Monday, May 30, 2022

Where doctors still make house calls!

My post title refers to our expat world; the world of the rural Greek Peloponnese. 

It is a world where doctors still make house calls. 

And because some of the questions we are most often asked by expat wannabe's, travelers heading this way, and others who are curious about life here concern health care, I thought I'd tell you a bit about it:

A house call in rural Greece

I begin with a  Facebook posts by Dr. Anargiros D. Mariolis, --pictured in the photo above  --  about a house call he had made earlier this month. His purpose was to feature the patient, not the fact he had made the house call, by the way.  

What he wrote: 

A different kind of day... grandmother has never visited the Areopoli Health Center and does not receive any medication. Whenever she has asked for help, we have visited her at her own place (on top of a beautiful mountain).
Grandma, I will always be by your side.
You are a modern day heroine of Mani.
Thank you so much because from the steep rock you have been living all these years, teaching life lessons.

The medical facility where he works and the area he serves is about 40 minutes to our south.  It is an area of The Mani that still feels remote and vast. The landscape is harsh and unforgiving; the population scant.  The town of Areopoli where the facility is located is named for the ancient Greek god of war. It was the place the Greek War of Independence began in 1821. Its Health Center is renown for its service.

Landscape near Areopoli - a vast, empty land

However, this personal, caring approach to health care isn't limited to this area. We, who live north of here, also have experienced this same personalized approach to caregiving. It is a startling contrast to  the highly computerized, non-personalized world of health care that we knew in the Seattle suburbs. It often reminds us of the American television character, 'Dr. Marcus Welby'  back in the early 1970's. He was that gentle, caring doctor who won viewers hearts, just as real-life health care professionals are winning ours here.

I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that Dr. Mariolis was recognized last year by WONCA, the World Organization of Family Doctors, an organization of 500,000 family doctors representing some 131 countries. He was awarded  the WONCA Global Five Star Doctor Award in 2021 for 'his excellence as a care provider, a decision maker, a communicator, a community leader and a manager'.

In the Matter of House Calls

Our village, Agios Nikolaos

One of our favorite 'newbie' stories from our early days at our Stone House on the Hill stems from a visit to our Agios Nikolaos village health clinic 'to check it out'.  All the staff members on duty came to greet us and during the course of introductions they told us to call before coming in, just to make sure the doctor on duty was there as it could be he/she would be out on a house call.  At the time we were dumbstruck at the idea of a doctor really making house calls. 

It was during that same visit we asked about how an ambulance would know where to find us should we call needing an urgent response. The receptionist asked where our home was located and after we described it, she told us not to worry: "I drive the ambulance and I know exactly where you are!"

The Stone House on the Hill

Last year I visited our area's general practitioner, Dr. Sophia (everyone calls her by her first name). She prescribed some medicine and she told me to return the following week. She assured me there would be no charge for the second visit - the first had only been 40 euros ($43US) -- but she cautioned, "Just drop by when you can but call first to make sure I am not out on a house call."

Kalamata street scene

A friend in the village recently had knee replacement surgery in Athens.. It was performed by an orthopedic surgeon who has an office in Kalamata, our area's metropolitan big city, an hour's drive away. In the two weeks that our friend has been home he's had a couple of house calls from his doctor who didn't want him making the trek to the doctor's office.

Humanizing Health Care

Kalamata, Greek Peloponnese

It isn't just house calls that make 'health care' different, it is the entire system of delivery.  We recently decided to have long overdue colonoscopies done by a gastroenterologist in Kalamata, who'd come highly recommended by expat friends.  

We dropped by the doctor's office saying we'd like to schedule appointments (imagine dropping by to schedule something back in the US!) and was told the doctor would call us that evening to discuss them (again, imagine that!). Sure enough, at the appointed 6 pm the doctor called. The appointments were made for two weeks later - no questions about health insurance or payment.

Street scene Kalamata

On the appointed day we appeared at the doctor's office where the procedures are performed. We were checked in together (none of that patient privacy stuff here) and as the doctor walked past he quipped in perfect English, "Who is my next victim?"   

