Saturday, August 15, 2009

Matters of the heart.... literally!

I have been away. For a reason. But I am back, like always. With a load to unload. Back to blog therapy. Back to my own space. Back to myself. For better or for worse.

A lot of stuff to come on this space. More regularly that is. Are you with me?


The Swedish medical system has me stumped. There’s a bit of admiration, though the intrigue is more than the admiration. Sweden, as a country, has an excellent social security system. This basically means you pay an obscene amount in tax, but they make sure you get the returns. As a temporary resident, I had only felt the tax burden, but had not seen the benefits (primarily because the benefits mostly involve kids, which I don’t have, unemployment, which I have not faced and the medical system, which I didn’t have the need to interact with.. till now). But now I see the benefits. Or what seems like the benefits.

I was suffering some amount of chest pain. Nothing extraordinary, I initially thought that it must have been due to playing excess volleyball (too much sudden physical exercise after a long time), or eating too much. But when the pain persisted, I decided to check out the Swedish medical system. They have a weird but good system, which means that as a tax payer, I cannot spend more than a certain amount on medical expenses in a given year; there is a ceiling to my expenses, beyond that the government pitches in. In my last two years I have never felt the need to go to a doctor (yes I am that fit ;) ), so my balance to that was zero. I first had to struggle to get an appointment. In summer, when the whole of Sweden is on vacation its not the easiest task. When I finally got an appointment, I had a most intriguing session with the old lady doctor, who couldn’t understand English very well. I tried the 2 lines of Swedish that I knew and realized I needed to talk more than just “Hi, How are you?” The doctor was sweet enough to say “my Engliska... not so good... but not worry… we will still communicate” which made me think, we better do, I just paid a handsome ransom so that we could communicate. She listened to me and then immediately scheduled a million tests for my heart, ECG, stress ECG on a treadmill, ultrasound of the heart and a long term (24 hours) ECG with a portable device. It left me stumped. For two reasons. One: in India when you fall ill, you go broke because of the costs of the tests, and I couldn’t understand why this lady wanted me to go bankrupt. Two: I was not ill, and my heart was just fine, beating systematically for the one I love (smirks), I did not know why I needed to do all these tests. Both my questions were answered. All tests, including really complex ones, are free of cost (you pay only the basic fee to see the doctor). And in Sweden all doctors like to play it safe, which means they won’t even talk to you before they do tests to eliminate the possibilities of all serious medical conditions in the book. I think it’s a bit too much. They make me sound like a severely ill heart patient. Give me a break. I am on the right side of 30. I have never had any major health issues. And I am fitter than most people my age. But you never argue with a doctor. And it doesn’t cost a dime extra. So what the hell… I have to live upto Russell Peters “proud-to-be-cheap” Indian image! I gave in, and agreed to be examined.

I came out of the doctors chamber and walked up to the clinic laboratory. A young but cranky nurse approaches.

Me: Hej, Jag heter Merlin, Hur mår du?

She gives me a wry smile which could turn water into ice. She has called my bluff, in some unknown way, she had figured that’s the only sentence of Swedish I know.

Nurse: Take off your shirt.

I swear, those are the first words she said to me. No “hi”s, no “hello”s, no “how are you”s. Just “Take off your shirt”. I have never been told anything like this by a member of the opposite sex at my first meeting. But the tone was pretty commanding, and I obliged.

Nurse: Do you exercise?

Me: Err.. yes, I mean I play volleyball, table tennis, and football

. Does that count?

Nurse (with a I-don’t-believe-you-don’t-go-to-the-gym look): No.

She performs the ECG without a word. Then with a grunt says “Everything is normal, cannot find anything wrong”. I start saying “I would have thought so”, but she was gone by the time I opened my mouth. This lady does not approve of or socialize with someone who does not work out at least 2 hours in the gym. Which rules out all IT consultants. With a lot of difficulty I found my way out of the maze like hospital, to be caught at the reception and told “Someone will get back to you”. Someone did, and scheduled me for a wide array of more tests where I was subjected to more of the Swedish medical technology and a lot more of “Take off your shirt”. At the end of my ordeal, I was introducing myself as “Jag hither Guinea Pig”.

To give them the due credit, they did find a few heartbeats out of place, which should not have been there. But I shrugged and attributed it to the girl I am in love with, and the nurse did not seem to have objections. And that was that. Oh, and by the way, I did reach the limit of my medical expenses for the year. Which isn’t much, but I guess they made sure I contributed my bit to the Swedish

medical system.

I am not much into tags. But some I do. Here’s the tag where I have been tagged by Rhapsody and by Wishesgalore . You can dodge one, but there is now way you can dodge two talented bloggers. So here goes.

Here are the rules :
Use the first letter of your name to answer each of the following questions. They have to be real- nothing made up! If the person before you had the same first initial, you must use different answers. You cannot use any word twice and you can't use your name for the boy/girl name question.

