I apologize for my absence the past two weeks. I had the stomach flu. It started in Granada and left me decommissioned an entire week, removing me from three days of class and internship. Somehow, despite being 6.500 kilometers from the University of Michigan, I still caught the campus plague. Not sure how that works.
Michigan never leaves you.
But don’t worry. It gets worse. I’ve been unable to access my messages and photographs because one night, in my viral delirium, amidst a hasty rush to the bathroom, I dropped my phone in the toilet. After which my first reaction was to rinse it off in the sink.
It spent three days in rice, in a sock, on a shelf, then hobbled through a few days of sub-normal functioning, and finally collapsed. It’s visiting Apple tomorrow.
And last week, of course, I played catch-up. Trying times, these two weeks. But the stomach flu did have a silver lining: being confined to bed meant that I didn’t get lost in three days. New record. Another upside: I can share my experiences with the Spanish healthcare system. Spoiler alert: It’s not like the American one. Cover your ears, children. It’s public.
The system is structured roughly like this: The government funds the vast majority of the healthcare industry through taxes and extends equal coverage to all citizens. Should citizens desire different or more immediate treatment, they can visit a private hospital and pay out-of-pocket. But in a country whose highest, most prestigious profession is medicine, the best physicians flock to the public system for higher prestige and lifetime employment, the latter of which all functionaries enjoy after passing an “opposition” exam.
Back to my bodily functions. Before leaving, the doctor prescribed five medications. For the biochemistry junkies (and actual junkies), I got ondansetron to prevent vomiting, as a shot in the hoo-ha; metoclopramide, also for vomiting; Sueroral Hiposódico, a yucky orange, fluid-and-ion-restoring Gatorade, whose English identity I still don’t know; acetaminophen; and my personal favorite, racecadotril/acetorphan, an anti-diarrheal that isn’t legal in the United States.
That’s right, my precious acetorphan, I’ll have to enjoy all of you before leaving.
Now, four of the medications were over-the-counter, so “prescribe” is a strong word. Even “examination” is a strong word, since she basically prodded my stomach and advised self-medication: “Here are some drugs. If you find yourself dying more quickly than usual, visit a hospital.” In her defense, though, you can’t do much more for the stomach flu.
But this reminds me of another run-in with Spanish healthcare. Three weeks ago when my roommate was suffering a rough cough, we visited a pharmacy and he requested cough medicine. The first bottle the “pharmacist” brought —and this horrifies me— was a homeopathic solution. I repeat: A homeopathic solution.
Now, in case you don’t google drugs in your spare time, homeopathic “medicine” premises that water molecules “remember” the shape of curative or active agents. But the “medicines” themselves don’t contain any active ingredients because lower concentrations are supposedly “stronger.” Which means the solution my roommate received was not medicine. It was sugar water. Why the pharmacist offered it first, I don’t know. Why the pharmacy even carries homeopathic remedies, I know neither. He didn’t buy it.
Criticisms aside, the experience is representative of, what seems to be, a more “natural” Spanish culture. Spaniards don’t appear to partake in the… let’s say, creative “health trends” of the States —anti-GMO, anti-vaccination, anti-gluten (all three of which are either ineffective or dangerous). I’ve seen evidence of only one health trend here, as a lone poster in a store window: “detox” cleanses. And I can’t be sure they’re popular.
Spanish food itself is healthier; they eat a Mediterranean diet with virtually no processing or added sugar. (And since this post has become Health Advice with Nolan, added sugars are the primary culprit in America’s obesity crisis. Not fats, the historically popular answer.) Perhaps diet explains the unfathomable Madrileño fitness, because they’re all in amazing shape. They’re all beautiful, too, but diets fails as an explanation there.
No healthcare system is perfect, including the Spanish one. It suffers limited public funding amidst rampant unemployment. But I find it admirable that, despite unemployment or pre-existing conditions, even a cancer-diagnosed homeless citizen could receive full healthcare without question. And that, Americans, is objectively better than our system.