by Andreas Economakis
I hobbled toward my bike, fishing the keys out of my jacket pocket. One look at the hard saddle and I knew that I was in for one hell of a ride. I gingerly cranked the ignition lever, cringing in pain and seriously considering pulling off my tight jeans despite the cold. The ride into Athens was going to be a journey straight into the Beelzebub’s fiery inferno. Maybe the winter wind chill factor would relieve my strained boys, kind of like putting them on ice. After a few excruciating cranks, my pecker almost exploding in agony, my motorcycle started doing its classic boxer jiggle back and forth. I clambered on board, horror sketched on my pasty face. I was surely going to rupture something down there. The police report would read something like: “Anemic looking man found next to a gigantic detached penis in gruesome highway motorcycle accident. Witnesses report that the penis was the apparent driver of the cycle.” My Ramburglar was beginning to feel larger than the rest of me. I was now officially becoming an appendage to my penis, rather than the other way around. Was I the monkey on my penis’ back?
I think I freaked a few people out on the Attiki Odos highway out of the airport, judging from the looks I was receiving. No, it wasn’t the vulgarity of my spread-eagle legs as I drove along. Nor was it the degenerate angle of my hunched over frame or my disturbingly slow 30-kilometer per hour speed in the emergency lane that was arousing suspicion. The surprised looks I was getting probably had to do with my screaming bloody murder as I drove along, tears streaming down my face as my left hand desperately groped and tried to shift my humongous package into a less painful position in my jeans. I must have looked like escapee from the Mephistopheles Mental Hospital for people with sexual disorders. In fact, one old couple in a mother of pearl brown Mercedes almost ran me off the road, the old timer at the wheel with the horn-rimmed glasses shouting bad words at me as his silver-haired wife repeatedly crossed herself with one hand and covered her eyes with the other. They were obviously trying to safeguard their fellow citizens from the well-endowed but clearly unhinged lunatic on the cool antique motorbike who was riding into town to spread around some holy sexual terror.
Well, the long and long of it is that I finally made it to my local state-run IKA clinic in one piece and in the knick of time. I parked illegally on the sidewalk out front like a typical irreverent Athenian (drastic situations call for drastic measures) and did my Unlucky Luke gunslinger walk into the pre-war emergency room, intent on cutting the line in front of whoever was there. I was a real emergency, not some hypochondriac-senior-citizen-with-chronic-sore-feet-because-she’s-simply-overweight medical issue that could surely wait. My Johnson was about to explode and that would be real ugly to say the least. Fire in the hole! Luckily, the waiting room was almost empty and all the physicians seemed to be at their respective posts, a certifiable miracle when it comes to Greek public servants, be they doctors, politicians or street sweepers.
As sitting down was out of the question, I decided to bounce from foot to foot by the pathologist’s examining room. I could hear a patient whimpering inside and there was an elderly woman seated outside, right underneath an ancient wall clock that was frozen on some hour back in the mid-1970’s, when Greece was simple, safe, carefree and not utterly demoralized by huge national debt and unchecked corporate and political corruption. I was about to explain to the old lady that I should be allowed to cut the line in front of her when I noticed that she had the shakes. And I’m not talking about little quiver shakes. She was trembling like Satan himself was breakdancing to Grandmaster Flash inside of her. She was practically rattling the bolts out her seat, cold sweat dripping down her deathly grey skin. Jesus! I looked around the pale asparagus green room to see if anyone else was concerned about her. She looked contagious at the very least. Mambo penis problem okay, but I didn’t need to add the plague to my list of illnesses. I hobbled over to the other side of the room, deciding to loiter next to the fuzzy television set that was propped up on a broken gurney. An annoyingly loud telemarketer was barking the benefits of his water-purifying ozone tool, drowning out my sense of disquiet. I decided to turn down the TV but all the buttons were missing and the plug led directly into the wall. I looked around again. That’s when I realized that I was in Hell’s waiting room. Where else could I be? My broken penis was sending excruciatingly painful jolts up my spine, time had stood still, diseased people were shaking like leaves around me, the walls were asparagus-colored and I was here to see some men in white who would probably end up torturing me or at least pronouncing me terminal. Was I already dead?
The pathologist’s door creaked open and a young man who looked like David Hasselhoff strolled out, looking as fit as a fiddle. What was wrong with him anyway? Why all the whimpering in chambers? Mitch Buchannon smiled at Mrs. Shudder, who was still trembling all gangbusters by the door. Then, remarkably, he offered his hand to help her up. Was he nuts? If you were whimpering inside, Michael Knight, then you’re in for one hell of a ride with this old diseased bat! The old woman tremble-stood and wrapped her arm around the handsome lad. He said “Thanks momma.” The old lady slowly ushered the fruit of her loin out of the waiting room, a smile sketched all over her shaky face. She wasn’t even here for herself! Mrs. Deathly Tremor had simply accompanied her sprightly offspring to the doctor and was now taking him home, probably to cook him a meal and iron his red lifesaving swimming trunks. Miracles never cease to happen, especially in this the land that time and Renaissance forgot.
