I was released from a national hospital in Crete on Friday afternoon after a seven day stay. During that time, I had over fifteen tests, including several ultrasounds, two CTs, a colonoscopy, a gastroscopy, and an excruciating forty-five minute MRI.
The cost: nothing. As a Greek citizen, I am fully covered under the national health, due to a change in the laws initiated by the SYRIZA government a few years ago.
I had not been feeling well for a few weeks. I had little appetite, no energy, and my tummy was sore. I chalked it all up to the stress of moving from Lesbos to Crete, not to mention the stress of quarantine that preceded the move. When I was taken to the emergency room by friends, I expected to be given a few pills and sent home.
Instead, after two ultrasounds and an x-ray, I was told I would be admitted for further tests. My case turned out to be a difficult one. Clearly something was wrong with me, but the tests were negative. Because nothing happens in the hospital over the weekend, I was released after a week and told to return in five days for an update after the doctors had reviewed the full results of all the tests.
As I was wheeled around and poked and prodded during my stay, I could not help but wonder how much all of this would have cost me if I were living in America. Not to mention how much it would cost someone with no insurance or a high deductible.
That everything was covered by the national health is the good news.
The bad news is that I was admitted to a hospital system with minimal nursing care aside from taking your temperature and blood pressure and drawing blood several times a day. The nurses visited our room at 12 midnight and 5 am, turning on all the lights and waking everyone up. There were 8 beds in the room. The toilets were down the hall and used by so many that they were not always clean.
In Greece it is expected that a family member will be by your side in the hospital day and night, sleeping (or not) in a plastic chair. Food is provided, but as I came to discover, water is not. Your carer is expected to supply it. You are expected to bring your own changes of clothing, towels, paper towels, diapers, etc. As I had not anticipated being admitted, I had no water, no pyjamas, no clean clothes, and not even a hairbrush or a toothbrush. I also had no telephone as mine had been broken for a few weeks, and I had not had the energy to take it to be fixed.
The couple who brought me to the hospital—whom I hardly knew but whom I view as my guardian angels—came to the hospital to visit and bring necessaries, but as I was not sure where everything was in my new home, I didn’t have a hairbrush or a toothbrush for four days.
I felt very alone in a very strange land.
In one of the beds across from me was a ninety-three year old woman who could not even moan or flail her arms. She had dementia and was being fed through a tube in her stomach because she could not remember how to chew or swallow. Her face looked like a mummy. She had two loving children, both over fifty and unmarried, who were devoted to her and absolutely unwilling to let her go. The son said it made him feel good to know his mother was still with him.
In the bed next to me a woman, who may or may not have had dementia, cried at the top of her lungs for much of the day and most of the night: “I can’t take it anymore. I am in pain. Take me God. Help me Mary.” When she was finally given a sedative after 5 days, another woman with dementia was admitted who sounded like a four year-old when she cried: “Leave me alone” and “No” whenever she was disturbed. Then there was the old granny from the mountains who sent everyone to the devil when they woke her up at 5 am.
Needless to say, sleep was almost impossible.
Add to that, it was very hot and with Irish blood, I cannot bear the heat. Most Greeks are indifferent to heat, but cannot bear the cold. One day I cried for 4 hours because I could not find a cool place in the hallway, the veranda, or the room. Finally, the head doctor directed that the air-conditioning would be turned low. One of the other patients began to complain loudly that she was cold, while making disparaging remarks about the foreigner who insisted on air-conditioning.
On the other hand, in a situation like that everyone starts to feel like family. I made friends with several women who were caring for their mothers, and after that had someone to talk to. The veranda attached to our room looked over pine trees. I found solace watching crows, collared doves, and pigeons.
The architect who was still working on the renovations of my new apartment also visited, took my phone to be repaired, and called a mutual friend who came to visit several times after that. She berated me for not reaching out to her or anyone else. My excuse that I have difficulty asking for help was summarily dismissed
Though it often felt like I was in a trellokomio (crazy house), I had faith in my doctors and am very grateful that I live in a country with a national health system.
Health care is a human right. The health care situation in the United States should be categorized as a violation of human rights.
“Say a little prayer for me.”
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who lives in Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s recent book is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.
Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.