• 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.

    27 Responses to I’m not a cat

    1. 16 February, 2012 at 3:54

      Sweden and Switzerland have by far a superior health-care system compared to Germany. Probably other countries i.e. like Norway, might have a better HC system too.

      • luc
        16 February, 2012 at 10:03

        Thanks Panagioti, I don’t argue with that. We weren’t looking for “the best” healthcare system, just for a good one that fitted our needs. The fact that Germany is relatively nearby to where our families are living and yet within reasonable driving distance to the ferry boats to Crete also played a role.

        • 16 February, 2012 at 11:54

          I see. I hope somehow the healthcare gets better in Greece, although it’s hard to see. We’re moving fast forward in the opposite direction. God help us.

          Hope all the best for you.

    2. Andy
      16 February, 2012 at 11:07

      Luc, I’m sorry to hear about your predicament and it’s a shame you cannot continue your lives in Crete. I am starting to feel much the same way; not for health but for the obvious financial reasons. I, too, am happy to live the simple life, but even that is starting to look impossible to sustain. Anyway, I wish you both the best of luck and health, my friend!

    3. edith
      16 February, 2012 at 11:11

      Luc, wat moet ik daar nu van begrijpen?
      Is dat een fabel of is dat de waarheid!
      Ik heb al llang begrepen dat jullie een “apart” koppel zijn, leef er maar op los. Ik ben “vrij” van januarie 2011 en heb mijn levensleiding veranderd…te kort om zig verplichtingen op te leggen.

    4. Rene
      16 February, 2012 at 11:36

      Hallo Luc,
      Wat goed om te horen dat je op tijd de juiste diagnose hebt laten doen en dat ook nog in Duitsland. Wellicht weet je niet dat mijn broer Harry, onlangs overleden aan een hersentumor in Hermeskeil woonde…
      We komen er regelmatig nog op bezoek bij mijn schoonzuster die nu nabij Trier in Nonnweiler woont. Ik heb er vertrouwen dat jouw cat 100 levens heeft en ook nog een goede bewaarengel Yvonne.
      We hopen jullie weer gauw te zien.
      Liefs Rene

    5. Jean-Luc
      16 February, 2012 at 13:02

      Heavy stuff, glad everything was noticed “in time”. Good luck with your next chapter in life! And who knows what good things germany will bring you! See you guys soon then i guess… 🙂

    6. Frans
      16 February, 2012 at 18:03

      Nou is even schrikken als je een en ander leest. Maar denk dat jullie een oplossing hebben gevonden die ‘the best of two’ is. En…..we zien elkaar dan in elk geval wat vaker, in elk geval voor mij (zeg ik er voor de zekerheid maar bij), iets om naar uit te kijken. Hoop jullie gauw weer te zien. Verandering brengt nieuwe mogelijkheden in beeld dus…….

      Tot gauw Frans

    7. Milica
      16 February, 2012 at 20:36

      🙂 Once a bum, always a bum! You found a way to get that van, eh 😉 You won’t get away with this so easily though – I’ll get myself a van, too!

      Oh Luc! O dear! You are lucky to have another angel besides Yvonne guarding you ..
      I remember as clear as it is today when you told me that your Dutch/Belgium (?) post-surgery check-up doctor told you that the stents were done well…I didn’t want to think differently then but I was very doubtful, but never wanted to voice it. Dear dear..

      I will miss you both awfully. You have to promise to come and stay with me as often as possible.
      We’lll supply you with tons of oil, honey, wine and raki.
      I’ll miss you 🙁

    8. Lucinda
      16 February, 2012 at 20:40

      Never a dull moment with Luc and Yvonne. I’ve always said life isn’t bad in central Europe even if the weather ain’t so great. Sensible decision and as Frans said we will be pleased to be able to see more of you both. Even if you intend to be on the road a lot I’m sure we’ll be able to catch up a little more often than we do now. Good luck with the move and take care.

    9. Hilary
      16 February, 2012 at 22:52

      I’m having difficulty seeing you in Germany, but better alive in Rheinland than not alive in Crete. Take very good care of yourselves, and perhaps we can all get together at some point…..