I was next! I waddled to the door and hesitantly poked my head in. Okay, I admit it. I hate doctors. You only see them when you’re sick, right? Take dentists for example. Why in blazes would anyone visit a dentist if their teeth felt fine, to get drilled and scraped and terrorized like Dustin Hoffman in “The Marathon Man”? “Is it safe? Is what safe? Is it safe? Safe? Is it safe?!” spoken amidst drilling sounds, Nazi laughter and horrified screaming. Who was it that said that dentists have the highest suicide rate of all the professions? I read that white male American doctors have the highest suicide rate. I wonder why? It obviously has nothing to do with money because they’re all pulling in six-figures or more, right?
The room was quiet. I spotted a kindly old man in a white lab coat seated at his desk, busy surfing on his little smart phone. Maybe he was checking out suicide statistics, to see if Greek doctors were prone to offing themselves like their American colleagues. His desk was sparse and neat and situated in front of a large poster of a surprised-looking skeleton man with all his all his muscles and veins showing and with big bloodshot Google eyes surveying the room. My eyes invariably went to Skeletor’s penis and much to my dismay I noticed that his pecker was small and compact, well, at least compared to the Cadillac Escalade parked in my jeans.
The old doctor must have felt my turpitude and turned to look at me. I swear his eyes veered down to my crotch and he seemed momentarily uncomfortable. His loosened his tie, nervous eyes darting to the window and fingers tensed over his phone. Who wants to be alone in a room with some stranger who’s just walked in with a massive boner? He swallowed and asked me what I wanted. I took another step in and cleared my throat, pointing at my crotch like a child points to a booboo on his hand. I was at a loss for words. I finally managed to utter something to the effect that I had a problem down there. The old doctor nodded and stood up with a small smile. He walked over to a little table by the window and pulled on a pair of surgical gloves. He then asked me to drop my pants, his eyes glued to my midriff. This was it. Showtime! Dirk Digglerville! The old boy was finally making a stage appearance with a crowd. As I unbuttoned my drawers for the second time that day, I couldn’t help but get a feeling of cold feet, kind of like an actor before they step on stage at a play’s opening. Would I amount to anything? Was I a contender? Penis don’t fail me now!
My jeans crumpled down to my ankles and the doctor’s eyes widened in that German scientist way. He was probably going to start talking like Josef Mengele any moment. “Das is goot, mein little frau-boy!” Soft on the outside, ruthless sadistic butcher on the inside. He gingerly cradled my pecker with his cold gloved hands, massaging it slowly and asking me if and where it hurt. He had a very soft, almost arousing touch. Oh Jesus! If Mr. Johnson got any bigger… I looked up and tried to think of the most non-sexual, joy kill things in the world to deflate my rising problem. Charles Manson, a plate of maggots, Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, Donald Trump, day old vomit, fetid spittoon water, fly guts, war, disease, famine, pain, suffering. It started to work. I looked down again. It was almost as if the kindly doctor was holding an injured bird in his hands, which of course, he was. Only this bird was a large pelican. He asked me how it came to be that my pelican had become so large and I recounted my story as best I could. He seemed to become more and more enthused as he groped, actually kneeling down to get to eye level with my beast and swaying back and forth as if in a trance. He started making this disturbing sucking noise with his teeth. What the hell? If anyone walked in at that moment we’d probably cause some major disturbance. What was he looking for anyway? His face was getting way too close for comfort. Did he need glasses or something?
“Like I thought. You need to see the surgeon,” he finally said, the news dropping like a fat bomb on people scurrying for cover. He stood back up with a kindly smile and peeled his gloves off, letting them drop in the metal bin by his desk like a couple of flaccid condoms. He smiled even more when he saw the shock written all over my face. “Surgeon?” I breathed, ever so faintly. My mind quickly travelled to some antiseptic neon-lit surgical room, a bunch of giggling surgeons with green face masks and bloody scalpels tossing my penis around like a deflated rugby ball as I lay all neutered on the scrubbed metal table, a man no more. Half a man. Was my situation so unsolvable that castration was the only solution? The doctor let out a chuckle, obviously amused at my alarm. Are all doctors Nazis in disguise? Hitler once said that “Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.” This doctor was terrorizing me with my own penis. How sick is that?
