Recently, I had to brave the perils of the Hungarian medical bureaucracy. Let me preface this blog entry by stating that I have come across many fine doctors in the Hungarian system whom I would trust implicitly with my health and the health of my family. However, getting to these accomplished professionals requires something akin to a Safari deep into the jungles of Hungarian medical bureaucracy, a treacherous journey with no guarantees of safe arrival at your desination.
My daughter Niki, a drama queen in her own right (with hypocondriac tendencies) announced to her teacher one day that her heart hurt. Of course, the teacher, being a responsible adult quickly called me deeply concerned about Niki's well being. I knew immediately it was simply heartburn, but proceeded to have her checked out as she has a history of gastrointestinal issues. After an initial visit to the village doc, whom we all love, we were sent into darkest jungles of Hungarian medical bureaucracy known to Hajdu Bihar county: Kenezy hospital, pictured below in the previous blog.
It is a sprawling campus of nondescript concrete building all sporting various shades of communist-era gray. A few maps exist, but they are far too confounding to provide legitimate assistance to the layperson. Niki and put on our brave faces, bundled with hats and coats and set out on our expedition to find pediatric gastroenterology. The wind stung our faces with its icy chill as we left the main building and began to wander.
I felt very much like a rat trapped in the maze of some sick psychological experiment. Along the way, I asked for directions several times and pleasant faced doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers happily directed me to precisely the wrong building everytime. It was as if there were some grave conspiracy afoot and I can't help but wonder if the "helpful strangers" plotted data as they watched with grim grins as the foreigner (rat) struggled through the impassable maze in a desperate search for health care for her child.
Finally, at the furtherest end, we found the tiny building. I put a pathetic look on my face (which wasn't hard at this point) and used my canned Hungarian phrase, "Excuse me, I only speak a little Hungarian and I do not know what to do here."And I handed the hospital worker Niki's paper.
Once we finally reached the gastroenterologist, she proved to be a kind and professional doctor, reading through Niki's volumous medical records with interest and sympathy. And as we proceeded to the blood test, Niki charmed them all with her announcement that she was brave and would not cry when stuck with a needle. And she proudly kept that promise.
But the best was yet to come. We were sent back across the vast campus in sub zero weather to get a sonogram of her digestive tract. After much trifling with that "rat in a maze" scenario again, I found the window where I must put in my paperwork. I stood in line dutiful, as any civilized human being would, but when the window opened, the little old lady behind me pushed ahead and shoved her paperwork in front of mine.
These little old ladies are tough. They think they have a right to push to the head of the line. And to a great extent, they get away with such behavior. But on this day, after being played like a rat in a maze, I was not putting up with it. I may not be an old timer, but I am no pushover either! Enough already.
She might have age on her side, but I was not unarmed. I had a cute eight year old girl and I wasn't afraid to use her. I placed the paperwork in Niki's hands and pushed her in front of the old lady. We all watched with anticipation to see who would get their paperwork in first.
And then it happened. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles. The lady in the window took our paperwork first. Ha! That will teach that little old lady!
It was a day of great victory, not only for Niki and myself, but for peace-loving people everywhere who have been pushed out of line by little old ladies, trained to become masters in this art during the communist era. Who can compete with that? I will tell you who! I can. I did! I reveled in my victory.
But then the woman at the window proceeded to give me instructions. "What?" I said. " I am sorry, but I do not understand. Can you say that again? ground floor? What about the ground floor?" I melted into helplessness and that little old lady whom I had so artfully subverted turned to me in her kindest Hungarian and said, "It's alright, darling. You just come with me I will show you..."
Alas! How short lived a victory! Now again I find myself at the mercy of Hungarian little old ladies.
Perhaps it is my destiny. Little old ladies rule the world and I should accept this. But bear in mind, I am watching their technique closely and learning from the best.
And so this is my consolation: I may have to squirm at their mercy now, but one day I too will be a little old lady. Be afraid, be very afraid.