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Greece: Vertigo PDF E-mail



“The holes of oblivion do not exist.” [1]   




Last night I had some sort of neurological occurrence or something, hell, I don’t know.  I got up from my desk and suddenly could hardly walk, equilibrium all wonked out grabbing for chairs, walls, anything to help me stay vertical.  This morning it’s nearly the same.  Don’t know what’s going on, this is a new experience for me.  I’m conscious of my head—no pain, but my cranium feels full.  Thought process is normal, but my eyesight is off a bit.  A neuro-hiccup?  Oh fuck.  I’m going to wait until tomorrow when I was already going to see a doctor, though he’s a rheumatologist.  Well, he can send me to someone else or, hell, I don’t know.  I went out to hang some laundry and was staggering around like a drunk, very strange. 



I’m now writing this in my notebook in a hospital bed.  Mirella and I were thinking what if I’ve had a minor stroke or wee cardiac adventure?  So we took my blood pressure, it seemed high and we drove into town to find a doctor.  First doc met us getting out of the elevator.  He was in a neck brace and leaving.  We went to another but she blew us off, so we had to go to the hospital, always to be avoided, especially here where you think you’re in the third world.  Sparti has just one public hospital, part of the Greece National Health Care System, which is a broken down corrupt incompetent mess.  We wait a couple of hours in the emergency intake hallway where an embarrassment of physicians is wandering about doing bugger all.  None save one appears to be over the age of thirty.  Hey, who needs experience?  Let me point out that identification is easy.  In the Greek system only graduates of medical school wear lab coats.  All the other occupations: orderlies, nurses, cleaning ladies, tech, etc. are indicated by their garb. Some of these squeaky new docs quite obviously haven’t a fucking clue.  One young woman who looks all of twenty spends the entire time we’re there holding an IV kit in a plastic bag.  Every fifteen minutes or so she takes up a new position outside a different door.  The look on her face just drones, huh?  Everyone ignores her.  It’s good to remember that all of these workers have taken a thirty to forty percent pay cut.  New physicians used to start at 900 euros a month.  That’s a month. 


Finally a doctor, still young but full of the confidence a year or two of practice gives, examines me.  There’s a standard protocol if stroke or other cranial trauma is suspected that consists of a series of eye-hand and facial gestures including one where you close your eyes as tight as you can and they try and open them with their thumbs.  Two other doctors within the next 24 hrs give me this exact same exam; which shows they’ve all been trained in the same med school, if nothing else.  They decide to take me in for a few tests and an orderly whips me into a wheelchair as wobbly as I am and up we go.


It’s a standard, for Sparti, six bed room.  There’s four other patients in the room, besides the attendant friends and family.  I feel like calling the meeting to order.  The poor bastard across from me is in a lot of pain and moans every three seconds.  Whatever they’re giving him, it ain’t working.  He stares at his IV bags but finds no comfort there.  Obnoxious cell phones keep bursting into jingle and pop.


Hours later he’s still moaning, though he is managing to vary the tone and introduce the odd rattle but the pace is metronomic.  What’s the difference between a moan and a groan?  Pain and pleasure, the word does not identify.  He’s sitting on the edge of his bed and turns to look at me sometimes.  I look back with what I hope he takes as compassion.  It is compassion, but what can you say?  ‘Thanks for sharing’?  I’m the only one in the room with reading material; that I’m also scratching away in this notebook doubles down on my alien presence. 


6-II  Well, that wasn’t a night I want to repeat very often.  They managed to sedate the moaner to silence but damn if deep into the night he begins to rhythmically laugh, a cosmic chuckle, if you will, raspy, cynical, heh heh heh, heh heh heh.  The chortle of a troll, Orson Wells on his deathbed.  It took me a while to determine the source, what with the wheezing, snoring and gurgling purring through the room, but it was him, heh heh heh.  And then, fuck me, another denizen from the land of nod joined in, heh heh heh, heh heh heh.  They were in sync, a harmony of mirth.  You wanted to be let in on the joke, but it was obvious gallows humor.  We’re all going to die, heh heh heh.  No shit, and tis better to laugh than to moan, at least for your fellow sufferers.  Mucas gracias, mis amigos.


It’s a sunny morning on hospital hill.  All the patient room have large windows and glass doors that open on a wide veranda littered with broken furniture that runs the pealing paint length of the building affording a spectacular view south over Sparti and west to the snow capped Tayegetos mountains.  Two pigeons just walked in from the veranda, pecked about and exited.  My first wife died in this hospital, one floor down at the end of the hall, about this time in the morning. 


A pity of physicians are examining and the discussing the moaner.  Looks like something in the lungs by the x-rays they’re holding up.  Ai, it doesn’t bode well.  One big-haired doc is attempting to instruct her younger colleague, a dullard by the looks of her, in the interpretation of scan and x-ray.  The senior doc just shooed some more pigeons out while shaking his head in apparent disbelief.  Hey, why disbelief?  Those can’t be the first pigeons you’ve hustled out of the hospital.  It’s the left lung. Looks like they’re sending the Moan to Athens.  I get the impression they’re trying to empty this room.  Everyone must go.  We can only hope.


