Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What I am supposed to do

So... I'm back! Thanks for the warm welcome, people. I started catching up with your blogs and reading about your adventures. As for me, I'm doing fine. I had a new haircut

and got used to driving my new car, "Tempeh" (pre-bumps and scratches picture)

But what about my new job?

Well, it's been 2 months since I started working at the village. Is treating patients as rewarding as I thought it would be? Well... no. Am I missing the good ol' Mytilene days? Um... yes. Have I regretted staying here and throwing a perfectly good job opportunity away? Hmm... no. Not just yet.

To be honest, being the village doctor hasn't turned out to be exactly what I had imagined. But before I can share stories from my everyday life, it is necessary to talk a little about where I work, what I am supposed to do and what I am actually doing.

We are sharing a practice with one more village doctor (actually a fellow student of mine from the university of Crete, who applied for the same position as me by sheer chance!!!) and a nurse. Each doctor has her own office, with a desk and an examination bed and there is also a small kitchen, a toilet and a waiting room for the patients.

Things we CAN do at our practice:
  • Measure blood pressure (and deal with an emergency hypertasic crisis) and blood glucose levels. Also, perform a urine stick test to diagnose or rule out an infection, for example.

  • Perform a clinincal exam and treat illnesses that are not life threatening, such as a common cold, a mild pneumonia or a case of gastrenteritis.

  • Give CPR in case of an emergency, stabilise and monitor the patient, until an ambulance arrives and takes him/her to the hospital.

  • Do stitches and perform minimally invasive procedures, such as change a bandage/dressing, a permanent urine catheter or treat wounds/burns.

  • Give vaccines when indicated.

  • Refill resident doctors' prescriptions.

  • Inform the village population on various topics (for example, what the swine flu is and what measures should be taken).

  • Verify death and write certificates in case of natural causes.

Our practice is open from 08:30 to 14:00. After that, one of the three available doctors is on call (the third one doesn't work at the practice in the mornings, but at the local mental facility) and the other two get to leave. Being on call means that your mobile phone number is available to everybody, and they can call you in case of emergency. So, if something urgent happens, you have to open the practice and examine that certain patient, or go to his/her home if he/she is unable to move or to the site of the accident if something like that happens.

Things we CAN'T do:

  • Give Xrays and blood exams. No such equipment is available.

  • In cases of chronic illnesses, prescribe medication for the first time. If a person suffers from asthma or high blood pressure, for example, we are not eligible to plan their treatment. They should consult a specialist, who decides the drugs the patient should get. After the treatment is set, we have the right to refill the patients' drugs when they run out. But again, if changes should be made to the initial medication, only specialists have the right to make them.

  • Deal with life-threatening illnesses, such as meningitis, severe pneumonia or pulmonary embolism.

  • Prescribe drugs or give vaccines to children - a pediatrician should be consulted.

  • Give death certificates if cause of death is unknown.

All of this does sound pretty neat. Basically, our role is that of general practicioners. Taking in mind that villages mostly consider of elderly people, who are unable to travel long distances and go to the hospital at Mytilene, we are there to help them.

Or so we thought when applying.

To know what really happened, stay tuned for my next post! I wouldn't want to bore you with more medical stuff for now, plus I got a call for a patient, just when I had put my pajamas on.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Look who's here!

Hey, remember me?


You do, don't you?
Well, if I seem even remotely familiar, it's me, Gracey. The crazy Greek girl who is trying to become a doctor, a cook, a friend and a normal person in general - and not always with success.

The Internet gods temporarily managed to keep me away, but ha ha ha! (insert satanic laughter here) I'm baaaaack! All set with a brand new wifi at home, and full of stories. Interesting stories (mostly), funny ones or thought-provoking. But they are my own stories, they're all true, and I wanna share them with you.

So if you're out there, and you are so weird that you wanna hear more from me, just say the word.

If you can't figure out who the hell I am and what I am talking about, you can ignore me or get to know me better through my posts.

Oh, and one last thing:

I missed you, guys. Each and every one of you. A LOT.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A quick update...

This time my absence was completely unavoidable. My first week of working at the village has ended, and it has been frightening, chaotic and hard! Having to be the one that MAKES the decisions for the patients' treatment, rather than the one who simply observes things happening, is really terrifying and it requires a lot of guts... and responsibility... and knowledge... and empathy... and I am working on all four.

I don`t know when I`ll be able to post again, since there is no internet connection at the village and I am on call almost every day (meaning I can`t leave and go to Mytilene, of course!) so it may be a while. Nevertheless, I will be thinking of all of you, and I´ll keep stalking and commenting on your news and life adventures, as soon as the Internet gods give me the chance.

By the way, I am now in Germany for the weekend, and having a lot of fun! :) But more news in the future! Take care and enjoy yourselves as much as possible!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

My timeline

My blog friend Willoughby had this amazing idea for a blog post the other day, regarding a past and future timeline. Many followed her example, and now it is my turn to do so.

29th August, 2009 - 24 years old: I am in Mytilene, having finished the trimester of training as an agricultural doctor. Today I finally found a place to stay (yay!), and I am anxious about Monday, the first day to start working on my own, with real patients to treat. My summer has been amazing, having done a lot of fun stuff and having met many interesting people. I am a little worried about next week, when I'll fly to Germany to visit Ernesto. I wonder how I will feel after seeing him, and what his own reaction will be...

29th August, 2008 - 23 years old: I really should have been preparing myself for the final 2 exams I need to take, in order to graduate in September, but I haven't. I am bored sick, and thinking only of vacation. Ernesto and I had an amazing time on our trip to Berlin, but now I am back in Heraklion, feeling miserable and nervous. I don't know which specialty to choose, and I really don't want to go to Germany to start a residency, as Ernesto suggests. I really, trully, don't want to do it. My mother moves to Germany, to work as a teacher there, and my father anxiously awaits his papers to come, in order to join her with my younger brother. It turns out that they will spend 3 months apart, which will be a painful process for all of us.

29th August, 2007 - 22 years old: I am really excited - Ernesto and I will be moving to Prague for 4 months, for an ERASMUS scholarship! We'll have a great time there, and we'll manage to visit many European cities. Our vacation to Barcelona has been traumatic (I was robbed for the first time) but 'colourful' and fun as well. I am also planning our wedding for next year, which will not take place in the end. I don't know it yet, but his parents will break my heart when asking him to not marry me and break up with me. Nevertheless, we will stay together. Also, I will decide not to take the Radiology exam in September, which will be a terrible mistake, and will lead me to graduate 3 months later than expected. This year my grandmother will follow my grandfather to Heaven (or wherever it is that we go after) and oddly, her going exactly one year after him, will seem to make perfect sense.

