Our First Experience With Socialized Medicine

SickoLike most Americans, Carolyn and I had been indoctrinated into the horror stories about socialized medicine, often juxtaposed with friend-of-a-friend anecdotes about how much better American medicine was than anywhere else in the world.

So when her lower back started hurting like hell for a couple of days, and then her abdomen started swelling, and then little caterpillar thingies started crawling out of her pores (just kiddin’), we thought it might be time to plunge into the abyss. We were a bit nervous to see what voodoo these doctors would perform, especially after an expected eighteen hour wait in a room filled to capacity with people sporting newly-dismembered limbs, or with faces populated with pustules the size of hamburger patties, and sheep.FOR USE WITH ERIK'S BLOG

We were one of the 99-plus percenters: the 99-plus percent of Americans who have never experienced anything but American-style medicine, but had an unshakable opinion about how it compares to the rest of the world regardless.

Personally, I’d revised a lot of my opinions after reading various statistics on health care. After studying the reports, I began to wonder if perhaps America’s only medical miracle was teaching people how to twist their bodies in such a way that their heads would fit neatly up their ass. For instance, the U.S. ranks 43rd in the world in life expectancy at birth (and it’s getting worse… and don’t blame it on North America, Canada beats us by three years), and has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the industrialized world, beaten out by such luminaries as Poland, Hungary, and of course Portugal. In fact, the list below the US reads like a who’s-who of third world countries.

And there’s a lot, lot more (like we probably lead the world in healthcare lawsuits as well)… US healthcare costs higher than any other countrybut this is also in addition to our paying the most per capita in the world. Let me repeat that: We spend more on health care per person than any other country in the world. Surely that has to buy us something?

If statistics won’t prove our bang for the buck, what about a great anecdote that supports the idea that whenever you go to the doctor outside the U.S., you better bring a cooler with two full day’s supply of rations as well as a couple of books and a pillow?

Kevin & Carolyn to the rescue! We were prepared to restore a little glory to Old Glory, at least as far as getting medical help was concerned.

Armed with our insurance card and a Google Map to the nearest hospital, we set out on our quest to experience the underbelly of socialized medicine.

And this was to be no lightweight example. We were really testing the system by going in on a Saturday, surely one of the busiest days of the week for hospitals.

We had no idea what to expect as we drove into the hospital parking lot. It looked clean and uncrowded. We were immediately suspicious. Do they just kill everyone and steal their cars?

The Portuguese love to use number machines to set your place in line. As an example, I recently had to go to Ikea to return a light fixture. I looked aghast at the hoards of people morosely sitting in the waiting area. It was the exact picture I had in my mind as to what to expect from a typical hospital waiting room in a country with socialized medicine. I took a number from the machine. It spat out B 096. I looked at the monitor. It was at B 032. I immediately tossed the tag into the waste bin, deciding that the fixture wasn’t as ugly as we thought.

So if Ikea was that bad… how much worse would a hospital on a Saturday be?

We ambled through the front door like lost puppies, looking for the Recepção sign. Over there! But wait! There was no line, and only one employee behind the counter. We were probably in the wrong place. Maybe Recepção really meant “Reciepts,” and no one needed those.

We greeted her with our standard line: “Fala Inglês?” To which she responded with the typical Portuguese response of, “A little.” She then proceeded to converse with us in better English than my high school English teacher.

receptionistWe gave her our particulars. Not once did she ask why we wanted to see a doctor. I found that refreshing. What business is it of anyone besides the doctor anyway? But in the U.S., you’re usually forced to offer up a detailed description of all the bumps on your private parts, when you last went pee and what color the urine was, plus your shoe size, all to a receptionist who takes ten minutes to find the right color yellow to fill in the little box with the accurate rendering of the color of your pee.

Our Portuguese counterpart had no such interest in those particulars, but simply took our insurance card and our address. She then said they couldn’t bill them directly. That was fine. We didn’t care. We needed a doctor. We didn’t mind if they were going to charge us two thousand dollars for being dumb enough to be an American inside a socialized medical country. We just wanted some pills or surgery dammit!

