Spanish Medical Adventure

Spain’s healthcare usually winds up being ranked as some of the best in the world. The US healthcare system has Norway calling the US underdeveloped. Access and expense are generally cited as the US’s downfalls. I’ve had enough medical adventures in the states to be grateful for very good, although expensive, medical insurance. I remember laying the bills from a single medical misadventure on our harvest table. Every surface was covered. I counted twelve billing entities from one Seattle hospital. Fortunately, access has never been a problem for me, but I shudder when I think about the numbers on all the bills I have received.

The morning we headed off on our Spain by Train tour I discovered a cyst on my back had become inflamed. I figured it was sunburned. Maybe a spider bit me. As is my family’s predilection, I ignored it. It hurt, but I don’t talk about things like that. If I mention feeling sick, I’ve crossed over into sick as a dog territory. I still won’t talk about it.

I blame this on my mother’s Christian Science beliefs. Amateur medical remedies that made things worse and hurt like hell probably has something to do with it too. My kids inherited this unreasonable stoicism. I don’t know why. Watching me be stupid should have persuaded them to take a different course of action.

The inflammation on my back kept growing until it looked like I was growing a breast on my right shoulder blade. Donna hit the dreaded internet for medical answers. You never know what’s going to pop up. Did some hairy Mediterranean spider lay eggs in my back? Could we expect baby spiders to burst forth and scramble towards the nooks and crannies of the room? Donna raised an eyebrow and said, “It’s a carbuncle.

The medical treatment prescribed by Dr. Google was simple. Applying warm compresses four times a day and slathering the area with antiseptic cream would either cause the inflammation to subside, or bring things to a head. The inflammation didn’t subside. Donna watched for red streaks and counseled medical treatment. I didn’t want to spend time in COVID tainted waiting rooms, or search the internet for physicians in the next town. Besides…it was getting better wasn’t it?

Donna tentatively agreed that whatever was happening on my back was getting almost imperceptibly better. She began photographing it to reassure herself. Gradually the lump shrank down to the size of a golf ball. Medical treatment was advised again. My response? “Not until we are back in Oliva.”

In the meantime correspondence with my daughter, Alyssa, revealed one of gardeners she supervises had an allergic reaction to a bee sting. He made a short visit to a Seattle area hospital for observation. It wound up being a $4,000 bee sting. That is outrageously normal.

Donna didn’t wait for me to make a doctor’s appointment when we got back. Thirty minutes after dragging our suitcases through the door she was on the phone. I was going to see a doctor at a local clinic.

I had no worries about getting substandard care in Spain. That’s just something we’ve been taught to think. When Donna had a dental emergency a few years back she visited a specialist in Barcelona. The care was expert, successful, and inexpensive. I’m still blown away by the dentist’s office. It was a BMW compared to the ‘53 Ford station wagon our West Seattle dentist worked out of.

After hiking a mile to the clinic in Oliva we found their sign, but no door. We took a trip around the block and finally asked for directions. A locked door with no signage was the not very promising entrance. We had passed it several times. I was buzzed in and walked up an even less promising staircase. At the end of a dim corridor I found the clinic. It was tiny. The waiting room only had room for two plastic lawn chairs.

While waiting I determined this was a four person operation. There was the receptionist, a lab technician, a physical therapist, and a general practitioner. Everyone who came out of a doctor’s appointment made their way to the receptionist and settled their bill. The receptionist was the cashier, and the office’s entire billing department.

Without filling out any forms, showing identification, or providing proof of insurance I was ushered in to see the doctor. She looked at my back and asked, “Is it painful?” I shook my head. Without further discussion the doctor went for it. I was standing in the middle of the room with my shirt around my neck. Then the doctor asked, “Again?” I nodded my head. Yeah, that hurt!

“I am going to give you antibiotics. It’s usually seven days. I am going to give you ten because…”

“Es mejor.”

The doctor smiled and off I went. I stopped at the reception desk and pulled out a credit card. The appointment and the procedure cost thirty euros. Eight days later the lump on my back had gone from convex to concave. There were no signs of infection. I wasn’t expecting a harvest table full of medical bills. There would be no $4,000 bee sting sticker shock. Taking a cat to the vet in the US will set you back more than 30 euros.

What I paid for was medical care stripped back to the basics. I wasn’t paying for several billing offices. I didn’t use my Spanish insurance. So I wasn’t supporting claims departments, managers, or a CEO. I wasn’t paying for a fleet of lawyers, or liability insurance. My antibiotics cost two euros. I am healing, and I don’t feel like I got robbed. It wasn’t the leather seats, wool carpet, and wood steering wheel experience, but I am not complaining.

There is an old saying that assures us we get what we pay for. It has convinced us that paying more surely must be better. When it comes to medical care in the US a new saying is needed. Something like, “They’ll take everything they can get, and a whole lot more!

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