29th August, 2006 - 21 years old: I am now in Norway, on a HELMSIC scholarship, working as a Pathologist. It is the first month I am spending away from Ernesto since we got together, but oddly, I am enjoying myself. The working conditions here are amazing, and I am experiencing a non-stress working environment for the first time in my life. I am meeting a lot of interesting people, of different nationalities, and doing many stuff I'd never thought I would do (like climbing on a glacier, or swimming when the water temperature is 4 degrees C!) This is the last year my grandfather will be spending with us, and I will not get to see him before he goes, which will result in me suffering from guilt for the years to come.

29th August, 2003 - 18 years old: This is the first summer Ernesto and I will spend together as a couple. We will have a crappy weekend vacation in Chania, but it won't bother us much. We have Phoebs in our home for a month now, and she is naughtier than ever. Eventually, she will calm down and be the perfect dog, but she will chew on many shoes, flip flops, sheets, towels and even cables, until she gets there! Ernesto thinks that she will be a temporary guest in our apartment, but she will end up being with me longer than he himself will! My parents are moving back to Trikala, but I am not surprised.

29th August, 2002 - 17 years old: I have just found out that I will not be studying Greek literature in Athens, which I originally had applied for, but Medicine in Crete! This is a great surprise, and I am worried sick! I don't want to go there - it seems too far away, and I am not sure I even want to study Medicine! Meanwhile, my parents are moving to Athens, after living in Trikala for 10 years. In about a month, I will meet Ernesto, and I will fall in love with him.

29th August, 2001 - 16 years old: I have just finished the first set of exams for the university (2 years total) and my grades are outstanding. Our family vacations in Naxos have been amazing, as always - but I discovered something shocking: I am not eligible to apply for a translator/guide/ambassador place at the University of Corfu, as I had aspired! What will I do now? Nothing else seems to interest me, and I will definitely not apply for Greek literature, like my parents! Maybe choosing the "theoretical" branch of studies was not so clever, after all... If I had chosen differently, I could even have applied for Medicine. Medicine! How cool would that be?

29th August, 2000 - 15 years old: I am preparing for the final 2 years of high school, which will end up in two sets of exams. I have chosen the "theoretical" branch of studies, partly because I think I hate Math (I end up loving it), and partly because I want my father to teach me at home, rather than spending half of my day at private tuition. I want to be an interpreter/guide/ambassador, after studying at the University of Corfu. My social life is suffering hard, but at least I have my best friend to rely on. I don't know it yet, but once high school ends, our friendship will end too, and on the worst terms possible.

29th August, 1999 - 14 years old: This has been a most tiring year. After finishing top of my class, while getting 2 degrees in English and 1 in Italian and playing at a piano recital, I feel exhausted. I just wanna have a little fun instead. I decide not to take up so many things next year, and I end up being a TV addict and gaining 10 lbs! This is the last summer I will be spending with my 2 best friends from high school.

29th August, 1993 - 8 years old: We are moving away from Crete and going back to Trikala, and I am devastated! I don't want to go again - and I will miss all of my new friends. On February I will have a little brother, Alex - and he will be a major pain in the @ss, but I will love him like crazy too.

29th August, 1992 - 7 years old: We are leaving Trikala, to go to Crete! I don't want to go - I feel sick of moving all the time. I desperately ask for a pet, but all I get is a snail! My sister gives me chicken pox on the day that I am supposed to go to a dress up party, and I secretely fantacize murdering her as a revenge! LOL

29th August, 1991 - 6 years old: After spending 3 years in Athens, we are moving to Trikala. It will be fun to know my father's side of the family a little better. My grandparents are weird, and speak a dialect I don't understand, but they seem to be nice people and give me and my little sister sweets all the time. This year I realise I love my sister after all. We play a lot out in the open, and do all sorts of nasty things!

29th August, 1988 - 3 years old: We are now living in Athens. I miss Crete a lot. My little sister is nearly a month old. I am crazy jealous of her, and I can't understand why we need her at all! She is obnoxious, she has no teeth, she cries all the time and my parents seem to be spending all of their time with her and not me! This is the first year I go to kindergarten. Or I am supposed to go, at least. Because, for some weird reason, I contract every disease there is out there, and spend every single day in bed with a fever! Finally, I am having my tonsils removed and things seem to go a little better. And by the way, eating ice cream with a sore throat after the operation is NO fun at all! This is actually the first time ever someone forces me to eat ice cream, and I refuse!

29th August, 1986 - 2 years old: We move to Chania with my parents, and I enjoy myself immensely. Next year I will learn how to read, and I will discover a new, magical world. I love watching cartoons with my dad, going to the zoo and eating all sorts of weird stuff (like lambs' brains, oysters and intestines soup). My mother claims I am the most outgoing baby on Earth. One day, she is shocked to find out that I creep out of the apartment after my dad goes to sleep, visit the local bookstore and pick new books (of course I don't pay for them, because I don't even know what money is!). After that, the whole neighbourhood is on "baby watch" - they keep an eye on me for my safety, but without me ever knowing about it. I still wander about casually, and discover interesting things day by day.

29th August, 1985 - a few months old: My parents graduate from the university of Rethymnon. My first months of life have been extraordinary, with students taking turns into babysitting me, and my mom feeding me while attending political gatherings. I get used to being around many people, and enjoy being in the centre of attention.

29th August, 1984: My mom is 4 months pregnant with me. I don't know why, but they decided to keep me, even though both my parents are students. Also, 4 days ago, they got married. They will regret this in the end (the marriage process itself, not them being together), but at least they won't regret keeping me. I am still only a tiny mass in my mom's uterus, but I am grateful.

So that's it, guys! I hope you enjoyed my timeline - I sure did! I will come back with my future timeline as well at some point.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Some bad news

My not having posted for a while now is no news, nor something that needs an elaborate explanation: It was simply a result of enjoying the last days of the summer, and also the last days of the best trimester of my life so far.

As I have explained before, I will be working as an agricultural doctor in Lesvos for a whole year. The first 3 months are spent in Mytilene, where each one of us is trained at the hospital here. After this educational trimester ends, we are to move to our village of choice (the one we applied for 6 months ago) and actually start working.

I guess that my everyday life at the village will be interesting, challenging, funny and with a few surprises. I promise to share my experiences, good and bad, along the way. But until Monday 31st, my first day at work as a "real" doctor, I am still a trainee.

A trainee not being trained, actually - but this is for another future post. But as a result of the flexible hours and the everything-but-intensive schedule, I have lots of free time. Free time to make friends, swim, sunbathe, watch interesting movies (or cr@ppy ones - it doesn't matter, as long as you have good company!), play board games, enjoy long drives in my car (and occasionally create a new bump or two), drink yummy cocktails and gain 100 pounds by enjoying the local cuisine! In short, free time to have fun.

Somewhere along the way, I feel the annoying presence of guilt for not studying, and not being 100% dedicated to my job. But you know what? In my 24 years of life, I can't remember myself having much fun. It was always a race, a competition - I had to give my best, I had to be the best. And after going through the incredibly painful process of Greek exams, upon entering Med school, I discovered that I had been cheated - where was all the "fun" I was promised, right after the exam torment had ended? Not only things were not "fun", they were even harder then! In fact, I had to study more than ever before!

