by geezer in Paris
Sun Jun 24th, 2007 at 05:57:34 AM EST
It was the winter of 1996, and Nuuk, Greenland was bitterly cold in the last days before Christmas.
The wind howled across the airport ramp as the ground crew cut down through the ice to tie down our small aircraft, and we groped our backpacks out from the back in the growing dark. I held Adrian against the wind, and to ease his shaky knees. My son was seven, and a bit shell shocked. Our trip plan had been abruptly altered when ground fog prevented us from landing at Narsarsauak for the night, and Nuuk was our alternate destination- a long, cold three hundred miles across the ice cap after a long but gorgeous flight from Goose Bay, Canada. We were supposed to be snug in a hotel in Narse tonight, and instead---what's this? "Nuuk?" (more below)
From the diaries ~ whataboutbob
On top of it all, Ivonne was getting strep --her sore throat had the classic spots, and she felt like crap. We were grateful that we were on the ground, and we were soon in a taxi en route to a place to sleep. Our
driver told us that there were two choices of hotels- the Intercontinental, which was lovely but very expensive, and the "Sailor's Rest"--far less costly, but with in-the-room entertainment that might be a bit "advanced" for our son. Reluctantly we opted for the posh, thinking that we would be leaving in a day or two, as soon as Ivonne was well, and as soon as the weather improved. Ah, the easy confidence of inexperience.
Next morning we went straight to the desk to ask about a doctor or clinic for Ivonne, who was now really miserable.
The lady told us that the hospital had a good clinic and was only a few blocks away, so we walked.
At the hospital door we met what must have been the world's oldest security guard- we felt like we should open the door for him, instead of vice versa, and get the old guy a chair. A wonderful, leathery wrinkled Inuit face with a graceful smile and whispery voice, he spoke to us in martian, and we smiled and made for the desk.
A hallway. Plain, asphalt tile, painted in pastel light colors- no plush carpets, no grand piano, no impressionist art like my dad's Riverside Methodist Hospital in Ohio. But at the end was a very nice play area for children, and chairs to rest in. A single stained glass window, lovely but oddly abstract, and nothing more. The ladies at the counter spoke good English, and, advised of Ivonne's problem, suggested we wait. We settled in for a long wait- no appointment, you know.
In about 15 minutes, the doctor came and introduced himself. Straight to his office, in the corner of a small lab, and to business. No nurse- he took a detailed history himself, simultaneously entering it into a computer, and then an exam- pretty complete one at that, and a throat culture. He used a test that would identify the exact strain of strep, and did it himself. I had never heard of it, and he told us it was not available in the US- not FDA approved yet. He smiled. "Something new?" I asked. "About ten years old." he answered.
Once he had the results, he got out a file and said, "Since you're pilots, we don't want to affect your ability to fly, or your night vision." I asked him if he encountered pilots a lot. He said, "All the time. Here, airplanes are our life blood- Greenland is not a good place to drive. By this time of year, pretty much the only way in or out is by plane."
After he had entered the results into the computer, he inserted what looked like a credit card, and pushed a button. The computer ran it through, and he gave it to Ivonne. " Save this." he said. We asked what it was for. "With this card you can get fast care anywhere in the world where the Danish system exists, and they can get your medical history in seconds. Also, with this card, you can actually get care with few questions asked -anywhere except the United States."
We tried to thank him, but he refused the compliment with a wave. "It's basic", he said. "I'd give you all one if I could."
I asked, half jokingly, what I had to do to get one myself. He said, "Just be alive, for people who live here. For you two, you need to get sick and come to me."
Down the hall to the pharmacy we went, and collected Ivonne's cosmic strep stopper, and then, --the grim moment of reckoning. With Adrian in tow, we went to the original window, and the same pair were there. They offered us a goodby, then looked edgy when we just stood there. So we said, "We'd like to pay our bill, please." They looked us blankly, then laughed,--then apologised.
Then they said (and their words are engraved in my heart),
"We get very few Americans here, so we forget. But this is hospital, not a business. Here, it's a human right."