Monday, August 30, 2010

The joys of private medicine

My excuse for not having written anything for a while is that I was disappointingly let down by my body. I have been suffering from a collection of those annoying symptoms which impact considerably on your daily life but which never actually coalesce into anything sufficiently tangible to take to the doctor; palpitations, headaches, dizzy spells, difficulty focussing. However, after spending a week waiting for my first heart attack to arrive and realising that my usual medication of repeating the mantra, "it's fine" whenever asked was not working for once, I decided to go and seek a professional opinion.

Seeing a doctor in Brazil is slightly different from going to your local GP in the UK. Here you just go straight to the specialist, so you can be registered with any number of doctors all at the same time, depending on which of your ailments you're currently most concerned about. We'd already been told by pretty much every Briton we'd spoken to that the place to go for medical treatment was "The Einstein" so I thought I'd give it a go.

The Einstein, or to give it its proper name, Sociedade Beneficente Israelita Brasileira Albert Einstein, is actually a huge medical centre and hospital - not quite on the scale of Addenbrooke's, but pretty impressive nonetheless. They even have a section on their website for international patients, so I confidently phoned the number given and set off on the road to recovery. "What sort of doctor do you need?" was the first hurdle that floored me. "One that deals with symptoms that vanish as soon as I come anywhere near a hospital" didn't seem to be on their list, so I opted for "a general check-up" and let them sort it out.

I'm a child of the NHS. Usually when I go and see a doctor I spend my ten minutes apologising for wasting their time as my previously life-threatening symptoms miraculously cleared themselves up during the two weeks between making the appointment and actually getting it. The doctor then congratulates themselves on a job well done and tells me to come back if the symptoms do. But out here in Brazil I'm entitled to private medical treatment (thank you the Economist) and it's a whole new ball game. Did I want to come in that afternoon? Or tomorrow if it was more convenient. Whatever was best for me. Best for me? Wow!

So this is what happens when money is no object:
I arrived and explained that I didn't speak portuguese but that I was there to see Dr Dan (really, that's what I was told). I was then escorted all the way through the building from the wrong entrance where I'd arrived to Dr Dan's secretary, who made a note of my name and showed me to the very nice waiting room which I wasn't allowed to enjoy for more than a couple of minutes before I was escorted through to Dr Dan's other secretary, who escorted me into Dr Dan's office.

Dr Dan turned out to be the magnificently monikered Dr Dankwart Ulrich Hans Bocking Schreen. I can see why he sticks with Dan. Anyway, Dr Dan spent fifteen minutes listening to me complain about myself and taking a few notes. Then, he gave me a check-up, and then just to be on the safe side, an ECG. Then he sent me downstairs for some more stuff. At this point I was introduced to the lovely Michelle who was smartly dressed, very polite and, most importantly, bilingual. Michelle then accompanied me for the rest of my visit, guiding me through all the complexities of sorting out payment, then escorting me down to where I was given an ultrasound scan, then on to where I was given another ECG and finally hooked up to a portable ECG machine I was to wear for 24 hours. Finally, she booked me a taxi and made sure I got to the correct exit. All in English.

Needless to say, my symptoms all but vanished for the following 24 hours, only to resurface once the machine was no longer clamped to my chest. However, Dr Dan seemed to think it was most likely to be stress related and a bit of relaxing would probably help - I should be able to manage that - but sadly I've discovered it's much better if I don't drink coffee, so right now I'm swapping palpitations for caffeine-withdrawal headaches. Ah well, can't win 'em all I guess.

No photos this time as I didn't take my camera to the hospital and you certainly don't want to see pictures of my pale chest covered in suction-cup marks. Really.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Finally, the boys are back at school...

...and what a relief it is for all of us - especially them. We've been here in São Paulo for just over three weeks now and although Helen and I have been so busy we haven't really had time to stop and catch our breath, for the boys it's been a long dull period of being stuck inside the house with very few toys, cartoons they can't understand and snappy parents. Except for those wonderful trips out when said snappy parents have dragged them off to the supermarket, or the uniform outfitters, or the bank, etc.

Actually, it hasn't been quite that bad. There is plenty of English language TV, there's an iPad crammed with games that rarely seems to get turned off, and a lovely little play area in the local park just a few minutes walk from the house - and I've even taken them there on more than one occasion!

It's a little babyish for James, but sometimes he manages to convert the stepping stones into an assault course, or the swing into a battering ram. And sometimes he likes to take the opportunity to play at being one of the grown ups and we'll sit and chat about one of the more important topics of the day... health, crime, or why Hitler should never have tried to invade Russia or the factors which led to the collapse of the Roman Empire. David, meanwhile, will have found someone to flirt with, language apparently being no barrier when you're pretending to be a train!

But park or no park, both boys have been desperate to finally get out the house and go to school. It was James' first day yesterday and I think Helen and I were more nervous than he was, bombarding him with a constant stream of advice and explanation. Honestly, we needn't have bothered. At the end of the day I was treated to a blow-by-blow account of the day and all its wonders; the new friends he'd made and the games he'd played and the lunch he'd eaten and the teachers he'd met and the maths quiz he'd won a chocolate treat for and the homework he'd got and the instructions he'd been given that he didn't quite understand, and "this is my friend Nour and can I go round to his house to play tonight?"

I think we can say he settled in ok.

And today I get to do it all again with David. He was less enthusiastic and more suspicious than James, and wasn't at all pleased with the lack of purple stuff around the classroom, but he was happy enough to turn his back on us when it was time for us to leave.

So now here I am, all alone in the house with nothing to do but wait in for the guy who's coming to finish off all the plumbing and electrical and plastering jobs he wasn't able to finish yesterday. I do a lot of waiting in these days. If you arrange for someone to come round they will generally come round on the day agreed, but at any time between 8.00am and 6.00pm. And we've had a lot of people coming round - to fix stuff, install stuff, collect stuff, etc - and what with the kids less than enthusiastic about walking anywhere further away than about ten minutes, I haven't yet been able to go off and do any of the exploring I was looking forward to. I know the area between the house and the school and the shopping centre and that's about it. So that's my task from next week on... go places and do stuff.

And I promise to tell you all about it when it happens.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sunday in the park

Last Sunday we took a break from all the admin and did what most paulistanos do (well, at least the ones who haven't driven or helicoptered off to the coast for the weekend) and headed down to our local park. Parque Ibirapuera is its name and it's massive. There are a handful of museums there, and plenty of places to eat, but mostly it's about going and sitting on the grass with a picnic and a football and letting the kids run off some excess energy in the huge adventure play area.

We popped into one of the museums - all museums being free on Sundays - and had a look at some curious examples of modern art, but the constant stream of requests for food, drink, toilet, gifts and something more interesting to do forced us to abandon any thoughts of visiting any more and go to the play area instead. Here we are admiring some art...

I'm not sure, but I think the deckchairs were for sitting on rather than appreciating aesthetically.

Sadly this big empty container was part of the exhibition, not our shipment arriving from England!

David loved the play area. He ran, climbed and slid to his heart's content while James tried his best to look cool and not at all interested in stuff he was just a bit too old to play on. Here he is not really enjoying himself because he's too old, and the wind flower is not his, he was just holding it for his little brother and he would never find something so lame fun to play with in any way!

And of course no matter how much fun David is having, he can always find time to sulk about something. In this case, I think it was the fact that James was playing with his wind flower and not giving it back!

Still, despite all the complaining, it was a good trip out and we will almost certainly go back most weekends until we sort out our helicopter and set off for the beach.