Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Greece ~ Those best laid plans. . .

Life is something that happens to you
while you are making other plans.
         -- Margaret Millar

20160614_143248-1_resizedOur plan had been to spend a couple months this spring at The Stone House on The Hill, our home in the Greek Peloponnese. We’d return to the Pacific Northwest in June.

We’d planned several road trips and had completed one.

We’d scheduled some projects at the house. During our spring stay we anticipated visits with friends and neighbors who make up our new world.

Those were the plans. . .but we all know – and as the saying above reminds us, that sometimes life and plans are two different things.

Our plans changed . . .or, you might say, were changed for us. We took a journey of sorts through a part of Greece that we certainly hadn’t anticipated seeing. Now, two months after its start, we can say it was interesting and we learned many things, but we are happy it is over.

Setting Forth

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The Journey began
Even before buying the house, we’d heard about our village doctor, Doctor Sofia.  An obviously respected and loved physician who no one called by her tongue-twisting full Greek name. She is simply, Doctor Sofia. Fellow ex pats described her as one sharp physician, a very kind woman and not one to leave anything to chance.

“Someday we should stop in and meet her,” we told ourselves. That is how things are done in the village. Can you imagine ‘stopping in’ to meet a doctor in a large city medical center in the States?

The opportunity to meet presented itself after The Scout had spent a couple weeks suffering from a head cold and swollen gland in his neck. The cold went away, the swollen gland didn’t. It was time to meet the doctor and get a prescription for antibiotics.

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Dr. Sofia's Office


Lesson One:  You don’t make ‘doctor’s appointments’. You can, but you sort of aim for that time and check to see how long the wait might be. We dropped in to make an appointment.

Lesson Two: Those stories about nothing in medical clinics being private here are true. The receptionist desk is in a corner of the waiting room, – therefore a conversation with her is heard by all. (All waiting rooms we were to visit on this journey were configured this way). On this day, the lady who was waiting to see the doctor, overheard the conversation and told The Scout to go before her. She, an ex pat from Northern Europe, and I struck up a conversation (something else never done in US medical clinics) while waiting and had exchanged names and phone numbers by the time The Scout re-emerged.

The real journey begins - unknown territory ahead

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Hand-drawn maps have always led us to interesting places
Instead of a prescription, he carried a sheaf of papers; two were rather long notes of introduction to other doctors hand-written by Dr. Sofia and the third was a hand-drawn-by-the-doctor map of an area in Kalamata, the large city with a population of about 100,000 about an hour north of us.

In our years of travel, hand-drawn maps have taken us to some of the world’s most fascinating places. In this case, they would take us to a radiologist’s office and a nearby Ear, Nose and Throat specialist (ENT) because Dr. Sofia hadn’t liked the location of that ‘swollen gland’ and wanted to have it checked further.

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Pedestrian-friendly Kalamata
Off to Kalamata we went the next day. This time with a set appointment at the radiologist, and a ‘sort-of time’ for the specialist, both of whom had offices near the pedestrian-friendly downtown. 
We appreciated its pedestrian-friendly layout as we bounced back and forth between the two offices for the better part of the day: first an exam by the ENT doctor, then an ultrasound at the radiologist’s, then with ultrasound photos in hand we returned to the ENT who reviewed them and sent us back to the radiologist who aspirated the cyst. Cell samples were sent for testing at the medical laboratory in Athens. Both specialists believed there was nothing to be concerned about – it appeared benign.

If you want to make God laugh,
tell him about your plans.
         -- Woody Allen

Lesson Three:  I stayed in the waiting room at each visit as is ‘normal’ in the U.S. After all, even if it is a close relative, it is their health and, well, it is personal . . . you know, private.  On our second visit to the ENT the receptionist told me that family members – no matter the number – go in with the patient.

Lesson Four: Coming from the U.S. where the recent Affordable Care Act has sent our insurance premiums and co-pays into the ozone, we had braced ourselves for what these visits and tests – all done by private physicians would cost. We were paying out-of-pocket.

Brace yourself, before your read this next line:

Five doctor exams, two per specialist and Dr. Sofia, one ultrasound, one aspiration, one lab test and courier costs to get the sample to Athens: $345 US.  Read that out loud: only $345US!!

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Street-scene Kalamata
Lesson Five: Be prepared for the unexpected.

The lab results were returned two business day's later in early May, which this year was Easter Week in Greece, a time when most business slows and vacations are taken.  Luckily all of the doctors were still working as the report surprisingly concluded: ‘probable cancer cells’.

