Medical Relief

Due to limited time, no other photos in this blog post. Arrival in Santiago scheduled for Saturday.

It’s a cold, overcast afternoon, just like every other afternoon since we reached Galicia four days ago. It’s rained daily, which accounts for the incredibly lush and verdant scenery. Paco, Gabriela and I are spending the night in Morgade, a wide spot on the Camino, just under 100 kilometers from Santiago. Sitting here beside the crackling fire, I figure I have the best spot in the house.

At this stage, foot problems are taking a toll on us and a lot of other pilgrims. Gabriela’s worsening blisters led to my first experience with the European Union’s healthcare system. This morning, Ana from Madrid, who has a car and came to my rescue a couple of weeks ago, drove Gabriela and me into Sarria and dropped us in front of a sporting goods store that still hadn’t opened. Gabriela’s plan was to buy some walking sandals with open backs.

After a quick coffee, Gabriela finally decided to go to a doctor. We asked the woman behind the bar, who directed us a couple blocks to the nearest CAP, or Centro de Atención Primaria (Primary Care Center). CAPs used to be known as ambulatorios and the term is still often used. With no appointment on a Monday morning, we waited in a short line before an employee listened to the problem and asked for her UE identity card known in Spain as the DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad). He typed information into a computer and, minutes later, pulled a form from the printer. He handed it to Gabriela and said, “Room 29.”

Our longest wait was in the upstairs area before the attending nurse arrived. She dispensed with a couple before us fairly quickly. When Gabriela’s turn came, I went in as the translator. I had already had experience on this trip with pharmacists who can give certain medical advice. I was impressed at the use of well-trained nurses to do consultations that, in the States, could only be done by a doctor or PA. This nurse was very professional and, obviously experienced with pilgrims’ foot problems. “You know the best thing you could do is to stop walking until the foot heels,” she said, and seeing Gabriela’s reaction, added, “The Camino is always the same and will wait for you.”

Since Gabriela was determined to keep going, the nurse took us through options and care. Finally, Gabriela said, “Ask how I pay.”

“This takes care of it,” the nurse said, tapping the form Gabriela had been handed at check in.

“I’m from the US,” I said. “This would never happen there.”

“The EU countries all have agreements,” the nurse replied. “In this case, the patient’s home country is billed and we’re reimbursed.” Start to finish, we were at the clinic less than an hour.

I’ve had some interesting conversations with Spaniards about the experience. Clearly, what I saw was a limited interaction, but it sure beat going to my PCP in the US.

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