• I’m not a cat

    by  • 15 February, 2012 • News • 27 Comments

    Cats have nine lives, or so everybody says.

    I’m not a cat, yet I’m in my third (lease on) life now. Two weeks ago, on our second day of a short vacation in Germany I felt dizzy, with some other symptoms that are best described as feeling “queer” or as the Germans say “komisch”. To be safe we went to a close-by regional hospital for a quick check-up. After several very thorough examinations the resident doctor diagnosed that there was probably a serious problem with my coronary arteries. At first I laughed it away, explaining I had had a full examination and stents placed just 15 months ago and that I lived the most healthy life style of any person that I know, but that I would have it checked once I was back in Crete. He was adamant that I should not fly in this condition and had better undergo an angiography as soon as possible. Under some pressure I gave in. They did all they could to put me on an emergency list and one day later it turned out that the 2 x 2 stents that were placed 15 months ago were obstructed for 90%. Had we waited as I had wanted to, I most likely would have had another heart attack with predictable outcome. As it was, I had a smooth initial recovery and we were able to enjoy at least a few days of our planned vacation. Most importantly, we had extensive talks with trained medical staff before and after the procedure, we were explained the options open to us for full recovery and control after the initial intervention.

    But I’m still not a cat.

    Back in 2002 we shut up our minds and let our hearts speak. We landed in Crete as a result of that. We self-imposed our own austerity measures when we arrived here: my salary took a haircut of 80%, Yvonne’s dived 60%. We believed in a simpler life, one where material possessions were not the goal, but just an instrument, and a delicate one that imposes its own high price on top of it’s purchasing cost. We were happy, those were the best years of our lives, free from concerns like insurances (we had little to insure), taxes (there wasn’t much to tax us on) and spacious living quarters (we lived mostly outside and had few things to shelter from the elements) which needed to be maintained, repaired, cleaned and “stylishly decorated” and other such nonsense that modern day man voluntarily enslaves himself to. We completely banned meat in the first 3 years we lived in Crete and allowed a little bit of chicken or rabbit — once a month maybe — after that. We also tried not to be too religious about it and would merrily pick a few pieces of meat from the mezèdes dishes when we were eating out in company. Life, as we had redefined it, was only bliss, even though most Cretans declared us nuts.

    Our lives took a turn on October 18th, 2010, my name day, the evening of which I had a heart attack, followed by a cardiac arrest, that would have ended my life there and then, had it not been for the presence and alertness of Yvonne (the fact that she has been an ICU nurse in a previous life most likely augmented my chances for survival). Since that moment we have been living on edge mostly. Our fear is compounded by the fact that in this part of the world there is no real “medical after-care”, more about that later. The fact that a doctor who is a complete stranger to me can correctly diagnose an imminent health problem and my local regular cardiologist, whom I see once a month, can not, given the same instruments, was the straw that broke the camel’s back for us.

    So, we started brooding on a plan, while I was in the care of the Hermeskeil hospital in ice-cold Rhineland-Palatinate. We also investigated the consequences and complications of our plan, Yvonne mostly did as I was confined to the hospital bed. It was daunting at first, but we think we can make it work. I need decent health monitoring in order to survive. I’m obviously not getting it in Greece. We will take up permanent residence in Germany, in the same region where we spent our holidays. It doesn’t make a difference for my small-time investment occupation, I can do that wherever I live. If the urge strikes me and I want to dabble in some software development I can do that as well wherever I want. Yvonne wants to continue the trainings she has started in Crete, we believe we can can do that in a satisfactory way: we are going to commute! Hear me out before you start throwing rotten vegetables at me.

    Back in 2002 we chose with our hearts, now we need to allow our minds to have it their way.

    Why not back to Belgium, or the Netherlands, where we come from? Why Germany? We absolutely, definitely, unquestionably, patently do NOT want to return to our old way of living. Did I stress that we don’t want to return to our old way of living? Moving back to the countries we originate from would be too much of a daily temptation to be lured back into the old routine, we feel. Moreover, our home countries are too crowded as it is. But we do want a health system that will support me the way we feel comfortable with. It isn’t the cost we are concerned with, it is the quality of the system, more specifically the quality of the “after-care” which is non-existent where we currently live. I suffered from an angina pectoris in 2004, our second year in Crete. I was dismissed from the hospital after 10 days without a single instruction. Not even a report of the angiography they performed on me. Just a list of drugs I had to take “for the rest of my life”, very smugly the ward doctor told me. In 2010 it was more or less the same story after my heart attack, at least on that occasion I got a paper saying I shouldn’t smoke and must walk at least half an hour every day, besides taking the list of drugs “for the rest of my life”. My cardiologist hasn’t taken my blood pressure or my pulse — not once — in the 15 months since I was released from hospital. I basically tried to self-help by digging up as much information as I could on the internet. It’s not good enough any more. I owe it to myself and to my wife to get professional help in a continuous and serious way. No, “fakelaki’s” do not belong in that category.

    The funny part is that, before we moved to Crete, we had hardly ever been to Germany. We visited the Rhineland-Palatinate region a few times in the last couple of years only for short pass-through holidays, on our way to our families in Belgium and The Netherlands. We very much enjoyed it there. Last year, after my first heart problem, Yvonne and I had already explored the idea of renting a short-term (vacation) home in the area for July-August, because the heat in Crete was getting a bit too much for me (most of the summer months of 2011 I spent inside the house, sheltering from the sun). After I got dismissed from the hospital last week we spoke to our landlady about renting a house longer term. To our surprise there were plenty of dwellings to pick from in a number of small villages of the Verbandesgemeinde Hermeskeil, which is at the heart of the really beautiful Hunsrück-Hochwald Nature Reserve. It’s a fantastic area, very quiet, with forests and vast meadows laid out on flowing hills separating small villages from each other. It’s effing cold though in winter, I have to admit that. We have a plan for that too.

    “You said something about commuting?”

    Are we crazy? Yes we are, but “in a good way“, we like to think. If we want to be protected by the healthcare system of a country we need to take permanent residence there. But we don’t need to be there permanently. We still haven’t used the proceeds of the sale of the house we owned in Belgium, so we are going to sink part of it into purchasing a van that we will turn into a camper-cum-transporter. Something like this.

    We are nomads, I have said that before somewhere here on this site. We don’t need much comfort (we slept on pebble beaches most every summer weekend in Crete, not even in a tent), we like to travel. We clothe ourselves simple (cheap, some would say), we eat simple. All we need is a clear time schedule with the German health system: when I need to see my doctor, when to subject myself to the close monitoring required tests, when to purchase my medications and how long that ration lasts. We inquired about that, they are very accommodating and reasonable. Once we have cleared that, we are free to travel wherever we want to go. Wherever we want to go is: to Crete (the van will be shorter than 6 meters by the way, guess why?). As often as possible in a year. Except in high summer. But definitely in winter. Maybe we can even become peddlers of Cretan products like olive oil, wild dittany, soap, some wines, I’d like to try my hand at that.

    I’m still not a cat though.

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