We paid another visit to the radiologist, to the ENT and to Dr. Sofia – I’d adopted ‘the Greek way’ and was 'going in' with the patient.  All three doctors still seemed surprised at the finding  – the ‘lump’ as we called it had disappeared with the aspiration and not returned. (No charge for any of those follow-up consultations).

I always say don’t make plans, make options.
                             -- Jennifer Aniston

We came upon two roads - which one to take. . .

All three doctors at that point  – to eliminate any possibility – talking biopsy and upper body scans.  All procedures were best done in an Athens hospital, they said. Or, we thought, back in the U.S. Either option required travel, hotels and logistics.

The Scout at this point was consulting via email with his U.S. doctor who wanted the ultrasound results and lab reports. 

The actual ultrasound copies fit in a legal-sized manila envelope, but at the neighboring village post office they were deemed were too large for the Greek postal system to send via express mail (go figure that one). If they made that day's flight it would take 10 days via mail. "It is Easter Week, you know," the postal agent told us.

A special courier would charge 55-euros and delivery would take five days.

We had them scanned and emailed them.  A brilliant idea, we thought. Until. . .

Sigh. . . Seattle’s big city medical center, has such internet security systems in place that they were unable to open the medical records sent via ‘the cloud’. 

Dr. Sofia had taken the Greek lab report home one evening because her clinic schedule is so full and translated it to English so that it could be sent to the U.S. doctor (can you imagine your doctor doing that??).

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Time to ponder what to do (this is the visiting Princess Cat on our deck)

Lesson Six: Think it through. Ponder the options and outcomes of this journey.

The U.S. doctor said tests could be done in Greece and if treatment was required he recommended returning to the States for it. However, we decided, we’d likely have to have all the tests re-done in the States if that were the case. 

If tests were done there and treatment started in Greece we had only that 90-day Schengen Treaty tourist visa window in which to get it completed. (Click the link for a post I wrote about it in April)

In the U.S. we have insurance but whether it would cover a Greek operation and hospital stay was questionable.

And sadly, as much as we love Greece, we had to consider the impact of that country’s propensity towards labor stoppages and strikes.  One patient of Dr. Sofia’s had joined in a conversation we were having with the doctor in the waiting room about The Scout’s situation (no privacy, for sure) and said she’d had surgery in Athens a few years back but it had been postponed a day or two by a strike.

Hmmmm. . .sometimes those group medical conversations can be enlightening.

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On the road to Athens
We opted to return to the States, cutting our stay at The Stone House on the Hill to less than half of what we’d planned. Neighbors and friends in Greece stepped in to keep an eye on those projects we had scheduled and offered help with anything else we needed. 

We used air miles to buy our one-way tickets home – we had to be realistic. We didn't know when we might return to this daydream life of ours. We burned some accumulated Marriott hotel points and treated ourselves to five nights in London en route back to the U.S. Again, not knowing when we might again travel, we following the advice of Horace, who said:

Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans.
It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.

Journey’s End:

0911800-R1-007-2 [630928]
Seattle - known for its cancer-care facilities

At 6:45 a.m. the morning after we arrived in Seattle, The Scout underwent a series of scans at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Hospital.  All showed no signs of cancer. 

However, 'the lump' returned three weeks ago. It was surgically removed last week and he had an overnight stay in the hospital.

The ‘lump’, a cyst in the parotid (pear rotted) gland, a salivary gland, was benign.  We’ve booked our return trip to Greece. We are pondering future cruises. Travel planning is underway again.

Lesson Seven:  In case you are wondering, our experience with the Greek medical system exceeded our expectations, with the exception of the questionable lab finding. The doctors with whom we dealt spoke English and were clearly professionals in their fields. The interactions we had with them were like ‘the old days’ when you were a name and not a number. The costs were incredibly affordable. And every procedure and recommendation that the Greek doctors offered were similar to that which was recommended and eventually done by the U.S. doctors.

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Don't put off to tomorrow. . .
Lesson Eight: This one is for all of you boomer-aged male readers of ours  – the U.S. doctor told us that too often men of 'your ages' find such lumps, or other questionable bumps in their necks and don’t have them checked figuring they ‘will go away’. For too many, they've waited too long.

Those little bumps/lumps can be harbingers of something very serious. Get them checked early.

Hey, next week we'll lighten up and take you on a whirlwind tour of London! We walked over 40 miles in five days and have a lot to show you! As always thanks for the time you’ve spent with us today. Safe – and healthy! -- travels to you and yours ~

Linking up this week with ~

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

66 comments:

  1. What a fascinating glimpse into the medical culture of Greece. I'm so, so glad that your Scout is OK. XO

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    1. That makes two of us! It was a good reminder to make every day count though, no matter how mundane it might be! Thanks much for the kind words - xx to you!

