Statistics without humanity

There are some things you can explain but not understand, and then there are things that you simply can’t explain. The other day I got a call from a friend whose father is suffering from a life-threatening heart disease. He found himself at some out-of-the-way public hospital and, after a period of being ignored and of mistakes, found himself facing the fear of death unless he was operated on. And because this is Greece, he did what everyone does: He called everyone who knew anyone – hospital chiefs, professors etc. We must be the only country in Europe where a bed in a «good» ICU or an appointment with some famous surgeon is akin to getting a table at the best restaurant in town. After numerous phone calls, we ascertained a clear reluctance on the part of heart surgeons at major hospitals to take on the case. Either «the surgeon is out of town on an emergency,» or we were given more imaginative excuses. Finally, someone admitted the truth: «This is a very serious case and his chances of survival are less than 30 percent, so no surgeon wants to shoulder the responsibility.» The patient, whose life depended on surgery, was being seen as just another statistic. Later, other friends and doctors who confirmed the real reason why no public hospital surgeon would take the case suggested we try a private hospital. And in the end that’s what happened. I don’t know if this is a common occurrence, nor if it is compatible with the medical code of conduct. It is most certainly not the first medical story I have heard that has outraged me. After years of socialist (and non-socialist) experiments, the country’s healthcare system has obviously reached the end of its tether due to poor management, plus a lack of professionalism and organization. The usual sob story about inadequate funds has got to be put to rest because the money is there, it just gets sucked into a black hole of corruption and waste. The only thing that’s certain is my friend’s lament: «God help anyone who gets sick in this country and doesn’t have connections.»

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