And I did. And I will, until the very last day of my life. Because Medicine requires true dedication, and it is a science that always evolves. There are no givens, and no golden rules. Everything we take for granted now, may change tomorrow. So we must always be up-to-date.

So, for the last 3 months, I decided to tell my guilt to shut it and go away. It was one of my very few opportunities to have fun, and I promised myself to take it. And I did. And it was amazing!

But today, I feel awful. I know, it is ok to be a little sorry that the trimester is ending, and also a little (or a lot!) terrified that starting Monday, I will be responsible for real, flesh and bones, people.

However, the reason for my bad mood is a bit more practical. There is a problem with my accomodation at the village. I was going to rent an appartment there for 9 months, and started looking for one with my colleague, a while back (we agreed to not stay together, for various reasons, so we had to find one for each). There had to be good heating, because the village is on the top of a mountain and it is cold in the winter, and since it was for 9 months only, it would be better if they were already furnished (because after 18395 moves, dragging my furniture across the other end of Greece was not an option).

We searched a lot, and found only 2 suitable places. My colleague and I liked the same one, but I decided it was just not worth fighting for, so I went for the other. She herself closed the deal with hers, and today I phoned the owner of "mine", in order to agree on some last details.

But guess what? The owner decided that she won't accept me, because I have a dog! I was furious! Don't get me wrong, it is TOTALLY her right not to want pets at her property. However, we had talked about this TWICE before, and she had said there was no problem whatsoever! Not only did she not need convincing, but she seemed more than ok with Phoebs.

And today, 4 days before my move and while we had unofficially agreed and I had stopped searching for something else, she decided against us! I did not see that coming - and I am wondering what to do now.

I asked again, and there are no other accomodation options at the village that suit my needs. So, my only 2 options are: 1) Rent an unfurnished appartment and spend a small fortune (which I lack at the moment) equipping it for a stay of just 9 months - not to add the need to transfer every single piece in my tiny car, because having the shop move it is not possible, or 2) Rent an appartment in Mytilene, and go back and forth every single day, driving in potentially dangerous roads, with snow and ice in the winter (not to mention also spending a small fortune on gas).

I am really frustrated right now, and feel that I am out of time. Also, next weekend I will be off to Germany (I'll share the details in another post) and will have no time to deal with all this, so the pressure of finding a solution fast is overwhelming.

I know it's not possible to help me from so far away (and I am sure that, not knowing the specific details of the accomodation process, it all sounds Greek to you! LOL) but you can at least send me your good vibes and wishes for a viable solution. Or you can try voodoo on the owner for being so inconsistent and untrustworthy. Whichever suits you best...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Where have you been, young lady?????!!!!!

I know, I know - I am a terrible blogger. I write less posts than Paris Hilton wears undies, so I get it if you don't want to hang out at my place any more.

To my defence, I haven't had an internet connection for several weeks. But honestly, that's not reason enough. Because I could have gone on a crusade and done whatever needed to be done, never stopping, never getting tired, until I found a way to post. My mom doesn't call me a stubborn mule for no reason. I could have done it... had I been focused.

But alas, I were anything but focused. But hey, don't blame me and my wandering mind. Don't blame the hospital and the hard work, or the merciless sun, or the occassional fling either (for the record, there hasn't been any of the latter! :( ) My friends, if you need to blame somebody / something, blame the water.

The crystal, refreshing, gorgeous water of the beaches of Mytilene. I have actually been more of a dolphin than a human for the last weeks. Ok, the glittering sand, the breathtaking landscapes, the fun company and the delicious cocktails served at beach bars rule also, but the water is something else.

And to prove this to you, this is where I have been for the last weeks:

1) Eresos: My favourite beach in the whole island (located a little over 1 1/2 hours from Mytilene). Several kilometers of white sand, crystal clean water, a laid-back atmosphere and friendly people are all it takes to feel at home. Seriously, Eresos is the most relaxing place in the whole world for me so far.

2) Agios Isidoros: Time for a dive in a "Blue Lagoon" scenery. The colours of the water are amazing, and the white pebbles are ideal for those who are not very fond of sand.

3) Agios Ermogenis: If you want to find the best beach there is, while staying at a close proximity to Mytilene, look no futher. Once you enjoy the panoramic view of the beach, you will be hooked - one glance will be enough to fall in love with it! Also, the unique scenery with the pine trees virtually getting into the sea and the little white church up the hill will add to your infatuation.

4) Faneromeni: Not for the weak of heart. Located near Sigri, the westernmost part of the island, Faneromeni is rarely calm. Instead, it is windy, wild, deserted and non-organised. It almost makes you feel unwanted there. Unfortunately, most passionate love stories start with contempt and rejection - and before you realise it, you will keep coming back for more!

5) Anaxos: This is the best beach in the northern part of the island. Anaxos is a strange story indeed. While being organised, with umbrellas and water sports, family - oriented and surrounded by cafes and restaurants, the water is still crystal clean and manages to enchant beach snobs like myself. I don't know how it does it, but every time I go there, I greatly enjoy it.

This is my top 5 of the beaches of Lesvos so far. But the list doesn't stop here. Charamida, Ksampelia, Vatera, Molyvos, Eftalou, Chroussos are all amazing beaches too. And the best part? I have many more to discover!

So there, enjoy some pictures of the aforementioned beaches. I hope you like them, and they make up for the hiatus my blog is going through every now and then.

Or instead, you can hate me for making you jealous and decide to follow me never again. Oh, cr@p!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Late as always

It definitely took me a while, but I haven't forgotten. My blog friends, LB from Muddy Runner, PurpleHoodieChick, Tatoos and Teething Rings, Chicago Mom from What's for Dinner? and 5th sister gave me the Kreativ Blogger award. Thank you very much, guys - you rock!

Oh, of course their blogs rock too, so be sure to check them out!

If you want to participate in this too, the rules are:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award (and post a link)

2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog

3. Nominate 7 kreativ bloggers (and post links to their blogs)

4. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated

5. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting

Well, I am probably the last one to respond to this, (as always) and most of my blog buddies have already gotten this award, so I will nominate some new, interesting bloggers I discovered. I love following them, reading their posts and responding to them (ie I am an obsessive "stalker" as Kristina puts it), and I am eagerly waiting for more!

So, the 7 kreativ bloggers are:

1. Fiona from Living in the land of chocolate. I love reading about her adventures in Switzerland, and her precious moments with her 2 little girls.

2. Patti from PiNG's Danish Adventures. Whenever I am feeling blue and overwhelmed, I think of Patti, her amazing attitude and her great sense of humour, and feel better in an instant!

3. Extranjera from What will I ever do with my life? She has a wicked sense of humour and her posts are never too long or too tiring for me. I could literally wander in her blog for hours - and I bet I will finish her first book in less than 55 minutes!