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  2. What a story! And so glad that Scout is poli kala.

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    1. We no longer have to worry about whether we'd have good medical care here - we experienced some of the best! Especially our village doctor who lived up to -if not exceeded - her reputation! xx to you, Vera Marie!

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  3. Oh wow, thank God it all worked out! You took many good lessons from this experience; thank you for sharing them.
    Travel on!

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    1. We did learn much and feel more confident about navigating that new world of ours. And we learned to appreciate every day - as you said, Travel On!! Thanks for the visit, Dina.

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  4. Jackie I am so glad to hear that all is well with the Scout. And I'm also glad to know that the Greek system did not fail you. Stay well and Healthy!

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    1. Same wishes back to you Mary and yes, we are much assured by the quality of care we received in Greece. xx to you~

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  5. So glad all is well, Jackie and Joel! God bless!
    Beth

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    1. Thanks much, Beth. Appreciate your visit and your comment.

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  6. Beautiful shots - hope you're having a lovely time!
    Thanks for sharing https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2016/06/drip-drip-drip.html

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    1. Well, we are now that our journey through the Greek and American medical systems has come to a happy end.

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  7. That explains why you never got to Zakynthos as promised. But I am glad that all ended well, and that your experience of the Greek medical system was positive, as have been all my own interactions. As you say, no such thing as privacy.

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    1. Yes, that is my excuse. We really had planned to do some exploring in your part of Greece but instead found ourselves scrambling to secure airline seats to return to the U.S. Joel was particularly bummed about cutting the trip short, but after the doctors said they wouldn't wait the five weeks we had left in Greece we decided it would be wise to head back. We'll hopefully -- as the old song lyrics go -- 'see you in September'!

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  8. WHEW....I held my breath until I read "shows no cancer cells"...I know this was a scary time for you two...and so so thankful it turned out GOOD.
    Like you, I can't imagine how all that cost so little in Greece. Amazing.....

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    1. Well, I also held my breath quite a few times the last two months, said my prayers in double-time and clung to every lucky charm I own. We too are thankful for the outcome, BJ.

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  9. Wow! What an experience. Cancer is not something you want to hear at any time, but even scarier when traveling? Glad all is well and travel plans are back in motion!!!

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    1. Thanks for your kind words. It was a good learning experience and we can now quit pondering the 'what if's' something strikes us while in Greece. "Been there, done that" and will deal with it the next time something pops up as well. Thanks much for the visit~

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  10. Thank goodness all is well. Sorry to hear about all the trouble but it may also be comforting to know that good medical care can and does exist in many areas of the world.

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    1. I think we've been brainwashed in the U.S. to think we are 'the best' and 'the only' sometimes, so it is good to find excellence exists elsewhere in the world as well. Thanks for stopping by, Rhonda.

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  11. I was reading this holding my breath, waiting to see the outcome. SO happy to read that the Scout is fine! At least now you know that you're in good medical hands in Greece! Looking forward to reading about your London trip.

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    1. To tell the truth there have been many times in the last two months that I too have been holding my breath (or telling myself to calm down and to take deep breaths). We did enjoy London! Thanks for your comment, Amy.

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  12. Well a good outcome after a worrying journey. Looking forward to your London romp.

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    1. Yes, London was a good break in our other odd spring. Thanks for stopping by Jan.

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  13. Glad everything ended up well. Good reminder to take any health related issues seriously. Sometimes, we are busy and forget about that "little" aspect.

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    1. Yes, we do. And I am guilty as charged because The Scout kept mentioning that 'swollen gland' and I kept thinking, 'it's a cold, of course you have a swollen gland'. . .no longer will I be quite so ambivalent about these things! Thanks Ruth for the visit.

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  14. I have to confess, the first words to enter my mind at the beginning of your story were "Hodgkin's lymphoma" and I scanned my way quickly to the last few paragraphs to read your conclusion. Whew!!! I'm so glad that your experience with the Greek medical community was so positive. During our days of full-time, on-the- road travels we've often joked that we kept our travel insurance for our visits BACK TO THE US where visits to the doctor can lead to financial ruin. No matter where we've been, in Mexico, Central and South America, the little islands of Curacao or to the DR and now Europe, the level of doctor and dental care has met or exceeded our expectations and paying out of pocket was oftentimes much less than what a copay would have been. Our favorite story was of a rainy night in Ecuador when the pulmonologist stopped by our apartment (and not at our request) just to make sure my husband was recovering from a nasty case of bronchitis. Unbelievable! So glad that everything worked out and that you're moving ahead with your lives and plans. Your post is a great wake up call to "Seize the day" and quit procrastinating with the little day-to-day things. Fortunately for you guys, you've been living life to its fullest for years and can look forward to many more! :)

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    1. Yes, those words had crossed my mind as well. Loved your Ecuador experience - and isn't it refreshing to find that 'Marcus Welby' sort of experiences still exist in the world? BTW, the week we packed ourselves up to head back I did remember that you and I had planned to have a face-to-face chat . . .this is my rather long-winded excuse for not calling. Will do it this fall for sure!

