Trying to stay positive is becoming increasingly difficult in a world that is collapsing, bit by bit, every day. Life in Greece is like observing a condemned building after an earthquake. It is unstable and can implode into a pile of dust in an instant; each day the cracks seem a bit wider, pieces of broken cement fall off; it becomes more rickety but somehow remains standing as curious on-lookers walk past shaking their heads in disbelief.
Struggling with pessimism has become a daily battle. Everything is on the rise – crime, attacks against immigrants, unemployment, homelessness, the suicide rate. The new government already resembles a sick man (literally) - the newly-elected Prime Minister was hospitalized for an eye operation and was incapacitated and unable to attend significant, urgent meetings... The Finance Minister passed out and was also hospitalized. He resigned before he even had a chance to be sworn in….Avoidance acts as a form of escapism. We go about our daily lives superficially – not discussing the (shocking, upsetting) events which are occurring around us. We desperately search for new narratives but they don’t exist. No political party can offer a promising, new hope. There is no magic wand, no fairy tale ending. Yet people hang on to the old narratives and keep telling themselves that everything will be alright.
Escapism offers a brief respite and I find myself wanting to withdraw into my own little cocoon. I don’t want to watch the news; I go offline, trying to avoid reading the headlines, trying to shut out reality. I put on my headphones and listen to a mix of international club songs that were popular in the 1990’s when I was a student. I imagine myself (circa 1992) on the dance floor surrounded by my friends – fellow students from all over the world – happy and carefree. Then I imagine myself dancing in the streets of Athens, the music creating a sort of Pied Piper effect, people joining in, laughing and dancing, traffic coming to a halt as the street party grows… Eventually I snap out of my daydreaming and come back to reality and to the sound of wailing police sirens...
Recently I found myself at a maternity hospital waiting for the arrival of a new family member. The private maternity hospital is new, modern and lacks nothing. It actually resembled a 5-star resort. But for me, it symbolizes the growing rift between the haves and the have-nots in Greece; those who can afford private healthcare and those who can’t…
Last month the Pharmacists Association was no longer able to extend credit to the National Organization of Health Service Providers (EOPYY), which means that the pharmacists were not receiving payment from the government (which has no money) for prescriptions. Pharmacies were no longer accepting prescriptions from patients. If you had the cash, (and the drugs you needed were actually available) you could buy the drugs at full cost. The result was people who desperately needed drugs for life-threatening conditions (cancer patients, for example) were not able to get the drugs they need. A dire situation – if you had the money for these expensive drugs (and could actually find them) then you could get them. If you are like most people, you don’t have the money so you don’t receive the drugs you need. This is the new reality in Greece. By the end of June, the government began to pay off the 127 million euro it owes pharmacists for April prescriptions, and thus pharmacies have resumed supplying drugs on credit to those covered by state health insurance (EOPYY). So if you are still alive, you can now get your prescriptions filled.
Many people outside of Greece believe that we are kicking back, receiving “free” socialized healthcare and enjoying the benefits of this wonderful system. The reality is that the services offered by socialized medicine are sub-par. State-run hospitals and medical care are severely lacking. Those who can afford it, buy (usually expensive) private medical insurance which offers treatment and medical care at private hospitals and clinics (which are modern, state-of-the-art facilities).So, there I was, waiting anxiously at the private maternity hospital with the rest of the extended family to see the new addition… When they finally brought him out, I looked at that tiny, precious life and realized how lucky he is indeed – and hoped that his future will be bright.
Despite everything going on around us, life continues – people are getting married, having babies, planning their summer vacations… and telling themselves that “everything will be alright”…. I hope they are right.