We then met with him where he explained what the procedure would involve. He had three attendants, two nurses and one anesthesiologist.  Hooked to a heart monitor and given oxygen the procedure took about 20 minutes. Following a 30-minute rest, we -- again together -- met with the doctor to review the findings (photos displayed on his computer screen) as he explained what he had seen.  He explained that he'd removed two polyps from each of us which would be sent to Athens for biopsies. 

The cost of the procedure was 130 euros ($140US) each. The biopsies were another 50 euros ($54US) each. The procedure cost range for a colonoscopy at our Washington State Health Care provider is $1,500 - $4,500.

We received a call at 9 pm (still considered afternoon in Greece) 12 days later to tell us the results were negative.  We still need to go by the office and pick up a copy of the results - as here, the patient keeps those records.

And COVID Care. . . 

Winter brings light snow to the Taygetos near us

In February The Scout caught a cold . . .or so we thought because two lab administered rapid tests showed negative results for COVID. So, it was off to Dr. Sophia's that we went on that winter morning for a prescription for 'cold medicine'. She first administered a rapid test and he tested positive which prompted her to send us both to the medical lab down the road and for full-blown PCR tests, even though I had no symptoms.  She admonished us to tell the lab to 'go deep' on the test they administered. 

After getting the test results we were to call her but if his condition worsened before that we were to call immediately. Her business cards include her mobile number and home number.

PCR testing in our village 

Now our village laboratory is a clean, modern facility that adhered to the strictest COVID protocols which meant they came out to the car and administered tests through the open window.  We had been in many times for these tests for travel so were familiar with the technician who came out to greet us.

The Scout said, "We are the Smiths and we need two PCR tests." The technician flashed the big smile for which she is famous and said, "Yes, I knew you were coming - Dr. Sophia just called and she said she had sent you and that I need to 'go deep'!"  She did as she had been told (use your imagination). We tested positive.

Facebook Friends with my doctor and dentist- imagine that?!

Dr. Sophia participates in Clean Mani events

Another advantage of living in a small rural area is that you can be friends with your health care professionals.  Both our Dr. Sophia and our dentist, Dr. Joanna, in the village are Facebook friends of mine as they are with dozens of other patients of theirs in the village. Our Dr. Sophia is a leader in the environmental efforts here and it wouldn't be unusual to find ourselves out cleaning a beach with her. 

Being FB friends does give another avenue of communication. When scheduling an appointment with Dr. Joanna she first asked for a phone number and then said, 'Oh, never mind, if I need to reach you I'll send a message on Messenger!'  

How curiously refreshing to have a health care provider know us as who we are! No longer must we recite birth dates or other identifying numbers when we appear for an appointment.

Health care had been a major consideration when we made the move to Greece. And as with countries everywhere health care varies by region.  We feel particularly lucky to have landed in this area - where doctors still make house calls!

Sunset from our house

We hope this finds you well and send wishes for safe travels where ever you might be heading. We just returned from an island adventure and that will be the next topic I write about - hope you are back with us and bring a friend or two along!

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 Through My Lens

Friday, May 13, 2022

Living a Mediterranean Lifestyle

There really is a 'Mediterranean Lifestyle' and it has taken me until now to realize that we really are  living it!

Sailing under the Mediterranean Sun

Now, I am not sure I would have believed that lifestyles could be so different until we moved to Greece from our home in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, but I can assure you that our lifestyle here is a far different one than it was there. 

 Hydra Island - a place to relax

The Mediterranean lifestyle has been described as one in which we 'more consciously take our time' with all things; one in which we never complete all tasks at once. We find that being retired fits that same description and lends itself well to this new expat lifestyle in the Mediterranean region.  

As many of you know from my earlier writings, the seeds of living a Mediterranean lifestyle were planted way back when I first saw the 1964 Walt Disney movie, 'The Moon-Spinners' which was set in Greece.

Back then I only dared hope to visit Greece one day, I certainly never dreamed of living a Mediterranean lifestyle! That would have been simply beyond imagination.  

Now that we are living it, one of the nicest things about it is that everyone lives it somewhat differently. There are no set rules and guidelines. Yet, while researching this post, I laughed out loud when I found that someone has actually written a how-to-do-it- guide titled, 'Mediterranean Lifestyle for Dummies'.

