January 26th, 2015, 10pm

It was 3°C with few clouds. The breeze was light.

Today, one month and three weeks after my surgery, I choose to write again because today I can write again. The surgery went very well, but my recovery took forever. Today is the first day I am feeling rather well and so I can look back and write about what I’ve been through. Because I should write about what I’ve been through, so that I do not forget, so that there are documents about the paranoia of Greek hospitals.

Mid January I am referred to a different university hospital than the one I am having my chemo in, so that a specific top, highly regarded and recommended surgeon operates on me. I visit him in his private practice and he tells me to go and get admitted to the hospital the next day as an “urgent case,” because my surgery is an “interval surgery” meaning it’s a surgery between chemo cycles, and it has to happen soon. So I am admitted to the hospital the next day and I start my pre-operative tests. I am feeling content because I am in good hands: A top surgeon will be operating on me. The top surgeon is not very content, however, because a) I chose the public hospital instead of the private hospital, where he’s also operating, so I get my surgery for free, and b) he’s not getting any “envelope money” from me because we happen to know the director of the gynecological clinic of the hospital, so we contact him and I suppose my surgeon feels that his hands are tied; if he asks for money for my surgery, he will be accountable to the director. [In Greek we use the expression, “little envelope” when referring to the money doctors demand - almost without exception - from their patients in public hospitals in order to perform the operation, or in order to bump them up on a surgery list. The patient supposedly puts the money in a little envelope and slips it in the pocket of the surgeon].

My pre-operative tests finish in two days, but they keep me in for a week. Each day the entire oncology team comes for rounds, they recite what I am in for, but they never mention a surgery date. I change three rooms and two wards in the meantime, I suffer a mild anxiety attack during which I cannot breathe properly, after I spend two days in a 5-bed room which resembles more a frat a party than a hospital room, before I end up in a quite, coveted double room. On Sunday, one week after I am admitted, a doctor comes during rounds and tells me that I should leave because a) there are other more important surgeries on their list, b) “we cannot force you to leave but do you want to stay in and catch some hospital virus?” (!), and c) we have not received any blood from your relatives and our bank has a shortage. WHAT????

I knew I was supposed to have two relatives give blood for the blood bank in case I need it during surgery, but I did not know that it was a prerequisite for surgery. Nobody said so. I was waiting to be given a surgery date first and then have my relatives give blood. So now I am enraged and I decide to stay out of spite. Of course I am not going to give up my nice room so that I end up in the bedrooms from hell after I am re-admitted. I will stay until they get sick and tired of me and decide to operate. The doctor who tells me I should leave is obviously not pleased with my decision. I can see it on his sour face. After rounds I catch the surgeon who is supposed to operate on me and I tell him, “Dr, can I ask you a question since you are my doctor…” and he interrupts me and tells me the following: “I am not your doctor. You are in a public hospital and all the doctors are you doctors and you should listen to them!” (what do you gather from a response like that???? That he’s pleased that I am not giving him any money?) So I say, “Ok, in that case, why are my doctors asking me to leave? What is that about you not having blood. Are you lacking my blood type?? Type 0+?” At that point he starts mumbling “Yes, well, we don’t have blood in general, your blood type included.” “But nobody said that I should provide blood first so that you can operate on me,” I protest. “And why should I leave? I will start calling people first thing tomorrow.” “Well, we don’t know when we will be operating on you.” “Well, it doesn’t matter. I will stay. And I am going to get the blood you need, if that is the problem.”

First thing Monday morning I send out an SOS Facebook message to all those aware of my condition asking for blood, and I start making calls. There I am, walking up and down the corridor outside the blood donation room, like some yuppie on the phone with investors, trying to coordinate donations on my name. Then I go in asking questions: What blood should I ask for? I have one bottle in that hospital, will that do? Yes, a friend is coming with type 0+. I have another friend who is taking medicine, can he come? Another has had wine last night, is that OK? It was crazy. But in two hours I had 5 bottles in 5 different hospitals at my disposal. And yet my hospital said they needed someone to come in person because bottles from other hospitals are not transferred and they need blood on the spot.

The most unexpected people came to my rescue. A friend sent her husband, who is not even my friend, and I was so grateful. I was truly moved by the mobilization of my friends. The psychotic thing was that a little before 10 o’ clock, before I even had any blood given for me, I hear the matron mentioning my name. “What’s going on?” I ask. “What are you doing here, dear? I have already given the green light for your surgery,” she says. WHAT???? So they didn’t really need any blood after all?

I had my surgery the very next day.

If I had left on Sunday, like they wanted me to, there’s no way they would have called me back the next day and I would have waited for weeks probably. Why? Most probably because no money exchanged hands. Probably because they wanted to bump someone else up on the surgery list; someone who had paid money. Who knows.

I am thankful to my surgeon for having done an excellent job, but I have no respect for him whatsoever, and it makes me sad and furious that a top surgeon, truly amazing in his field, is driven solely by money and not by a need to help people. Maybe I am a naive idealist, but I thought that someone who earns so much money from his private practice and from the private hospital, where he also works, would offer his expertise without expecting some extra gain, apart from his salary, in the public university hospital in which he chooses to work and where he is also an associate professor!! A professor!!!

I am glad I took this picture of my friend’s hand holding the rubber heart. It has come to represent for me not only the love of my friends, but also some sort of private victory over a corrupt medical system where humanity does not exist; only money. Yes, I am well now because of doctors, but I like to think that I survived in that hospital because of the love of my friends and my family.

Shu, Adrian, Emanuel, David Wade and 5 others said thanks.

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Maria Coveou

travel journalist, translator, freelance script supervisor for film & TV, film buff, lover of the written word and of music, blogger, vintage lover, '80s child, occasional flapper, Lindy hopper, traveler, thinker, dreamer, temporary alien [http://about.me/mariacoveou]

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