Friday, August 30, 2013

Oviedo: Or, A Personal Encounter With Spain's Healthcare System

“Oviedo is a delicious, exotic, beautiful, clean, pleasant, tranquil and pedestrianised city. It is as if it did not belong to this world, as if it did not exist ... Oviedo is like a fairy-tale.” -Woody Allen

     After two days in the Picos de Europa, Katie and I went to Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. Oviedo is a nice city to visit, preserving its long history while being a modern city. Among other things, the annual Príncipe de Asturias awards are held in Oviedo, which are presided over by Prince Felipe, heir to the Spanish throne. The awards range from the sciences to the humanities, and past recipients include Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen (who gave an acceptance speech that everyone should see). Woody Allen was awarded the prize in 2002, years before he filmed part of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" in Oviedo, but which no doubt influenced his decision to film there.

Woody Allen statue in Oviedo
     The old part of town is typical Spanish, with small cobblestone streets, several plazas, and big churches. In one plaza we happened upon a wedding with traditional Asturian music (almost like Irish music).


     We were really looking forward to seeing the two pre-Romanesque churches located on a hill outside of town. Built in the 9th century, the churches have been very well preserved and are beautifully shaped. The first one below, Santa María del Naranco, was originally a palace but was later converted into a church. 

Santa María del Naranco
Side view of Santa María del Naranco
     San Miguel de Lillo, a few minutes away from the former palace, is even more beautiful and has a few original stone carved windows (covered now by plexiglass). It is wonderfully symmetric and, aesthetically, is one of my favorite churches.
San Miguel de Lillo
Side view, San Miguel de Lillo
     Back in the city, there is an old fountain called La Fonclada, which is the only surviving "example of civic construction intended for public use dating from the High Middle Ages" (9th century). 


     A few blocks from where we were staying is the famous Hotel de la Reconquista, which we wandered into after having a chicken empanada from a bakery. It was very nice inside. So nice, in fact, that the guy in front did not want to let us inside because we weren't staying there. I told him we might have a coffee from the café, so he let us in. I wanted to see the hotel because it looked great in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." It was also the hotel where Scarlet Johansson's character in the movie was laid up for two days with food poisoning. Foreshadowing? 


     A couple hours later, as it was time for bed, Katie mentioned she felt a little sick. I concurred. The next eight hours were the worst eight hours ever. When 8am rolled around and I was still on the bathroom floor, Katie said,
We have to go to the hospital.
No. 
Yes.
Okay. 
I called a cab and stumbled out of the building, my body so devoid of water I couldn't feel my legs. We got into the cab. Ten minutes later we stumbled into the emergency room. I put my government issued private insurance card on the counter (it was to expire the next day) and was directed to lie on a bed. Apparently Katie gave them any necessary information and sat down next to me. The doctor said I needed an IV. I said I had never had one. There's a first time for everything. Katie said she had to go to the bathroom. She didn't make it out of the door. The nurse caught her as she fell and she was put on a bed too. 
     Four hours later the doctor told me we should stay overnight. That sounded ridiculous to me. Doesn't it cost a fortune to stay overnight in a hospital? 
Maybe in the United States. This is Spain. The insurance will pay for everything. 
Okay then.
Twenty hours later, we woke up, feeling better. The doctor came in.
So we can go now?
Maybe this evening. You have to eat something.
I'm hungry. 
Katie was no longer on an IV (both because she didn't have Spanish insurance and because she is stronger than I am, probably due to her stint in Moscow). She went to get a few things at the hostel and came back. Long story put out of its misery, we left around 8pm on the second day and decided we should call the trip over, even though we had two more places to visit. 
     I learned a couple of things from this misfortune. 1) Don't eat chicken empanadas that have been sitting in bakery windows. 2) My private Spanish health insurance is great. I had private insurance (with Mapfre, a big Spanish insurance provider), given to me by my job. Only around 18% of Spaniards have private health insurance. Principally because few can afford it, but also because there is universal health care in Spain. Part of the deal of the job I have as a Language and Culture assistant is that I am given private healthcare, which in hindsight is a great thing. I was admitted to urgencias (the emergency room) without any wait, was given a plethora of IVs for 36 hours, had a private room, and everyone was really nice to me. (Factor not taken into account: Spanish hospital not wanting an American to die in its care). So, for any auxiliares de conversación out there reading this, rest assured that the insurance given to us is good, and the hospital care provided is as good as in the United States, with the added bonus that you probably will not pay a dime. 
     As for the public healthcare in Spain, I can't speak about it because I have no experience of it. Has anyone out there experienced Spain's public healthcare system? 

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