Is there a doctor in the house?

The Polish state healthcare service hasn’t had a great press… so KrakówPolska sent not so undercover ex-pat David McGirr (involuntarily) to check out what really goes on in a city hospital. What he discovered was a lot of first class people doing a first class job with very little money; not to mention some rather unusual experiences.

This is his report…

Day 1

Well, today must rank as the worst day since I arrived here in Krakow.

First of all, my scheduled 8am appointment at hospital ended in a wait in various corridors until around midday. My frustration was subdued somewhat when I learned the reason for the delay, the guy in the wee 4 bed ward I was being admitted to died as I was being admitted!!!  He was only 30 apparently and was just admitted last night 😦

As I waited outside the room, he was wheeled out and 5 minutes later I was ushered in …. to the bed he had just vacated. Good job I am not squeamish or over sensitive. Hopefully I don’t leave on a covered trolley! I had wondered what the alarm and flashing lights were as I was signing in.

On the subject of signing in, this consisted of the usual set of questions re next of kin, and medical history along the lines of, have you ever suffered from x, y and z over the last 12 months?, to which the answers was largely no, until it came to the question, have you ever had a haircut in the last 12 months?, I was forced to admit I had, should I be ashamed?, Would this affect my health or have a bearing on my treatment?

The next question, ‘did I want to see a priest?’, struck me as being peculiarly Polish and was much easier to answer.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there then followed a few hours of being poked, prodded, probed, injected, measured, weighed, drained of blood, wired up, x-rayed, scanned. The low point of which culminated in the worst endoscopy, I have ever had the pleasure of suffering, it was horrible, long, and they took half a dozen chunks out of my innards for good measure. What a day.   More of the same tomorrow.

Day 2
Our relatively quiet ward has been joined today by a guy with one leg.
What he loses in ambulatory mobility he more than makes up for in talking. Non-stop, to anyone,  to everyone,  to no one. The only time he stops talking is when he makes one of his regular 15 minute phone calls, then he SHOUTS, at the top of his voice, rendering the phone itself redundant.

I was forced to escape, to the cafe opposite for a well deserved coffee and cake, I will just pretend I didn’t understand the doctors explicit instruction that it was forbidden to leave the hospital;-) On my return they broke the news that I may be in until Monday or Tuesday, Nooooo, please no.
I tried hard to negotiate a day release over the weekend, alas to no avail, the powers that be were having none of it. On the plus side, the doctors are very pleasant, and my doctor, Pani Doktor Monika is absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, she is not on over the weekend….I asked 😉

 Day 3

Well, I survived the night.

It struck me that hospital is a little bit like camping. People go to sleep when it gets dark and wake at first light, irrespective of the time.

As I was lying sleeping I became aware of someone touching my arm, strange dream I thought, but let’s go with it.

I quickly realised that the tourniquet and alcohol swab being applied to my arm were not the experiences of which dreams are made. As I came to, I turned around and squinted, bleary eyed, just as a mute nurse was sliding the needle into my arm.

Not a word spoken, no attempt to wake me from my slumber. Christ, even Dracula introduces himself first before sucking the blood from you!

I smiled, she didn’t
Then we both carried on as normal, as if being awoken by a nurse helping herself to a blood sample was a daily occurrence. I truly hope that one day soon the poor unfortunate nurse recovers the power of speech, the smile can wait.

I then looked at my arm where she had removed the plaster from yesterday’s blood sample (a rather pleasant chatty experience by comparison) .  I saw that, judging by the bruise, yesterday’s blood sample had been obtained by use of a pneumatic jack hammer borrowed from the squad working on the road outside.