“Your problem is not pathological,” the doctor said. (That’s what you think, I thought.) It looks like you may have a little “kee-lee,” he added. Now truth be told, I’d heard the word before but was never sure of its meaning. I’m an expat after all, struggling with a seventh grader’s understanding of complex Greek grammar and vocabulary. The way the doctor said it implied that I must obviously know what it is. And that’s exactly what I pretended, nodding my thanks, pulling up my pants and asking him where I might find this house surgeon to discuss my little “kee-lee.” As I buttoned my jeans with post-coital introspection, my mind raced through possible definitions for “kee-lee.” What in the dickens could it be? Gigantism? Did I have some genetic disorder that suddenly endowed me like a stud horse down there? Or maybe some weird tropical disease or mosquito bite had inflated my boys? Perhaps “kee-lee” was an ulcer? My logical mind settled on the last definition and I quickly called my wife to inform her that I was about to see a surgeon regarding a sudden ulcer. I had kept mum on the whole massive penis aspect of my stomach problems, not wanting to worry her or have her interfere with my efforts to solve my problem. “Oh mon dieu!” she would say with her French accent when the immensity of my member would be revealed upon her, a sly smile developing on her face. “You’re not planning on fixing zat cherie, are you?” she would add, nuzzling up to me like horny French aristocat. No, telling her I was now endowed like Man o’War was not a good idea. It would only create problems in the future. I would never be able to live it down.
I stumbled into the asparagus green room, scanning the doors for surgery signage. Were they going to operate on my “kee-lee” right here and now? Oh god! Did I lock my bike? Where would I hide my wallet and cell phone when they cut into me? How long would they keep me? Boy, they sure do things fast here in Greece. Well, to be truthful, they either do things fast or incredibly slow here. Ask any Greek for an opinion and you’ll get one faster than a lightning bolt. Ask for your paycheck or some official certification on the other hand and you’ll likely be waiting in line with Cro-Magnon Man until hell freezes over three times. Speaking of hell, where in Hades was this surgeon anyway? I’d found the surgery room but there was no one in there. Right then a chubby middle-aged nurse in dirty white knock-off Crocs ambled by and I asked him if he knew where the surgeon was. He shrugged with a vexed expression on his face, moving on without saying a word to me. Luckily an old man who was sitting by the door heard me and told me the surgeon was outside having a smoke. When I looked at him quizzically, he chuckled. “He used to smoke inside,” he added, “even during the examinations.” Hmm, did I really want to track down this nicotine surgeon? Some ashes from his Assos cigarette might fall into my flesh during surgery. Maybe I needed to rethink this whole private insurance deductible dilemma. My daughter would surely understand right? I mean, would she rather have presents or a daddy this Christmas?
I burst out into the dirt and crabgrass courtyard, eyes scanning right and left for the smoking doctor. There were about 20 or 30 individuals peppered about the place, all sucking on their cigarettes like there was no tomorrow. Most of them were doctors and nurses in white, many of whom were huddled together and looking rather angry and morose, most likely because they hated this new no smoking law in hospitals that was now being enforced. I’m a non-smoker, but I bet productivity is down by at least 75% since the law when into effect, the majority of employees hanging out outside for their cigarette break. Seeing as most Greek smokers are chain-smokers, you get my drift. They should probably call work a break between cigarettes, judging from the numbers of cigarette butts and employees scattered about the yard. “Where will you be tomorrow?” “I’ll be smoking. But I’ll take a little break for work right after lunch. Want to meet then?” I wondered when some politician was going to propose smoking hospitals for the public. They’d be a huge success in nicotine-addicted Greece.
My eyes caught sight of a thin and bearded elderly man in a faded brown leather bomber jacket, a battered stethoscope dangling from his neck. I don’t know why, but I just knew this was my man. I don’t know if it was the Rolex on his wrist or the pearl cigarette holder dangling from his blood-drained lips, but this guy barked surgeon. He was sucking on his little shinny doodad, contemptuous eyes surveying the scene with disdain and boredom. He obviously felt destined for greater things than cutting into Greece’s weak, sick, poor and well-hung, even if that job had fattened his wallet and tobacco pouch rather nicely with taxpayer money.
I approached the surgeon meekly, not sure if I wanted to go through with this anymore. He looked ill, the whole place was filthy and there was this general sentiment of hopelessness and resignation in the air. Oh how I longed for the clean and efficient wards on “ER,” kindly television doctors in starched scrubs doing backflips to save me from my “kee-lee” and then visiting me with kind words of Hollywood wisdom and fresh cut flowers. The surgeon noticed me and his eyes squinted ever so noticeably, a little like a gun-slinging Clint Eastwood’s in “A Man With No Name.” I tentatively asked Mr. No Name if he was the surgeon on duty and he chomped on his cigarette holder like I was an annoying fly he was about to squash. “I’m smoking,” he replied, eyes scanning me from head to toe and momentarily pausing on my large concealed weapon. He swallowed nervously and told me he’d be in when he was done. I smiled, wishing I had the guts to rip his cigarette and holder out of his mouth, wishing my deep-rooted distrust of doctors would for just once be proven wrong. Was smoking a little cancer stick more important than dealing with my medical condition? Couldn’t this cretin see I was an emergency, about to be killed by my penis? Obviously not! I swiveled on the spot and nearly tripped over a chopped-off sapling that was poking its poor trunk out of the cigarette yard in front of the clinic. I grunted in pain. All life is cut short here, I thought. I think I heard the surgeon chuckle as I wobbled back into the building.
