office when I turned into a blubbering puddle of cowardly jelly, and tried my best to steel myself for WHAT WAS TO COME.
Which then never came.
My boyfriend is convinced I made the whole thing up to freak him out.
Actually, this is what happened: I walked into the clinic. Two girls were behind the desk - both about 16 years old by the look of it. The younger of the two - about 4 foot 5, blond and pixie-like, gushed at me to follow her to THE CHAIR. Which I did. She then started preparing the needle, and I was like - hang on a minute, aren't you going to call your mommy to do that? (OK she was actually married and just really young looking, but in my panicked state I wasn't noticing details). But anyway, before the question is out of my mouth, she's saying "OK, we're done, sweetie/glykoula mou."
And we were. That was it. I didn't feel a thing. Phew.
Needless to say, I spent the next hour laughing.
My only explanation is that, in Canada, they siphon off extra blood to secretly donate to the blood banks, hence the exaggeratedly large needles they use, and the large amounts of blood they take.
Go Greece!
Incidentally, the results were below the cut-off point that indicates cancer. (!!!) Phew again.
And back to my dissertation on waiting rooms.
So, with my blood tests in hand, I set off to see my original doctor who, if you recall, I had originally seen at the hospital. So I had no idea what to expect from his waiting room. However, the girl who had recommended him to me was definitely a POINTY SHOED kind of Greek girl. If you followed the debate on buruburu and Scruffy American's sites, you'll know what I'm talking about - perfectly coiffed, leading a trouble-free existence of coffee bars and clothing stores, very chi-chi and chic. So, (again not surprisingly) when I stepped into THIS doctor's waiting room, I thought I must have walked into the wrong office. It looked like a posh modelling agency or something - abstract modern art tossed about in every corner, plexi and chrome galore, and a very stylish black girl serving the ladies coffee - your choice: cappucino, espresso, filter, the works, from a very fancy looking machine.
Unfortunately, the elegance of the place did nothing to detract from the waiting time.
I got there at 7pm, on the dot.
The doctor saw me at 11:15pm. (An aside: these doctors amaze me, really. They're up at six, spend the morning at the hospital, then work all night, regularly, until 11 or 12, and still - at least in this case - manage to be cheerful and answer all my questions and more!)
Moreover, since I had to wait so long, the consultation was on the house! Whoopee, as my funds are quickly dwindling due to the constant stream of tests I am having to undergo.
Also, I had plenty to entertain me while I waited. In fact, I barely had time to concentrate on the book I'd brought, foreseeing the marathon wait ahead of me (Eleni Gage's 'North of Ithaca'. Yes, She's Nick Gage's daughter. No, it's not a work of genius, though rather amusing, and, ironically enough, she had ovarian cysts too, and in fact had to delay the start of her voyage due to them!)
Anyway, in the large, main waiting room, equipped with leather couches and all the latest trendy magazines, I was privy to a constant parade of women with bellies bulging out of tight designer pregnancy pants. Really. Who the hell buys DESIGNER PREGNANCY PANTS when you're only going to use them for a few months?? But that's what they were. (Have you ever seen the film Dr T and the Women? It was kind of like that, but more so.) Of course, the non-pregnant women were even more glamorously dressed, and the multitude of attractive staff looked ready to step out onto the ballroom floor. For example, the woman who typed in the info while I got my ultrasound was wearing a flowy, see-through ruffled black dress, stilettos, and huge dangly silver earrings. Humph. I would've at least cast off my baggy jeans if I knew I was going to a fashion show.
As if that wasn't enough, the elegant couple sitting across from me were a constant source of amusement, namely because the husband spent the ENTIRE FOUR HOURS with his head thrown back on the couch, mouth open, snoring loudly. His demure wife, for the duration of this manly display, stared vacantly into space, every now and then patting his bald crown in an absent-minded kind of way.
But whenever this carnival started losing its charm, I had a third source of amusement: the SMOKERS waiting room, into which I kept popping in order to celebrate my state of non-cancerness.