4. Jen from Buried with children. Being a mother of triplets is anything but easy. Especially when
you add in a toddler too. Nevertheless, Jen manages to give a realistic, honest, and most importantly, FUN glimpse of motherhood, combining love and affection with commando skills.

5. Bebe from Those Crazy Beans for her writing talent and wittiness. Seriously, whenever I read her eloquent posts, I think to myself "Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that?"

6. Karen from A peek at Karen's blog. She succesfully juggles broad-spectrum blogging with real-life multitasking. Whenever something new happens, I am certain she will write at least one post about it.

7. And the latest addition to my Blogroll, Angela from I'm So Not Ready For This. She must be the less pretentious mama out there. Her life is not a fairy tale, but an adventure and a challenge. And she makes it happen, every single day.

Congratulations, people, and keep posting!

As for the 7 things about myself:

1) I have lived in 8 different towns in the past. As a result, the thought of moving a lot doesn't terrify me. In fact, I tend to get bored rather easily and, whenever an opportunity comes along, I am the first to grab a suitcase and just go. I'd love to settle down somewhere eventually, but I feel it's too early for that right now.

(I am thinking of some "Germany" posts of mine suggesting otherwise, but I have now come to the conclusion that back then, the moving itself was not the thing that terrified me. Everything else was.)

2) I am a terrible driver. Not the speeding/reckless type, but more of the I-cannot-park-my-car-for-the-life-of-me type. I have no dimensions perception, and realising how much space is really available for me to park in is a pain in the maximus gluteus for me. Add to that the fact that I live in the city center, where parking space is an urban legend, and you can easily guess how many bumps my car has. Ouch! And yes, it's brand new. Double ouch!

3) I bite my nails like crazy. I know, I have told you before. But as a New Year's resolution, I gave up biting my fingernails. So, you can imagine where I have turned to now. Yes, I am a weirdo.

4) I have never gotten in a fight with my eyebrows. I don't use the little thingy to pull them off, I don't use a liner on them, nothing. I just let them be. Fortunately, they seem rather normal (or so people tell me).

5) I despise shoes (it gets weirder and weirder, right?) I understand that they are the most precious accessory for women, but honestly, if it was safe to walk barefoot all day, I most definitely would.

6) Smell is my strongest sense. Every memory I have is associated with a particular smell. Also, I can spend hours in a perfume shop, trying everything, without getting hazy.

7) I have a really high "disgust" threshold. That's why I always won the "Taste it if you dare" challenge as a kid. Oh, and I think you can guess who sat on the front row at the Anatomy lessons at Medical school. Non blinking, hoping to be the first one to hold the scalpel.

That was all, folks - and I hope all this quirky info was not too much for you. And yet, my sister wonders why I find even diaper commercials moving - they make me cry like a baby. Well, I guess every person is a mix of different things, good and bad, sweet and disgusting, funny and unpleasant. All these make us "us". Unique, fascinating and intriguing.

I dare you to come back.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A decision I am sure about (I guess...)

Dear friends, once again, thanks for your great comments and help. Not only have I decided, but I also made it official by submitting the paperwork - there's no turning back now.

So... (deep breath) I guess I will stick around for some more months.

The reactions? Well, my family is puzzled by this decision - it is so atypical for me not to rush into "safe" and "secure" things, that they are actually suspecting that I have been abducted by aliens and replaced by a weird clone! On the other hand, my co-workers are ecstatic by the fact that we will be sharing the work here. Last but not least, my former alter ego and future-I-have-no-clue-what is in Germany, ignorant about this whole situation.

And me? What about me?

I am scared $hitless, and just hope I haven't messed up big time.

But how did the impossible happened? How did I find the guts to turn down a 4-year job in the big city for 11 more months on an island that I almost didn't know that existed before I came here?

I thought this through, and found some great reasons to stay. First of all, I am not sure about the specialty I chose. I am not ready to abandon clinical medicine just yet. Don't get me wrong, there is no chance in hell that I will do anything else in Greece - from the little that I shared about the working conditions here, I guess you realise why I would never set foot in a Greek hospital (either as a doctor or as a patient!)

But I love travelling and exploring new places - and who knows? Maybe specialising abroad isn't as bad as I thought. As long as it is a decision I have made for myself, and not something that was forced upon me.

Also, I am still recovering from a break/breakup and a complete change of scenery and lifestyle. I am still learning to live alone, depending on myself only, and enjoying it. But I am not the "new me" just yet. Of course there are times when everything seems to be falling apart, and I am wondering if I have made any progress at all. I still have bad moments that could possibly lead to a meltdown. So I guess it's not time to move (again), meet new people (again), adapt to unknown working conditions (again) and settle down (actually for the first time in my life).

If I am gonna settle down, I wanna do it properly. I am only 24 years old, but I have already lived in 8 different towns. Me and my family are all about nomadic life, but if we were ever to stop moving, Athens would be the place where we would all be most likely to end up. So, I have the feeling that Athens will not be one more stop in my itinerary. It will most probably be my Ithaca.

If this is the case, I want the new me to go to Athens and start building a life. Not the post-breakup-still-discovering-the-world-like-an-infant me. Right now, I want to know things, see things, experience things. After all, the obligation of working at a village remains. It will just be postponed for when I will be 30. But seeking security at 24 and adventure at 30 seems kinda weird. I think it should be the other way around.

Lastly, things are pretty great here. The working hours are flexible, the money is good, and the people I will be sharing my practice with are amazing. The practice itself is more equipped than most, there is a nurse (added bonus!) and the place is admittedly the most beautiful village of the entire island of Lesvos. Every single day of this summer will feel like a vacation (ok, too optimistic here!) and, when autumn comes, I will officially be the "village doctor".

I just can't wait to meet the people, one by one. Learn their names, their age and much more than their pressure or glucose level. Learn their personal story. Wake up in the middle of the night to comfort their pain or worry over nothing (hopefully). Take part in the local festivals, and become acquainted with their traditions and way of life.

I realise that being an attending doctor at the age of 29 is cool. Actually, in a country where most 35 year olds are unemployed and still live with their parents, it is too great an achievement. It would make everyone in my family insanely proud.

But being an attending doctor at the age of 30 is just as cool. And when it comes with the added bonus that I will have become my own person in the process, it is more than that.

It is priceless.

And it would make me more than proud. It could actually make me happy.

Note to self: All the times in the future that you wet your pants, trying to figure out what to do in an emergency with minimal equipment and no one else to turn to, read this post. All the times that old ladies interrupt your bestest dream in the world just because they are "lonely" and "are not feeling very well", read this post. All the times that an amazing play is performed in Athens, while you are stuck in the middle of nowhere, learning how to milk sheep and pretending to be enjoying it, read this post. All the times you just want to get on a plane, fly to Germany, crash on a certain somebody's couch and cry like a baby, just read this post.

No, it won't make you feel any better. But at least you'll know who to blame for the whole thing...

