I really must apologize for my lengthy absence from the blogosphere. Travel, house guests, and high school graduation (not mine but it felt like it!) all have taken a toll on my writing life. I simply did not, nor do I, have the brain waves to do it all. The short questionnaire at the end of my May post indicated that readers wanted me to flesh out my trip to the ER in May. In the interim, recent events shaped today’s post. Herewith, the long and the short of it. Bear with me as I ease back into the groove of writing.
On the morning of Thing 1’s last International Baccalaureate exams, I was scurrying around, preparing for our trip later in the afternoon to Bilbao and San Sebastian. As I bent down to pick up a pair of shoes I’d kicked off the night before, I accidentally slammed the corner of my right eye on the edge of my office desk. Don’t ask me how – my peripheral vision is just fine. My children, breakfasting in the kitchen, heard the clamor. I immediately ran to the fridge for an icepack, one of those plastic jobbers you throw in a lunch box. A purple, plastic flower rigid with ice, I held it to my eye for about 5 minutes before asking Thing 3 how bad it looked. This was a mistake. Thing 3 began to howl and I knew I had a situation on my hands. Removing the ice flower, there was a smear of blood trickling down.
I called Thing 1 to assess the situation. She said, “It’s not too bad but you might want to have someone look at it. It might need a stitch.”
On the morning of a trip, this is not really what one wants to hear. Mr. Understanding had already left for the gym and I could not figure out to drive one-handed to the ER. So I called Alice of Aragon and she drove me to the closest ER, Hospital Zarzuela. Then I went to the guest room and told my parents I’d be back in a few hours.
Ever hopeful, I had my international health insurance card in hand when I approached the receptionist at the ER. Now, let me preface this by saying that I was not looking my best. Dressed in Spandex for the gym with my hair scraped into a pony tail, I was ready for the 10 a.m. spinning class but not for a public outing not involving sweat. I did not have on makeup, was not carrying a designer purse, and was not properly accessorized – all of which are required if one wants proper service in Spain. Attached to my face was the ice pack and a hand towel.
Two women were chatting at the desk. One was about to go off for coffee (it was 8:20). Neither stopped their conversation. Finally, one looked up. I handed her my card and asked to be seen by a doctor. She told me it was a private hospital. I said that I knew that, could she check the insurance. No, they did not take it. I called the international insurance company who said they would fax a guarantee of payment. The receptionist said they would not take that. Of course not. I handed her a credit card. She processed $350 euros. She was not nice.
It took me awhile to figure out why. As the empty waiting room filled up, I began to get strange, furtive looks. As I waited for the doctor to finish his coffee (am not sure triage as a concept is used here), it dawned on me that everyone assumed my husband had perpetrated, sadly, the most routine of crimes and that I could wait.
The good news: I was in and out in an hour, they gave me an itemized bill, and returned $162 euros on the spot. The bad news: I had a honkin’ bandage on my eye, everyone thought I was the victim of spousal abuse throughout graduation week, and I now have an ugly little scar at the corner of my eye. So, did the hospital refuse to serve me? No. But did they want to help me? No.
After this incident, I began to quiz expats and locals about their favorite emergency room.
Contrast this with my latest trip to the ER (the learning curve is steep but eventually I get there).
Two weekends ago, I had to take Mr. ContraCosta to an ER for what was termed Travelers Syndrome. That day, our two families were scheduled to go to Salamanca for an overnight excursion. I had booked four rooms via booking.com but had not yet bought the train tickets. (Are you sensing a theme here, yet? You should be).
Now armed with a wealth of knowledge, I had a choice to make: go to the ER closest to my house with the mean receptionist or zip seven minutes further down the road to the hospital about which I’d heard no complaints. I threw on my sweats (again) and driving like the wind, I shaved two minutes off the difference and escorted Mr. ContraCosta into the Hospital Quiron. This receptionist was nice and Mr. CC was seen in 5 minutes by an empathetic staff of nurses, doctors, and other personnel, many of whom attempted to speak English. Even the barista in the hospital cafe was friendly. The hospital was clean. Not rural America hospital clean, but cleaner than the myriad others I’ve seen.
This time, however, we had to cancel the trip.
In the end, this last hospital experience cancelled out the other one and I now know where to go in an emergency. Since I am accident prone, I consider this a good thing, even if it did come at another’s expense. Further lessons on expat living and travel are listed below. Really, learn from the foot(fall) of the master.
Morals of the story:
*pack ahead of time (I had, which was good)
*move slowly on the day of travel – do you really need to put away the shoes?
*not every woman with a bandage on her eye was hit by her partner
*if you are visiting me, think twice about non-refundable reservations.
*scope out ERs ahead of time
*remember: they serve beer and wine in the cafeterias
*dress up for the ER if you possibly can
*ask for a plastic surgeon
Finally, I would like to give a shout out to the Room Mate Vega hotel manager in Salamanca for not charging us for four unused hotel rooms. That was really, really nice. I can’t wait to stay there!
Next Up: Formal Apologies and Flamenco