Going to the Doctors
Going to the doctors in the west, is a private, secret, lonely affair. You catch a bus or drive alone, enter a waiting room, quietly talk to the receptionist, trying to keep your name a secret and take a seat as far away from everybody else as you can. Your name is called. Surrounded by stainless steel, enamel and machines you complete your business with the doctor and you leave as discretely as possible. You may never see that doctor again, in street or surgery.
Here it is different. To start with, everybody knows your name, and pretty soon they will know why you are there.
Yati esai edw? Why are you here? What’s wrong with you?
And you have to explain. Be it haemorrhoid, verruka or cancer of the colon, they want to know. Even if, at first, you avoid explaining exactly what is the problem they will press you until they know all the painful and gory details. They are not being rude or nosy. As fellow villagers they feel they have a right to know your ailment in much the same way that they have a right to know your income, or how much rent you pay. The conversation always ends with them saying that with gods help you will be ok. And they can’t say that if they don’t know what’s wrong with you.
Then, there is the sharing of the gifts. It is normal, here in the village, to take a small gift when you visit the doctor. Not to gain special advantage, but as a sign of respect for a learned profession. Nothing expensive; some lemons from your tree, artichokes perhaps, figs or something freshly baked. And because you are all together, perhaps five or six of you in a space with room for only three or four you are soon chatting and sharing your gifts. There is Anastasia, 92 and sprightly as a spring lamb. Her eyes are a bright, baby blue and dancing around as she asks how you are. Her hands are bent and crippled with arthritis, but she drags her goats here and there and carries their food up and down the steep mountainsides around the village and in Saria. Last night she was in my yard trailing two baby goats, looking for their mother. She tells me where she found the mother and laughs, but her dialect, without t’s, d’s, g’s, or seemingly any recognisable consonant is difficult to follow. Then she reaches into the folds of her apron and hands me three lemons. She will be killing goats soon, she says, so if I need any kind of meat associated with a goat then she will find me some.
Now comes my neighbour Calliopi. Her friend is with her, a woman known to me only as thea (aunty). These are big women, very big women, they have trouble with diabetes caused by lack of exercise. They live in little houses side by side at the bottom of the steps leading to my house. All day they sit on the steps in the shade gossiping and doing crochet work for some niece or granddaughter's wedding. They are so big that they have to turn aside to let me pass and sometimes I have fantasies of rolling them back together again to block the path against passing marauders. They are like the mythical black rocks that Seferis wrote about, tis sumplugades petres, that closed behind the ancient ships that sailed between them. When they are sitting at the bottom of my steps I know that nobody will bother me.
They give me koulouri, the hard bread, round like a doughnut, that is so good in the summer when dampened with water, dipped in olive oil and eaten with olives or salty cheese. Of course, taken together with ouzo. The thea has been ferreting around too in her apron and finds me fresh walnuts. This could be a successful morning. They ask me why I am here, sympathise by saying it will get better and tell me a little of their ailments. I do not probe too far.
A widow and another 90 year old man, who seems to own half the village arrive. I stand up to give them space and step outside to rest from the constant chatter. Everyone is talking to everyone else, sharing gifts and cursing old age and decrepitude. One by one we are called in to see the doctor.
The village does not do badly by the Greek medical service. Doctors in Greece have to work in a remote place before being given their full licence and being allowed to practice on the mainland and central places. So we have a series of young doctors on a six month or one year placement. This works surprisingly well. There is a lot of mutual respect and the villagers are surprisingly tolerant to whoever is sent to us, be they gay or straight, man or woman. With the three port policemen that are stationed here, the occasional policemen and the young visiting schoolteachers there is plenty of opportunity to form a parea or party every night and our visiting doctors seem to like it here.
Every month a Flying Dolphin hydrofoil comes from Rhodes, with doctors, nurses and paramedics. Then you see a straggle of old people crank their way at different speeds to the end of the harbour, with their corns and coughs and pains and general complaints. The flying dolphin can do x-rays and blood tests and so provides the services of a travelling hospital.
Serious problems have to be dealt with in the south of the island, or they put you on the ferry boat to Rhodes. But he real crunch is this. If you are really ill then a helicopter will come to take you to Athens. So long as you are not too old, say 70 or more. Then they tell you the weather is bad and to hang on a little longer. You can hang on as well as you like, but the weather will not clear. So, no matter how many times I am asked, I never reveal my true age. And my passport is well hidden.