A medical certificate

I send weekly emails to my friends and family back home. Sometimes I am going to post them here. They have been edited to ensure that certain private details never see the light of day!

“Your blood pressure is excellent,” the doctor told me. Then, slowly turning to look knowingly into my eyes, she said “It’s truly excellent.”

I felt I had to say something, something to acknowledge the “truly excellent” state of my cardiovascular system.

“Thanks” I said.

I knew immediately that I had blown it. I should have led with something about my diet (all plants all the time), or the fact I run (an activity that I do not actually enjoy, I should add; I only do it out of some weird duty to future me and their health). I could have talked about how not driving means I get to walk everywhere, or the benefits of have spent most of my life living beside the sea. Almost anything would have been a more meaningful contribution than “Thanks.”

Or I could have invented some rationale for the supreme pressure of my bloods. She knew nothing of me, and would probably never see me again. I could have told tales of scaling the Southern Alps using only my teeth, or how those of us descended from the Merovingian dynasty have characteristically good hearts. I was the only deep sea driver who didn’t need to get acclimatised before descended 50,000 fathoms; the first person to parasail in the upper atmosphere without a suit.

Instead, I said “Thanks.”

The why of my mundane response is, of course, obvious; my excellent blood pressure not the result of careful work but, rather, something that just happens to be the case (and vis also the product of certain genetic luck). In that moment I wasn’t sure how I was meant to respond to compliments about something I had never gone out of my way to achieve. Indeed, I was reminded of the time someone complimented me on my curls; my immediate response was to say “Thanks; I grew them myself.”

Now, those of you concerned for my well-being will doubtlessly be asking “But why were you seeing a doctor in the first place?” The answer, as always in Romania, is bureaucratic. To get my residency permit I needed to be given a clear bill of health, and a medical certificate from Aotearoa New Zealand apparently would not cut it.

When I last applied for a residency permit I was taken to the University of Bucharest’s medical clinic (which are called “cabinets”) where after five minutes of Iulia (the administrator of the ICUB) talking with the GP I was given a medical certificate. At no point did the doctor talk to me, and I’m fairly sure she didn’t even look at me; despite the fact the meeting was all about my health (and the potential for me to being new and exotic diseases into Romania), I was the one person who didn’t need to be there. So, I was surprised that my new GP (who I suspect, and hope, I will never see again[1]) was so keen to give me the once over. Especially since the entire consultation was unnecessary; after being congratulated on being in such fine health I was sent downstairs to fetch the already filled out medical certificate.

It was fated that I was going to get a clean bill of health no matter the state of my heart (and its associated blood pressures).

On the drive back to the NEC I wondered what would have happened had the doctor found something wrong with me. Would the certificate have been revoked? Would they hush up my frail state? Would I simply disappear into the Romanian medical system, never to be heard of again?

But then I realised that if it was determined that I would be in peak physical condition, maybe the doctor had lied to me. She had, after all, never shown me the results of the blood pressure test, and she had lingered when listening to my lungs. I thought that perhaps she was entranced by the slow, steady movement of them, but maybe she had heard some small murmur which indicated trouble to come.

Sitting in the back of the taxi, I could feel the pressure around my temples increasing. I felt sick. My legs no longer seemed capable of carrying my weight. My back had a curious ache. I stared blearily at the medical certificate in my hand, trying to decipher the doctor’s scrawl, but it was no good. Aside from the terrible handwriting it was also written in Romanian, and I had no idea what it said.

My mortality was imminent. I only had another sixty years to live.

What a waste.

  1. Not because I did not like the GP, nor because I thought she was in anyway incompetent; I just hope I do not need any medical advice or services in the near future. And because if I happen to need some medical procedure, Romania’s health system is not exactly well-regarded. I mean, three years ago they had a crisis where it turned out that the medical supplies company that provided surgical grade bleach for hospitals (used to disinfect instruments) was watering down the bleach to the point that people were dying due to infections caused by inadequately disinfected surgical instruments…

Spring has sprung

I send weekly emails to my friends and family back home. Sometimes I am going to post them here. They have been edited to ensure that certain private details never see the light of day!

Spring has sprung.

That cliched phrase is one which does not make any obvious sense in Aotearoa; the signs of spring back home are subtle and gradual; the temperature rises, the sky looks bluer, and people start wearing shorts. But in Bucharest spring means that one day trees have no leaves, but the next day they do.

For those of us who have mostly lived with evergreens, winters in the northern hemisphere are stark. The grey skies combined with a general lack of foliage is alien and therefore disconcerting. But spring here is just as weird, because it is all too sudden. Part of that is due to climate change; it is not uncommon these days for Bucharest, as winter ends and spring begins, to see a change in temperature of ten or fifteen degrees in one day, something which did not happen even ten years ago. A decade ago spring was a slow process, but now Bucarestis (and, my extension, myself) live in a place where it is minus seven one day, and positive twelve the next.

But more startling than that are the aforementioned trees, because waking up to trees with leaves that had no leaves the previous day is weird, and makes you think you have slipped through time. Or, in my case, make you almost spill your coffee when looking out your kitchen window.

A word about coffee in Romania: it’s not very good.

Well, that’s four words, but they are considered and polite.

Unlike the coffee.

I spent a lot of time on my last trip being very snobbish about coffee, because coffee snobbery is one of our national sports (as is making fun of Australians, binge drinking, and ignoring systemic racism and sexism in our society). This time I decided to bite the bullet and not bring all my fancy coffee making equipment with me, including my hand coffee grinder. I now now consider to be a mistake, even though the only way to have rectified that mistake would have been to purchase extra luggage for the flight.

The issues are these: ground coffee here is a) not great and b) not all that fresh.

The first issue can be skirted. I could spend more and buy better coffee, although my experience of even the best ground coffee here pales in comparison to what we can buy at reasonable prices in supermarkets back home. My theory about coffee in Europe (including Italy) is that coffee roasters go for one flavour profile; either they roast for spiciness, or chocolate-iness, or smokiness, but never more than one flavour. Back home we like a coffee with a complex profile, and I think that is part of what makes our coffee so well-appreciated worldwide.

The second issue can also be skirted, but it requires a bit more work. A lot of goods which make it to supermarkets in Romania are at the tail end of their lifetime. Romania is a poor country; the average monthly wage is about €230 (I earn almost three times that, which makes me rich in Romanian terms but still impoverished as soon as I leave the country) and so, to keep the cost of foreign goods down (particularly food), some imports are end of runs and the like. An awful lot of the imported coffee is closer to its use-by date than you would expect, and this results in it being both a bit stale and probably means it has been transported across several borders before arriving in Romania (thus increasing the likelihood of it having been refrigerated several times over, dulling its taste).

Actually, there is a final note to this digression on coffee; cheap, no brand coffee grinds. I decided to test a bag of 5 lei (NZD1.80) coffee the other day. If coffee flavouring is the cousin to the taste of proper coffee, that particular bag of coffee was the distant cousin of a friend’s acquaintance to the taste of coffee flavouring. I somewhat marvelled at that bag of coffee, because someone had to have quite deliberately taken all the worst coffee beans they could find from a batch, then over roast them, then overgrind them (in order to burn the beans a second time) and then package said grinds in a bag. The effort required to produce such terrible coffee shows such a dedication to craft that I almost feel there should be some reward for the poor fool who—by dint of personal evil or corporate mandate—was responsible for my thinking “Well, the coffee’s bad but at least that tree is doing alright.”

It’s the little things.