A Citizen’s Guide to Greece 2015


April 14, 2015

Here’s to your health

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Written by: DW

I recently found myself obliged to spend some time in a public hospital. Aside from the obvious benefits to my health, it was a most revealing experience.

Ihave no complaints about my treatment. The rather negative opinion I had formed previously about this particular hospital, based largely on the impression of utter chaos and lack of coordination one gets when one comes here when the hospital offers emergency service, were largely unfounded. Only once or twice did I feel a minor lack of confidence in the competence of the staff.

One encounters all sorts of people in a hospital. My ward mates in the clinic where I was being treated included an OTE employee, a retired factory worker, a retired construction worker, two waiters, and a driver at the Skouries gold mines (whose brother, a fireman, formerly drove a garbage truck). Among the hospital employees I met was a retiree who returned to work to make ends meet. Boy could that guy hustle.

I detected lots of different types of tension, not surprising I suppose considering the stress of being in such a dynamic environment. But overall I encountered people who were dedicated to their jobs and who tried their best under difficult circumstances.

The thing that struck me the most was the behavior of certain patients, some of whom had checked themselves into the hospital with potentially serious health problems A certain clan developed among the patients in my ward, who would wake up in the morning and immediately slip out of the clinic to drink a coffee at the snack bar or smoke a cigarette or two in the parking lot. These same patients would then stay out all evening until the clinic locked its doors for the day. One of the patients in this group became irate when he was not released when he expected to be. I have to admit that I would not have been very happy to be the be recipient of some of the treatment he received, but that does not excuse the violent rant he went on, shouting abusively at the top of his lungs for over an hour. Here was a young man who had checked himself in, and then proceeded to behave as if he were at a youth hostel.

This leads me to my primary observation. We often lament perceived waste at public institutions, including hospitals. But who more than the man on the street is responsible for much of this waste? For sure, the hospital could improve its management of food distribution, or install electronic light bulbs. For that matter, a few more lights could be turned off at night. But a lot of the food that is left uneaten is served to absentee patients.

I spoke to one of the directors of the clinic about this. His response was wise and humane. “We cannot lock people in as if they are in a concentration camp. In the end, we have to rely on thegood will of the other.”

As for me, I was happy to entrust my care to my doctors, and am grateful for theexperience.

Post scriptum

I witnessed a second outbreak of poor manners in the second clinic I visited during my stay at the hospital.

A rather ill-humored, middle-aged gentleman spent his first morning among us complaining that no one was taking heed of his condition, finally demanding to be released. His plaints grew louder and more restless as time went by, regardless of the fact that he was obviously disturbing other patients and the medical staff seemed unmoved by his tantrums. I risked raising my blood pressure by trying to calm him down, but nobody else followed suit. Finally, he got himself out of bed and went out in the hallway in search of a doctor, fuming and cursing at high decibels. After a bit, and more humble entreaties that he desist, a young lady doctor went into his room to try to placate him. He and his equally offensive mother left the hospital a few hours later to another torrent of abuse and vulgarity.

In the meanwhile I told one the female staff to call one of the male doctors to face the patient down, and offered to do so myself. Her response? What did I want? This is Greece.

Now all this time the senior doctors were nowhere to be found. The men on the staff had all disappeared. The youngest and most lacking in experience were left behind to deal as best they could with this character. No one seemed to be willing or able to exercise any authority.

This reminds me of an experience I had many years ago in Paris. I was attending the final session of a major conference. A series of distinguished professors were summing up the proceedings in a large auditorium at the Sorbonne. Midway through the presentation of one of the guest speakers, a young man seated at the very back of the auditorium, probably a student, began to yell inanities with a presumed view toward interrupting the speaker. After a few moments, one of the conferees seated in the middle of the auditorium got up and moved quietly but deliberately toward the back. If I had to guess I would have said a former marine, Pacific theater or Korea. He gently coaxed the demonstrator to stop yelling, and then went back to his own seat. A couple minutes later the same student resumed his ranting. My marine got up again, and this time escorted the young man out of the auditorium, forcefully but without a hint of violence.

I always thought I would like to be able to display this quiet, self-assured authority in a similar situation, recalling maybe Montesquieu’s definition of freedom as being the right to do whatever does not bring harm to, or infringe upon the freedom of, others. I half expected the French auditors in the audience to register their dissaproval of this act of authority, but no, it was all done tactfully and respectfully.

Greeks, being a lot like the French with regard to their personal rights and their natural resistance to authority, seem not to tolerate such demonstrations of social discipline. The hospital would be a better place for everyone if they did.


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