All of my experiences with Czech hospitals have been fantastic – they got my appendix out before it killed me, took magnificent care of Our Lass when Our Kid was born and sent an ambulance for him in five minutes flat ‘as a precaution’ when he had a temperature that wouldn’t come down no matter what we tried.
However, a simple trip to the family doctor is something that you should only attempt after learning the language fluently and taking some tranquilisers…. let me justify this statement:
As I’m getting on a bit, entering my 41st summer, it was time I went for a preventative check-up. I’ve been trying to sort this out since my 39th summer but seemingly no family doctor starts work before I do, nor finishes work after I do. As I’m currently ‘resting between jobs’, Our Lass phoned up and booked me an appointment.
Now, back home in the UK you turn up promptly for your appointment and very often get seen promptly within an hour. Over here there is a slightly different interpretation. You make an appointment, turn up and the doctor will see you as and when they have time. My advice is to take a good book and a packed lunch.
My ‘appointment’ was at 0650 so I had a good chance of being seen before 0730. I walked in with confidence and went through the open door with ‘Waiting Room’ written on it – as opposed to the closed doors with doctors’ names written on them. It is very important to add your name to the list on the table where all waiting rooms keep copies of last year’s celebrity gossip magazines. This list is a far closer guide to who will be seen next than your appointment time.
So, I added my name and bade a polite ‘Good morning’ to the other people waiting there. Some of them were very old and might have been waiting there for several years. Others appeared to have died during the wait. As I opened my good book, the nurse came out and read the next 4 names on the list. Three of the extremely elderly and one of the corpses got up and went in. ‘Good, I thought. ‘This shouldn’t take too long after all.’
In the meantime, five or six more people came in clutching thick folders and added their names to the list. My book was very good and I was getting through it at a tremendous pace. Gradually, the elderly shuffled out of the doctor’s office and the nurse came out to read the next four names on the list. Immediately, all the people who had arrived carrying folders stood up and rushed the door. Those of us who should have been next protested to the nurse, who just shrugged her shoulders and went back through the door, locking it behind her.
From what I gathered from the other people, this is acceptable behaviour if you’ve pre-booked an appointment. Confused, I realised this was turning into the disaster I had been expecting all along. Obviously Our Lass had forgotten to tell me to ignore the queue and just force my way in.
Luckily, I still had a good book. I got stuck back into it as the disgruntled muttering died away around me. One or two of the elderly seemed to have slipped off this mortal coil during the last few minutes, so perhaps I could get in ahead of them? A terrible thought – had they turned up for their preventative check-up sometime in the mid-80’s and been waiting here ever since?
As I approached the middle of my good book, the nurse ran out of excuses to ignore us and called the next four names. Actually, she called the next three and ran into a brick wall when she saw mine. ‘Mr. Sssssssssssssssss Horrrt?’, she tried, valiantly.
‘Short’, I corrected her, smiling. She peered suspiciously at me over the top of her glasses, in case they were lying to her. Finally she allowed me through the door which was yet another waiting room. This place looked like a labyrinth. I hoped I could find my way out again without a ball of string.
‘Sssssssssssssssss Horrrt’, she repeated, doubtfully. She made a show of opening her records drawers but she obviously had every patient’s details etched firmly in her mind and I wasn’t there. ‘This is the General Practitioner’, she told me, meaning ‘go away’.
That’s good, I told her cheerfully. I need to see the doctor. ‘Who are you?’ she asked me again. I handed her my ID booklet, which is different for foreigners compared to a Czech’s. She took it from me as if it were an Ebola sample and stared at the details.
‘Sssssssssssssssss Horrrt’, she said, mispronouncing it a third time. ‘We have no record of you. Why are you here?’
I told her again that I wanted to see the doctor for a preventative check-up. She told me again that I was in the General Practitioner’s surgery. I tried to ask if the General Practitioner’s surgery was perhaps the wrong place to go for a preventative check-up. Should I perhaps try a mechanic or, as I was foreign, a vet? My attempt at jocular sarcasm failed to lighten the mood or, more importantly, produce any records of me.
‘Have you been here before?’ she asked, like a border guard in a police state. I told her that I’d been there about a year before and apologised for not having been sick more often. Perhaps I could try harder? No response.
‘You were here one year ago? Here, in this room?’ Well, no, I had to admit that it wasn’t precisely this room but it was at the General Pracitioner’s. Now she knew that I was definitely lying and she could have me arrested any time she chose. She chose to toy with me a moment longer.
‘Why did you come ‘here’ one year ago, then?’ she asked, like Colombo driving a suspect into a corner. ‘I was looking for a mechanic and a vet… hahahaha, er ahem, I had a problem with my Achilles tendon, actually’,
Now smiling quizzically like Colombo closing for the kill, she produced her trump card. ‘And what did he tell you to do about it, this ‘doctor’?’
‘Well now, she sent me to a specialist. Who did have records of me.’ At the mention of the word ‘she’, a hint of doubt flickered across my interrogator’s face. ”She’? Wait here, please.’
So saying, her and my ID book disappeared out of the room. By now everyone else was staring at me like I was from another country. I stared back. Haven’t you ever met a foreigner before? You have clearly never been a foreigner anywhere. I mean, we’re all in the EU so why isn’t everything printed up in 20 different languages like it is in Britain?
According to the Daily Mail, the National Health Service and the Welfare State exist solely to pander to the merest whim of every foreign Johnny who wanders through our wide open doors. Surely the Daily Mail wouldn’t lie to me about something that serious? And that nice Mr. Farage? Is nothing sacred?
If illegal health tourists, benefits scroungers and the French can just stroll across the mighty English Channel which has kept out the likes of the Spanish Armada, Napoleon and Hitler, and then have all of our fine social advantages handed to them on an expensively-translated plate, why was this unwillingly post-Communist harridan denying me the same?
Just then my tormentor returned, not with a policeman but somehow more shockingly, with a smile. ‘Oh dear, Mr. Short, you should have gone next door, they’re expecting you!’
(A quick word about the Czech language; it has no articles. This means that there is effectively no difference between ‘The General Practitioner’ and ‘A General Practitioner’. In fact, this building contained four General Practitioners, only one of which possessed a publicised waiting room.)
So saying, she led me ‘next door’, which was clearly not marked ‘Waiting Room’ and where there was, in fact, a waiting room. Everyone in it had obviously been warned that a poor, unfortunate foreigner was being brought in for examination and they all regarded me with due pity.
Within 15 minutes, I had been injected, inspected, neglected, weighed, measured, scrutinised, counted and booked in for a follow up appointment. The nurse handed me a urine sample tube and told me to fill it and bring it with me next time. Goodbye Mr. Short. Next please!
I walked away a wiser man. Now I know that when visiting the family doctor, I have to bring my own interpreter and documentary evidence proving my species. Furthermore, I will know next time that the Waiting Room is only for waiting in. If I actually want to see a doctor I have to barge into the doctor’s surgery. Next time I will remember to come in with some kind of interesting disease so they remember me. Next time I’ll know. Next time will be different.
Oh and don’t forget the urine sample. Yes, I mustn’t forget to take the piss must I? Everyone else remembers to!