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  15. Sorry that you and Scout had to go through a scary medical situation. And it's a shame that it forced you to cut the trip short. But I'm happy that all was resolved: no cancer, a healthy Scout, a relieved Jackie and new-found confidence in the Greek medical system.

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    1. You summed it up perfectly, Donna! Sometimes it takes one of those scary situations to put things into perspective: life, travel, love and other pursuits of happiness. . .my new mantra: "Don't postpone joy"

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  16. Happy to read that all is well, but not an experience that you want to go through very often (or at all). Your experience is so different from what happens here in Korea. They do the biopsy first and ask questions later. I had my thyroid checked out here a few years ago, and before I knew it I was being stared down by 5 doctors and techs with a huge needle in tow. The doctor was so nervous that he was doing a biopsy on a foreigner that he couldn't draw the sample. Long story short, the doctor wanted to remove my thyroid immediately because it is enlarged. Back to Canada, and a very expensive second opinion, nothing to worry about. Excellent medical care in Thailand. Every questionable test result that comes back in Korea gets redone in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, and for peanuts. Going back to Canada is an expensive option, and not always practical, so having affordable and trustworthy health care in nearby Thailand really is a god send. Okay, I have written a book. Happy to hear that Joel is well, and looking forward to reading about London next week. Thanks for linking up this week! Let's Skype sometime soon. #TPThursday

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    1. We were reminded of how expensive those quick trips are. We had found an $89US airfare on British Air from Kalamata to London and kept writing the US doctor to please let us know when the tests were scheduled. Didn't hear back in time to nab that fare - it had (no joke!) shot up to $600 per person. So we had to drive to Athens where we got a flight for about $250 a person. Our air miles from London to Seattle were a godsend! Our bills from here have started arriving in the mail - no comparison with the Greek charges! Yes, to Skyping!!! #TPThursday

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  17. Very fascinating and interesting! I am blown away by the medical process here in Germany as well. Had a root canal last autumn and paid NOT A PENNY. I love that Europe is light years ahead of the US on these issues.

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    1. Wow - a free root canal is unheard of in the States. (I'll admit there are other things I'd rather have for free, but I know the last crown I had here was $1,200, so a root canal would likely double that! Europe is definitely ahead of the curve on these issues! Thanks for stopping by~

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  18. Wow, a whirl wind tour with doctors. So glad to hear Scout is OK. What a delight to be treated so well in the Greek medical world.

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    1. It was definitely 'a trip' and I have to admit we did meet some fine medical professionals along the way. Glad that trip is over though! Thanks for the comments Gaelyn.

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  19. Dear Jackie,

    I've so missed escaping into your magical posts, but time does not allow me such luxuries at this point in my life, as you know, apart from a few Sundays, here and there.

    Your previous post, too, made me so very nostalgic for my own little piece of Greek paradise, whose landscape right now is most probably overflowing with fragrant veggies and beautiful blooms. Oh, how I long to wander amid its extravagant, earthly abundance.

    Thank you for informing the world about our hypnotically pretty Hellenic havens, which are healing agents, in themselves!

    Hugs,
    Poppy
    P.S.: Hope the Scout is doing better!

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    1. Oh Poppy, You are missed in the blogosphere and I suspect you are missed in Crete as well. I am so glad that you understand that unexplainable pull to Greece and all the simple pleasures it provides us who've been caught up in its charms. So very nice to hear from you. The Scout is healing well and hopefully will have his last doctor's visit in a couple of days (fingers crossed). Look forward to your comments whenever you find time to drop by. Hugs, Jackie

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  20. It always amazes me how inexpensive medical treatments can be overseas. My husband had a hernia repair in Panama that cost us $3000 from start to finish. His brother had the identical surgery in Florida and the bill for the hospital alone came to over $22,000. I'm a medical tourism proponent now, especially because the US ranks 31st in Medical Care but is highest in per capita expenditure.

