Night shift at the General State Hospital

A sudden, after-midnight health crisis, fortunately not too serious, was an occasion for me to experience the hospital and medical services that are provided to emergency cases. I had a similar experience nine years ago when I was taken to the Ippokrateio hospital in a far more serious state. Things were very different then, but I don’t know if it was by chance or due to the difference between two public hospitals that supposedly work according to a uniform system. The Ippokrateio had a large intake of emergency cases on that occasion, but two doctors attended to me almost at once, made the initial diagnosis, and referred me to another department in the hospital. Ever since then, I have said that this is the great advantage of public hospitals: That without asking who you are, just going by your identity card and without asking for a cent, they offer all their services. And we should support this advantage, which is also the basic right of any citizen. This is the reason I am writing about what I saw and heard in an experience which I am sure thousands of fellow citizens have lived through to a far worse degree than I did. I do not want to accuse anyone; besides, I am not sure who is to blame. It was just after midnight on Saturday morning, when I suddenly fell ill. I felt dizzy and was becoming rapidly disoriented. At my age there are many reasons for concern. I was worried and at first I tried to contact the SOS doctors, who have helped me and my relatives promptly and efficiently in the past. This time it was hard to get through, and as my condition was getting worse all the time I dialed 166. The ambulance arrived quickly with two courteous paramedics, one of whom drove the vehicle. The ambulance was clean and seemed to me to be well equipped. They asked if I needed extra oxygen and I said I didn’t. The General State Hospital was on rotating night duty so we went there. During the trip I felt somewhat better and told them I might as well go home. They said I shouldn’t and they were right, because I soon felt worse again. In the ambulance they noted the details of my identity card. At the General State Hospital, stretcher-bearers ferried me rapidly along crowded corridors and into a low-ceilinged room, which at first glance looked like a storeroom where a temporary army surgery had been set up, like those we only see at the cinema nowadays. In fact, the stretcher-bearers shoved the gurney so hard it forced a space in the ward until it collided with another patient’s gurney and stopped. Soon I began to undergo the same ordeal of collision, as each time the door opened and they pushed in a bed with a new patient it would collide with mine, directly at first, indirectly later, like dominoes. The constant collisions made my dizziness worse, but at least the pushing gave me a tour of the entire room and I saw everything in there and everything that happened. In the middle of the room was a large table covered with paper. Around the table were doctors and nurses, male and female. You could tell the doctors by the stethoscopes hanging around their necks. They were constantly busy and never raised their heads. Above the doctors and all around the room was a crowd of relatives mingling with the patients. Every time a new bed was pushed in, a new wave of relatives burst in, all trying to ask something or get something, without being listened to. From the end of the room, which I couldn’t see and where there was another crowd of people, came several loud cries. I heard a doctor say coolly to the others, «It’s an old man who’s spitting blood,» before hastening to his side. At some point they brought in a drug user who was completely stoned and seemed half dead. When some doctors and nurses approached him and tried to do something – I couldn’t see what – he created an uproar. He was a burly young man and he shouted and writhed on his bed so much that 10 doctors, nurses and bystanders couldn’t hold him down. More than an hour had passed and nobody had attended to me when a doctor who was passing by asked how I was. «Very well, thank you!» I said. «Don’t be sarcastic, sir!» he replied and walked off. I assume that I looked so bad that he took my reply for irony. But I wasn’t being ironic. I had started to feel a distinct, steady improvement. Meanwhile, a friend from Kathimerini had arrived, alerted by the editor whom I had telephoned to tell that I wouldn’t be able to file my copy for the Sunday paper because of my health emergency. With the help of my colleagues I got out of bed and left the «emergency» room. Nobody asked me why I was leaving, just as nobody had asked me why I had been brought there. I had waited in the room more than an hour and a half and nobody had attended to me. We left and went to the nearby Henri Dunant Hospital, where things were completely different. Dark thoughts I can’t blame anyone personally for the situation I described – not the doctors, nurses nor the hospital management of the new health minister. A lot of money is spent on public health and it seems to be wasted. While I was waiting in the emergency room, I thought that something was very wrong with the organization of regular and emergency care. Perhaps what is to blame is that we have recklessly allowed this city to overflow with inhabitants, activities and needs and now no infrastructure (hospitals, roads, bridges or drains) is sufficient. Every so often, at some point, conditions arise for a general blackout that overturns our everyday routine. Amid these dark thoughts, perhaps we can think of some other things, for example the system of rotating night shifts which – at regular intervals, being based on two or three public hospitals – seem like the invasion of the barbarians, disrupting and paralyzing. Since we are usually entranced by the services offered by private hospitals, why don’t they do one night shift a month, with ordinary patients, and not just selected customers, and see what happens? Perhaps the authorities should look into an earlier demand by the National First Aid Center (EKAB) to take emergency cases to the nearest hospital, regardless of whether it is on night duty or not; namely, to abolish the rotating night duty system and share out the burden among all public hospitals. Above all, the authorities should think about the conditions under which doctors and nurses have to work. It is a great and valuable achievement that we all have reason to support – the right of every citizen to go to hospital and receive care without being asked who they are and how much money they have.

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