Madre mía! Spanish A&E is a parallel universe

Conor Pope: A trampoline accident allowed me to measure their service against Ireland’s

Trampoline folly: What goes up, must come down. Photograph: iStock

Trampoline folly: What goes up, must come down. Photograph: iStock

 

The plan was to stop for an ice-cream before strolling down to the beach for a pre-lunch paddle. And it was all going swimmingly until, in an unfortunate Sliding Doors moment, I suggested we turn left instead of heading straight down towards the sea.

My random diversion took us past a newly installed trampoline on the Spanish campsite where we were staying. Obviously, my children wanted a go. Less obviously, so did my better half. Well, she didn’t necessarily want a go but was easily convinced by excited children and her lesser half.

Less than 90 seconds and four bounces into her very first trampolining experience she was hanging on to the contraption’s side netting with a bulge the size of an orange – and the colour of a plum – on her left foot.

Although I binge-watched the entire series of House last year and I’ve seen my fair share of ER and Gray’s Anatomy, I’m not actually a qualified medical practitioner, but I still felt sufficiently up to speed on such matters to diagnose her foot as being “completely f***ed”.

Top tip: if you ever find yourself helping an adult with a broken foot off a trampoline in the punishing heat of the Spanish midday sun while two children bounce around you, oblivious, phrases such as “completely f***ed are unhelpful and best avoided.

Eventually we dismounted and found a bench overlooking a nearby swimming pool. I went in search of help, and a lifeguard was on the scene in seconds. He took one look at the foot, drew his breath in sharply and whistled as he quietly murmured “Madre mía” to himself. This is – I think – the Spanish equivalent of “completely f***ed”. In truth, it’s not much more helpful.

Curses and whistles

As I cursed and the lifeguard whistled, the blood drained from my better half’s face. Now that’s a cliche I’ve read countless times and one I’ve probably written dozens of times, but this was the first time I saw it happening for real. The pain, the heat and the sight of an inappropriately bulging foot had sent her spiralling into shock, turning her cheeks white and her lips almost blue.

In between concerned whistles, the lifeguard called a taxi, which brought five of us – ranging in age from just over six months to troublingly close to 50 – to a hospital nearby. Being familiar with A&Es in Ireland, I was dreading the experience not least because it was 3pm and no one in our glum party had had lunch – or even the promised ice-cream.

I figured we would – best-case scenario – be in hospital for five or six hours. And as it was a Saturday, the place would probably be understaffed and overcrowded – just like home – so the wait could be longer. I tried to come up with ways I could feed my family and keep them safe from the aggressively drunk men who would inevitably be found throwing up in the hospital waiting room – just like home.

No place like home

I soon realised this place was no place like home. We hobbled through the hospital’s sliding doors and were confronted by complete silence and a deserted waiting room. There was nobody waiting to be seen. Suspicious, I went to the admissions desk. Using Spanish that was once good and hand gestures that never were, I asked for help.

There was sympathetic tutting and whistling from the other side of the desk as I was asked for my better half’s health card. Now here’s the thing. I’ve spent years lecturing the nation about the importance of bringing a European Health Insurance Card on holiday. With it you will be treated like a citizen of wherever you find yourself within the EU and will be taken care of in the public system at no cost. Without it you are on your own.

So, of course, I didn’t bring them. I thought about all our cards, enjoying the Dublin sunshine as I explained to the woman at the admissions desk that – while we were European citizens – we’d no way to prove it. She whistled some more and said she’d have to charge us. I nervously asked how much and she said €120, which is what we’d have had to pay at home, with or without the card.

Less than 90 seconds after we were registered, my better half was in triage and less than 90 minutes after that we were being discharged, fully bandaged. I marvelled at the Spanish efficiency and wondered why we continue to accept an underfunded, understaffed emergency system in which endless waits in hostile environments are considered the norm.

As we were being wheeled to the door, I asked the nurse about a crutch. She looked at me with befuddlement in her eyes. I mimed a crutch. “Oh, una muleta,” she said delighted to have won our impromptu game of charades. “No, we don’t have”. Ah well, you can’t have everything, I thought, as our little party hopped out of the hospital and went in search of something to eat.

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