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    1. Hi Linda, Thanks so much for sharing your own experiences with health care outside the States compared with inside the states. Your information is fascinating and I am certainly going to be paying attention to medical tourism from now on! Hope to see you back again often~

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  21. So glad it all worked out for you both.

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    1. That makes two Jackies who are glad it worked out! Thanks for stopping by~

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  22. It must have been a scary time. I'm glad all is well with Scout and that you had such positive experiences with the medical system.

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    1. It was scary - not so much in whether the treatment was good or not, but just the implications of 'something major' is enough to make a traveler's blood run cold! Thanks for stopping by, Donna.

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  23. So glad everything turned out well for you. My only experience of the medical services in Greece was an elderly pharmacist who took one look at my ailing daughter and sold me some antibiotics - she was right as rain after that. I've never worried about being ill while travelling since then.

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    1. Oh we had to stop by the pharmacy to have him interpret our hand-drawn map for us so we went back and had a prescription filled there later. Loved that he hand-wrote the dosage on the box! Thanks for sharing your story Karen - hope you'll do so again in the future!

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  24. Wow what a time you've had. I'm so glad it all turned out okay in the end and that The Scout is well and raring to travel again. It must have been so worrying for you, but very lucky that you could return to the US. Happy travelling, Happy Cruising, Happy times in Greece to you both. Jo ~ Lifestyle Fifty

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    1. It wasn't the calmest two months of my life, but I did learn patience and the importance of positive thinking! Happy cruising to you - I am loving your reports! Hugs, J.

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  25. That is amazing, what wonderful treatment and so affordable....why can't we do this in the US - we are so backwards some times.

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    1. It does make you question things doesn't it? Travel has a way of showing us that the US isn't quite as 'top dog' as the pundits and elected officials would like us to believe we are.

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  26. There's definitely a reason that "medical tourism" is a thing. I had my God laughing at our plans experience in Honolulu, Hawaii. Great care/treatment. US prices.

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    1. Suzanne that post you wrote about your medical experience and God laughing is one of the best pieces of writing I have ever seen in the blogosphere. I have read it more than once and fully understand now the concept of God getting a good laugh now and then. . .

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  27. Glad all is well and happy you went back to the States to confirm. We have found the countries we have lived do excellent work, but the USA seems to always be on the leading edge of technology. Expensive, but that's why we have healthcare. Enjoy being back in Greece!

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    1. It is comforting to know there are quality medical professionals and facilities throughout the world, isn't it? We are looking forward to our return (fingers crossed, it will happen!).

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  28. Just read about Joel's cancer scare! I'm so glad things turned out the way they did. Looking forward to reading more about your travels.
    Hugs to both of you.

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    1. And so are we! He had his final appointment with the surgeon this morning and as the doctor said, "You are good to head back to Greece!" Yay!!!

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  29. Wow, this was a fascinating story to read. You must have had very difficult weeks. Good that it happened to be benign. Good luck with your projects in Greece!

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    1. Yes, it would have been a different sort of post had it not been benign - in fact a different sort of life! Thanks for your good wishes!

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  30. Medical journeys are so frightening, especially when you are away from home and don't know what t expect. I'm so glad that this one had such a happy ending with information and lessons that are well worth sharing (and reading).

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    1. I have to admit I am usually a fearless traveler into unknown places, but this one had me holding my breath on several occasions! Thanks for stopping by Irene.

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  31. Glad everything worked out OK. We have also found the medical systems abroad to be efficient, caring, and certainly more affordable.

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    1. We just dined with friends last night (who don't read the blog - can you imagine? ;-) ) and one of their first questions about our adventure in Greece had to do with the medical system there. We assured them it is fine and from the comments on this post, I am thinking there are many fine medical systems out there! Thanks for the comment ~

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  32. This is actually a fabulous story. The Greek medical system actually has a very good reputation and their patient care attitudes are excellent. I think that Greece is so often looked down upon and whilst a largely rural nation it is not a backward one.

    I am so glad you are safe and well and look forward to reading lots more Greek adventures from you

    Mollyxxx

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    1. Thanks much Molly for your insightful comments - you are correct as many of our friends in the US still wrinkle their noses when we try to explain the many ways in which Greece tops the US - not sure what they think Greek professionals do. . .I promise more Greek adventures will be coming. Thanks, Jackie xxx

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  33. So pleased to read the happy outcome, and not surprised at the personal, communal-like service you received. And the cost differential for medical and dental treatment is one we've experienced in various regions as well. Travel on!

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  34. I am so relieved that all was well in the end and that the Greek healthcare system is overall fine. Too bad about visas and strikes potentially mucking up your plans. I look forward to reading about London as I will be there next month.

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