This room was, of course, much smaller than the main one - about the size of a closet, in fact - but everyone who wasn't pregnant was jammed in there. Not only did it hold the lure of nicotine, but there was a TELEVISION on the wall. So we alternated between watching the Pireas riots (which were SO staged - like, "Hello, guys, it's 8 thirty. The news is on. Let's throw some stuff around then go home and drink Metaxa, OK?") and two women who were staging their own, personal, cold war. It went something like this:
WOMAN ONE: It's cold in here. Close the window. (ed. note: What, and suffocate?)
WOMAN TWO: But we're smoking. It's smoky.
WOMAN ONE: Just for a minute or two, OK? I'm freezing.
WOMAN TWO: (grumbling) OK, OK...
five minutes later (woman two re-opens the window)
WOMAN ONE: What are you doing?
WOMAN TWO: Opening the window.
WOMAN ONE: But it's cold. Can't you see it's cold? There's a draft hitting my legs.
WOMAN TWO: I'll just leave it open for a minute or two. I can't breathe.
five minutes later
WOMAN ONE: Are you going to close the window or what?
WOMAN TWO: But I just opened it!
And so on. As far as I could tell, they were at it continuously for the entire four hours. All this because, of course, woman one couldn't concede defeat (or relinquish her smoking chair) by moving to the mainly empty main waiting room and just relocating for cigarette breaks.
But to make a long story... a little less long, it was with some reluctance that I finally made it to the doctor's office. Good news, he's still convinced I have endometriosis, and that, with a small operation, I'll be cured - well, at least until the bloody disease/condition comes back, as is its wont, apparently.
The bad news is that, done privately, the operation costs 2000 euros. And that's just the hospital fee. I didn't get round to asking how much the doctor's fee would be, or the cost of the monthly hormone injections I'd need to get for the next half a year. 2000 is already, sadly, out of my budget.
SO the next morning, having recently (and with many failed trips, pain, suffering, and waiting in lines) gotten my vivliario (health book) I ventured to the nearby IKA office to see what the whole deal was with public insurance. After waiting 10 minutes for the information lady to finish her (I'm sure private) telephone call, I shoved my way through the hordes of smelly people to the basement and got a family doctor written into my book (as required) with something approaching ease. I was then directed to the imioropho to book an appointment with a state gynaecologist.
So, I enter the waiting room. What confronts me: a stark white room, entirely bare walls, linoleum tiles, and a stack of broken chairs in the corner. Nothing else - besides a mass of poor unfortunates who, like me, cannot afford private healthcare, waiting their turn to be... somethinged... through a stained metal door.
Needless to say, after my whirlwind tour of the glamorous private health care world, this was all a bit much for me, and I fled.
So what now? I see two options: apply for private health insurance (and lie and say I'm perfectly healthy, though it might seem a bit suspicious that as soon as I hold that golden card - or whatever they give you - I'll check myself first class into the IASO), or 'Go Greek': pull some strings, call up some favours, rely on connections. In fact, as I type my uncle is speaking to an IKA doctor on my behalf, and my dad is calling up every doctor he knows, to see if someone can pull some strings and get me, IKA offices-free, into a halfway decent state hospital like the Alexandras. Never mind the so called "black fees" - the illegal, but well established fees you must use to bribe the guy doing the operation - if you want to get it sometime before the year 3000.
Jesus. Minus 10 Greece.
But I'll cross that bridge, and all the rest that await me, when I come to it.

1 comment:

Aisling Chin-Yee said...

K: how nice was it to find you, sitting in my in box - and what a nicer surprise to find your blog! I havent read all your posts yet, but its great to read about your life in Athens - which I had been asking all of us in your, ahem, former, winterier life in Montreal, where you had gone...You seem to be thriving, which does not surprise me in the least, on the contrary, been my only assumption of where post-COMS would take you, and its great to see you true to form, witty, sarcastic, observant, and sceptical in that good way...
i will write you a longer more detailed break down of what's been going on the last little while, but in a nut shell, yes still in montreal, working at the NFB, and getting in to lots of fun alternative and mobilized media trouble/fun and all that!

I hope that all this doctor and hospital stuff will sort itself out (private health systems...grrrr) and i can't wait to come back to read more!

...its nice to bump into people you know ;D