Monday, July 6, 2009

The dilemma

Now that you know more about my job situation, it's time to present you with the awful dilemma that I am facing.

When I came here, I was supposed to work for a year, and then move to Athens, to start specialising as a pathologist. Unexpectedly, due to other people declining the Athens job, my turn has come! I am now expected to resign, and go there within this month.

If I fail to be present by the deadline I was given, I am immediately deleted from the waiting list. This sounds awful, doesn't it? But the thing is not as bad as it sounds. Actually, I can write my name again and wait until a new position is available. Due to the fact that residencies last for a specific amount of time and not even one day more, it is very easy and safe to estimate when the next employee will leave, thus leaving his place empty for me to fill. This is going to happen in July 2010.

On the other hand, if I take the job offer in Athens, I am still obliged to work as an agricultural doctor for a year, after I finish my residency (after 5 years). The bad thing is that I cannot avoid this. The good thing is that, 6 1/2 years after my graduation, I will have gathered plenty of points and I will be able to get whichever place in Greece I will choose!

So, what do I do? Stay here in Mytilene, in surroundings that have become familiar by now, do my agricultural obligation, earn some good money without too much effort and avoid moving again (this will be my 4th move within this year)? The Athens job will not be lost - it will just have to wait for another year.

Or move to Athens, ensure my financial security for the next 5 years and then, with plenty of points gathered, do my agricultural duty? After all, laws here change all the time, and it may not even be obligatory to do so by that time.

On one hand, we have Mytilene, its quiet way of life, the flexible working hours and the opportunity to postpone the binding decision of getting a specialty for a year. On the other hand, we have Athens, the security of having a job for 5 years, its hectic way of life, but also with possibilities that never end. Lastly, I should mention that my grandparents live in Athens. I will by no means live with them, but I guess they will be there for me if I need help in case of a possible breakdown (after all, I am still recovering from the winter events and the so called "break"/ actual breakup).

What would you do, my dear readers? Please help!

PS: There is one last thing I should mention. I wouldn't write about it at all, because I think that no serious job decision should be based on a "possibility". Facts are facts. However, if I am going to describe the whole situation to you, I should tell you that there is a chance of having something here in Mytilene, emotionally speaking. Things are quite unstable right now, and I am still adapting to the "single" life and getting over things - so one cannot possibly tell how I will react in case a harmless flirting becomes something more. I may not even be ready for this yet - let alone take it into account when deciding what to do! But for the sake of full disclosure, I thought I should mention it too.

Thanks for your insightful comments and helpful input - in advance.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What the heck should I do?

It has been a nice, relaxed Sunday so far, and I am now blogging while listening to Jason Mraz's amazing cd. The easy thing to do would be to write about random things, bitch about work, or show you some glimpses of Mytilene and the amazing places that I am discovering day by day. But the question remains, and something tells me I shouldn't avoid it any more - what the heck should I do?

But before I present you with the dilemma, I should first explain why I am in Mytilene and what brought me here.

It has been a hard winter for me, as you may have already realised here. Upon graduating, I wrote my name on the NOTORIOUS waiting list, in order to start a residency some day. That means that I have chosen a medical specialty, and for five years I will work in my hospital of choice as a trainee (or a slave - it depends on how you choose to see it!) . After that, I will be a licensed *whatever-ist* and I will be free to either open up my own practice, or continue to work as an attending doctor in a hospital (and torture other poor interns in turn!)

The specialty I chose was Pathology.

Now, my dear readers, I know this choice might come as a shock. After all, I may seem weird at times, but THAT weird? Well... to be honest... yes.

But how did I transform from this

to this?

Don't get me wrong, I actually love people. Alive and kicking, breathing, warm people, who have all their organs in place. But discovering what went wrong with some patients, first-hand, while treating them with the utmost respect and responsibility, also fascinates me. And this specialty doesn't have to do with the deceased only. Pathologists also get to examine biopsies (from suspicious masses, for example) and determine if they are malignant or benign, agressive or not, so that the fellow oncologists will know what course to follow. Unlike other specialties, which involve a lot of speculation, in Pathology, the truth is out there, in front of you. You just have to use your eyes and your hands to see it.

But my choice of specialty was not based on the subject only. First of all, there was minimal waiting time, in order to start - 1 1/2 year, while for Endocrinology, for example, 10 years were necessary. And while I may have Greek parents that are willing to support me for as long as it is necessary, I also know that I need to rely on myself at some point. Furthermore, as a Pathologist, I will have flexible working hours. And while work itself does not scare me, the thought of not having a family, because I will be too busy to be there for them, really gives me the creeps.

So... a Pathologist. Starting spring 2010. But until then, what?

Nothing - I thought as I was slowly sinking in misery. And suddenly, things started to look up. A job opportunity in Mytilene came, and I took it.

But what is this job?

Well, in Greece, there are hospitals in big towns, but in small villages, there are public practices, staffed with either already licensed general practitioners (the big ones), or medical graduates, known as "agricultural doctors" (in villages where less than 1,000 people reside). These practices are tiny, and not heavily equipped, but their doctors can meet basic needs - such as measuring blood pressure, or prescribing medicine, when people run out. If the patient's problem is too serious, he/she is immediately transferred to the hospital, of course. But for elderly people, living away from big urban centers and being unable to move easily, these doctors are actually a big help and relief.

Agricultural doctors are employed for a year (and then another comes), and basically you have to be extra lucky to get a place. You apply for two villages anywhere in Greece and then, for each place, whoever has the more "points" gets it. Points are determined according to waiting time after graduation - for every 2 months that pass after you have graduated, you get 1. As a result, students who are unemployed for the most time after graduating, have more points and then get the much-wanted place.

Me, only a few months after graduation, I had 4 points. They were ridiculously inadequate, so I had to make a wild guess - apply for a remote place, one that nobody would think of choosing. I thought of faraway Mytilene, and I was lucky: I got the place!

So I came here, knowing nothing about the island and way of life, and I am now training at the hospital for 3 months. After that, I will move to the village and be the "village's doctor"! Luckily, the island is beautiful, the people are amazing and most importantly, the place does not "hibernate" during the winter - with 90,000 people residing on it, things are pretty lively even in January.

But, as wise people say, when it rains, it pours. And just when I was getting settled and used to my new everyday life, I'll maybe have to leave again. This is the dilemma I am facing right now, and I need all the help I can get to decide.

After realising that this post is too long (as usual), I will write the specifics tomorrow. Until then, have a fun Sunday night and a wonderful Monday morning, everybody!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Give me a break!

After a series of posts regarding the true joy of practicing the medical profession in Greece, I guess it is time for a short break. Of course, my description of the ideal circumstances in which doctors work every single day will continue, but for now, enough is enough. (At this point, I realised I sound a lot like Karen's Not me! posts, so I'll give it up and start being literal). Anyway, a big part of my everyday life is the amazing island of Lesvos, and it's a shame I haven't got a chance to talk about it yet.
As I have written before, Lesvos is the 3rd biggest island of Greece. It is part of the North Aegean district (sometimes referred to as North-Eastern Aegean district) and it is really close to Turkey. Its capital city is Mytilene (that's where I'm living right now), and its population is estimated at 30,000 people.