All around me people are sleeping as if in some kind of suspended animation state. Oh, and did I mention that every time I move or breath my bed squeaks and groans as if it were auditioning for a part in a haunted house movie?
Looking forward to breakfast and what I am sure will be forever known as Fun Friday in
Szpital specjalistyczny im. Jozef Dietla w Krakowie.
Still, mustn’t grumble 🙂


OK, so far my updates, mini-blog, about my first experiences as an in-patient in a Polish hospital, have been, absolutely true, but very much tongue in cheek with a dollop of humour, as much to alleviate my boredom as anything else. I really have no intention of offending or disrespecting anyone in the medical/nursing profession, I know that they are every bit as, if not more, professional, dedicated and hard working here in Poland as they would be anywhere, that is very obvious. Indeed to even consider it may be different here does a disservice to the medical staff who have been excellent.
I am merely a curious observer

The story continues…
Having just returned from my first test of the day I was struck by how much the public health service here, as compared to private health services, has suffered from a lack of funding and investment.
I entered the examination room and was surprised to see the consultant was a lady who looked to be almost 80 years of age, her assistant appeared to be a young whippersnapper in her late 60’s. The consultant was making, wonderfully neat, handwritten notes in longhand, on a piece of paper which looks like it was torn from a scrapbook. Her assistant was also scribbling in what looked like a school kids jotter. All of the equipment/utensils looked like they belonged in a medical museum , (it would be unkind to say that the two ladies would not be out of place in such an establishment also).
Not a computer or electronic gadget in sight, I got the impression my results would be sent by telegraph rather than by email! They were using an old paraffin burner to heat one of utensils, before using a swab to literally grab my tongue and then shove this thing down my throat as far as it would go, then expect me to say bloody Ahhh!
There then followed a hearing test. No sealed booth with headphones playing high pitched tones at various frequencies, I nearly fell off the chair when she covered one ear then turned away from me and whispered various numbers in Polish at decreasing volume until I couldn’t repeat them. It had a sort of Monty Pythonesque feel of part hearing test, part Polish lesson.
The most low tech hearing test I have ever had, but joking aside, this was with a specialist, not some quack or busy GP. I was gobsmacked. Not at all doubting their professional competence, just didn’t expect to walk into the scene which greeted me, a medical timewarp.

Sadly despite the best efforts of everyone who works here, this demonstrated to me the huge gulf, not so much between Poland and the UK, it would be wrong and unfair, perhaps even conceited, to make such a comparison, but the gulf between private and public state funded health care here in Poland. I really hope that things change quickly for the sake of the majority who cannot afford to make the choice between the two.


The staff have been great.  I have had access to a whole range of very thorough tests which would have taken many, many months in the UK. The surroundings and fabric of the building may be dated, but everything else is first class.

SciFi Skype

I am missing Joanna and the boys. I was chatting to Jas on the phone, he wanted to show me his latest lego creation, and when I told him I couldn’t see it on the phone, he said “why don’t you skype me dad”.

The boys a genius, what a great idea, why didn’t we think of that. As Joanna said, when we were 5, video calls only happened in Sci-Fi movies.

Benny Hill

Classic…. The old guy opposite’s phone has just rang and his ringtone was the Benny Hill theme tune. Fantastic. You couldn’t make it up.

I wonder if Benny Hill reached 70’ish year old Poles?  (I have since been enlightened that the comic wonder Benny Hill was actually really popular here in Poland in the 70’s, whoever said culture never crossed the Iron Curtain)

They do say that adding the Benny Hill theme to any situation makes it funny, how true.

First time I’ve laughed since arriving here.


Look out Rodger, we’ve been jolly well rumbled!!

Yesterday’s escape went like clockwork. Managed to sneak past the guards, sorry nurses, wearing my PJ’s with a change of clothes and fake ID hidden under my towel.

The rolled up pillow under my bedcover seemed to do the trick.

A quick dash out the back door and I melted into the crowd on Krupnicza. I managed to hitch a lift from a local peasant, (thanks Joanna) then it was off to Richard’s spiffing Croquet party where we had an absolute wheeze.

I managed to sneak back in under cover of darkness, avoiding the search lights.

My few hours ‘on the outside’ gave me a taste of freedom and buoyed by my success, I plotted my next escapade, which would go down in folklore, as the Great (Sunday Lunch) Escape.

Day 4

As dawn broke, I was awoken by the howls of the guard dogs.