What the hell was I doing in this Mickey Mouse clinic? Was this a fatal mistake? I’ve always been skeptical of all things big and impersonal. Large American hospitals, boat-sized cars, megalomaniacal Pyramids and Airbuses the size of the Titanic have always frightened me. Humans tend to disappear in large environments. There’s something demoralizing and impersonal about big institutions. You’re just a little cog in the machine there, a gnat. No one will miss you if you’re extinguished. Now the opposite of this is Greece of course, where everything (except our national debt, our unchecked urban sprawl, our blatant disregard for personal safety and the environment and our deep-rooted egos) is small, manageable, human-scale. Look at the Giza pyramids or your average American skyscraper. Look at Dubai. Now compare all that to the Parthenon or most things Greek. See the difference? One is huge and other-worldly, the other is downright tiny, real and manageable in comparison. Small is better. Or is it? I was starting to have my doubts. One look around the dilapidated IKA clinic only seemed to reinforce this feeling. Was I in the clutches of a handful of shyster voodoo doctors who smoked non-stop and were simply pulling a quick one-on-one razzle-dazzle on me? Nothing like getting conned in your face by some locals you think you have a handle on, in a place so rinky-dink it makes you wonder if they can really handle anything more than a simple paper cut. Maybe impersonal isn’t such a bad thing. Is large better after all?
I decided to enter the surgeon’s room and lean against the scrubbed metal examining table. I was surveying the dirty walls when an angry-looking nurse walked in and practically yelled at me in a rude manner, asking me what I wanted. She had a deathly pallor to her and looked genuinely upset. I explained my mission and she walked out without saying a word. I was wondering what to do when she poked her head back in and told me to take my pants off. What? Just like that? With the door wide open? I hesitated but then decided to proceed. Hell, exposing myself in public was becoming a bit of a routine, no big deal. Besides, it could be worse. What if I was hung like a peanut? I could probably make a living doing this, I thought. Dirk Diggler, you got nothing on me!
I’d just dropped my pants when the surgeon appeared, like a puff of smoke. He walked in all brittle-boned, like he was stepping on toothpicks. He seemed very ill, this man. Was lung cancer ravaging his insides? He approached his desk, plunked his cigarettes, keys and cell phone down and crumpled into his swivel chair all exhausted, annoyed and distracted. He asked me for my papers (my State insurance booklet), my current address and the reason for my visit. I handed him all the info and decided to just point at the reason for my visit. He looked up from his desk and his cheek muscles went limp. That got his attention! He quickly swiveled around in his antiquated swivel chair, got up and barked at the non-existent nurse for gloves. Everyone who worked here was obviously hearing impaired. He walked to the door, poked his head out and yelled the nurse’s name out loud. He received a curt, almost insulting negative response and then he closed the door, his mood darkening by the minute. He turned and looked at me like a livid pit bull. More cold sweat trickled down my spine. This gnarly dude was about to grab my boys with his cigarette mitts and start squeezing them. And furthermore, isn’t it an oxymoron that a doctor smokes? I mean, if these guys don’t get that it’s a deadly habit, how the hell are the rest of us supposed to get it? Maybe I should make a run for it now.
The surgeon walked over to a smudged pale cream cabinet and extracted a white box with surgical gloves. With trembling nicotine yellow hands he pulled on the gloves and approached me. Up close he smelled like stale tobacco and some annoying cologne, maybe Drakkar Noir or Old Spice. Probably Old Spice. Without advance warning, his right hand shot out like a cobra and he grabbed my balls with vigor. I froze all speechless, as would any fella whose boys are suddenly grabbed by stranger in a strange place. He cocked and tilted his head upward, as if he was trying to identify a fly on the wall, eyes squinting once again like Clint. He massaged my balls good, all the while staring at the invisible fly on the dirty wall. I didn’t get aroused this time. I think I prefer this approach to the pathologist’s. No too close for comfort face time with my boys, no disturbing sucking noise, no delicately arousing touch. This guy obviously wasn’t enjoying feeling me up. I hear that. “Kee-lee,” he said all of a sudden and stepped back, releasing my pecker like a heavy cinder block. He looked at his Rolex and walked back to his desk, hands already grabbing his packet of cigarettes for the next smoke. “That’s what the pathologist thought too,” I said. “That’s why I’m here,” I trailed off, hoping for some salvation. He looked at me like I was some idiot lobotomy experiment gone wrong and he pocketed his cell phone and keys, obviously intent on proceeding to his next cigarette break as fast as possible. “What do you want me to do about it?” he replied real fast, his annoyance level rising to red. I just sat there looking at him, at a loss for words. I guess a kee-lee is terminal. Oh, Jesus! “Is there anything I can do?” I whispered, practically on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “It’s a simple operation, in and out in a couple of days,” he replied. “Oh, thank God!” I exclaimed, almost wanting to kiss his blood-drained lips. “But not here,” he replied, once again with that ‘you’re obviously a moron’ expression that seemed to fit so well on his haughty face. “You need to get an ultrasound and see a urologist at an on-duty hospital,” he said, handing me my booklet and exiting the room, already busy stuffing his Assos cigarette in the silly doodad he smokes it with. He left the door wide open and I quickly scrambled to pull up my drawers lest I inadvertently send some unwitting retiree into cardiac arrest and defibrillation hell as they passed by.
