I think of the “Ice Cream Man” every time I hear it. Someone driving through the town, with a mega phone, shouting something. Throughout the summer it was “Psaria, fresco psaria. Fish, fresh fish.” The local fisherman would make the announcement and then park in the platia. People would walk down, pick the fish they wanted out of the baskets in the back of the van, pay for it, and serve it that night for dinner. Throughout the fall, the megaphone has blasted news of meetings in the town of Evdilos or the capital of Agyios Kyrikos. That’s how information is spread in Ikaria. There is no newspaper or television station. Apparently there is a community-run radio station, but since it’s broadcast from the other side of the mountain, it’s hard to get it in the village. Anything that is important is shared at town meetings. In the summer they gather in the town squares and when the weather is bad, they find an inside location. The meetings are announced, not only via the car that drives around village by village, broadcasting the details, but also though flyers. These flyers are posted everywhere–on bulletin boards at the grocery store, in a sign box in the town square, stapled to trees, or posted at the cantina at the beach. They announce when and where bands will play, political rallies, panagiti’s, memosinos (church memorial services), strikes, and meetings. Because these meetings are the primary source of disseminating information, business and schools close during this time, so that everyone has the opportunity to attend.
This past week, there was a meeting in the middle of the afternoon regarding the status of the island hospital. Ikaria does have a small hospital in Agios Kyrikos, the capital, as well as an emergency clinic outside of Evdilos, on my side of the island. This is a government-run hospital, which is under the jurisdiction of the larger island of Samos. With the economic crisis, the government is trying to find ways to make cuts. It was shared at this meeting that there will be changes made to the hospital. Although nothing is finalized, there were various scenarios presented and predictions made. They believe that the administration of the hospital will be done from Samos and that they will close some of the departments in the hospital here. The existing hospital would become more of an “emergency clinic,” but any surgeries or long-term care would be sent to Samos. And what will become of the clinic on this side of the island?
When you are reading about this on paper and looking at budget and numbers, this might make logical sense. But when you live on the island, it doesn’t seem logical at all. Although Samos is “right next door,” you can only get there via a four-hour ferry ride. In the winter, that ride is only available every other day, and it isn’t available if the weather turns bad or the country goes on strike. Just this winter one of my cousins had to have an emergency appendectomy, and my cousin Stella’s mom had to be admitted for pneumonia. The clinic outside of Evdilos is also a much-needed facility, as driving to the hospital takes almost a full hour from my village and an hour and a half to two hours from places further west. Just last night we witnessed a motorcycle accident, and the driver, although conscious and moving, was covered in blood. I don’t know what happened to him, but I am sure that if he had to make the hour drive to the hospital, he would have lost sufficiently more blood.
This is one of those times that I think about how difficult it is here and how fortunate we are in America. The people of Greece all pay towards their healthcare–money taken directly from their paychecks. But what they receive is minimal. When Stella’s mother, Poppi, was ill, I spent many hours in the hospital. I was shocked, given that every hospital I have ever entered in America has been has been the exact opposite of what I saw. The hospital was old and in very poor shape. In the room that Poppi had, there were tiles missing from the wall, the television (that didn’t receive any channels) was being secured to the wall stand with gauze, and there was limited hot water. The heat and hot water on came on for a few hours a day to conserve energy and save money. The air condition and heating units need to be replaced, and the wheel chairs and gurneys are all old, many with broken elements. Poppi was given a bed, with clean sheets, but that is all. The family needs to bring all of the patients “needs” with them, from towels, tissues, and straws, to pajama’s, lotion, extra blankets, and even some medicines. The nurses are understaffed and their job is to monitor vitals and dispense medicines. The family must care for the patient 24 hours a day, and if they cannot be there, they must hire a caretaker. It is their responsibility to bath and change the patient, move them and shift them to avoid bed sores, and to help them with anything else they may need. There is a lot of responsibility put on the family, and imagine what a hardship this will put on some families if they now must bring all of these items and care for their patient on another island.
I can’t do anything about the situation of the government “merging” the hospitals of Ikaria and Samos, nor, do I think, can the residents of Ikaria. I do wonder, however, if something can’t be done about the resources that they do have. Of course, that is such an American thought. When something is run down or broken in our country, what do we do? We get a new one. If our hospitals need new wheel chairs, they hospital would budget that into their account or a donor would surface and gift them to the hospital. That isn’t the case here. I have said that part of the experience of living in Ikaria was learning what it was like to live with “less” stuff. Unfortunately, there is some “stuff” I just don’t think people should have to live without. A functioning hospital is one of those things.