By Hermes Solomon
IN BED with flu and staring through the window, dolefully contemplating clothes pegs on the washing line resembling hung out to dry salted herring under an arctic blue sky, or less romantically, crows at a distance eyeing potential prey – me! But this is Cyprus and the Scandinavian Tunnel (long nights, short days) is situated four thousand kilometres due north-west of contemplation.
And all sick old men think they’re dying.
Pain everywhere; back, head, hips, thighs, feet and hands. And perspiration – three changes in 12 hours – certain that I’m on my way to the Happy Hunting Ground, Valhalla, across the Styx to Hades, anywhere but a crematorium, because we still don’t have one in this maῆana mummified pseudo republic.
I deliriously picture those thousand virgins anticipated by a suicide bomber – waistcoat packed with explosives, illicit access to the Vouli via the rear garden colonial park, where hundreds of housemaids picnic on their day off. But I won’t choose a Sunday because MP’s are at home. And I want to get them all for having criminally failed, among many other things, to introduce a proper public healthcare service after 12 years of inexcusable prevarication in the interests of private healthcare and insurance companies.
Twelve years ago I focused my attention on a cold slab at the Old General Hospital mortuary (a prefab resembling a sombre mews stable) where death was laid out. I glanced sideways at the corpse’s outline. The pathologist told me that death was caused by a pulmonary embolism, and that it was pointless lifting the top of the skull with the help of a surgical grinder to check for a brain haemorrhage; the coldness and indifference of death was the pathologist’s face and the sudden shock of ingesting that indifference was mine.
That unforgettable encounter was my initiation to the Republic’s public healthcare service – July 2004 in the sweltering heat. It was barbaric; the 1948 dilapidated colonial buildings, dark corridors, overcrowded waiting rooms, filthy yards and connecting pathways, distilled drops from air con units dripping onto passing heads below; the general mayhem throughout was unimaginable.
Hell hath no fury like a sick man scorned.
It was then that I realised that I’d come to live in a delinquent society, one that had finally discovered the disgrace of the Old General hurriedly building a new, state-of-the-art hospital, at Latsia.
What concerned me back then was that they were taking all staff, methods and more from the Old General to the New rather than throwing out the ‘dirty water’ (the under-qualified and obsolete) when they had the chance.
Constant streamlining, in keeping with states of any art, is essential to success and future survival.
Nevertheless, from 2004 until the worldwide economic crisis hit Cyprus in 2012, public healthcare enjoyed its only golden age until, state-of-the-art, Latsia, due to diminishing funds, excess dead weight and aging facilities soon resembled the disorganised chaos of the Old General.
We know it’s all about money. But money in the wrong hands is money wasted – simply writing out prescriptions without performing proper examinations to fill plastic bags with generic pills from hospital pharmacies is what we’ve got; although emergency and casualty public healthcare is commensurate with the best on offer in Europe, outpatient, doctor consultation and aftercare is cursory.
So give it to the private sector and you’ll get results. They’ll charge a bomb for blood tests, CT scans, MRI’s and specialist neurologists, cardiologists, pulmonologists, urologists and rheumatologists, all raking it in on the side and failing to diagnose Munchausen by Proxy accurately. They’ll operate on whatever you like for their five grand ‘don’t waste my time’ fee. It’s always a minimum of five grand whether it’s a bunion or bowel cancer. And failing that, specialists freely prescribe benzodiazepines, ‘Oh, do go away!’ pills in ignorance of their addictive nature and horrific side effects.
And just why has healthcare in Cyprus arrived at this sorry state of affairs? Simple – just look back to what it was like at the Old General and remember; give me a young doctor and old lawyer for a healthy life; correct diagnosis requires up to date knowledge and commitment, quality of service depends on the standards of those offering that service, and standards in medicine, construction, roads, education, leadership, tourism, etc. have never been of the highest or the best.
We must not assume that extra money will alter standards any more than increasing civil servants’ pay will improve productivity. A well fed hunting dog does not flush out game.
Cyprus lacks a hunger for excellence other than talking about it. Cyprus carries too much dead weight in the public sector, in the Vouli, in its hospitals, public transport, SGO’s and schools. Cyprus is a sick overburdened economy in need of a cure; her only saving grace is the combative private sector. And even there, government wants the cake.