I burst out into the cold Athenian winter air a new man. I wasn’t terminal! I was going to lick this kee-lee, whatever in Harry Potter’s broomstick kingdom it was. I was going to be around for Christmas day with my family, tearing open cheap Jumbo presents and drinking ouzo, albeit with a stitched-up penis and sporting a gauze G-string. Hallelujah!
I approached my bike like I was walking on air. Nothing like a new lease on life! No death by penis for me. I decided to call my wife and finally clue her into what was going down with me, at least below my belt. I think the news surprised her. I decided to give this mysterious kee-lee a definition. “It’s an ulcer,” I told her in French, “and it has made my penis huge.” I swear I could hear the crackle on the phone, the news rendering her speechless. Her answer would define our relationship. If she said “An ulcer’s no big deal, please come home now cherie,” I would be in for a lifetime of exhausting non-stop sex and disappointment. If she expressed concern and told me to quickly go get myself checked out, all was well. Luckily she opted for number two. But there was a sizeable delay in her response. Was she mulling it over? I mean, who wouldn’t want Dirk Diggler in their bed every night? Oh god, what to do?
A sharp jab between my stomach and crotch spurred me on. I’d best get this kee-lee business over with. A simple operation, in and out. That’s what cancer man said. Suck it in baby, don’t be a wuss. Go get yourself fixed up. Walking around with a well-fed turkey in your boxers is no way to be. I quickly surfed my iPhone for the nearest on-duty hospital, cranked my motorcycle with a cringe and teardrop and delicately rode off into the smog, praying my ordeal would end soon. There was a national strike for all public transportation that day and traffic was hell. Then again, traffic is always hell in Athens, and there’s always a strike for one thing or another. Striking is in every Greek’s DNA, as is being stuck in traffic. As I rode down clogged streets I couldn’t help but curse the fact that Athens was anarchically built for horses and donkeys, not for cars. It’s as if the folks who built this city never ever considered the fact that people have means of transportation. Athens is a typical example of a village turned hastily into a city. Too big for its britches. Sometimes I think that there are more cars in Athens than people.
I made it to the nearby Geniko Hospital in one piece, parking my bike on the sidewalk once again. I wasn’t alone. At least 400 or so other motorcycles were parked on the same sidewalk. All the pedestrians were forced into the street, where they were honked and yelled at by annoyed and impatient motorists who rushed by at breakneck speeds. The lowest form of life in Greece is the pedestrian, second only to cats. The automobile is the undisputed heavyweight king of all roads and sidewalks. Even the government and police acknowledge this, recently passing a law that motorists can sue pedestrians for getting in the way. And I won’t get into the absence of police enforcement of illegal parking. I suppose it’s a catch-22, as there are obviously not enough parking spaces in all of Greece for the number of cars in Athens. If Athenians didn’t park illegally, the nearest legal spot would probably be in Minsk.
I strolled into the Geniko with my classic gunslinger walk. The place was in total chaos, to say the very least. There were hundreds of people cued up here and there, the entire human gene pool looking for medical attention. Babies were howling, scooter victims were holding bloody limbs, entire Rom families were roaming around peddling stuff, the odd shocked foreigner stood here and there like a deer in headlights and countless old people who were hard of hearing and in various states of decomposition were shouting at the top of their lungs. It was hard to find anyone official anywhere under the human crush. Clogging all the hallways were what Greeks call “rantsa,” cots laden with ill people waiting for attention or already having received attention and recuperating in the hallways for lack of available rooms. Corridor ranches. I swallowed hard and stood in a huge line at the information booth, where one solitary nurse was attempting to handle the human tsunami. This was going to take hours. My IKA clinic suddenly seemed like the Mayo. I once again reconsidered my whole deductible private insurance dilemma. Then I spotted a crying child in a Santa Claus ski-hat and realized that I had to wait in line. These were hard times. As if by miracle, a nurse came to halt next to me, busy chatting with a middle-aged man who seemed to have some sort of problem with the left side of his face (it was frozen). As soon as she sent iceface scurrying down the hall I grabbed her arm and asked her if I was in the correct line for info about getting an ultrasound. “Not here,” she replied, already moving on, “It’s broken. You need to find another hospital.” Oh man…
I quickly exited the Geniko mayhem and clambered aboard my motorcycle, eyeballing the three motorcycle cops who were parked nearby, smoking cigarettes. Cars were making illegal U-turns and nearly squashing pedestrians, motorcyclists were driving by without helmets and talking on their cell phones, everyone was littering and parking illegally and these three monkeys in uniform were yucking it up all oblivious, one of them actually flinging his cigarette into the street with a smile, nearly singing a child who was passing by with his mother. Greek cops are indeed the exact opposites of their US colleagues. In the end I’m not sure whom I dislike more. Why is there no middle ground with cops? They are either wired up Robocops or provincial cartoons.
