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Magyar Medical Madness
By Bill Lower
Welcome to Hungary and welcome to the premier issue of Inter Relocation’s monthly newsletter. We trust we find you in good health. Actually we don’t have to trust: we know. Because to get your Work Permit, you would have had to have passed a medical exam by a medical doctor. I qualify ‘medical’ because here, many professionals have the title ‘doctor’, including lawyers, which is just one of the many contradictions you will discover while living in Hungary. It seems foreign to me to hear lawyers called ‘doctor’ because, where I come from, most lawyers are enough to make you sick.
To pass your medical you would even have been screened for potential occupational health hazards. For instance, you would have been asked if you spend more than two hours in front of a computer and, if you’re prone to bouts of denial (another known health concern), you would have answered “no”. Of course, we all know that about the only people who don’t spend more than two hours a day in front of a computer are those who can’t afford to own one.
Despite your good health, there will come a time when you will receive some sort of medical attention here, whether it’s getting a flu shot or treatment for some type of illness or injury.
There are things you should know about health care in Hungary. First, the educational system here is superb and Hungary has global recognition for many health care related disciplines, from veterinary to dentistry. Yet, however well trained and skilled health care professionals are, there is a vast range in the condition of medical facilities. If you have private insurance and are covered through your employer you will be able to access the full-service, western style health care resources. You will find no language issue as many cater to the expat community. Not only will this feel like health care from home, you’ll also be helping Hungary. Heaven knows this country needs and appreciates people and companies who pay full retail. US style.
If you are using the Hungarian public health care insurance you can encounter everything from high tech robotic equipped hospitals to neglected facilities that make M*A*S*H outfits look like the Mayo Clinic. While some of the bricks and mortar may be concerning, the caliber of their people is not.
Two personal experiences illustrate the extremes. One occurred during our first visit to Budapest. We were here for three months, covered by Blue Cross and our home provincial insurance. In hindsight, I wish we had donated the money we spent on Blue Cross to charity. But that’s another story.
After two months in what I nicknamed the Hotel Ikea, a short-term apartment outfitted with Ikea’s low end best, I developed an urgent need for health care. In our Hotel Ikea, there was not one bed, chair or sofa fit for human habitation. Surprise, surprise. After two months I was stricken with something I had never experienced before: sciatica with its lightning fast, debilitating shots of pain. We had used a competitor of Inter Relocation (I didn’t know about IR then) and called them for help. Help they did. I had an appointment that afternoon with one of their doctors. We took a cab to their office with me cursing every bump we hit en route. And there were many. The name of the street we traveled, ‘Rottenbiller’, took on a special meaning for us.
We got to the address and found ourselves trying to get into an apartment building. There was no sign of a doctor’s office. My wife phoned our contact and told her our predicament. A few minutes later a woman in a white lab coat with a cell phone pressed to her ear came running around the corner.
Patient, meet doctor.
The office was in a corner building with its address on one street and the entrance on the other. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to stuff like that. Trust me. So into the office we went and sat waiting for the doctor to see me. The waiting room was shabby, dark and tattered and I saw ashen grey, elderly people waiting patiently, like good patients. I have seen that ashen grey complexion before and am pretty sure what it says. Cancer has a face.
When my turn came, I was directed into the doctor’s office to find three white lab-coated ladies. One was the doctor, one was the nurse and the third was what I presumed to be the assistant. The doctor spoke quite good English and the other two pretended they did not. But I think I know otherwise. I’ll get to that.
The doctor gave me a quick examination and, given that I had never experienced sciatica before and given that I am a pathological pacer, the request to sit down was met with sheer terror. Not only do I not sit still, I don’t sit. I confess that I was harbouring fears that something was going on that was going to permanently immobilize me and I did not handle those fears and pain like a man. I handled them like a wounded animal. Now I know exactly why a wounded animal is extremely dangerous. They lash out at anything as if anything in reach is the cause of their pain. Don’t believe me? Ask my wife. So it was with great relief when the doctor tapped on my knee causing a knee-jerk reaction. Great. We could rule out being crippled. Now, what about the pain?
For that, I would get a shot.
The next thing I must confess is that I am a card-carrying wimp. Don’t believe me? Ask my wife. At the sight of the needle I must have reacted because the doctor immediately instructed me to lay on the examining table. Everyone in the room was quite amused. Everyone but me, of course. So after the terror of seeing that steel probe shoved in the air and then into my arm, the doctor then picked up the phone and called someone, spoke for less than a minute and when she hung up she said she had arranged for a neurologist to see me.