That was it. She didn’t need to know our income level, or whether we even had a credit card, or what our shoe size was. We didn’t have to fill out eight forms about our medical history and what our great-grandparents died from. She just said, “The doctor is upstairs right now, if you’ll take a seat, he should be down to see you in, oh, maybe fifteen minutes or so. It’s hard to say.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but in the U.S., when I’ve had an appointment, the wait is usually much longer than fifteen minutes. With no appointment, into something like urgent care of the emergency room? I usually plan on an hour, or maybe a week, or more. But here we were, without an appointment, wandering into a random hospital with an undisclosed medical condition, and the doctor will be with us in fifteen minutes? I knew she had to be a serial liar.

DocAfter about twenty minutes (See! Five minutes off!), he appeared, and waved us in to his office… us as in both of us. I was a little confused at first, because the only other time I’ve been allowed into a medical office with my wife was when she was giving birth, or we were receiving very bad news. However, as he showed us to our chairs, it occurred to me that it was quite smart to do so. There was no need for a nurse to be on hand with a male doctor and a lone female patient. Her husband was right by her side. Cost savings right there, kaching!

The whole experience with the doctor reminded me of what it must have been like to go to the doctor long before insurance companies stuck their nose into everything and screwed it all up, sending costs through the roof and the quality of care below the basement. He took his time asking her questions. He prodded and poked her as he tried to figure out what the problem might be. He then sat us down and explained in detail all the things it could be, what it probably wasn’t, and what we were going to do to narrow it down further. He prescribed three medications: two of them muscle relaxants and one a pain medicine. He was pretty certain it was a pulled or irritated muscle, but just in case, he said if those things didn’t work, we should come back and see him tomorrow, Sunday.

After shaking our hands warmly, he led us back to Recepção, and explained everything to her she would need to know to finalize our process.  He shook our hands one more time, as if wishing there was something more wrong with either of us so he could spend even more time with us, and took his leave. The receptionist then told us we could make an appointment, but since we might not actually have to come in, we should just come in whenever we felt like it, that would be fine.

The charge? 65 bucks. That’s without any insurance-anything. That’s for about a half-hour of a doctor’s time in a hospital. Women pay more for their haircuts in the U.S.

We can bill our insurance company for it, but if we forget, what the heck– it’s already about the same price as most co-pays in the U.S.!

So how about the medicine you ask? Maybe that’s where they sock it to us? The grand total was fifteen bucks. No, that’s not the co-pay. That’s the entire cost of three full prescriptions.

We can be very happy getting sick in Portugal.

So I gotta tell ya. I know people hate to change their minds about things. But if you really think the U.S. has the best health care in the world… do some research. Start with the data, the internet is very handy for that. Honestly? I’m not sure you can find any data that actually supports that premise. Now throw in our lone experience in a socialized-medicine country –and one that is a little further behind technologically than many western countries besides– and boy howdy, it’s time to give that single payer health care system some thought, don’t you think?


When you’re retired, Mondays can be a beach!

Beach SunburnThe temperature has been hovering around 21 degrees celsius (or for you luddites, about 70 degrees) the last few weeks. Not quite beach-going weather, but since it’s April, and we still have Oregonian blood coursing through our veins, and the beach is just about a ten minute drive away… it was time to get beachy! So we threw on our crocs, tossed the brollies into Marco’s boot, and meandered down the road to the beach.

We were told the Atlantic is a little chilly, and we can confirm that’s true. Not the bone-chilling, frostbite-inducing ice water of the Oregon coast, but chilly nonetheless. Still, with the ease of getting there, the warm sun, and endless expanses of sand, the lack of salt water up the nose was a small price to pay, and certainly an outing worth doing, especially on a Monday.

Yes, retirement is all that.

Our Corona moment was really a Radler Limao moment. (Radler Limao is one of our favorite drinks here in Portugal, although at 2% alcohol, it takes 18 of them to give you a buzz.)
Not quite bikini weather.
Carolyn: “You’re not going to put these pictures of me on the blog, right?”  Kevin: “Of course not.”
I guess we could be working on a Monday instead. Okay, no.
Mother Nature provides her own free hairdo when you visit her at the beach!