A quick surf on the iPhone once again and I pulled out, this time headed way up north, to the more affluent Melissia suburb of Athens. My “on-duty hospital” iPhone application assured me I’d find the Sismanoglio Hospital up there and that this institution had ultrasound facilities. I took a deep breath and throttled the bike, deciding to rush up there as fast as possible. If I didn’t, I might still be on the road come Christmas time. If I was driving my car I wouldn’t make it to the Sismanoglio even by Easter.
For the third time that day I entered a medical institution (more times than I’d been in the last decade), starting to feeling rather tired and overwhelmed. The Sismanoglio was definitely bigger than the rest and a class above. It may be old, but at least it was clean. And huge. There was barely anyone around, nothing like the mayhem at the Geniko. Boy, rich folks always seem to have nicer hospitals, even when it comes to public ones. I asked a passing orderly for the ultrasound room and he directed me through the labyrinth. I must have walked for at least 10 minutes, up stairs and down empty hallways, down stairs and across vast vacant waiting rooms. Where was everyone? Was the Sismanoglio a ghost hospital? Man, if folks at the Geniko got wind of this place… Definitely worth the drive! I finally arrived to the ultrasound room, wiping my sweaty brow. The end was in sight! I straightened myself up, put on my battle smile and knocked on the door. I stood for minute like a frozen Disney character and knocked again. No response. I decided to open the door. I depressed the handle and pushed. The door was locked! Shit. I turned around and rushed off, in search of someone who could tell me what was going on. I was nearing the end of my rope. Bear in mind I’d been up since 3am and had worked full day with a monstrous pecker before setting off on this wild goose egg hunt that’s call Greek public healthcare.
I found a spotless and kind-looking nurse who was busy studying her clipboard. I told her I was here for an ultrasound and she looked at me all quizzically, finally asking me why I wanted to wait so long. The Sismanoglio was not on-duty for another 4 hours. Damn iPhone! This was all Steve Jobs fault! She instructed me to head to the nearby Emila Flemming Hospital, which she thought was on duty. I thanked her and waddled off again, this time shuffling down the empty corridors, demoralized and not a little exhausted. All the while I decided to surf the iPhone again, to find out where this Emilia Flemming place was. I wore my glasses this time. That’s when I noticed that the Sismanoglio was indeed not on duty. It was not the iPhone’s fault. Sorry Steve Jobs.
Well, I made it to the Emila Flemming about twenty minutes later. It’s a nice little hospital, tiny in comparison to the Sismanoglio and Geniko. Sure, there were “rantsa” here too, but fewer than the Geniko. The place felt more civil. Smaller is better. I went to the information counter (only two people in line!) and inquired about the ultrasound. The nurse, who was as morose as the IKA nurse, practically barked that I had to get the urologist’s approval first. I couldn’t tell if this nurse was a she or a he. She-man waived me on (or off) like I was an annoying flee and started talking all friendly to a doctor who was standing by the side window. I just stood there until he-she swerved back with anger and glared at me. The hospital may be smaller and nicer than the others but folks here were decidedly grumpier. Don’t these people have a heart? Don’t they realize that anyone who walks in here is obviously in bad shape? I swear, if there were a revolution I think I’d head to the hospitals first, torch in hand, sending all the hostile medical transvestites scurrying for cover. Somebody needs to wake these people up. I decided, for maybe the second time in my Greek life, to be an asshole to a public servant too. I started yelling at this wo-man that “they” weren’t doing “their” job and that “they” should tell me where the urologist was. She-dude stood up (he-she was as tall as me and definitely stronger) and unleashed a verbal tirade on me that’s not fit to print. I stood there, getting singed, pondering my response, when the doctor, who was laughing at the whole exchange, grabbed me by the arm and led me away, pointing me down a hallway to the urologist’s room.
Shaken and frazzled, I walked up to the door, knocked and opened it, only to get barked at by an old man in white with Coke-bottle glasses who was sitting at the desk in the room. “What do you want?” he asked. “The urologist,” I barked back. “Not now. Wait outside,” he yelled back. Still trembling from my heated exchange with the she-male nurse, I sat down as close to the door as possible, ready to fight anyone who would try to jump the line in front of me. My fellow compatriots are notorious line jumpers. I would have none of it. If I was confronted, I swear, I was going to drop my pants and whip out my massive mamba on them. Maybe the only way to confront a dick is by being a dick. Better yet, I was going to be a dick with my dick. Double whammy.
