Everyone needs a reality check every once in a while, but no one needs it more than politicians and journalists, and anyone else involved in the public sphere. You can’t get very far without one, because at some point, confusing the ivory tower with the real world becomes too easy – and too tempting.
Personally, I cannot imagine a better reality check than a night in the emergency room of an on-call public hospital. It’s an experience that defies the imagination. You see doctors, nurses and paramedics fighting tooth and nail in a battle that never seems to end. They are obviously understaffed and overwhelmed. You see them trying to get the job done – with a good dose of Greek resourcefulness – in a chaotic situation. Most patients sit quietly waiting their turn, but every so often someone explodes and starts yelling at people who are not at fault. But they all seem desperate and frustrated – and resigned to the fact that the situation is not going to change in their, or their children’s, lifetime.
But the situation has to change; it must. There are no more excuses. It was easy for the ruling class to forget how important it is to have a well-functioning public health system when times were good. It was easy to forget the trenches when lying on a plush cushion.
So many experts, so many studies; everyone knows that something needs to be done, but no one has the courage to do it. What it requires is the reformist zeal of our current education minister (which has not come without cost) and the organizational skills of our digital governance minister. In combination, obviously, with the prime minister’s readiness to establish his reformist credentials in an area that matters to all Greeks.
The pandemic has taught us a lot. As a friend recently commented, it exposed many of the weakness of Western societies and humbled us all.
For years I argued about the need to prop up the Greek state’s vital core, the people who put their lives on the line and are underpaid no matter what their salary may be. I had been thinking mostly of the fighter pilots guarding the Aegean and people in other similar positions. I have realized, though, that there are others guarding other vital parts of the country, who may not be getting the pay they deserve and may not have the resources they need to continue giving us what they give us. This is not just a matter of money; it is also about organization and major reform.
And for anyone who still doesn’t get it, I recommend a reality check at a big public emergency room. I don’t mean an on-camera visit, but a night sitting in a corner watching how a few dozen people do battle to help hundreds who are in pain.