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Saturday, 6 April 2013

Man flu or bronchitis?

“That’s bronchitis” said Lin. 
My cough tails into a sound which, if re-played and amplified, would be like the shriek of a winter pig led up the garden path, who suddenly sees the beam, the hook, the sharpened knife and the blood bucket below. From my chest as I lie in bed come autonomous bubbling sounds as of an aerating pump.
“So it’s not man-flu?”
Illness irritates Lin. Me too. But this thing in my chest began four weeks ago with the kind of joint aching cold I’d normally clear away with a cycle ride, a few hours digging, a good walk with the dog.
“Stop going on. Just get yourself to the surgery down at Pyrgi”
Next morning I’m there, presenting myself at reception. The place is relievedly unbusy. I’m taken wordlessly to a separate officer – Manager. Manager looks up from paperwork “I need your ID” I present my European Health Insurance Card. He sits me down while he runs it through a copier, stapling it as an A4 to other bits of paper with my name and a room number. 
“Five euros, please” 
He returns to reception where a receipt is completed for my payment, also stapled. 
“Wait by room one”
There’s just one patient ahead of me. Reassuring. A closed door worries me. There may be no-one there, but I can hear snatches of conversation inside. I'm in good hands - a patient. 
Outside its grey, a strong wind worrying at the foliage around the clinic, seeds blown hither and thither. The doctor bursts out of his room chatting to a nurse asking about a form. He disappears and then returns. Even better. He exists. He returns, closes the door, more muffled chat, then he re-emerges with more paper and two young women, all chatting happily. 
Then he's back and the next patient is invited in, and is out in hardly a minute again accompanied by the doctor with more papers. 
Then its my turn. I apologise for not speaking Greek. 
“The problem” “I have this ….(I cough illustratively). It’s been going on for weeks”
He has me pull up my shirt and listens, stethoscope to my back.
“Deep breath. Again Again”
I’m creaking and wheezing - a tuneless accordion.
He sits down at a crowded desk.
Γιατρός Μορδος Ρ Ρουβιμ.  Doctor Μordos R Rouvim.
“You have an infection. Bronchitis”
“Ah, that’s what my wife said”
“You must have anti-biotics”
He mutters for an instant as the ceiling light gives a flicker but remains alight.
He pulls out a large A4 form full of lines from a drawer and begins writing.
“How’s your digestion?”
“Good. You have phlegm?”
“Is it green?"
"Green, yellow, Yes"
I'm thinking how do you get from this disgusting stuff lodged in my chest to the idea of having phlegm or guts and being phlegmatic.
"You need a cough medicine” He writes this down too.
“Your nose gets blocked”
“Some nose drops”
This is written down. I am feeling more hopeful.
“You have trouble breathing sometimes”
“In the mornings in bed, yes. Sometimes in the night”
“An inhalant. Through your mouth once at night, once in the morning”
More writing. I gaze out of the window as small petals like a swarm of bees float dancing by the window – left to right and then in another gust back again.
“One moment” 
The doctor exits and leaves me in the quiet security of the room. I look around at posters of lungs and their blood supply hung on the wall. Another of a muscled skeleton illustrating points of inflammation in joints.

Each eviscerated body has an insouciant non skeletal head. All is quiet, the furious shaking of the trees outside entirely muffled.
The doctor returns with a smaller book; carbon paper interleaved with forms. He begins transcribing the list on the larger form to a prescription form for me – all operations which at my GP in England would be done in seconds on a computer to the stacatto of its printer. 
I relish this extra time and attention.
“You should also have chicken broth”
“No wine for a week, or ouzo”
“I’m going to win” I say
“Right take this to the pharmacy. Goodbye”
“Goodbye doctor. Thank you!”
A warm gale from the east is sending in a steady supply of spray and spume all along the scruffy Ipsos Esplanade.

The chemist write instructions in English on all my medication. €17.71 the lot.
Back at Ano Korakiana I’m carrying my medicines home and see Cinty in her car.
“Ah I wanted a word” She may know a builder we need for the apothiki floor.
“Come and have a cup of tea?”
I chat to her about being 'bronchial', a conversation Lin would abhor.
“The doc at Pyrgi has really set me up proud” 
I listed my inventory of weapons for tackling the problem.
“I tell you what Lin will really not like. He suggested chicken broth. That just wreaks of invalid”
‘Funny you should mention that” says Cinty and draws a plastic container from her freezer “I’d just saved this”
“Oh no. That’s brilliant!”
“One other thing. Lemon juice and honey.”
I wandered home like Rambo. 
Bronchitis. Make my day!

It still puzzles me why I should have allowed a grubby little disease like bronchitis to get a hold on me. I forgot the flu jab this year, but then the feverish cold that started all this should have been long gone. I’m seventy-one but I'm normally in rude health. It was cold in England; especially so at my mother’s house in the Highlands. But cold hasn’t caused me problems in the past. I’ve all the clothes I need for being out of doors in British weather.
“I thought the warmer weather here would sort it”
“But” Cinty’d said “The island air is damp. That doesn’t help.”
No. It’s neither age nor weather. It’s sadness. I know it's grief. How I relished and needed the attention of Dr Rouvim, his long prescription and the papered ministrations of the clinic, and Lin’s grudging admission that I’ve a named condition and Cinty’s chicken broth. I shall get better now.

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Simon Baddeley