Being a new expatriate in Malta, I needed a new doctor–and a flu shot. A Maltese friend recommended one to me, so that’s where I began. It turns out that each pharmacy in Malta is associated with a general practitioner. This is where the doctor sees his/her patients. The first amazing thing to me is that you don’t have to make an appointment. You just go to the pharmacy, sit down in one of the chairs and wait for the doctor. You don’t even have to talk to the pharmacist about it; you just go over and sit down and wait for the doc to poke his head out of the little office in the back of the pharmacy and say, “Next.” Just like in the old days-for me, that’s back in the 50’s when I was a kid.
In the US, of course, you have to make the appointment. This is always a nerve-wracking experience for me. You call, get a very busy receptionist (if you’re lucky) and then have to tell him/her what’s wrong so she can book you in the PC medical management system. If you’re really ill, you can often see the doctor that day. It may not be your doctor, but you can see a doctor associated with the practice.
Now, if you’re not lucky, you get the voice mail: “Press 1 if you speak Spanish; Press 2 if you speak English. If this is an emergency, hang up and call your local hospital. If you’re dead, please press 1 now. If you need to be declared dead, please press 2. If you’ve already been declared dead, please hang up and call your local mortuary. If you’re not sure if you’re dead or, please press 1 now to speak to the receptionist.”
In Malta, there was no voice mail. When I first called, I had no idea what I was doing. The pharmacist at this particular place was not “warm and fuzzy,” but was patient enough to explain to me that I just come in and take a seat. She then gave me the weekly office hours of the doctor. And then-get this-she gave me his mobile (cell) number to call in case I needed to talk to him at other times. Yes, you read right: she gave me the doctor’s cell phone number.
I thought: is she crazy? No doctor in the US would give you his/her personal phone number-even if he was expecting a call about winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
Well, I looked at that number that I had just written down and trembled at the thought that I might not be able to control myself and use it.
In any event, I went to the pharmacy at the time I was told to. I waited about 15 or 20 minutes; there were a couple of people in front of me. There were no magazines to read while I waited. But there was a lot of lipstick and nail polish and baby diapers and over-the-counter medicines to look at to keep me busy.
Then it was my turn. I went in, met the doctor, told him I was an American who just moved here-and got my flu shot. And guess what? The doctor gave me the flu shot himself. Yes, himself. No nurse, no technician, no lab person, not special shot giver. The doctor himself gave me the flu shot. And do you know what else I heard? This doctor makes home visits.
Next time: The difference between a typical Maltese doctor’s office and the office of a typical doctor in the US.