I need a doctor.

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Well, I don’t anymore. But I did recently. I’m not exactly sure what was wrong with me but I had gotten a nasty cough a little over a month ago that just wouldn’t let up. For about a month I had been trying different sobres (packets of powder that you mix with water) and jarabes (cough syrups) from the pharmacies which, unlike pharmacies back home, seem to be less concerned with candy/snacks/miscellaneous stuff and more with medications, creams and herbal remedies. Also, all of the pharmacies here have a green cross like this outside to signal to you that it’s a pharmacy:

And there aren’t any CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid here. They all say the same thing – ‘Farmacia.’

Anyway, after getting pretty much nowhere with the over the counter stuff, I gave in and asked my host mom to set up an appointment for me at the health clinic for last Thursday. Before I went to class, I had to go to the bank on the day of my appointment, not to make a withdrawal but a deposit in Spain’s bank account. Instead of seeing a doctor and either paying a co-pay if we have insurance or the full cost of the visit if we don’t, which is likely what we would do in the United States, in Spain I had to pay the cost of a visit to see a family medicine doctor (about 62 euros and change) to the government and take my receipt with me as proof that I had already paid for my visit so that the doctor could see me.

After doing that and going to class, I met with my host mom after so she could show me how to get to the centro médico. When we got there, we didn’t have to check in with a receptionist – we went straight upstairs to the doctor’s office. The clinic, however, was a lot different than what I was expecting. It wasn’t like a normal doctor’s office I’ve ever been in. There weren’t separate examining rooms, and there weren’t doctors’ offices with fancy desks and big, comfortable chairs and artwork on the walls and plants in the corners. Every doctor had an assigned space in which their examination room and their office shared. Nothing was lavish or overly adorned, but there was nothing wrong with that.

I saw the doctor (Belén, a friend of my host mom’s from college), she checked me out, gave me a prescription for antibiotics and more heavy duty cough syrup and had time to chat about how I liked Spain, what I wanted to do, what her kids were doing. Even though it was a private health care center (i.e. you need to have private health insurance to go here), there was no rush, which is what I’m normally used to. For me at least, it seems like doctors in the U.S., no matter where you go, tend to have a reputation for constantly seeing you late and having to rush through your visit. Not here, or at least not in the private health center. From what I’ve read, that is really the only advantage to buying private health insurance – avoiding waiting around for a little bit. How nice would that be to have back home? If you can afford to buy private insurance, great. You can go to a private health center and see the doctor pretty much right on time. And if you can’t afford it, it’s no big deal. You’re still covered by the free public health system and you’re still treated. It’s strange but also enlightening being in a place where citizens are covered for being citizens and health care is a basic human right. Do we really live in a country where people have said that we should just let those who can’t afford health insurance die? It’s shameful, in my opinion, and being here has made me realize that, even though Spain may have its work cut out for it in other areas and may have some changing to do, this is one thing in which I think we could look to them as an example, take notes and learn something.

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