Really? Do we need guidelines?

Now, really! You  don't need someone telling you how live your life once you've been inspired to strike out and live a bit differently.  I've found that a far better source guidance, at least a source of inspiration, is The Mediterranean Lifestyle Magazine, TML,  for short, as it is filled with travel, culinary and lifestyle inspiration to make you feel like you are here even if you aren't. (Being totally transparent: I do contribute articles to the publication, but I was reading it long before I was writing for them).

In fact, I think the editors, Elena and Melisa Koyunseven, have pretty much summed up our life in Greece with their Seven Principles of the Mediterranean Lifestyle: 

TML 7 principles of the Mediterranean Lifestyle

1. Eat healthily

Roadside fruit stand in early March

With an abundance of olive oil, fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables at our fingertips, literally year-round, it is easy to eat healthily in Greece.  

Fresh fruit and vegetables combine in this salad

One misconception about Greek eating is that we have a diet rich in seafood. We don't. Fish is scarce and can be costly.  Friends dining at a new taverna in the village had one member of their party order the 'fish of the day' for her meal without asking about weight or price. They were flabbergasted when the waiter brought a 2.3 kilo, or 5 pound fish on a platter and the cost for that fish was 200 euros!

Our friend, Captain Antonis and The Scout 

Thankfully we live in a fishing village and have other restaurant choices for less expensive fish, but still don't order it often. We seldom cook it at home.  Recently though we received a generous gift of an Amberjack Tuna from one of our fisherman friends, Captain Antonis.  And that made a most tasty meal.

2. Spend time with family and friends

The Scout with two of our four fur-kids

As expats we've made numerous new friends and have created a fur-family at our Stone House on the Hill. And we find time spent with family and friends is simply happiness on earth.

Friends gather for Easter dinner

Seldom does a week go by that we haven't joined friends for dinner, drinks or coffee somewhere in the village.  It seems easier - more spontaneous than in our other world - to get together, and once together we may spend hours together.  Life is less structured, less formal and moves at a much slower pace here so no need to rush through meals or get-togethers.

3. Find More Time to Relax

Princess demonstrates relaxation techniques

Again we turn to our four-footed family members as role-models in relaxation.  We follow suit as a day without a nap -- or at least an hour or two lazing around reading a book -- is almost unheard of  in this lifestyle. And we never fail to pause and enjoy our surroundings - after all, that is why we moved here!

Pausing to enjoy our surroundings

4.  Laugh often

Selfies on a walk home from the village - instant laughter

This is such an easy principle and expat life is conducive to laughing: at ourselves and our bloopers, at the difficulties of understanding a different culture, for so many reasons, and sometimes just because we are having such a good time!

Expat stories always good for laughter

5. Enjoy Life and the Simple Things in Life

These two are village harbor icons 

A morning stroll to the village, an errand that turns into an outing, watching day-to-day routines in the village ~ all add up to simple pleasures and make for a most enjoyable life.

Finding a small fresco tucked away in a church wall

6. Be Productive

Springtime trimming burn in the olive grove

Growing olives has definitely kept us productive - but we also participate in a number of volunteer activities that help the community, keep us involved in local life and assure that we are leading a somewhat productive existence here - perhaps, even more so than we were doing in our other life.

American expats impromptu beach cleanup

7. Stay physically active

Olive harvest day - off to the press to become oil

The rural lifestyle here offers endless opportunities for hiking, walking, biking, swimming and other outdoor activities. Also working in the garden and the grove definitely keeps us physically active. Olive harvest is a workout - don't ever let anyone tell you differently!

Hikes on the kalderimi - great exercise!

We often say we feel younger, maybe even more alive living where we do and being a part of this rural slice of the Greek Peloponnese.  The Mediterranean lifestyle agrees with us ~ 

How about you? Are you living the Mediterranean lifestyle where you live? How would you describe your lifestyle? Tell us in the comments below or send us an email. 

As always, thanks for being with us today and hope to see you back again soon.  And to our new subscribers, many thanks for signing up - it is great to have you with us!

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