Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dram: Universal Health Care

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, and today was the day. What was a bit of a stuffy nose when I went to bed last night was a full-blown head cold this morning. So for the first time in 478 days on The Voyage I'm having a "sick day." I certainly can't complain... and won't. In some ways it's almost just as well, because it's been a blizzard here in Krakow for the past two days and there's not much to do besides hang out in my little room and enjoy a little iLife. So, that's what I've been doing: drinking fluids, watching videos, catching up on email, Skyping the world, taking naps and taking care of myself. There is, of course, an aspect of exploration to everything -- including being sick in a foreign country -- so here's a little story that I thought might be worth a Dram:

UniversalhealthcareAfter a hot shower and a little breakfast this morning, it was obvious that I really did have a raging head cold and that it was going to persist for a while. So, I decided to go out and get myself a large supply of fluids -- juice, tea, water, bullion, etc. -- so that I would be well stocked and could stay in for the rest of the day. I bundled up and went downstairs where I greeted Diana -- the nice lady at the desk -- then put on my best pouty face and said "I have a cold!" She expressed her sympathy and told me that if I wanted anything from the kitchen -- like chicken soup -- all I had to do was call her and she would send it right up. I told her that was very nice and that I appreciated it very much, then walked down the block to a supermarket. There, I had an unusual shopping experience in that I don't usually buy things like orange juice and hadn't had to try to figure out which -- from the astonishing array of products -- I might like best. In the end I just picked a couple of containers that had pictures of oranges and other citrus on them -- along with an encouraging "100%" figure -- because, frankly, "z miazszem bez dodatku cukru" really doesn't mean anything to me.

On the way back to my hotel I stopped in at a pharmacy and -- again with my best pouty face -- told the lady behind the counter about having a cold, to which she replied: "I'm sorry... Welcome to Poland!" I had no hope of figuring out what was what on the shelf, so asked if she could recommend something. Seconds later she had a package of Sudafed in her hand which I said that would do nicely and paid my tab. As I was leaving she called after me and said, "I hope you feel better soon!" How nice is that?

When I got back to my room, two ladies were in the process of making it up. When they saw my "bags o' fluids" and took a look at me, they immediately got the picture. They proceeded to inspect what I bought, give their approval, check my forehead for fever, turn up the radiator, get an extra blanket for my bed and generally make a fuss. One of them went on at length -- in Polish -- with what must have been her version of cold therapy instructions, playing charades that were pretty obviously along the lines of "Drink all of this, sleep all day, stay warm, etc." At one point I swear she said the word "hospital" and I assured her that was unnecessary. They really went out of their way for me and couldn't have been more attentive.

Finally, because I had scheduled with Elke and Gustavo -- my friends from the "Gdansk Gang" who also happen to be here in Krakow -- to get together for dinner tonight, I called them to say I was sick and ask about rescheduling. Elke, bless her heart, said "I'm so sorry! Of course we can reschedule. If you need anything, anything at all, don't hesitate to call. We're only a twenty minute walk from where you are." Do I need to say more?

So, there you have it, a whole different kind of "universal health care." It seems like there's something different everyday that illustrates the kindness of strangers and the goodwill of all people. Even a "sick day" is full of insights on The Voyage.

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