The American Patient and the Polish Doctor

It’s best for everyone concerned if you avoid getting sick while you travel.  If you think like I do that it’s bad to have to go to the doctor in your home country, it can be infinitely worse having to go to the doctor in a foreign country.

Sure, I know some countries have excellent medical practices and the latest in modern health technology.  But some don’t.

there is no escapeA long time ago in a Soviet-bloc country far, far away I was visiting my grandparents when it was time for my annual strep throat attack.  One day I felt fine and was playing with my cousins.  The next day I couldn’t swallow and couldn’t get out of bed.

Having seen this before, my mother knew I needed to see a doctor.  In those days, a shot of penicillin knocked out strep throat pretty fast.  Without the drug, it might be a week or more until recovery.  I have always hated going to the doctor and hated getting a shot of any kind.

Very few people had cars in Poland back then.  You had to be on a waiting list for years before it was your turn to be able to buy a car.  My father’s cousin Bernard had a car.  My father called him and Bernard agreed to take us to the doctor.

We climbed into Bernard’s VW Golf and headed to the nearest city called Pszczyna to find the hospital.  The hospital was in a very old decrepit building that looked like it had been attacked by both the Germans and the Russians during the war and never repaired.  Bullet holes intermixed with large cracks from artillery bombardments filled the walls.  Unsmiling guards with machine guns guarded the front door.  I might have been hallucinating, or maybe it was the fever.

We waited on hard wooden chairs in a long hallway.  The strong smell of antiseptic filled the air.  Ugly nurses carried trays with foot long hypodermic needles into private rooms where muffled screaming could be heard.   I was terrified.

Finally, it was our turn to see the doctor.  We went into the examining room.  The doctor was a middle aged woman who looked like Rosa Kleb, the maid assassin and number two of SPECTRE from the classic James Bond film From Russia With Love.  I think she even had a stiletto hidden in the shoe, ready to stab me if I got unruly.

The evil Dr. kleb
The Polish Doctor

She was tired and she was crabby.  She had been drinking vodka during her lunch break.  Her breath was combustible.  I think she had a wart on her nose.  She looked at me like I was Hansel and wanted to stick me in the oven.  She started to examine me and was asking my father what my symptoms were.

Then she pulled out a giant tongue depressor.  It was as big as a canoe paddle.  She motioned to me to open my mouth.  I tried to open it but my throat hurt.  I couldn’t get it open wide enough.  The doctor yelled at my father.  My father yelled at me.

“Open your mouth wider!  Come on, what’s wrong with you!”

Uh, I’m pretty sure I’m sick.  I have strep throat for the seventh year in a row.

I grimaced and stretched to open wider.  Dr. Kleb pushed the canoe paddle closer and closer.  She got the front edge of it past my lips and kept pushing.

“Say Aaahhhhh” said my father.

“AAAAAhhhh” I garbled as the evil Dr. Kleb pushed the canoe paddle to the back of my throat, engaged my gag reflex, and I promptly threw up all over her socialist worker’s utopian doctor’s smock.

The doctor yelled at me.  She yelled at my father.  My father yelled at me.  It went around like that for a minute or two.  My father thought it was my fault.  I couldn’t get him to listen and understand that it was her fault.  She was incompetent.  Who shoves a canoe paddle down the throat of a sick child?  They don’t do that in America.

I was sent back to the hard wooden chair in the hallway.  After a long time an extremely ugly nurse named Brunhilda showed up.  She talked with my father.

“There is good news and bad news” said my father.  “The good news is that you are going to get a shot of penicillin so you can get better and go back to playing with your cousins.  The bad news is that the doctor won’t believe us when we tell her that you are not allergic to penicillin.  So they have to test you first.”

That sounded like all bad news to me.

Brunhilda pulled my pants down and shot me in the left butt cheek with a foot long needle.  She shot me in the right butt cheek with another foot long needle.  Both sides hurt equally.  I was then sent to sit on the hard wooden chair in the hallway to wait until I had a severe allergic reaction and died, or didn’t react and would get another shot.

After an eternity sitting on the hard wooden chairs, the evil Dr. Kleb and the extremely ugly Brunhilda returned.  Dr. Kleb looked me over and determined that I was fit for yet another shot.  Down went the pants, in went the foot long needle into the right butt cheek.  Now the right butt cheek hurt twice as much as the left butt cheek.

On the ride home we stopped in the town square for an ice cream cone.  It was little consolation for the earlier trauma.  I had entered a Polish hospital and lived through the experience.  I never wanted to return.

I still get nightmares after watching “From Russia With Love.”