But because Mytilene definitely deserves a post or two of its own, and I still haven't gotten to photograph all its beauties, today I will write about a place I visited on Sunday - the village Mantamados and its legendary Taxiarhes Monastery.

Now, I am by no means a religious person. However, I sometimes like to visit different places of worship, and get to feel the atmosphere. Most of them are peaceful and relaxing, others are imposing and awe-inspiring.

Mantamados is a small village on the northern part of the island, 37 kms off Mytilene. It is traditional and picturesque. Its cobbled streets and its well-preserved stone houses make you feel like you have travelled back in time. Its inhabitants are either craftsmen, well-known for their pottery skills, or farmers, producing the famous Mantamados yoghurt.

But the area is better known for the Taxiarhes Monastery. A miraculous icon of Taxiarhis, patron Saint of the entire island, is kept there, and people from all over the world travel to the site, to see and worship it.

Before we continue, a quick introduction to Orthodox religion. I am not sure what Catholics do (please be so kind to fill me in on this matter), but the Orthodox draw pictures, known as hagiographies, of Jesus Christ, Holly Mary and their Saints. Every church has its own and, as each temple is dedicated to a Saint, icons of that particular Saint mostly prevail. When the Orthodox go to church, they usually kneel before an icon, pray in front of it, or simply do the cross sign and then kiss it. I fail to describe it properly and it may all sound a bit weird. The main idea is that, through the picture, you communicate with the Saint depicted on it, and ask for his/her forgiveness, help, etc. These icons are considered to be holly items, and in some circumstances, they are even believed to perform miracles.

Of course, I get that you may be skeptical to all this. It's ok, I am too. Every now and then, icons are supposed to "bleed", or "shed tears", "heal" or "appear at unexpected places". Most of these "miracles" end up to be scams. But whether miracles trully take place is not really the point of this post. The point is, all of them are sacred to believers, and thousands of people come to see them for themselves every year. And the icon of Taxiarhis in particular is not only famous, but also unique.

Why? Because, unlike every other Orthodox icon there is, this one is not painted. Instead, it is carved. Normally, the Orthodox religion wouldn't allow that. But due to the fact that the icon is considered to be miraculous, and there is a great story about how it was made, it has been preserved through the years.

Before I tell you that story, I have to point out that Taxiarhis, or Michael, often depicted carrying a sword and wearing metal shoes, is one of the three Angels bearing the message of God (also known as Archangels). The other two are Gabriel, the one that presented in front of Mary to announce that She would give birth to Jesus Christ, and Raphael. All three of them are celebrated on November 8th, when it is a public holiday here in Lesvos. A grand parade is held in the centre of Mytilene, while churches that are dedicated to these 3 Saints celebrate and organise fairs for the pilgrims.

So, our story begins between the 9th and 10th century AC, when Muslim pirates often came to this island, to attack, burn, destroy and slaughter. At that time, the fortress - like Taxiarhes monastery was dedicated to the Archangels and was famous for its greatness and wealth. What a better target for the pirates then, right? So, one night, they used ropes to climb over the walls, surprised the monks during Mass, and slaughtered them all with their swords.

All but one, in fact. Because a 17-year old trainee, young Gabriel, managed to escape through the window and climbed the roof, trying to get away. Unfortunately, after taking all the monastery's property, the pirates saw him, and tried to capture him. After all, they didn't want to leave any witnesses behind, as young Gabriel could alarm the inhabitants of nearby villages of the presence of pirates. The villagers, in turn, could block the pirates' way to the sea and fight them. As you see, it was necessary that nobody was left alive.

But as the pirates approached Gabriel with the swords drawn, a miracle is believed to have taken place. The roof suddenly transformed into a windy sea, and in the middle rose Taxiarhis, mighty and furious, his sword in hand, ready to attack.

Having seen him, naturally the pirates panicked and fled to the sea, while leaving all their loot behind. The monastery was saved. But wait, there's more to it: The next day, all of the pirates were found dead at the shore, killed with a great stab wound, starting from the forehead and ending at the belly button. And as no man could have been so powerful to inflict such a blow, Taxiarhis was thought to have caused it with his sword.

When Gabriel realised that he was safe, he returned to the monastery to help the other monks. But when he saw all of them dead, a divine inspiration came upon him: He collected their blood, mixed it with clay, and, out of great awe and gratitude, tried to create an icon of the Saint, recreating the shape he saw on the roof. Unfortunately, the clay was not enough to make the Saint's whole body - and that's why his head is disproportionately large, compared to the rest of it.

So that is the story of Taxiarhis, protector of the Monastery and the whole island. And no matter if you believe in all this or not, this place is a must-see if you're ever visiting Lesvos. Because there, in an opening surrounded by olive groves and a pine forest, you may come in touch with your true self and spirituality. And feel like a tiny particle of the universe, but unique and important at the same time too.

After going to the Monastery, we visited another village, Skala Sykamnias, and had lunch at a Greek tavern by the sea. And there, eating grilled sardines, octopus, traditional grilled cheese "ladotyri", drinking the trademark ouzo (well, I opted for wine, but still), while watching the Turkish coast at the horizon, I realised, once again, that I live in a beautiful country. It's not obvious all the time, but it's nice to feel it every now and then.

All in all, it was a great day...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The craziness continues...

My last post about the flaws of the Greek healthcare system led to unexpected comments and conclusions: That public healthcare really sucks, and that the American system had better remain unchanged.

Don't get me wrong, I am by no means familiar with the American system (I've heard and read a lot, but didn't experience it myself), so I am not the one to say if it should be changed and how. But, at least as far as my own country is concerned, I am and have always been an avid supporter of public healthcare. Maybe in a future post we'll discuss about how this could work and benefit both patients and hospital employees. It may seem unreal and idealistic, but I think it could be done - if only someone was really willing to change the current horrible situation.

But before we talk about changes, it is important to describe what is really happening right now. So, our journey to The Twilight Zone featuring Greek hospitals continues...

If you think that winning the lottery is impossible, try finding a nurse in the Emergency department.

This is the second time I am writing about nurses, and taking in mind that the first time I was disagreeing with the fact that doctors and nurses are paid the same, while they don't work for the same hours and don't share the same responsibilities, you have every right to be suspicious of me. Maybe, like most doctors, I am suffering from "superiority/God complex", shunning nurses and flattering myself that I am much, much better.

Uh, I don't think so.

Because, let's face it - I am not. After all, I am just a clumsy Medical school graduate, still shaking when stitching (alert: This is NOT pleasant to watch - let alone experience!), almost pooping myself when an emergency comes in and I am alone in the room, even for a few minutes, while having no clue about most of the questions patients ask ("Will I get better?", "Is it too bad to eat half a roast lamb while suffering from gastric ulcer?", "Will the guys from Lost ever get out of this f-ing island for good?" - no sorry, the last one is a question I ask myself all the time, and not the patients!)