They get to me, but now there’s only two, big hair and the dull one.  Most all the younger doctors speak quite adequate English and I always insist on it not only for the sake of comprehension but because it puts me at an advantage.  Not something to abuse, mind you, but these situations are always rife with opportunities to misconstrue, the conjecture vectors tangle and burn in the florescent light and nuance wilts in an ammonia fog.  We discuss my medical history.  “Do you walk?” she asks.  Yes.  “Where?”  In the hills with the dogs and birds of prey.  “Hmm.”  She turns to her colleague and in Greek says, run a PSA test. PSA? says I, they discontinued that test in the States as it led to many unnecessary operations with undesirable consequences.  “Well, we do it here.”  She then admitted that high or low readings were not definitive, “But if you have a high reading we can perform a biopsy.”  Which still won’t indicate whether this is a lethal cancer or one that will remain dormant into my eighties.  “That’s true, but that’s our protocol.”  It’s good to present an image of an informed patient, especially here where many in the profession hold to a traditional imperious the doctor knows all and the patient is best left in the dark attitude.  But, they’ll all respond to intelligent query.


Greeks are inveterate visitors to the infirmed.  The Sparti hospital is the crossroads of Lakonia.  Seems you recognize or know half the people who walk through the doors.  Mirella and I are seated in the hallway greeting people as though it was a reception.  If you wonder what ever happened to someone, just take a seat at the hospital and all will be revealed.  M turns to me and says, with relief, “I think your days on a ladder are over.”  Damn, that’s probably true.  But that means someone else will be pruning my olive trees, a most disagreeable thought.  We can be sure that the trees won’t mind, man doesn’t mean much in the vegetable kingdom, especially to the olive, who often survive many generations of care or lack of it.  Mirella scoffs at the soft flabby shape of many young Greek men and sniffs, “I’m glad I’m not a young girl now.”   Oouuh, harsh.


The Moan is halfway to Athens by now.  Last night, I read a long essay in N+1 on the Anders Breivik trial in Oslo, to which I have nothing to add, another weird deluded loner with no one around to provide any perspective on his crackpot obsessions.  After the bombs on the mainland he donned a policeman’s uniform before proceeding to the island to massacre the young campers, that’s wicked foresight.  I have no idea what Norway’s law concerning the possession of firearms amounts to.  I needed something lighter so I started Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station.  Funny, witty, with yet another post modern male protagonist consumed with self-loathing, unable to commit to experience.  These characters tend towards the cute & cuddly as opposed to, for instance, Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces.  In the book our ‘hero’, in a play for sympathy and to divert attention from what he feels is his own vacuity, tells people, especially women, that his mother has just died.  And sitting here in this hospital I think of my son, a mere seventeen when his mum went down, and two weeks later he was in the UK, Manchester, on his own and far away.  He did not wear this loss as emblem or measure of the depth of experience his short life had provided.  It was just what happened, and he was looking forward.


Lots of time to read in the whore’s spittle, zipped through that novel in a flash and enjoyed it a great deal.  But I have to get out of here.  I will die eating the prison food they’re serving.  Here’s your boiled chicken and white bread, bon appetite.  I look down at the tray and think, there are billions in the world who would fight for this. I would not put up a struggle.  This morning I had a CT scan o me head and a perfunctory ultra-sound on me neck.  I don’t know what other weapons they have, so tomorrow morning I hope they just say, forget about it, go home, relax, quit wasting our time.  I’m better though occasionally a wave of vertigo imposes, or, rather, not a wave but a whisper that equilibrium is an illusion that shouldn’t be clung to.  I can walk vaguely straight but only if I concentrate.  When I don’t, I meander, which come to think of it, is my natural style.  I supposed to leave for the States in a week.  Will I get in the air or be grounded like a Boeing with bad batteries?  I like the marble chip floors that are standard in older Greek public buildings.  Maybe it was cheaper?  Very labor intensive though.  Jaysus, I’m talking about the floor!  I gotta get outta here.


7-II  Morning and I walk across the street to a café for a cappuccino and a cheese pie, not great but several rungs up the ladder from hospital swill.  The woman at the counter gives me too much change.  I almost point this out but have found that in these situations you get a bad reaction, so I leave it all as a tip.  The TV was on with a type of program Greek television is overly fond of.  On the screen are four, six, sometimes eight windows each with the head of a politician or commentator of some sort.  This way, while one is talking you can observe the others rolling their eyes, mugging or trying to shout down the others.  Sometimes they break into ensemble jabber.  This morning, besides two commentators, are representatives of the ruling center-right New Democracy, the former socialists PASOK, the Communist Party and SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left.  Conspicuously absent is a member of the Neo-Nazi party, The Golden Dawn, who now, according to all polls, are the third most popular party in the nation with the support of 12% of the voters.  Last time I witnessed one of these programs there was a relentless replay of a brute of a Golden Dawn MP slapping down a female Communist MP.  Cut to one camera for that.  What bullshit.  Maybe their presence is verboten?  How would I know, not having a TV.


Maybe there is something misfiring in me brain?  There are, I’m sure, those who think this has been the case for years.  The evidence is before you.  My mind feels clear, but is consciousness capable of evaluating itself?  Even the most cursory look at the world indicates that in most instances, this is not so.


The two doctors have arrived.  Perhaps I’ll have a verdict?  “All of your tests are normal,” says Big Hair, “and,” she adds with smile, “your PSA is fine.”  What a relief! I exclaim with a laugh.  So what’s the story?  “It must be some… some…”  “Dysfunction,” inserts the dull one.  B.H. and I turn to reappraise her.  “Dysfunction in the inner ear.”  Hmm, a disturbance in the force, as D.V. put it.  “You’ll be discharged today.  We’ll give you some anti-vertigo pills to take for the next 20 days.  This condition may return.”  Yes, like existential angst.  She shrugged, “We can’t stop you from thinking too much.”  Heh heh heh.


8 February 2013




[1] Hannah Arendt,  Eichman in Jerusalem.

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