    10. Silveria
      17 February, 2012 at 0:15

      Lieber Luc
      Wo auch immer dein Herz dich hinschickt, ist es richtig.Die Distanz ist nur fuer den physischen Koerper schmerzhaft nicht aber fuer die Seele. Die kann Reisen und kann das Herz fuettern. Sicher waere es schoen fuer uns alle, die dich/euch kennen, unter uns zu fuehlen aber geht es euch gut wo auch immer ihr seid wird es auch fuer uns als Balsam wirken. Alles Gute und Liebe

    11. truus
      17 February, 2012 at 10:21

      Beste Luc en Yvonne,
      misschien geen 7 levens maar wel een goede engelbewaarder (hij heet yvonne?) en het vermogen om de beste en nieuwe keuzes te maken. ik wens jullie als moderne nomaden veel en lang levensplezier.
      hartelijke groet, Truus

    12. leo en rita
      17 February, 2012 at 23:31

      Beste Luc en Yvonne,
      Wij hebben je verhaal met stijgende verbazing gelezen. Het doet ons echt wel iets te vernemen dat je sukkelt met je gezondheid. Je nieuwe plan is nog straffer dan jullie eerste plan om in Creta te gaan wonen. Waarom Duitsland . Ik weet wel, het is er fantastisch mooi, maar dat is Vlaanderen ook en de medische zorgen kunnen bij het beste in de wereld gerekend worden. Maar we kennen de luc, die gaat zo zijn eigen weg en niemand die daar wat kan aan veranderen. Beste Luc, verzorg je goed! Je weet dat wij je erg graag mogen en we hopen dat jij en Yvonne heel gelukkig blijven. We horen er ongetwijfeld meer van. Verzorg je en Yvonne zorg goed voor de vierde kat.
      Liefs Leo en Rita

    13. Fabiana
      18 February, 2012 at 12:42

      wishing you both all the best…. its nice to know that we’ll still be able to see you here in Greece, and in your best and safe health condition. wise decision !

    14. jorianne
      18 February, 2012 at 21:46

      Hoi Luc en Yvonne,
      wat een enorme ommezwaai in jullie droom, hoop voor jullie dat het allemaal goed voelt en dat in Duitsland wonen in deze meer vertrouwen en rust kan geven – gun jullie een lang en zorgenloos leven samen!
      veel sterkte en tot gauw!
      lieve groet, Jorianne

    15. Paul
      20 February, 2012 at 0:00

      Dag Luc en Yvonne,

      Heftig. wat een verhaal. Als er iets is wat jullie typeert dan is het wel flexibiliteit. wij Paulien en ik hopen jullie op niet al te lange termijn weer een keer in levende lijve te ontmoeten.

      Groeten van Joelle, Bram, Paulien en Paul

    16. Francesca
      21 February, 2012 at 8:18

      Πρώτα απ’ όλα η υγεία… say the wise Greeks, and it’s all true. You changed your life-style, Luc, to fit your medical problem, but you can’t change the anomaly that is Greece, so go start your next chapter with gusto. Best wishes to you both, and looking forward to reading your next adventures (for someone who’s not Irish, you sure have the gift of the gab!).

      Filakia… Francesca

    17. Maria K
      22 February, 2012 at 16:16

      Dearest Luc, it was a pleasure and a priviledge to meet you and I’m so glad you took that decision back on 2002. But time goes by and changes happen. That’s the way it works as far as I know. And this, now, is an era for changes!
      I’m really sad that soon you will not be full time greeks anymore. But what’s most important is that you are healthy and well taken care of and. I know Yvonne will make sure of that and I trust that Germany has a good healthcare system (no question better than Greece).
      I’m really happy about your plans and the van and your travelling because it means fun and adventure but also spending time in Greece.
      And another thing. Since I have a cat for a loooong time, I have a lot of experience on the matter. I have seen what they do. So believe me when I say “You really look a lot like a cat!”