So yeah, I am not better, and I know it. The nurses know it. The whole hospital knows it. But it's ok. Because I'm not supposed to know everything right away. But please, dear nurse looking at me with a scornful look, help me. Teach me. Don't scowl at me in front of the (terrified) patient. And most importantly, don't leave me alone when I need you the most.

For some weird reason, becoming a doctor in Greece is much too popular than becoming a nurse. As a result, for every 5 doctors that beg for a job, there is only one nurse, who is always in high demand. And also for some curious reason, there are never enough nurses in the Greek hospitals. So, in order to deal with that, we have come up with the model of "Beaming-up-Nurse 3000", a special-patented nurse that manages to move from one clinic to another in seconds.

Or at least, she is supposed to. Because the nurses working in hospitals, compared to those that are actually needed to meet the needs, are much much less. As a result, the same nurse is supposed to cover the surgical department, while performing patch tests at the dermatology clinic, and measuring glucose levels in diabetic patients. All these cannot possibly be done at the same time.

The result? Huge lines of patients complaining about the long wait, doctors carrying samples to the labs, because there is no one else to take them down there, patients' relatives making the patients' beds and carrying them to the X-ray department themselves, students left alone to deal with life-threatening situations simply because there is no one else at the ER at that moment. It is CRAZY in there!

So no, I don't hate nurses. In fact, I love them dearly. So much, that I would like to have as many of them as possible. Please god, give me nurses. Because a good nurse can always save the day (and my own a$$ as well)...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I blame it all on George Clooney

My last post was going to be about Medicine and Med school, but "Greek parents" appeared out of nowhere and monopolised the conversation - after all, it was to be expected. Hopefully, this time there won't be any more surprises. We'll see...

As I wrote last time, I chose to be a doctor pretty much because I was an ER fanatic (and of course I mean the tv show, not the actual Emergency Room!). I was so carried away by the stories, that I ended up believing that real - life doctors would be like this:

Instead, I was terrified to discover that they actually look like this:

So I will some inside info today - dirty things that I didn't know when I applied for Med school. Had I known them, maybe I would have chosen a different profession altogether. Or at least I would have gotten a second job, trying to save money for therapy sessions, right from the start!

This post is not meant to be funny. Some of the things that I will describe are actually tragic. Any similarity to real facts or people is NOT a coincidence. So if you are easily upset and don't want to end up avoiding all hospitals and doctors just because you don't trust them anymore, please don't read any further. Oh, and if you choose to think that these things only happen in Greece because in reality it is a third - world country, feel free to do so. Whatever helps you sleep at night...

1) Taking the Hippocrates oath to heart (as long as my heart is where my wallet is)

The first thing you swear to do as a doctor, is to provide your help without asking for a reward. This is pretty cool, but doctors are people too, and they too need to eat, have a safe place to spend the night, and generally meet their biological needs - so they need to get paid for their work. The real problem arises when having a 197-inch plasma screen is considered a biological need, and the fact that you definitely have to get one forces the patient out of his own place!

In Greece, healthcare is public. This means that hospital care is provided for free, as long as your are insured. Fear not of the mighty term "insured", my friends. In Greece it is very easy to get insurance, and it covers pretty much everything. So basically, hospitals are open for everybody, free of charge.

In theory, at least. Because in the hypothetical case you need an operation, for example, doctors' implications become quite nasty: "There is a great waiting list", and "your operation should take place after 3 months or so and not earlier", and "it is a fairly difficult procedure that needs the utmost care and dedication from the physician", and so on.

If you fail to take a hint, you are likely to be banished to the worst room, with a broken bed or something, while the medical staff weirdly doesn't notice you very much, and your operation somehow takes forever to schedule. Unless you manage to produce some pocket money, say 500 or 1,000 dollars to the physician in charge. Not out in the open, of course. You need to be discreet, put them in an envelope, and carefully slide them into the doctor's pocket.

If you perform this trick, you almost instantly get an upgrade, the staff becomes very tentative of you, and your operation is due for the very next day. All goes well in the end, you recover quickly and go home, satisfied with the excellent medical care you received. It is a win - win situation.

The problem? You spent 1,000 dollars to get medical care that is supposed to be provided for free!

And this, my friends, is the number one pain in the booty in the Greek medical system. "The envelope situation". Money you are not obliged to give, but you give anyway. Money that is not taxed, and just fill the attending doctor's pocket. Money you may not even have - and what happens then, if you are in desperate need of an operation?

Please don't tell me that in the USA a tonsilectomy, for example, would cost far more money than only 1,000 dollars, so we should be happy for not paying as much. The problem is that you cannot have public and free healthcare and then demand "black" money from the patients! It is illegal to do so, and yet, most doctors do it and nobody EVER gets prosecuted! It is a secret that everybody knows, and nobody takes action against. It is a practice that encourages corruption and exploitation of the patients. THIS makes us a third - world country, and not one less metro station, or one less overpriced stadium.

But, to be absolutely fair, this is the opposite opinion...

Greek doctors are the worst paid doctors in Europe. Not only is it painfully difficult to find a job here (I described the situation with the waiting lists and the fact that you may need to wait for 10 years from the moment you graduate, until you start your residency in an earlier post), but the salary is a joke. We get paid 2,000 dollars per month - approximately 25,000 dollars per year. Our salary is the same as the nurses', school teachers', and even civil cervants' working in the tax department. By no means do I mean that we are better than all these people. It's just that our work hours are incredibly more.

While I am on call, 5 different shifts of nurses come and go. That means that I work as much as 5 different nurses, (starting on Monday morning, for example, and going home on Tuesday afternoon) and somehow I am paid the same as each one of them! And I don't even need to stress the fact that our time of studies is not the same, and our accountability in case something goes wrong is anything but similar.

What's more disturbing, is that the government fails to pay us even this small salary in time. All through 2008, doctors in Greece went on strike, because the extra money they legally deserved for being on-call and working overtime wasn't given. According to European Union laws, it is now obligatory to work only 4 days overtime per month. This is what you are paid for. Unfortunately, there are not enough doctors in the hospital to meet the patients' needs, and if each one of us worked overtime only 4 days per month, the emergency department would be empty and unstaffed!

So what are the idiotic doctors forced to do? Work 10 days per month overtime (or else patients would need a bounty hunter to search for a doctor at weekends, for example), and get paid for 4! What kind of country does that to its citizens? Isn't slavery supposed to have been abolished centuries ago?

This horrible situation is the excuse many doctors give for getting the notorious "envelope money". But this excuse is a lame one, in my opinion. I agree that we are underpaid, and in many cases, non-paid. I agree that the government treats us like fools. I agree that we have worked our @sses off and don't deserve this situation.

