By Hermes Solomon
THE KILLING months in Cyprus are July and August. They always were and always will be. I lost my mother in July of 2004 and my father the following summer. They both lived beyond the biblical three score years and ten by ten and twenty years respectively.
Until my mother became physically immobile at the age of 80, they spent their last 30 summers at 4,200 feet above sea level – May until the end of September – in the mountain village of Prodromos, where the air is clean and crisp and the climate mostly clement. Dad would leave me and Mum standing on the kilometre walk into the village square.
But two 40 degree summers spent in Nicosia was enough to wilt their orchid hearts and clog their lungs. Confined to their apartment due to the heat, endless traffic and lack of safe pavements to walk on or public parks to walk in, their health soon deteriorated.
They suffered their pain and inconveniences bravely, never calling upon the services of a doctor, public or private hospital. They knew that that they were simply old and that with ageing physical pain is a pre-requisite for most.
Relying only on UK state pensions, they could not afford private health insurance nor did they expect public healthcare to notably ease their pain or lessen the suffering. They lived and ate healthily, belonging to that generation which accepted the inevitable ‘end-game’ blithely and pill-less.
Others have not been so lucky. One 75-year-old acquaintance, diagnosed this spring with prostate cancer, died last week at the Nicosia General, sharing out those final weeks of heart-breaking 24/7 care with his three sons and a privately employed nurse, who spent daytime hours at the man’s bed-side serving his every need. His wife had preceded him by ten years with breast cancer. Like my parents, they were uninsured and neither had bothered with check-ups at the slightest sign of ‘discomfort’.
Cancer is known as the silent killer, usually painless at the outset with few warning signs, and it is for this reason that regular check-ups after fifty are to be recommended.
But checks-ups usually find something (else) and that’s when the heartache begins. High blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and cancers are rife in Cyprus.
Public service and semi-government organisation (SGO) employees mostly occupy both private and public hospital beds. A retired teacher cousin has taken full advantage of his rights – operations for an enlarged prostate and a heart by-pass seven years ago free of charge. He’s now 74 and was again admitted into intensive care at Nicosia General after complaining of persistent chest pains, breathlessness and fatigue during this recent heat-wave.
But this time the Nicosia General dawdled. It took the cardiology department a week to perform the angiogram, which looks inside coronary arteries to determine if a heart condition is present.
He was eventually diagnosed with a 90 per cent clogged heart artery, inoperable prior to ‘sand blasting’ with a ‘rotablator’(best described as a diamond tipped rotating drill with suction) to clear the blockage ahead of inserting a stent. But the drill was out of stock.
The patient was moved from intensive care to a ward and left to smoulder. He smouldered for nearly three weeks awaiting arrival of the spare part, which was supposedly on its way from Greece. No amount of pressure by family members (ta messa) succeeded in speeding the process. There is simply no money left and no matter who you are, ‘ta messa’ no longer works.
The ‘cuts’ already effected at the general include fewer nursing staff, no entry hall receptionist and reduction of air conditioning and lighting (visitors losing themselves in a maze of pointless corridors) diminished stocks of spare parts, patients kept waiting in wards for treatment because of it, unobtainable doctors and a generally unhappy, short tempered and overworked staff.
Our once upon a time wonderful public health service is now a shadow of what it was prior to the ‘Crisis’. Soon it will resemble many Greek hospitals which require that patients’ families occupy themselves with the changing of bed linen and the feeding of patients.
It seems the general is running on a shoestring when the minister of health, Petros Petrides complains that cuts have reduced the service to a bare minimum and he is unable to do anything about it. There isn’t even enough money available to transfer urgent cases to the private sector.
Queues to exchange health cards at KEP (citizens’ advice bureaux) have become a joke. And why now, when the public health service is overstretched, has the ministry demanded re-registration and re-issue of health cards? Is it because they hope that by causing a bureaucratic nightmare patient numbers will dwindle?
The National Health Insurance Scheme is still very much on the cards, but what sort of service will be on offer after the system has collapsed? Excessive bureaucracy does not save lives, it takes them!
Public service and SGO patients formerly despatched to private health clinics are still awaiting reimbursement of costs, one acquaintance in particular entitled to a 10,000 euro reimbursement being told by the minister not to expect a penny for another six months – he’s already been kept waiting a year.
This financial crisis will cause repercussions that we have yet to dream of…we have always thought of ourselves as ‘the chosen people’. Now it seems that God has chosen somebody else!
Coda: The diamond tipped rotating drill arrived last Monday and my retired teacher cousin was told that he would undergo the required operation on Wednesday. On Tuesday evening he was informed by a ward nurse that one of the two angiograms had broken down and his operation would ‘likely’ be performed on Thursday. On Thursday he was told that he would ‘likely’ be operated on Friday. He is slowly losing hope of ever being treated.
He is not alone in living today’s nerve racking public health service waiting game. He could of course check into a private clinic and pay for the op himself.
Perhaps, by the hospital administration abnegating responsibility by employing insufferable antics/tactics like those described above, he will be obliged do so! Or simply die waiting.