Life is something that happens to you
while you are making other plans.
-- Margaret Millar
Our 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.
|The Journey began|
“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.
|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
|Hand-drawn maps have always led us to interesting places|
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.
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 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!!
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
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??).
|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.
|On the road to Athens|
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.
|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.
|Don't put off to tomorrow. . .|
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
Travel Photo Thursday –
Weekend Travel Inspiration