But exploiting patients is not the answer. We took an oath, remember? An oath to help them, as much as possible, no matter what. We are the victims in this, but victimising patients too is not the solution. We should fight for more. We should ask for more. But we are turning to the wrong people to ask for money.

That's it for now. Hit me with your comments and tranquilizers, people! And imagine this - we are still on #1! A long way to go...

Monday, June 8, 2009

The vampire country

As many of you now, I am now living on the island of Mytilene, working (?) as a general practitioner. It is an exciting experience, and I will come back with photos of the beautiful island and my everyday life as soon as possible. But today's post is about how I ended up on this island of Northern Aegean Sea, just a few miles west of Turkey.

But before we start, here is a picture of Mytilene's port. There are many more amazing photos to show you, so be patient until my next posts.

And here is Mytilene on the map of Greece. For the record, I had been living on Crete before, which is the biggest island of Greece, located on its southernmost end.

I wouldn't be here, if I hadn't chosen to become a doctor. And I wouldn't have chosen to become a doctor, if I weren't completely nuts. And naive. And with no sense of self - preservation whatsoever.

When I was little, I used to watch ER on tv. I couldn't get enough of the brave, self sacrifising doctors, who managed to save lives and look extra cute at the same time! No matter the time, or the extreme circumstances, they fought to do good. The adrenaline was intoxicating, and the sense of accomplishment was hypnotizing.

Unfortunately for me, I relied too much on tv, and didn't have any doctors in my family to wake me up and introduce me to reality. So, while I was studying Ancient History, Ancient Greek, Latin and Literature, (and not having a clue in Math, Biology, Physics and Chemistry that are essential for Med School), I applied for the latter. It was more of a joke, actually. I was going to become a Literature teacher, like my parents, and didn't stand a single chance to be accepted. Well, wrong...
So, I entered Med school, wanting to learn new and exciting things, in order to help people and take away as much pain and suffering as possible. And then, I had to wake up.

Before I continue, it is important to explain a bit about universities in Greece. In my country, it is obligatory to attend school for 9 years (starting at the age of 6). You can then choose to go to a technical school and learn a craft, or continue to high school for another 3 years. At the age of 18, you take exams. These exams are the same for every Greek student. The subjects are the same, the questions are identical, and they all start at the same date and time. So basically, you compete with every other Greek student all over the country simultaneously. Once you get your grades, you are free to apply to any school you like. The school will accept a given number of candidates, depending on their grades only, from highest to lowest.

Example: If you apply for Med school and your University of choice admits 50 students per year, you have to be in the top 50 students that applied for the same position at the same time to be accepted. Even if you have done extraordinarily, you won't get accepted if 50 students did better than you. On the contrary, you may have had a few misses, but if everyone else did as well, it won't matter. As long as you are in the top 50 / 100 / 150, depending on the number of students the school accepts, you are ok. So having good grades alone doesn't matter. The whole idea is the competition - where others stand and where you stand. And it is a matter of supply and demand. Getting into a much wanted school is a whole lot more difficult than getting to one few people apply to.

Anyway, it is difficult to get into university (and it costs a lot of money, since all kids pay for private education in the afternoon along with public education that is offered for free at schools in the mornings). But once you get there, a different era begins. The era of enjoying yourself and simply doing nothing. Because university education is public in Greece - that means you don't pay a thing for your studies. There are no teaching fees and no book fees. Also, there is no limit to the years you can study. You can fail in the same course zillions of times, and it's ok. You can be 35 and still studying after 20 years - nobody tells you anything, and of course nobody throws you out of school. But what makes student life amazing, is the concept of "Greek parents".

You may have heard about this rare species, watched it on National Geographic documentaries, or laughed at it watching "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" on tv. Oh, "Greek parents" are strange creatures indeed, and they deserve a little analyzing. Their whole existence is based on the concept that children don't grow up. The years may pass by, but their babies remain babies. Like vampires or something, time does not touch them.

So, no matter if they are 10, 20 or 40, you still have to fuss about them eating their dinner, dressing in a certain way, and playing / going out / getting married to people you like and approve of. And of course, they never ever go away. In the most extreme circumstances, they may move to a house that is right next to their parents'. But even then, having a spare key and being able to come and go to your children's house as you please is a given.

Having this kind of parents may be a pain in the gluteus maximus, if you get my drift. It is suffocating and infuriating. But it has its benefits as well. One of which is the fact that Greek parents are adamant about their children going to university. To achieve this goal, no expense is too great and no effort is too big. And once their offspring get this much-wanted place, the proud parents continue to provide for them. And they never stop giving, unless their "kid" graduates and finds a job.

So, this attitude is the reason why the image of students selling lemonade as a part-time job in the summer seemed more strange to me, than Paris Hilton actually settling down. Greek parents don't ever get that. To them, a kid having to earn his pocket money by working would be insulting. It would mean that they themselves cannot provide for him. Don't get me wrong, I get the whole "being independent" and "learning how hard it is to earn your own money" idea. I actually applaud the concept. If more kids did that here, we would have less brats that couldn't stop being dependent on their parents. But that doesn't happen here often.

Still, not earning your own pocket money at 15 is not dramatic. But depending on your parents to pay for your cigarettes at 30 is pathetic. Because, as I told you earlier, parents don't stop giving until their "kid" graduates and finds a job. And let's face it - finding a job isn't easy nowadays. And the recent economic crisis is not the only reason for that. It is all a fault of the species of Greek parents, actually. Being so persistent about their kids going to university, they created a country where every kid has a university degree. The result? There are far too many unemployed doctors and lawyers here, while it is painfully difficult to find a plumber or an electrician!

And here comes the last and most important characteristic of Greek parents: Pride. They are immensely proud of their children. To them, they represent all that is good and right in this world. And, having worked so hard to get them to university, they refuse to see them getting a job that is "beneath them". So no, it is not ok to find any job in order to earn a living. You have to find a job that you "deserve". Until then, "you have your family to turn to"!

So, in this vampire country I live, kids don't ever grow up. They live with their parents instead, bargaining for more pocket money at 35, having their mother wash their underwear and cook their favourite dinner. Waiting for the "right" job to come, hoping to get their own place some time - as long as it is close to their parents' house, of course. In the end, getting married to "appropriate" people and giving birth to "extraordinary" children. And this vicious circle continues...

I started this post wanting to tell you about how and why I got into university. I talked about all Greek students instead. As much as this got out of hand, I think this is even better. And while it may seem I detest my country, I actually love it very much. Because only if you really love something or someone, you can accept it with all its flaws and weaknesses.

And to be fair, the species of Greek parents is an amazing species by all means. It is one that never ever lets you down, and always looks out for you - no matter what. It is a species that always makes you a priority, and sacrifises itself for you without a second thought. It is a species we all love and respect. Do you want proof for that?

In Greece, kids selling lemonade is an unknown concept. But old parents staying in nursery homes is an unknown concept as well... :)

PS: I would love to hear your comments and also your own experiences from your own country / community / family.