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Essence of Vienna (June 2009)
A few weeks back, when my daughter went home we spent the last afternoon walking around, looking for that “essence of Vienna” experience.

Sylvia and I had a different “essence of Vienna” experience today….we visited the doctor.

Sylvia has been sick since we got back to Vienna, with something worse than a cold. It wasn’t getting better, and I was worried it might be flu, pneumonia or something else nasty, so we dug a nearby GP out of the yellow pages.

As it happens, the surgery was only 100 metres from where we are living, but we had never previously noticed it because it was in a block of flats. Not some sophisticated European block of flats with a commercial ground floor and residential upper floors…this was a basic domestic, cramped two-bedroom flat, on the third floor, which has been operating, they claim, as a doctor’s surgery for 30 years!

No appointments were taken, they said…just come in (and of course, queue up in the Viennese fashion).

Once again, the Austrian mastery of really stupid administrative processes was on display. When we got there, 8 people were jammed around the reception bench, which had been installed in the passage. We all jostled while some dithery old fool fluffed her way through a basic form-filling exercise. No multi-processing of anyone else of course…they only had one clipboard, and everyone had to elbow for their turn. Old hands now at the Viennese ways of pushing and shoving, we stood our ground. The crowd listened, grinding teeth and groaning while Mrs Duffer fumbled away, asking the receptionist to remind her where she lived, how old she was and so on.

Finally, it was our turn to be processed. On hearing that we were not Austrians, the receptionist moaned theatrically, and loudly complained about how much trouble we were. (Honestly! We were there with cash in hand. If anything, we were the bonus for the day.) When it became clear we weren’t going to make her day easier and just go away, begrudgingly she went off and asked the doctor what she should do. She eventually came back and got Sylvia to write her details on a scrap piece of paper.

“What information do you need?”, Sylvia asked.

“Everything!”, the receptionist snarled back helpfully.

Paperwork finished, we pushed our way into the tiny, overheated waiting room, and joined the other 20 wheezers.

Clearly we were in for a long wait, and seeing we were so close I went back home to get us a book each. When I got back, the waiting room glared furiously at me: - Sylvia was already in with the doctor. While the receptionist saw us as a problem, the doctor realized we were the cream: a cash-paying customer. I sat in the waiting room while the outraged Viennese, arms folded, shoulders hunched, glowered at me. Immensely cheered up at their fury, I beamed back at them. Hah!

When she came out, we pushed our way out of the even-more-crowded reception area. By now the weak and ill were queuing on the unheated, drafty stairs all the way down to the ground floor. I asked what happened. Did she see the doctor?

Well, yes, but it’s done a little differently here. When you go to a doctor, you usually see a medical practitioner, don’t you? In Vienna, you see the doctor’s WIFE! She does the basics… what’s wrong, blood pressure etc. When she’s finished and thinks she has it all sorted she confirms it with the doctor. That is, she briefly taps on the adjoining door and barges in. Sylvia locked eyes with the poor bastard bent over the table, pants down, doctor’s finger up his bum, while the doctor and his wife discussed her diagnosis.

Not sure what the malpractice insurance cost is here.

I took Sylvia home then went off to the chemist. Again there was a panic when I didn’t have a healthcare card, and I explained, quite clearly, that I would PAY for the medication. Amazed at this innovative solution, the chemist pushed through the crowd of assistants who had come to gape at the mysterious, wealthy stranger who was prepared to hand over money for medication and went off to assemble the various items.

She came back promptly with the medicine. To be helpful, on the back of the prescription sheet she totted up the cost to give me a receipt…. by hand.

They didn’t have a cash register, of course.

Essence of Vienna © Ian Buchanan June 2009
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