    18. jelena
      22 February, 2012 at 20:39

      Dear Luc,
      Apart from few very serious issues you explained here that have urged your decision to move out of Crete, there are some others, as much important, for which I believe are rather neglected from your perspective. You said that both, your wife and you, went through long term attempts in adapting yourselves to a moderate and on the loose life style despite of the cost that was considerable income decline with many luxury and practical restrictions. Further, opposing your endeavors to live the most healthy life style you knew and were able to, the latest repeated coronary obstruction after stent angioplastic surgery you went through, has pushed you to looking for, say, proper medical supervision and treatment you need and deserve … somewhere far away. Those are clear.
      But the way you express yourself and put things together makes me feel that all these years you have been, so to say, unwillingly sacrifying while striving to adapt to difficult community and driven from behavior which you believed was proper in a given situation, in return got much less or even unexpectedly serious outcome, as is your health at presence. That means something went obviously wrong. As long/much as you have been trying to adapt yourself and as you said, become Cretan, you have never let go off a feeling of being somebody very special or extraordinary unique. This superior sense and attitude toward yourself still makes you to expect more than possible or available from this adopted environment in which you live. This accounts, for example, for the health system and medical care in Crete, which is very problematic for all Cretan people and ones who live here and feel like them. It is nice to be Cretan as long as you enjoy Cretan beaches, food and wine, but what happens when life turns difficult. It is okay that you choose wherever else place you feel secure that is provided with proper medical care‚ and it is good that you have been in such advantage which lesser Cretan people can afford today. But at the same time this advantage you use for robust criticism of the community in which you live and these extents to arrogance in every line you wrote. Where are these coming from? As you have realized, a healthy life you declare to have been living along with many other challenging attempts has never brought you a desired result. Even though there can be a hereditary predisposition, still there is a long way to evolve serious angiosclerosis. Maybe instead of feeding and nurturing yourself in appropriate way, you kept nourishing your resentment?! What if the ‘loss of (arterial) elasticity’ in the case of the arteriosclerosis is related to general ignorance and unawareness of what is happening in front of you at deeper level, to the disability to really exchange and ‘commute’ with self and others?! These mean no one gets harmed, except you.
      Another consequence of superiority sense is that by surrendering a responsibility for your health, let’s say, to a good expert, returns back as a safety illusion. If something goes wrong there is somebody to blame. Someone with coronary disease should be self-informed and updated about basic things to be done at daily base, which is not only the checking yourself blood pressure and pulse. You should ask for help at different levels, ask for more than a single opinion, especially if you don’t trust the one who follows you. You don’t give yourself away, else you really become (experimental) ˝pontiki˝. Maybe you could change many things in the way you deal with life, you should explore different opportunities that can help a lot, but first of all, don’t be ignorant and start taking care about yourself in the responsible way. Make a decision to live your life actively and to be clear for what happens and comes to you. I wish you a good luck and kalh dunamh!

      • luc
        23 February, 2012 at 11:25

        Dear Jelena

        Thank you for taking the time to write such a long and elaborate reaction to my post, it’s clear that you are very passionate about the subject. It is certainly deserving of a equally elaborate reply.

        I want to correct a few inaccuracies that might have led you to wrong conclusions. Of course you know me and Yvonne (‘my wife’) beyond the content of the above article, even though we haven’t seen each other for a long time, but I still feel that you misrepresent most facts in your comment.

        I’m surprised that you think that we “went through long term attempts in adapting yourselves to a moderate and on the loose life style despite of the cost that was considerable income decline with many luxury and practical restrictions”. We didn’t. We didn’t so much as “give up” anything but rather “left it behind” out of our free will. There was no ‘cost’ and no ‘restrictions’ as you suggest. I have NOT been “unwillingly sacrifying all these years”, I have NOT been “adapting to difficult community” and I did NOT “get much less in return”. On the contrary. There was only liberation from a yoke that we didn’t want anymore. In short, it was a deliberate decision. Nobody forced us to come here. We weren’t on the run trying to escape “the bad life” in our home countries. We gave up something that we didn’t value anymore and we got back something that was priceless for us.

        I grant you that a fair amount of arrogance is my share. Also bluntness. And lack of subtlety. I grew up that way, I’m aware of it and I try to keep checks on it. I do think that I am “very special and extraordinary unique”. So are you and I wish that you feel that way about yourself too, everybody should. But that has nothing to do with Crete in the way you suggest. As a matter of fact it makes me feel like a fish in the water in Crete, as the Cretans all have this sense of being “very special and extraordinary unique”. It doesn’t make me “to expect more than possible or available from this adopted environment in which I live”. Finally, regardless of the above, I don’t see where I said I was trying “to adapt myself and become Cretan”. Trying that would be sheer arrogance indeed!

        You seem to blame me for being in a position where I can afford to make different choices when the situation changes. Why? Where do you see “the robust criticism of the community in which I live”. And “I kept nourishing my resentment”? Are you really talking to me here, or is this targeted at somebody else? Oh, by the way, there is no sclerosis at all in my arteries, it’s just stenosis at a couple of very critical points, every other aspect of my cardio-vascular system is in perfect shape. It only takes 1 well placed stenosis to kill a person. I guess that blows your case for “loss of elasticity” related to “general ignorance and unawareness of what is happening in front of me at deeper level”.

