Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Medical care twenty-five years later

On the morning of September 4, 2011, we landed at Otopeni Airport in Bucharest. I expected the same tired out communist era one building terminal and I was greeted by a brand new, shiny international terminal, built on the model of the German airport in Frankfurt.

The few bathrooms were still smelly with rough toilet tissue that I remembered, some of which still has splinters visible in the paper. The unfriendly border guards checked our passports but the scrutiny was brief and we were allowed into the country without a visa!

On the other side awaited my two cousins, our family welcoming committee. The air-conditioned atmosphere on the arrival side gave way to stifling heat on the receiving side, as few Romanians actually have, care, or use air conditioning. It was 91 degrees and the humidity quite high. We hugged and kissed and headed for the car rental office, a novelty since I last visited.

For $35 a day, we got a compact class A Mercedes with an engine that purred like a satisfied cat. I soon found out how expensive Diesel was, almost $10 per gallon, thanks to the heavy European Union taxes and Agenda 21 policy that discourages people to drive their own vehicles and use bikes, buses, trains, or walk. Romanians, however, since they have liberated themselves from communism, are not very likely to willingly accept the tenets of Agenda 21, they are being forced to accept it in ways that are more subtle.

We had to be extra careful in villages since bikes were everywhere, goats, cows, and wagons with car tires, pulled by horses. It was anachronistic to see our shiny Mercedes next to goats, cows, and wagons on an asphalted road.

Cars of all shapes and sizes were everywhere. Parking was very scarce. People parked on the sidewalks everywhere. No police in his right mind gave anybody a ticket. As a matter of fact, I noticed with glee the scarcity of police, replaced by friendly and rotund rent-a-cops.

Romanians were really thin under communism, a sign of the lack of food. Telling someone that they are fat was actually a compliment because it meant that you had plenty to eat. The growing girth of people around us gave an indication that food was plentiful now. Gone were the days when lines for food were winding around blocks. Supermarkets sprung up everywhere, Carre Fure, Billa, Kaufland.

Traffic police was evident here and there and we escaped a few times being stopped until the 3 a.m. drive to the airport on our return trip when a young and polite, English speaking cop informed us that the left head light was out and we need to replace it. He let us go since the car was rented. Gone were the rudeness, threats, and the arrest that would have occurred 25 years ago had we been stopped.

We drove directly to the hospital were my uncle had been recuperating since his July brain surgery to remove a hemangioma. I did not know what to expect. I was taking in the landscape of Bucharest as we drove by, a very busy metropolis by any European standards.

Stray dogs ("maidanezi") littered the hospital courtyard and the entrance steps. The hospital was being repaired and modernized and we had to dodge construction all around us.

My cousin bribed the guard 5 euros so that we could go in. Visiting hours are seldom enforced. The guard supplements his salary with bribes. This is definitely an ugly remnant of Communism which functioned on theft, bribery, and barter.

We climbed the stairs to the third floor since the elevator was being repaired, a tired story we used to hear under communism all the time. The interior of the hospital looked more like a hostel with family members caring for the sick and milling about. No nurses or doctors were visible anywhere and it was 11 a.m.

We found the room with two beds, one for my uncle and one for his wife who had been caring for him around the clock for the past two months. She looked tired and haggard and I asked her why she does not go home for a day or two to rest. She said, she could not leave him - nobody would treat him and they might kill him. Hospitals and doctors receive bonuses when beds are emptied early and patients are not "re-admitted" permanently. This brought to my mind the provision in Obamacare for death panels. My uncle would certainly have qualified for Death Panels since he is 70.

Uncle John was lucky that he had a first-class surgeon who saved his life. Under communism, brain surgery was totally out of the question. He owes his life, however, in equal portion to his wife who made sure that he was treated and cared for afterwards.

It was strange to see an obviously non-sterile hospital room that looked more like a hotel. It was very hot in the room, no A/C and the windows were shut.

The bathroom was down the hall. John was barely able to walk with a cane and his wife's help. I wonder how she managed when he was entirely bed-ridden.

The bathroom suite for the entire floor had a large sink in which an elderly patient was doing her laundry by hand. A dirty bathtub in the corner looked like it had not been used for years. A second room in this bathroom suite was the janitor's closet where a mop and bucket were stored. A third room was the actual commode with a very large wide open window, making the commode visible from all the above floors. There was no toilet paper in sight and no soap or paper towels to wash and dry your hands.

Each patient has to bring his/her own towels, toilet paper, linens, pillows and all necessities just like under the old communist system. I was shocked how little progress socialized medicine has made in this regard.

The linoleum floors were dusty and dirty, a patina of respectable dirt, obviously had not been cleaned in a while. How could I explain to my relatives what a hospital looks like in the U.S., the sterile environment, the care, the superior facilities, and the first class medical training?

Several days later, I received a call from my aunt, uncle John's doctors wanted to have their picture taken with me since they've heard that I am an author in the U.S. Things have changed but not so much, the socialized medicine and the old, tired mentality still linger.

I was looking pensively at this hospital and wondering, is this our not so distant future when Obamacare kicks in? Why are Americans willing to trade their exceptional medical care for this sub-standard care? Is it because a charismatic man with no world experience told them that America needs "fundamental change" in the phony "hope" that everyone will be equally miserable and poor, beholden to an all-knowing corrupt government?