1. What is your name: Merlin

2. A four Letter Word: Mess :)

3. A boy's Name: Michael (in memory of MJ)

4. A girl's Name: Midge (the cutie from Archie, remember?)

5. An occupation: Management consultant (cough cough)

6. A colour: Magenta

7. Something you wear: My attitude (corny, I know, tell me if you have a better suggestion ;))

8. A food: Maacher Jhaal (ah! At last, I can use my Bong skills :) )

9. Something found in the bathroom: Mirror

10. A place: Munich!!

11. A reason for being late: Metro delay (not common, but still usable)

12. Something you shout: It starts with M, but is not mentionable here!!!!

13. A movie title: Matrix (the one and only!)

14. Something you drink: Margarita and Mojito :)

15. A musical group: Metallica (oooohhh!!)

16. An animal: Mammoth

17. A street name: MG Road :)

18. A type of car: Mercedes McLaren SLR (Anglo-German supercar jointly developed by Mercedes-Benz and McLaren Automotive.. just awesome. I should also put a pic.. I know, I am such a "guy")

19. Something scary: Merlin :P

20. Ice cream flavour: Mango

Happy independence day! The Indians in Sweden seem to be more excited about this day than the counterparts in India. Maybe because outside the patriotic perspective is more pronounced. So I shall partake in the celebrations and party hosted by a friend and be engulfed by true patriotic feelings! Ciao till next time!


  1. Hmmm...I liked the 'handsome ransom' bit Merlin ;)

    I too had one such encounter with a hospital. It was a true testimony to the Indian Medical System. What could have easily been diagnosed as a hypoglycaemia attack, was first passed of as a heart-attack, epilepsy, brain tumour...while the doctors were still speculating and coming up with an even more deadly diagnosis (which would make my parents even more miserable with heartache), I fainted once again, and was told to go see a neurosurgeon. He took one look at me and said that I suffer from hypoglycaemia (nothing else) and advised me to always have sweets on me.

    Uuufff...I'm pretty sure my mother's heart was in her mouth for most of this ordeal! :(

    I like that tag! May put it up on my blog tomorrow. Do drop by! :)

    PS: I do hope you're okay now.

  2. Yes! I am with 'Merlin's world', all set to read :).

    Boy, you better take care of your health. The entire experience sounds so scary esp when one is away from home.

    "and my heart was just fine, beating systematically for the one I love (smirks)" sweet is that :)) Your girl is really lucky. Touchwood :)

    Midge: :) I love all the characters from Archie's comics.

    My attitude...hmm..I like it :). In fact, in my tag post I had written 'right attitude' but then I don't know why I changed it to 'reading glasses' :-/

    Something scary: Merlin??? hahaha...really? darr ke rehna padega...hahahaha

    Glad to have you back. Keep blogging and take care of yourself :)

  3. I hope the ticker is doing just fine, no major issues! Take care of yourself...

    My family doctor doesn't do a thing. he himself says, "We are not very aggressive in our treatment." I have had back problems for more that a year and he hasn't even recommended an MRI! I figured I can get that done in India...lets see when I can make it there!

    Although on the other hand, the dentists out here are out to get whatever they can outta you...I have an appointment Monday morning to get some fittings for a mouth "apparatus" (for the lack of proper terminology, lets refer to it as an "apparatus") that will prevent me from grinding and damaging my teeth during sleep...I'll be paying 500 bucks out of my own pocket that the insurance wouldn't cover!

    Hmmmmm, Margaritas and Mojitos! I'm thirsty! :D

  4. Gosh I HATE hospitals. Doctors, injections, medical tests...I run away (quite literally) from all these! And the sight of blood makes me sick to the stomach. And you survived a ton of tests! Wow! But good to know ur OK. :)

    LOL @ the nurse! If this were a line from a cheap romantic novel, it could have had many different connotations! ;)

  5. Welcome back merlin..:)

    the sweedish system is quite different...nice post..very informative and humorous in its own way..

    and about the tag, well nice answers..and lol on couple of them :)

  6. Nice post, Merlin. I think the Norwegian health system is like the one in Sweden.
    It is pretty good but you are right, they always send you for all kinds of tests first.

  7. If math is the great equalizer, and universal language in global academic settings, it sounds like testing must be the medical settings equivalent.

    It's good that it didn't turn out to be anything serious, and it is best to know. Still, a very amusing post.

    It reminded me of two things. A friend who lived in Iceland for two years on a contract job found herself needing to go to the doctor. She didn't encounter an insurmoutnable language barrier, just the difficulties that come alone with limited proficiency. She was completely unable to convince the nurse taking her medical history that she didn't drink any alcohol at all (just a personal choice on her part). This so astounded the nurse, who thought she was simply misunderstanding the amount my friend imbibed, that it bogged the proceedings down for nearly a quarter of an hour. The conversation went like this:

    "How many drinks of alcohol do you take in a week?"

    "None. I don't drink alcohol."

    "Wine? Spirits?"

    "None. I don't drink alcohol, at all."

    "Beer? You drink how much beer per week?"

    "I don't drink beer at all, or wine, or spirits."

    "You are allergic, perhaps?"

    "No. I just don't drink."

    On and on it went. By the time the nurse switched to inquiries about alcohol consumption per day instead, my friend entirely gave up and answered:

    "Two. I have two alcoholic drinks per week, without fail."

    Then another friend upon being told to undress in a different country, asked meekly what she'd be allowed to wear. The attendant handed her what she described as a "Microscopic paper sheet, just a little bit larger than a paper towel." Seeing her look of near terror, the attendant nipped out of the room and came back with a much larger, paper gown, which she took with great relief.

    "We keep these for Americans." The long suffering nurse informed her.

    It's funny how our culture frequently dictates our approach to an understanding of medical services.

  8. lol @ attributing your girl for the heartbeats out of sweet:))
    "something you wear: my attitude" ahaan..

    @landofshimp lol @ incidents you mentioned..:))

  9. I found your blog really interesting:) Like it so much and I hope in the next week I'll have much more time, to read everything!

  10. Aah profound use of language and the subtle sarcasm...
    One of the good ones i have read lately!