A geriatric old couple approached the door, intent on going inside. I loudly proclaimed that I was next and that the doctor was busy with someone inside. “Oh,” is all they said. They sat down next to me, serving me up a smile. Now I felt like jerk. We sat there for what must have been a half hour, the couple next to me becoming more and more impatient. The old lady asked me again if the doctor was inside, this time not waiting for my answer but opening the door by herself. She was greeted with a “come on in” by the urologist. I sprang to my feet and poked my head in the door, ready for a fight. “I was here first,” I said. “What are you waiting for?” he retorted, loudly. “You told me to wait,” I snapped back and he ushered me in, shaking his head. This guy was obviously senile. About 70 and with a curly grey hair, he had the air of a university professor. His eyes were made particularly large by his glasses, kind of like a wise fish in a bowl. He asked me where I was from, remarking that he’d detected a foreign accent on me. He then started cracking jokes that I couldn’t understand (some about Americans). He spoke very fast and garbled his words. He also spoke very loudly. He was obviously hard of hearing. He then burst out laughing, looking at me and at his younger colleague (seated in the corner of the room) for approval. The younger doctor looked normal and seemed to understand this weird old scientist. He asked me what was the problem, correcting me on all my assumptions, making me feeling like some sort of illiterate kid. “I was told I have a kee-lee,” I said. “And what gives you that impression? Do you even know what it is?” he retorted loudly. I swallowed and looked to the younger doctor for support. “Young people today think they are experts on things by reading an article on Google,” he said. “Stupidities!” he barked, glaring at me with angry eyes and a smiling mouth. “We’re all going down the drain,” he added. “Drop your pants!” he then exclaimed. Mad scientist. Jesus, what was I in for now.
As soon as my pants and boxers were at my ankles, he and his colleague looked at each other with peaked interest. “Interesting,” the mad scientist said. “Is it normally this big?” he asked. The younger doctor started pulling on his gloves. “No, I’ve got this one,” the older doctor said, forsaking the gloves. He approached me and grabbed my balls with his clammy hand, squeezing tightly. I whimper-groaned, tears welling up in my eyes. This guy had the subtlety and soft touch of an angry Godzilla. “What do you think, colleague?” he asked, practically dropping me to my knees. He had me by the balls! He didn’t wait for the younger doctor’s opinion, adding “Why am I asking you? You don’t know anything. You’re fresh out of school. A child!” The younger doctor frowned and made eye contact with me, adopting a look that implied the old timer was practically senile. Dr. Godzilla kept massaging the life out of my balls, almost making me faint from the pain. I swear, I couldn’t even get a word out I was sucking air so hard. Then, suddenly, he released his grip, smiling. I leaned against the cot, short of breath. “Like I thought,” he loudly proclaimed. “It’s a kee-lee as sure as day! You need to get an ultrasound and come see me again. We’ll get this operated on and you’ll be fit as fiddle again in no time. Two-three days tops!” He started jotting something down and handed me the paper. “Room 118, down the hall. The ultrasound man is one of your people, you’ll get along with him.” What did he mean? Was the ultrasoundist hung like Bucephalus?
I zipped myself up and wandered down the busy hall, looking for room 118. I found a white door that was cracked open. I poked my head in the dimly lit room and spotted a new ultrasound machine in the corner, by a comfortable cot. In the adjoining room a kindly balding gentleman was busy on the phone at his neat desk. The place seemed from another planet. It was so orderly, nicely decorated and calm. I almost expected to hear elevator music and see a few cocktail party guests emerging from the darkened corners of the room. I cleared my throat and the man looked up at me, waving me in with a smile. I approached and handed him my paperwork. He scanned my papers while still on the phone, standing up and pointing toward the ultrasound machine. I walked over to the machine and sat on the comfortable cot, waiting for him to finish. He wasn’t long. He approached, studying the urologist’s paper. “Should I drop my pants?” I asked, this time feeling more like feeling like Al Pacino in “Cruising.” Don’t know why. He nodded and I had to stop myself from asking “Hips or lips?” This exposing my Johnson to a bunch of strange men business was starting to take its toll on me. Mind you, this is from a guy who wears his swimming trunks at the nudist beach. I don’t think I ever want to see my pecker again. I was going to fix this baby and send it into permanent retirement! Enough is enough.
