After several blissful and uneventful days in the Kalamata Hilton, chaos has decided to pay us a visit. At the judgement of our paediatrician, our baby had to be rushed in an ambulance to a paediatric ward in Athens, a 4 hour drive away. Shortly after arriving, the little man was given the all clear, but now we are 300 km from where we planned to be, in an unfamiliar part of the city, with lots of logistical issues to deal with.
The most important thing is that our baby is now in full health, the doctor says he has a very strong heart and a loud cry – I can testify to that. But he must stay in the ward so they can run all their test and procedures. So that means making daily cross-city expeditions for breast-feeding visits and a vital supply of daily hugs.
The trip across town proves to be an eye opening insight into a seedier part of life in Athens. The old general hospital is in the down-at-heel west-side of town near the port of Piraeus. Many immigrants have flocked and settled to this ex-industrial suburb. A small patch of brown-field a couple of blocks from the hospital is home to a handful of Soweto-style shanty buildings, constructed out of scrap wood, metal and anything else vaguely suitable for building a shelter. Not exactly a part of Greece that the tourist board wants on show.
The hospital too, reflects the relative poverty of the area. Quite unlike our modern facility in Kalamata, this place is a huge, decrepit, labyrinthine building. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of corridors, some of which are reminiscent of a Victorian asylum. Although clean and well maintained, tramps have taken up residence in this air conditioned haven, trying to escape the 35 degree heat. Patients sit outside with their drips attached, chain smoking, whilst inside, visitors group together to smoke by the lifts. To add to the ambience, the staff here are (understandably) more brusque and to the point. Needless to say it’s an altogether quite uninspiring place.
The neonatal unit comes as a shock too. This fourth floor ward is cramped and stuffed back to back with incubators. Newborns and tiny premature babies lie in their clear plastic safe houses, various tubes going in and out. Bright lights, gas and fluids are pumped into and around the little ones, sustaining their frail lives. In the non-intensive care section, an orphan infant, no more than 6 months old lies in her cot, writhing around silently.
But after a few days, amidst the sickness and desperation, I start to sense some hope and positivity. Mothers with tiny premature new-borns are able to breast feed for the first time. Grand-parents peer through the glass at babies who wouldn’t have survived in their era. This may not be the most glamorous of locations, but miracles are happening every day here.
Words of the day
- ασθενοφόρο – ambulance – (as-then-o-foro)
- δρόμος -road – (thro-mos)
- Αθήνα -Athens – (ath-ee-na)
- νοσοκομείο – hospital -(noss-o-kom-ee-o)