Next stop: A hospital in Nafplio 🇬🇷
My trip to a Greek hospital in search of a cure for my fiery legs
It started with an itch and ended with a burn.
We were in Greece last month to run a trail race on Hydra––a car-free island I’ve waxed poetic about before and will continue to do so until the end of time. Despite some pre-race anxieties, we got to the island and ran the race. It was hard. Probably my most difficult physical challenge to date.
But it didn’t hold a candle to the chiggers.
My body felt remarkably fine after the race considering I had run 38 kilometers and climbed 2,000 technical, steep meters. What stuck out was the little red bump on my ankle that multiplied like trucker hats at a trail race* by the time we arrived in Nafplio the next day. My ankles were encircled with red, fiery bumps that looked like a weird tattoo choice.
(*A wildly niche joke, but it’s my newsletter.)
We went to the pharmacy where a father-son duo explained that it was likely an allergic reaction to my excessive exercise, i.e. the race. Something about sweat ducts getting clogged up, having a reaction, and itching. They gave me some antihistamine to go with the cortisone cream I already had.
Neither did a damn thing. I was ripping my socks and pants off––not just because there’s nothing sweater as an adult than disposing with your pants for the day, but because my legs were on fire. We returned to the pharmacy and were instructed to go to the hospital. Although I could’ve done without the plague that ensnared my legs, I’m grateful for the cultural experience that ensued, which I dutifully jotted down on my phone as it happened.
It’s all Greek to me
We walk around the building to find the entrance to the hospital, circling it like Melanie’s Greek Orthodox Church does with candles on Good Friday. (Thankfully, we only had to do it once instead of three times.)
There’s no signage in a second language like I might find in the US or Germany. All Greek and Greek alphabet. It is, indeed, all Greek to me.
Pause for laughter from all the dads out there.
I walk up to what appears to be some sort of reception.
“I need to see a dermatologist,” I explain without getting into the details. I hand my German ID over so they can enter my information. After a few minutes, I’m given a printed paper with my name, age, and department I’m visiting — dermatology. Another woman comes out to physically hand me the paper rather than slide it back to me underneath the plexiglass at reception. I assume this is a courtesy for the dumb tourist who can’t read Greek.
“Go down and turn left,” she says. We repeat the instructions and she nods. “Yes.”
We follow her instructions and find a hallway of green doors with signs and seats outside of them. I match the Greek for “dermatology” on my paper with a sign on the door. We sit down outside and wait.
Xeno the foreigner
I’m younger than the others waiting outside by a good 40 to 50 years. Two women are, I assume, discussing their ailments from across the room. Or angrily yelling at each other. It’s really hard to tell. All we understand is the word “xeno” or “foreigner” when an old man gestures our way.
Eventually a younger man comes by. He approaches the door and everyone erupts with what sounds like condemnation. The best we could surmise was that the older folks who’ve been waiting were chastising the younger man for trying to skip (though I have no reason to believe he was actually trying to cut).
He knocks on the door. A symphony of disgruntled sounds and arm waving breaks out. No one answers the door and he sits back down. After the commotion dies down, the door opens and he darts ahead to hand the nurse, I’m guessing, a paper that looks a lot like the one I’m hanging onto from reception. This leads us to believe… maybe we were supposed to hand my paper over? But everyone seemed furious with the guy for knocking. And we weren’t told to knock and hand my paper over. Only to go to the end of the hall and wait.
Playing the waiting game
So I continue to wait, even as it’s getting to be over an hour since we first sat down. That’s when Melanie goes to the bathroom. As soon as she’s gone, the dermatology door swings open. There’s a man in a blue sweater with glasses and this kicks off another round of arguing and arm waving that lasts for at least five minutes. An older man who’s been sitting seems to be complaining about the wait. The presumable doctor flips through a sheet of papers as if to say, “I’ve got a lot of people today.”
Nervously, with Melanie’s insistence, I stand up and hover near the doctor. Just before he closes the door, I blurt out in nervous-sweat English, “Excuse me! Am I supposed to give this to you?”
He turns around, gives me a once over, takes the paper, and closes the door behind him. I sit back down.
The line continues to grow with more people knocking on the door, nudging it open in the middle of an examination, handing their paper over, and closing the door. The line is also younger now. They’re hovering at the door as if it’s an exclusive club. I’m anxiously sitting on the sidelines. “Surely the system isn’t whoever is at the door goes… is it?”
It’s 90 minutes since we’ve arrived and I still have little idea of what’s going on.
It’s a chigger
Fortunately I’m not standing at the door for too long before the nurse comes back out. She calls out a name, looks around, and moves on to the next one. Deserters, I presume, who got tired of waiting. It’s not that I enjoyed the wait, but sitting still at the hospital meant neither my socks nor pants were aggravating my polka dot red legs.
Finally two or three syllables slipped out of her mouth that sounded enough like my name and I dart into the office. The doctor doesn’t speak much English, but he’s friendly and we make it work with a mix of visuals, slow talking, and Google Translate. He matches up my red bumps with his photo in his, for lack of a better term, doctor book. It looks like a textbook given to med students in the 1980s complete with glossy drawings of the different ailments. In my case, he pointed to a comparable image of a person covered in itchy bumps next to a rendering of some monstrous-looking bug.
It’s a chigger.
He prescribes some extra strong cortisone cream and gives me a spray that… I honestly don’t remember what it was supposed to do. Neither did anything anyway despite my diligent application.
But after returning to the original pharmacy with my prescription, we were assured that we saw a great doctor and were lucky to get him. I don’t doubt it, even if those damn bumps stuck with me for the rest of the trip and even came home to Berlin with me––albeit much more manageable than those initial hellish nights in Nafplio.
I was on a bit of a roll for a couple of weeks with new stories getting published left and right. Yay for me! Consume them at your leisure by following the bullet points below.
Vegetarian Gefilte Fish - Food52
Forget Oktoberfest, German wine country is where it’s at - Glug
This Bread Is Beloved in Paris—& a Relic of Jewish History - Food52
Montreal’s Incredible Jewish Food Is the Star of This New Film - The Nosher
What is Jewish Food? - Whetstone Magazine
From Nigeria to Kyiv to a Hillel in Berlin: The long, strange journey for 2 students fleeing the Ukraine war - JTA
Malta’s Favorite Pastry - Smart Mouth
The trip, the trail race that made the trip to the Greek hospital possible.
Ich habe mit einem Besuch in einem griechischen Krankenhaus auch meine Erfahrung. Mit dem Unterschied, dass ein Gynäkologe meine Ohren behandelt hat, er aber sehr gut Englisch sprach
Chiggers sounds like it must have been a most excruciating experience. From the sounds of it, I wouldn't wish chiggers nor poison ivy on my worse enemy. Hopefully it's all cleared up by now. Congratulation on running and finishing the race. Always great to read your posts. Thank you