Arrived in Athens on Sunday, with my younger son, Chris. We were met by the a cloudless sky and the warm embrace of family and friends. The daytime temperatures are hovering over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It's hot but dry; not unlike the weather in the US southwest. Needless to say this kind of heat is especially hard on a boy from Maine, yet I continue to adapt and overcome with frequent dips in the Aegean. For those of us who live in the Diaspora and do not have to endure the daily struggles engendered by the reality of life in Greece, returning to Greece is a time of family reunions, happy times and relaxation. Only occasionally does the "Greek Reality" intervene on our idyllic visions of Greek life.
My wife, Anna, arrived a couple of weeks before Chris and I so she could see her Mother through the ordeal of gallbladder surgery. Gallbladder surgery is a fairly common surgical procedure, however in her case, there were complications which resulted in a second surgery only a few days after the first. My mother-in-law left the hospital after her initial surgery only to return a day later because of persistent vomiting and abdominal pain. She was diagnosed with a blockage in her small intestine and the young surgeon informed her that she would require a rather large incision to deal with the problem. My 75 year old mother in law who grew up in the crucible of the war years of the 1940s, looked at him very seriously and lamented that she would be unable to wear the bikini she had purchased for the summer. He looked at her dumbfounded, whereupon she smiled and broke the tension by assuring him that the size of the incision was irrelevant as long as she could feel better and return to her home to cook for her son-in-law and grandson. True grit.
As often happens in Greece, unless you can afford premium care in an expensive private hospital, a relative who can stay at your bedside and ensure basic care is essential. That role fell to Anna. She was the stand in for a system that is either overwhelmed or inefficient. Suffice it to say that my mother-in law and Anna both survived and are glad to be home. I claim no expertise about the status of health care in Greece nor can I wax eloquent about what they need to do to improve things. The record of socialized medicine has been a mixed one and most Europeans would be aghast at what they believe is the far worse system in that we have in the US which is partially based on market forces. Basically you get what you pay for. The quality of health care in Greece as elsewhere can be dictated in part by the ability to pay. I would venture to say that there are some world class facilities and doctors in Greece. Then again, the phenomenon of Greeks going elsewhere to seek medical care is not uncommon. That is if they can afford it. Based on my limited observations I would say that Greece has made huge strides yet still suffers from a poorly developed system of emergency medical services, corruption, as evidenced by the use use of bribes known as " fakelakia" or little envelopes containing cash, and poorly staffed or equipped national medical service facilities especially in the remote areas such as the Greek islands.
The trouble with socialized medicine, as I see it, is that it invariably gets mired in the self-replicating bureaucracy that affects all government enterprises. It is disease oriented rather than prevention oriented. There are no free rides in such a system, someone has to pay. To the simple minded, free healthcrae sounds great. I want the best care and I don't want to pay a dime. What you often get is rationed care and you pay through the nose.
Sorry I got sidetracked, this post was not supposed to be about health care. It was supposed to be about returning to Greece after a one year absence. I must admit that I always look forward to the heroe's welcome that awaits me when I return. The new airport is only a stone's throw from my in-laws small vacation cottage in the seaside town of Loutsa. Loutsa is basically a working man's getaway outside of Athens. Someplace where families of limited means could plant some fruit trees and escape the summer heat. My in-laws came here thirty years ago and the small cottage where they spend their summers and the surrounding neighborhood hold countless fond memories of their children growing up and the good times. The neighbors haven't changed much. Still the same people. A few have died, the kids are grown up now and raising kids of their own. The rhythms of neighborhood life continue as they have in the past, to a large extent. Greece is not a mobile society. When you plant roots, they're permanent. Loutsa is changing, just like the rest of Greece, of course, some folks have moved here permanently year round. Others, of considerable means, are buying land and building truly impressive costly structures that tower over some of their poorer neighbors.
Within a few hours of our arrival in Greece we were taking a dip at our favorite swimming spot near the rocky shoreline. The water was crystal clear and you could easily see the bottom and the cool Aegean was not only refreshing but reinvigorating. We were sitting down to a huge lunch surrounded by family and friends laughing and trying to catch up on all the neighborhood gossip. Chris was soon bouncing from house to house with his friends and we are settling into our vacation routine here.
More later. Thank God for Internet Cafes.