In Poland letting someone know you are going to see the doctor (wizyta u lekarza) for anything else than a cold (przeziębienie) or a flu (grypa) has been a taboo area for some time now, commonly believed to be a rather shameful and highly private experience. Luckily, “the times they are a-changin’”, as Bob Dylan would have it, also for the benefit of those going down with sicknesses other than mild ailments, and people understanding that shame has nothing to do with getting better.
The Polish state provides comprehensive medical care (powszechna opieka medyczna); however, the way the system works appears to be a mystery to many a patient or family member trying to obtain information on their relatives brought in to emergency rooms. The registration process is also a long and tiresome ordeal, with many patients justly damning the system and often unfairly verbally abusing the medical staff.
Over the last two decades or so, however, a lot has been changing in the way hospitals (szpitale) work and treat their patients (leczenie pacjentów). The actual standard of professionalism demonstrated by the medical personnel has improved, with many Polish doctors and nurses gaining recognition from international partner organization or assessment bodies. The equipment used throughout the system has also been steadily replaced, with recurring high visibility fund raising events, such as the Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy (run by a charity by the same name, the Great Orchestra of Holiday Relief, for the last 20 years), contributing greatly to the modernity and quality of the equipment used.
The variety of procedures offered is roughly equivalent to other world-class facilities, with access to them, however, much limited due to insufficient funding from the National Health Fund (Narodowy Fundusz Zdrowia) which is the ultimate payer for the procedures based on the mandatory contributions by all tax-paying employees. Responsible government authorities with their respective politically-appointed heads have been unable to resolve the “big gap” issue, exposing the sick to the threat of non-treatment for lack of funds.
Minor issues, however, are usually handled at public (or sometimes private) clinics (przychodnie) by primary care doctors (lekarze pierwszego kontaktu) who need to be trained in the comprehensive treatment of illnesses. They will usually request the usual blood and urine test results (wyniki badania krwi i moczu), and sometimes ECG (EKG) or ultrasound (USG) test results. They may also request X-rays (prześwietlenie or rentgen) of various body parts to determine the potential cause of a problem. Whenever they are unable to help with a more serious issue, they will refer patients to specialists (specjaliści), usually available from outpatients’ clinics (przychodnie przyszpitalne). This is where the administrative problem begins: these usually have extremely long waiting lists, up to months or even years. Thus many Polish patients decide to get specialist help by seeing a paid doctor who might even be able to refer them to a hospital, if necessary. Just a way around the system, if you like.
On a more practical note, the following exchange could be an example of the attitude Polish men have towards treatment:
Dzień dobry! (Hello)
Dzień dobry, panie doktorze! (Good morning, Doctor!)
Co Pani/Panu dolega? W czym mogę pomóc? (What’s the problem? How can I help you?)
Widzi Pan, mam ten problem z siusianiem, ciągle muszę biegać do toalety... (You see, Doctor, I have this problem peeing, I keep running for the toilet all the time...)
Na podstawie Pana wieku mogę się wstępnie domyślać, że mamy do czynienia z prostatą – poddawał się Pan kiedyś badaniu? (Based on your age I expect we are dealing with the prostate – have you ever been examined for it?)
Nie, panie doktorze, a to się bada? (No, Doctor, is this something you can examine?)
Oczywiście, można to zrobić u mnie w gabinecie. Proszę opuścić spodnie! (Sure, we can do it in my office. Lower your pants, please.)
Eee tam, panie doktorze, to może ja przyjdę innym razem... (Well, Doctor, how about I see you some other time...)