Jun 14, 2007

IKA witches

This morning, before I went to work, I took my mother-in-law (MIL) to our local IKA to see an orthopedist. She called at 8 am to make an appointment. IKA call center informed her that the next available opening for requested doctor was on July 10th (today is June 14th) OR she could go in TODAY at 9:10 a.m. because they had a cancellation. MIL chose today's appointment and I volunteered to drive her there and take her home again.

Note to non-Greek, non-IKA insured readers and Michael Moore, director of "Sicko": Unfortunately, it's a well-known Greek fact that IKA doctor appointments are scheduled for a month after the day you call in (IF you are lucky and IF the three fairies blessed you the day you were born). Otherwise, IKA will schedule your medical appointments for after 2 to 4, sometimes even up to 6 (!) months (if you haven't died -that is- by whatever is ailing you). Consequently, this insufficient health coverage causes a lot of frustration to those insured with IKA, which happens to be the majority of Greece's working and retired citizens.

IKA doctors are given print-outs of their daily appointments every morning (NOT INCLUDING CANCELLATIONS) which are posted outside their doors. However, a patient who gets to fill in a cancellation must verbally inform the doctor of their appointment, which is then verified -via telephone- with the IKA appointment centre.

While I was still parking the car, my MIL politely asked the 8:50 appointment if she could pop her head in ahead to inform the doctor of the switch, which he OKayed and she returned outside to wait for her scheduled time.

Alas, no IKA is without attending nasty old ladies. Nagging ones. Bitchy ones. The kind that seem to get their kicks out of making trouble wherever people line up. The type who feels everyone is out to grab their spot in the queue and -if given the chance- will cut in the line ahead of you because they are smarter and you are dumber. The kind of women you wonder if their offspring had pointy tails and little horns.

By the time I got inside, several biddies were clucking around my MIL, "WE have appointments. You came AFTER us. We've been here since 7 am. Our legs hurt. I don't believe you have an appointment. You're a liar".

That last phrase caused something in me to snap and I could no longer contain my ire. My 80 year old MIL, who is very sweet and docile, looked like she was surrounded by a flock of vultures tearing at her like prey that was still breathing.

I surprised even myself when my voice boomed, God-like, from across the hall, "How dare you call her a liar?"
The corridor shut up and all eyes turned to me.

The lady, who had the gall to call my MIL a liar, quickly reclaimed her wits and retaliated, "How do I know she's telling the truth?"
"Why are you so sure she's not?”
"I don't know her, that's why!"
"Why do people have to believe the worst in others? Why can't you trust one another?"
I tried not flinch at how corny this sounded, but amazingly, she backed off. Perhaps my loose, flowing white shirt intimidated her because I looked like a medical worker. In any case, something did the trick and she stopped harassing my MIL.

Another nasty old lady, dressed in customary full Greek mourning outfit, from black head shawl down to black panty-hose, was much worse. I thought how hypocritical her dress-code of lamentation came off when she was slinging shit from her mouth at my MIL.

She had assumed I was just another patient waiting my turn -a complete stranger to my MIL- because we hadn't come in together. Trying to persuade me to come over to the dark side she approached me and hissed in a conspiring voice, "She's a liar. A liar I tell you!"

I turned in disbelief and slung a flubberwinklism at her, "I would expect you, dressed in black, obviously knowing what pain is, to be more good-hearted towards your fellow man and not accuse someone without evidence". It was a feeble argument but it felt right to say it because I can't stand hypocritical black-dressed old ladies who instead of expressing humanity look like they want to gauge other people's eyes out. And enjoy it.

Her serpent tongue silenced and she backed away like I was holding Holy Water or I might contaminate her with my craziness.

The fight wasn't over. Another banshee came at me from across the room, "I called at 6:20 am and they told me there were no appointments for today".
"Really? That's strange since the IKA call center doesn't open till 7:00!"
She tried desperately to uphold her transparent lie by arguing that she had been lucky... that the operator took her call... mumble... mumble.

Then, unexpectedly, an elderly man sitting next to me, leaning on his cane, spoke.
"She's right", he nodded in my direction, "you're all getting worked up over nothing. You (pointing to the one who had called my MIL a liar) DON'T have an appointment and wanted to take advantage of any cancellations. You (raising his cane to the black-dressed woman seething in the corner) have an appointment at 10:20 and came here to pass your time. And you (aiming his gaze at the one whose call at 6:20 had been miraculously answered) DON'T have an appointment either".

Meanwhile, my MIL had gone in to her appointment and the old nags feeling defeat took to whispering amongst themselves about us. Assessing the situation in silence, I realized it was the first time I had spoken in public without my voice fluctuating with sentimental anguish. The old ladies had resorted to yelling and swearing, whereas I maintained Zen mode and didn't even blush with anger.

Then the black-dressed lady who still wanted a piece of me, sidled up to me and asked, "What do my black clothes have to do with making an appointment with IKA?"

And very much to my amazement the old man turned to her, "You should show more sympathy to the living than to the dead." He winked at me and went back to leaning on his cane and waiting patiently for his turn.

When my MIL came out, I smiled good bye to him and was glad someone put my feelings in better wording... "Show more sympathy for the living than the dead".