Little did I imagine that, less than 72 hours after dining on a delectable meal of salmon and grilled cheese salad at a beachfront restaurant to the sound of ocean waves, I’d be lying in a hospital bed in Kalamata.
It all began with an itch. I thought I’d been bitten by one of the hundreds of mosquitoes buzzing around the sandy shore. But several hours and a miserable sleepless night later, I discovered there was more than a mosquito bite or two. Much of my body was covered in an unbearably itchy rash and the light-headed dizzy sensation I was experiencing couldn’t have come from the single mojito the night before. The next day it continued, so I went to a local clinic in Pylos and was given a very painful cortisone shot along with a dose of anti-histamine pills which helped a bit.
But the next morning it was worse and spreading so Skip suggested another visit to the clinic which turned into a ride to the larger hospital in Kalamata about 45 mins away to see a specialist.
That’s where the fun began. It started with the surly Greek receptionist who pointed me toward the admissions desk where there wasn’t a soul. Returning to the surly Greek, I told him there was “nobody working”, to which he snarled “Nice joke” and walked me into an adjoining room filled with staff. No English signs anywhere and nobody around to give directions. You’re pretty much on your own here if you don’t speak the language.
The staff was pleasant enough (once they found someone who could speak English), and they directed me to the “specialist” (dermatologist), an elderly Mr. Magoo-type of fella wearing a white surgical coat with no shirt beneath. No English here, either, I’m afraid. Luckily, there was a delightful nurse named Marianna who translated everything and after a brief examination, told me it was “urticaria” (which, I believe, translates into: unknown mystery rash), and told me I had to get “medicine” and stay at the hospital so they could observe me.
OK. So my interpretation of “waiting at the hospital” is maybe an hour or two. Nope. They wanted me to be admitted and stay a couple of days. Not on my programme. “But I don’t want to stay overnight,” I told Mr. Magoo (via Marianna). “No, not seven nights, just a few nights,” she replied, clearly understanding my attempt at communication.
Since the rash was getting worse and I now had a nice dose of indigestion to add to my ailments, I was persuaded by Skip and Mr. Magoo that I should follow the doc’s directions. So, several hours later, after a chest x-ray (completely dressed in my clothes with underwear and earrings) and a saline intravenous drip attached, I found myself sharing a room with an elderly grey-haired Greek woman, who was in a really bad way after a hand amputation. Lying across from her on my basic hospital cot, I spent hours listening to her throw up in a bucket and groan and wail relentlessly, then observe the constant string of family, friends and doctors who came to visit (some in tears and most of them on their very loud cellphones). Privacy? Silence? Forget it. The Greeks are lovely people but they are not the quietest population we’ve come across and they all chatted away animatedly, talked on their phones (using words that sounded like “Major Tom”, “onomatopoeia” and “Geronimo”) and turned lights on and off throughout the night, even after I’d turned mine off, in an attempt to sleep.
As for bedside service. Forget it. After Skip left, I observed there was no toilet paper in the loo (which also had no seat), and walked down to the nurses’ station to request some.
“No toilet paper,” growled one of the stocky nurses. “You get downstairs. Need to buy”.
I also had no source of water, other than the bathroom tap, and nothing to drink with. No cups, towels, pillows or anything that one might need for an overnight hospital stay. I quickly surmised a mint on the pillow was out of the question. I requested a cup and, after two reminders, a nurse returned with what looked like a urinalysis sample cup. Better than nothing, and I guessed I’d have to buy my own water, along with the toilet paper, if I wanted any.
Then came dinner, which consisted of two small dried toasts and a bowl of hardly lukewarm creamy-coloured liquid with floating pasta and a lemon on the side. It was plonked on the bedside table – no assistance provided of actually putting it in an accessible spot where I could reach it – so I leaned across, lifted it with one arm (the other had the IV port inserted) and hauled it onto the bed. I shouldn’t have bothered as it was beyond tasteless, and the lemon just made it lemon-flavoured tasteless. (I deduced during the next couple of days I must be on the “white tasteless food programme” since the next meal was the same soupy stuff that came with white chicken I couldn’t eat and the following day was white pasta covered in shredded white cheese with a hunk of white bread.)
Luckily, Skip appeared soon after, bearing wonderful gifts: a pillow (I’d been making do with what he described as “a bag filled with rags”), leftover stir-fried veggies and couscous, a change of clothes (I’d been wearing shorts and t-shirt since being admitted) and things to do (books, Kindle and computer). He also had a heated discussion with the doctor when he discovered I’d had no treatment since he left the hospital four hours prior (another miscommunication) which resulted in the best gift of all: a huge roll of toilet paper and two bottles of water (which the nurses purchased themselves).
The night was a hive of activity. Chattering visitors, a new occupant in the room (another elderly grey-haired woman who later tried to chat with me in Greek), midnight IV drip, 4am temperature taking, then 6:30am all lights on. Dour nurses who looked like bags of feta cheese on legs waddled into the room without a smile or announcing their reason for being there and, at one time during the day, six people stood around my bed (a doctor, handful of nurses, a male orderly and a couple of onlookers who spoke some English). There didn’t seem to be a purpose other than checking my rash (which had gone down considerably) and asking me what I did and where I lived. Nobody communicated much and nobody smiled or made me feel comfortable. The nurse pulled up my t-shirt to check on my rash with no consideration or inquiry as to whether I was wearing underwear (I wasn’t). The cleaner yelled at people in Greek as she cleaned the floor around us and I was actually grateful that I didn’t understand a word.
Perhaps it’s an effect from the Greek financial crisis that the supplies are bare-boned, but surely a smile doesn’t cost anything.
A welcome visit from Mr. Magoo the following afternoon communicated that I might be leaving the next day. And this day’s staff were much nicer – I even had a couple of smiles and – miracle of miracles – instructions (after being in hospital 29 hours) that I could push the red button on the wall if I needed anything.
So, after two disturbed and disturbing nights, long days filled with mild boredom, slight discomfort and a burning desire to escape from the IV needle and white walls of Kalamata’s finest, I was given the green light. I could leave. The date: July 4. Independence Day indeed.