I prepared my escape kit and followed my usual routine to avoid any suspicions. The guards, I mean nurses, looked more edgy today, perhaps they suspected?  Maybe Ivan the Ukrainian in Room 262 had given the game away.

I wasn’t to be deterred; after all it’s ones duty to escape.

The moment came, I checked the local transport schedule and reckoned I could just make the 11am tram 8 from Bagatella to Borek. I steeled myself, and mentioned in the passing to the commandant, Dr No, that I was just nipping downstairs, casually adding, ” I may be a while”….

“Remember”, she said, fixing me with a cold stare, “you mustn’t go outside”.  Outwardly I smiled, inside my heart froze, did she know?, was she testing me?

I resolved to go, I had to make a break for it, it was now or never.

I descended the stairs and changed from my PJ’s into my outdoor clothes. The security on the door nodded as I left the building…………I’m out, I did it again –  3 days in a row, I had escaped !!!
I took the tram, I had to blend in with the other passengers on the tram,  should be simple enough, just remember no smiling, no talking to anyone.  I made it to Borek and was picked up by my local guide, we headed to the safe house in Kliny.

I was just relaxing after building a lego space station for the child of the house when we were interrupted by the telephone… ‘unknown number’ flashing on the screen.

Oh no, this is it, Joanna answered, straight away she looked at me, the game was up, Dr No had ordered a search of my room and discovered the pillows in the bed were not me.

She was not happy, to say the least, she gave me 20 minutes to get back otherwise there would be repercussions, impossible said Joanna, he hasn’t had his pork cutlet with apple sauce yet! Even a condemned man deserves a last meal.

All right agreed, Dr No, but he has to be back by 1540 or the Police will come looking for him…. We had a deal, or was it a double cross ?

I quickly scoffed my Pork Sunday Lunch and we headed back to meet our fate.

I returned to my cell, I mean room, and acted as normal, I sent Joanna to face the music in the interrogation room, I had suddenly become less brave.
After about 10 minutes being pumped thoroughly in the debriefing room, (apologies to Blackadder) Joanna returned, we were accused of being `Panstwo Kombinatur`, (a kind of Polish term for someone who does everything to flout or twist the rules, a kind ofArthur Daley or Del Trotter character) and we would hear nothing more of it as long as I gave my assurance there would be no more escape attempts.

Apparently I was rumbled by the kitchen staff who noticed that the pillows propped up in my bed hadn’t eaten their lunch. The kitchen porter then snitched on me to Dr No…

And so I am writing this letter in the hope that I can smuggle it out to let people on the outside know that I am alive and well, only one more night in here before my release tomorrow.

Sorry have to dash, just fixing the wings to the glider, make sure the landing strip is prepared………….

Day 5
Breakfast. Almost…

Ah breakfasts is served, apparently?

It arrived 10 minutes ago, I kept waiting for her to bring the rest of it, alas to no avail.

4 slices of dry bread, a dod of butter the size of a pencil sharpener along with a dollop of jam clearly constitutes a healthy, hearty breakfast in this fine establishment.
Best tuck in.

 Dark Corridors

Bored. This corridor was a hive of activity today.

Dozens of white coats rushing around, apparently not doing anything, but I am certain they were dong a hell of a lot and working damn hard. Look at it now, quite a contrast from the frenetic activity earlier.

All I can hear is the mad lady in the next room roaring for her husband/son and her weary room mates telling her to shut up!

Parallel Paths

On the left, my refuge, the coffee shop opposite the hospital.

On the right, the undertakers.

My parallel journey with the previous occupant of my bed in room 261 continues.
We both left the ward and crossed the road ending up next door to each other.

Hopefully this is as far as we go together ! RIP


Room 261, like Room 101 – but scarier !

The view from my bed on Room 261, and sadly the last thing the previous occupant ever saw. RIP

Hospital Food

Hospital food, Polish style.

My tastebuds were tantalised in anticipation when I saw the red splurge on the plate

Was it a roast pepper, luscious tomato or hot chilli to compensate for the limp lettuce and plastic spam.

Sadly no…. It was nothing more than a design on the plate.

The Oriental takeaway below my window is beckoning….


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