Friday, July 31, 2009

The mammogram chronicles - part 9: All's well that ends well?

(I never finished my mammogram story because I'm so disgusted with the entire episode I’m too disillusioned even to complain. But for the record, here's a rundown of my final visit.)

I showed up on time for my ten o’clock appointment on May 25. I took a queue number and sat down. After ten minutes, I was able to sign in and take care of the SEK 300 (USD 40) co-payment. I had hit the co-payment limit (SEK 900 per year) so I qualified for free health care for one year. The receptionist made me a validation card and I sat down to wait again.

At 10:25, I reminded the receptionist I was waiting. She said she would check on it. At 10:35, I went back to the receptionist and asked what the delay was and said I had been waiting for 35 minutes. She said I was mistaken about the time – my appointment was for 10:30. (She tells me now?) I showed her my appointment confirmation sheet that clearly said 10:00. As we were discussing the matter, a nurse came out and called my name.

But now I was very annoyed and decided to make trouble. I pointed out that if patients have to wait more than 20 minutes for an appointment they are entitled to free care (i.e. no co-payment) even though this meant I would lose my “free care for a year” card. Now she had to invalidate my card and reprocess me while both the nurse and I waited. The nurse was getting impatient and I was maliciously gleeful about causing extra delay.

As the nurse and I walked back into the examination area – it was now 10:40 – I told her about the mix-up in appointment times. She said tersely, "We are responsible for appointment times, not the front desk," and acknowledged they were running late. As an afterthought she offered a brief apology, but no explanation, for the delay.

I waited five minutes in the examination room. A frazzled-looking doctor walked in. She reported that the mammogram was normal. I sat and she looked at both breasts. She quickly ran her hand along the side of one and said everything was fine. I asked about the cause of the pain. She said no one knows why women get breast pain (not a word about fibroid tissue), that it was nothing to be concerned about, and if I had a lot of pain she could prescribe something. I declined. Visit over. Five minutes.

And that concludes "specialist" breast care in Västmanland!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Please be "seated"

What do Italians have against toilet seats?

In fairness to Italians, I first encountered the seatless toilet in Greece 30 years ago. I haven’t been to Greece since then, but I have been to Italy several times and I see that the tradition lives on.

So what gives?

About three years ago, we were in Rome and my then eight-year old daughter needed to use the toilet at The Forum. We entered the public restroom and my daughter looked at me in dismay, “What do I do, Mom?” It was a bare, seatless toilet bowl with a thin, uncomfortable, dirty rim. “You balance, honey,” I answered.

Having grown up in the United States where toilets are designed for comfort, I know a good toilet seat when I see one. I am not unfamiliar with hole-in-the-floor toilets either. But a seatless toilet is the worst of all worlds. Either seated comfortably or squatting low is much easier than a precarious half-balance on one’s haunches when “taking care of business” (not to mention the danger of mid-air spray; women do not pee in a thin, tidy stream).

And it isn’t just public restrooms. Our hotel room in Rome had been retroactively equipped with a roundish seat that didn’t quite fit the squarish bowl. And just two weeks ago, our hotel room in Pisa had an ill-fitting seat that was also broken. You had to bear right as you sat to avoid slipping and sliding and ending up on the rim.

A friend theorizes that Italians don’t want to bother cleaning toilet seats. Perhaps she’s right. But that doesn’t explain why the seats on toilets that have them fit so badly. It’s a nuisance, not to mention sexist, to provide toilets without seats or ill-fitting ones.

So why do Italian women and apparently those of other southern European cultures put up with this? Is there a secret or a way to use seatless toilets that I’m missing?

Ironically, in Roman times, public toilets were a place for leisurely socializing. They were often built with ten or more "holes" for group communing!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This bird doesn't "tweet"

I’m not sold on the concept. I think it’s a fad that will fade as soon as the hype settles down – we’ll see.

I “get” Facebook, Linked In, etc. The concepts make sense to me. Aside from the social aspect of Facebook, they’re just huge “yellow pages” or business directories for people with the added benefit of references, i.e. friends of friends who can facilitate introductions.

I’m not a techy person so I’m always resistant to new technology – just one more necessary evil I have to master.

But Twitter seems simply like high-speed marketing or promo-hype. I can see how it benefits movie stars and public figures who constantly need to be in the limelight. And I understand it can be a method for spreading the word quickly about a new product or program or seminar, people for whom having the newest and trendiest is an important part of their profile.

But as a medium for spreading the word about “basic” or “thoughtful” products and services, I don’t really get it. Those just take time to build a following and there are better methods for doing that. I wouldn’t buy or do something just because someone hyped it on Twitter. I’d still need to investigate it before I put my money down. Perhaps I’m just old-fashioned!

It’s true that I may not have heard of the product if it hadn’t been pushed on Twitter, but this would suggest the danger of Twitter overload or Twitter spam where everyone is hyping everything and valuable messages get lost in the noise. It’s kind of like the specialty groups on Linked In. There’s good information there, but you also have to wade through a lot of junk.

I also don’t get the concept of “ghost” bloggers. I realize there have been ghost writers for people who want to get their message out but are not good writers. But a “ghost” blogger seems a contradiction in terms. As I understand it, blogs are the musings of their authors. But famous people or companies who hire ghost bloggers – that’s just another form of advertising. It’s no longer the voice of the author. It’s more a forum on a particular subject and not really a blog. To call it a blog is false advertising in my book.

What do you think?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Surströmming - a wedding guest I'd rather forget!

(A friend recently asked me about surströmming. She had encountered it at my wedding 16 years ago. Here’s the story.)

My Swedish husband and I decided to get married in the U.S. I had heard about surströmming (literal translation - sour herring) and thought it would be fun to bring a couple cans of it to the U.S. as a joke to eat during at a post-wedding picnic at my sister's house. It's actually fermented herring.

Although my husband and I had never eaten it, he thought it was a bad idea to bring it to a wedding(!), but since it was an informal, outdoor picnic, I wasn't too concerned. I bought two cans to bring with us. Since I had heard that the cans can "explode," I put them in a plastic bag just in case they leaked. I took them with us on the plane. Luckily, no problems.

When we got to the U.S., we were curious if you could buy surströmming there and went to the Swedish specialty store in Minneapolis and asked if they sold it. They said they were not allowed to either import and or sell it because it was classified by the U.S. government as "rotten" food, and it's against the law to import rotten food.

Since we had heard that the cans can explode, no one wanted to open it at the picnic. A friend was brave enough to try. When he punctured the can, a small stream of juice shot out, nothing too amazing, but, oh, the smell.....!!! If those cans had leaked on the airplane, I swear the other passengers would have thrown me off in mid-air, and what a demand there would have been for sick bags!

(A few years later, I was working at a high school in Sweden. It was mid-August, prime surströmming season, and the students hadn’t returned yet. We were temporarily located in an old school building while the regular building was being remodeled. One day, I smelled a very foul odor in the halls. I thought there must be sewer problems. I later found out that someone had been eating surströmming! The odor is that foul and that strong!)

Surströmming is supposed to be eaten with onions and potatoes. Only a couple people at the wedding dared taste it. It's slimy going down and best swallowed quickly! My husband and I both tried it. Hours later, you could still feel the sensation of it in your throat and the aftertaste, kind of a continual mild burping. It is truly revolting stuff.

My sister took what was left of the surströmming and threw it in the trash can in her hot, mid-July garage. She said when she went out the next day, the garage reeked and there were flies buzzing everywhere. She said it was awful. So she retrieved the surströmming and buried it in her backyard!

I have had nothing to do with surströmming ever since!