        Finally, I’m not “surrendering the responsibility for my health” to anybody. But I do need experts to do their job and perform certain tests that I cannot perform myself and diagnose correctly the outcome of these tests. You don’t know what I do or did in relation to my health. In fact your assumptions could not be farther from the truth. I find it a bit arrogant that you think you know anything at all about this.

        In summary, it feels like you have a bone to pick with someone and confuse me with that person. I sincerely wish you can sort out your differences with that person. Να είσαι καλά και για σένα καλή δύναμη!

        • jelena
          23 February, 2012 at 13:04

          Dear Luc,
          Things are going difficult here, I would say. Having that the subject is delicate it was to expect. As Yvonne has sent me a link I have read your post very carefully and not only once. Usually I don’t reply. This time I wanted to share my opinion, which is obviously and completely different from others. What I said in previous comment, I have concluded from your words. I see that my comment has irritated you and your tone is now very angry. This is good, because you express it, though was not my intention to provoke you or to open a war. And yes, I don’t know what you have been through, and only may have a slightest idea that you had a very hard time. And Luc this was the only reason I wrote to you. Take care and be well, both of you.

          • luc
            26 February, 2012 at 13:56

            That’s okay, Jelena, I’m not angry with you, I just couldn’t let the inaccuracies and innuendoes stand on their own. The old me would have shrugged it off and let it be, the new me can’t do that anymore, life’s too short and precious for that. I wish that you will forever be happy in Crete, I will envy you for that.

    19. Ellen Weijers
      23 February, 2012 at 11:58

      Hello Luc , Thank you for your elaborate letter explaining your decision. I wish you all the best and hope that everything will go well with your health. Take care

    20. christina k
      24 February, 2012 at 5:38

      Hello Luc!
      I would like to thank you for explaining your decision.
      This make me feel better, having your point of view, too.

      I believe that the “Health Care” here in Greece, should change name, to “They don’t Care”. Because they don’t, unfortunatelly.
      And it is optimistic that you found your way to a real “Health Care”.
      It is a real blessing that you had those symptoms while you were in Germany, and you had these examinations on time. I don’t want to think what would happen, if you were here in Greece…

      It makes me a bit sad that you have to change residence, away from Crete, but it makes me happy to know that you will have the care you need, and you will know that you have the best thing you can get!
      And it is so comforting that we will have you here, even for a part of the year.
      You must know that except your beautiful van, you have a house to stay if you want, here in Crete.

      Also, I must admit that from the moment I found out that you make that turn, I realize so clearly, that life is not that stiff & limited, as I had it on my mind. In a way you set free my mind! So, thank you for that!
      It is not always pleasant when you realize that time is precious, and you have to move in order to have what you need. But it is so nice to dare to do things that makes your heart smile from joy!

      Before you mention the nomads for yourselves, and I was thinking “new age hippies”! Hippies or nomads, need a good way of living while they ramble. So I have some info to give you (soon), you might find interesting.

      I hope things will be the best for both of you!
      And I hope to see you as much as possible, when you are in Crete!


    21. Ron
      26 February, 2012 at 12:57

      Ha Luc & Yvon,

      Poe! Het is een prima beslissing, lijkt me, om ‘mobiel’ naar Duitsland te gaan. En verrassend, maar vooral erg slim om een gezonde levensstijl op deze manier te handhaven. Los daarvan zijn je gezondheidsperikelen in dit stadium beduidend natuurlijk meer dan vervelend.

      Groet, Yolanda & Ron

    22. Mihalis Papagiannakis
      29 February, 2012 at 10:07

      Kalimera from a really cold Heraklio!

      Whell I know one thing that I m gonna miss you both.
      We didnt see each other a lot but I was always happy to see you both on the street for a small chit chat or for a coffe in the neiberhuds cafe.
      Best of luck to both and enjoy your voyaje!
      Luc I m not shure about the ‘fakelaki’ thing many Germans are haning around with many dirty Greeks lately, I really dont know if Germans succed to shows the ‘right’ way or they going to adapt the Greek one, you may wonna keep a ‘fakelaki’ handi always!

      Na eiste panta kala kai eftihismenoi!

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