The kindly ultrasound man told me to lower my pants but not all the way, exposing first my abdomen. He greased up the little joystick thing and started scanning my stomach, asking me to recount how and what brought me here. He quickly garnered from my accent that I was of mixed origins and switched to perfect impeccable American English. After the prerequisite banter about what bizarre turn of fate had brought both of us back to the land of our struggling ancestors (family in both cases), I finally gathered up the courage to ask him what a kee-lee was. I told him I thought it was an ulcer and he chuckled. “Oh no, it’s a hernia. No big deal. Very common.” A hernia! Oh thank God! My condition finally had a name. I then asked why my boys had inflated so and explained that some fluid from the stomach oftentimes can seep into the testicle sack. Again, quite common with hernias. “Easy to drain out,” he added, motioning for me to finally bring my package out for the exam. He looked perplexed, a little uncertain. “But I’m not so sure you have a hernia,” he said, sending my heart into palpitations once again. Was he going to pronounce some other condition I’d never heard of on me, sending me scurrying to a new slate of doctors? When was this ordeal ever going to end? With a soft touch that rivaled the pathologist’s, he started scanning my boys with the greasy stick, his eyes focused on the monitor. He occasionally taped on the keyboard. I have to say that his touch with that stick felt good. Oh god, not again. I closed my eyes and thought about Dick Cheney for the second time that day. I was desperate.
“Nope!” he finally said and I exhaled, ready for anything, ready for my death sentence. Just release me from this nightmare and make it quick. Chop it off for all I care. “It’s not a hernia. You most likely have an epididymitis.” “What’s that?” I asked the blood quickly draining from my face. It sounded like the plague or ebola. An epidemic of some sort. Swine flu of the testicles? Was I terminal? “An infection, not unlike a urinary infection. Some antibiotics and you’ll be back to normal before you know it,” he said, his brow furrowing for a moment. My sense of relief was tapered by his furrowed brow. “But?” I asked, sensing he wasn’t telling me something. “You need to see the urologist to confirm this of course. But I don’t see a hernia here. Simple infection.” I almost hugged the man, who seemed touched at how relieved I was. I asked him what he thought of the urologist I’d seen and he smiled. It was his work smile. “He has his ways,” is all he said, his point not lost on me. “You’ll need to get a urologist’s approval for the antibiotics,” he added, handing me my ultrasound prints and his diagnosis. I thanked the gentleman ultrasoundist and burst out the room with my prints and paperwork. I swear, I thought about hugging everyone on the way out. Better not. Wouldn’t want others to catch my elephant penis infection. I forgot to ask whether my condition was contagious. Probably not, judging from the way I’d been manhandled all day long.
I paused by the urologist’s door, pondering my next move. Should I knock and tell him he was wrong? Should I make him prescribe me the antibiotics and wave the prescription in his face like a red flag? I decided to head right on out of the hospital, not able to deal with it anymore. I bee-lined my way back to my local IKA. They too could prescribe the antibiotics with the paperwork I had. I headed straight to the on duty urologist this time. None of this emergency pathologist and surgeon business. The place was quiet, almost deserted. End of the shift. I knocked on the door and found myself entering a simple, almost barren examination room. A seasoned Hollywood art director trying to recreate a Bulgarian clinic in the early 1950’s couldn’t do a better job. The doctor, in his 40’s, was dressed in civvies. He looked intelligent enough and was polite and to the point. I explained my case and odyssey and he sat looking at me, nodding. “Let’s have a look,” he said, pointing to the scrubbed metal cot. I dropped my pants again and exposed myself. He approached without any ceremony and grabbed my balls vigorously. I exhaled and looked at the wall. But he didn’t linger on my boys. He started prodding my abdomen. “Definitely not a hernia. If it was, I’d be able to poke my finger through here. The ultrasound man was right.” He motioned for me to buckle up and returned to his desk, quickly writing me my prescription. He explained my condition patiently, answering all my questions succinctly and to the point. If only I’d seen this doctor first. Luck of the draw, I guess. When he was done he stood up and shook my hand goodbye. “You’ll be fine,” he said without my having displayed any need for pity. “It’s a typical illness, no big deal. You’ll be fine in no time.” Finally, a serious doctor who nails it on the head. Polite, intelligent, aware, sensitive and personable.
Maybe all my evil thoughts about the system were misguided. The system had worked, albeit with some hiccups, a small truckload of stress and a bit of delay. The pathologist had sent me to the surgeon, the surgeon to the urologist and the urologist to the ultrasound man and the ultrasound man back to another urologist. Okay, it was arguably the least educated of the lot (the ultrasound man) who diagnosed me right (a picture is worth a thousand words, right?), but hey, I was diagnosed right in the end. So what if five guys grabbed me by the balls? It was worth it. I got a sneak peek of public Greek healthcare and my medical dilemma only set me back 3.50 euros (roughly $5) and gas money. In a couple of days I had a healthy small pecker once again and all for less money than a bag of peanuts. I couldn’t help but think that if this had happened to me while I still lived in the US I would probably have had to take out a bank loan to cover the costs. And god knows what the prognosis would have been? It may have taken 4 hospitals and 5 doctors (3 of which got it wrong) in Greece, but I was saved in the end. And for only five bucks. My daughter would have a righteous Christmas after all.
I’ve come to the conclusion that size does matter. Small is better. Small works. Just ask anyone. Well, ask anyone except my wife. I can’t help but dwell on that long pause on the phone when I told her that I was planning on getting my massive penis fixed.
This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.
Copyright © 2011, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.
For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.