I send weekly emails to my friends and family back home. Sometimes I am going to post them here. They have been edited to ensure that certain private details never see the light of day!
“Your blood pressure is excellent,” the doctor told me. Then, slowly turning to look knowingly into my eyes, she said “It’s truly excellent.”
I felt I had to say something, something to acknowledge the “truly excellent” state of my cardiovascular system.
“Thanks” I said.
I knew immediately that I had blown it. I should have led with something about my diet (all plants all the time), or the fact I run (an activity that I do not actually enjoy, I should add; I only do it out of some weird duty to future me and their health). I could have talked about how not driving means I get to walk everywhere, or the benefits of have spent most of my life living beside the sea. Almost anything would have been a more meaningful contribution than “Thanks.”
Or I could have invented some rationale for the supreme pressure of my bloods. She knew nothing of me, and would probably never see me again. I could have told tales of scaling the Southern Alps using only my teeth, or how those of us descended from the Merovingian dynasty have characteristically good hearts. I was the only deep sea driver who didn’t need to get acclimatised before descended 50,000 fathoms; the first person to parasail in the upper atmosphere without a suit.
Instead, I said “Thanks.”
The why of my mundane response is, of course, obvious; my excellent blood pressure not the result of careful work but, rather, something that just happens to be the case (and vis also the product of certain genetic luck). In that moment I wasn’t sure how I was meant to respond to compliments about something I had never gone out of my way to achieve. Indeed, I was reminded of the time someone complimented me on my curls; my immediate response was to say “Thanks; I grew them myself.”
Now, those of you concerned for my well-being will doubtlessly be asking “But why were you seeing a doctor in the first place?” The answer, as always in Romania, is bureaucratic. To get my residency permit I needed to be given a clear bill of health, and a medical certificate from Aotearoa New Zealand apparently would not cut it.
When I last applied for a residency permit I was taken to the University of Bucharest’s medical clinic (which are called “cabinets”) where after five minutes of Iulia (the administrator of the ICUB) talking with the GP I was given a medical certificate. At no point did the doctor talk to me, and I’m fairly sure she didn’t even look at me; despite the fact the meeting was all about my health (and the potential for me to being new and exotic diseases into Romania), I was the one person who didn’t need to be there. So, I was surprised that my new GP (who I suspect, and hope, I will never see again) was so keen to give me the once over. Especially since the entire consultation was unnecessary; after being congratulated on being in such fine health I was sent downstairs to fetch the already filled out medical certificate.
It was fated that I was going to get a clean bill of health no matter the state of my heart (and its associated blood pressures).
On the drive back to the NEC I wondered what would have happened had the doctor found something wrong with me. Would the certificate have been revoked? Would they hush up my frail state? Would I simply disappear into the Romanian medical system, never to be heard of again?
But then I realised that if it was determined that I would be in peak physical condition, maybe the doctor had lied to me. She had, after all, never shown me the results of the blood pressure test, and she had lingered when listening to my lungs. I thought that perhaps she was entranced by the slow, steady movement of them, but maybe she had heard some small murmur which indicated trouble to come.
Sitting in the back of the taxi, I could feel the pressure around my temples increasing. I felt sick. My legs no longer seemed capable of carrying my weight. My back had a curious ache. I stared blearily at the medical certificate in my hand, trying to decipher the doctor’s scrawl, but it was no good. Aside from the terrible handwriting it was also written in Romanian, and I had no idea what it said.
My mortality was imminent. I only had another sixty years to live.
What a waste.
- Not because I did not like the GP, nor because I thought she was in anyway incompetent; I just hope I do not need any medical advice or services in the near future. And because if I happen to need some medical procedure, Romania’s health system is not exactly well-regarded. I mean, three years ago they had a crisis where it turned out that the medical supplies company that provided surgical grade bleach for hospitals (used to disinfect instruments) was watering down the bleach to the point that people were dying due to infections caused by inadequately disinfected surgical instruments…