Public hospital treats leukemia sufferers in corridors for weeks

Tassia mops her husband’s brow, Giorgos tries to get his son Stelios to smile by reading him the sports news from the paper, while a doctor, almost on his knees, examines Petros, who has not yet recovered from his chemotherapy sessions. We’re in the corridor of the First Pathology Clinic of the Laiko Hospital. «And to think that this is a good day,» comments a nurse. «After a general duty day, there are two rows of gurneys. We can barely get past.» Today, 10 beds are lined up on the right side of the corridor. Most of the patients are suffering from serious hematological diseases such as leukemia and malignant lymphoma. Kathimerini decided to pursue the subject of the Laiko’s First Pathology Clinic after our report in October prompted dozens of letters from readers who had experienced problems as patients. To recapitulate, given the Laiko’s long tradition of dealing with hematology, it receives the largest number of related cases in Greece. But no more than 38 beds are available, so the corridor is chronically full of patients, many of whom are in critical condition. Meanwhile, other clinics in the same hospital – such as the Gynecological, Ophthalmological and ORL clinics – use very few beds. «Hematology patients literally have nowhere to lay their heads,» the First Hematology Clinic’s director Gerasimos Pangalis told Kathimerini. «There are 350 cases a year of acute leukemia alone. There may be fewer accidents, but these ailments will continue to strike without mercy. And patients require treatment at a hospital that has a special laboratory and experienced staff – they can’t go just anywhere. That’s why we’re asking for beds to be found so that we can implement the decision to establish the Hematology Clinic at the Laiko.» The decision was announced several months ago in the Government Gazette, but no action has yet been taken. At the hospital we met Antonis Kyriazanos, who had arrived for his regular examination. In 2000, he was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph glands and underwent radiation therapy at private hospitals, but had a relapse after a year. A friend who was a hematologist referred him to the Laiko Hospital. «They told me it was the most highly specialized hospital in the country,» Kyriazanos told Kathimerini. «In fact the care of the doctors and nurses is moving, and I owe it to them that I am still alive. But when I first came to the hospital, I had to wait for two weeks on a gurney before a bed could be found for me in a ward. And I was one of the lucky ones. There were others in the same state as me who stayed in the corridor for three or four months.» Patients with such serious hematological disorders must be treated in specially sterilized wards, because they are vulnerable to all kinds of infections, but the Laiko does not possess such wards. Treating patients in a corridor which is readily accessible to one and all puts their very lives in danger, and also undermines their daily struggle to fight off the symptoms of their illness. As Kyriazanos said: «You can’t relax because of the constant racket. Particularly after chemotherapy sessions, you’re irritable, your energy flags, you can’t bear to be among so many people all the time. I remember that when we went for a walk to the other floors and saw empty beds we’d start complaining.» Doctors conduct examinations, many of which are very painful, in such conditions and in full public view. «They have removed bone marrow in the corridor – a very painful process. At least they put up a screen. They removed cells from me when I was on a gurney and that’s a process that demands special cleanliness.»