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Under the weather

I've not felt so well over the last week or so. Mostly the regular aches and pains that come from late season sniffles and colds but  this time there was something new on top. So, for only the second time since we first arrived here I feel the need to talk to a doctor.

Despite a recent wave of cost cutting there's a good, generally free, state medical system in Spain. Dentistry, for adults, isn't included and there are prescription charges but it's basically free. Oh, there must be charges for prostheses too because there was a recent news story about some lad who had his modern splint replaced by a plaster cast when he couldn't pay the charge. Lots of Spaniards seem to choose to take out relatively inexpensive private health cover as well but mainly for queue jumping rather than quality reasons. Parallels with the British National Health System are pretty obvious.

Anyway I'm registered with the health service in my home community - la Communidad Valenciana - because my home is in Culebrón in Alicante. If I need emergency cover here in this community - la Región de Murcia - then I can go to any Accident and Emergency unit. Just like in the UK there is a recurring debate about the use and misuse of emergency services especially by foreigners

I had a bit of a problem then. I wasn't an emergency but I didn't know if I could just get to see an ordinary, GP type, doctor. So I went to the local health centre to ask.

The place was a seething cauldron of humanity. There were lots of women dressed like Muslims and lots of people who looked non Spanish - Americans and  North Africans generally. The three meet and greet receptionists looked harassed. I overheard one tall black lad being asked several questions - Are you registered here as resident? Do you have a passport? Do you have a job? and the answers were all no. The receptionist held a mini conference with the other two receptionists to see about the black lad and the three came up with a plan. He got his appointment. She dealt next with a very deaf, quite bald and very insistent Spanish woman. It was a difficult transaction and when she'd finished she pushed forward her lower lip and blew upwards - a sign of feeling the pressure that even I recognise. The delicatessen ticket counter display thingy clicked over and showed my number.

I'm not happy in these situations. I always worry about my Spanish. I started with one of my oft used gambits - bad luck, another foreigner and with a very low level of Spanish to make it more difficult. She surprised me by grinning - I'm sure we'll manage she said. I was impressed. I explained that I worked in Cartagena but lived in Alicante, that my health card was from there and that I wanted to see a doctor. Another quick conflab with her mates. Should be straightforward she said. You need to come back tomorrow for the admin process but we don't see any major problem. She gave me an appointment.

And that's how it was. I had to hang around a bit but, basically, I was offered a health card for Murcia which would mean losing my Valencian card or I could have three months temporary cover. I didn't want to lose the home card. There was a bit of a hitch about the temporary cover which is too boring to explain but, basically, the admin person brushed it aside with a few keystrokes.

I have to say that I was impressed by the individual and careful way that the five admin people I saw in action dealt with the public. They seemed determined to overcome bureaucratic obstacles rather than hide behind them. They were definitely on the side of the patients. It would have been easy for them to fall back on rules and procedures to fob people off but that's not what I saw at all.

Now I just have to hope that the doctor is as amenable on Thursday.

Just to take this on a couple of steps it is now a week later. The doctor was fine on Thursday. Neither bursting with bonhomie nor unpleasant. She listened to me and then said, unsurprisingly, that I would need blood and urine tests. Today, Tuesday  I went for the blood test. The whole process ran like a well oiled machine. There were maybe ten people dealing with taking and processing the samples. From entering the building to having a cotton wool ball taped over the hole where she'd sucked out the blood took around 25 minutes. I was number 27 in the queue. Now comes the tricky part.

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