Meanwhile, our home is slowly being brought up to snuff. Still not ready for the full blog presentation; our 32 boxes from home haven’t touched down yet and we still have a couple trips to Ikea to make. That should bring it to about 18 visits, all accomplished without filing for divorce, which we believe is a new Ikea record. A couple made it to 17 last year, but then she shot him.

Just up the road from our house is our mailbox, and not far from that are the trash bins where we take our garbage. There is no charge for the latter service. I guess it’s just one of the benefits of living in a socialist-leaning society.

Another couple of hundred yards from there are the scenes you see below. It is utterly peaceful and completely quiet. An occasional bird, perhaps. Or maybe the motor from a passing boat on the ocean below, or some buzzing insects. But then it descends into total silence for a time, and all you’re left with is your own thoughts and an admiration of this timeless beauty.

The light on the horizon near the left is the lighthouse at Cabo Espichel, as seen from our house.

And with that, we wish you a warm and safe boa noite.

Long Road Trip on Easter Sunday

Today we decided to go on a grueling road trip to see some of the sights rural Portugal has to offer. So we read up on an article from Travel & Leisure and hit the first destination on the list. Seven minutes later, we got out of the car and started snapping pictures.

The first stop was to visit an area with dinosaur footprints. We pass the sign to them every time we go into town, so we thought it was about time. Fortunately, the scenery and hike were beautiful. It’s fortunate because we couldn’t really make heads nor tails nor feet out of the supposed tracks. Right next door is Cabo Espichel, which has a lighthouse and a church built in about 1701. We had a delightful day, and when we were all done, we hopped in the car and were home in two songs!

Here are some of our pictures, in random order:

There’s always some knucklebutt wanting to stand on a cliff.
We can see the light from this lighthouse from our house.
Turns out, dinosaurs wore shoes. Who knew?
They have a fence so you don’t fall off the cliff. However, the fence only goes partway along the cliff. Either they ran out of funding or the lack of fence is to cull the herd.
This is supposedly where there are dinosaur footprints. I have no idea which indentations they are. It was a fairly long hike to get there, if the scenery wasn’t so beautiful we might’ve been irritated at the dinosaurs for stepping so lightly.
Except for this one… this guy must’ve been huuuuge!
There were little trilobite-y kinds of indentations around, however. They looked more trilobite-y in person than you can see in this picture.

And here are the rest of the shots. Such gorgeous scenery right near our doorstep. We’re still swooning… and it’s the kind of scenery we’ll never get tired of. In addition, the silence in some of these areas is virtually complete. Just absolute quiet and solitude… the perfect place for retirement.

The embassy, a dash of coconut, and the apartment

For the first time since January, we stepped foot on American soil. Of course, it was the American Embassy, but still, that’s technically American soil. Actually, it felt just like Portugal, because everyone we encountered was Portuguese, the TV playing in the room where we waited for half an hour with 40 otherwise empty chairs was broadcasting in Portuguese, and it was clearly a building of Portuguese construction. Security was tight. I’ve never had to go through security nude before. Still haven’t. Just sayin’.

Us in front of the embassy. It would be the only picture we would take because they confiscated nearly everything in our pockets during our visit.

We had to get our fingerprints taken (for the third time in the last year) to get our FBI background check (for the third time), because Portugal only recognizes the information provided by the FBI as long it is presented within 90 days of issue. It takes 90-120 days and possibly even longer to get the information back from the FBI in the first place. So while we did our best to schedule it so that we would have the documentation in hand in time to be presented, alas, trying to buy two properties while registering for all sorts of stuff in Portuguese and then trying to get an appointment, all within less than 90 days, has proven to be next to impossible.

So now we send the fingerprints off into the ether, not knowing when it will be returned until it actually arrives. Accordingly, we’ll be on a series of 90-day visas, hoping they don’t kick us out of the country in the meantime. That’s not likely, but we do have to give up our life of crime for a while.


The funny story involves our struggle with learning the language. One of the first things we wanted to learn was “I don’t speak Portuguese.” So we learned that the word for “speak” was “fala.”

Therefore, “Nao fala Portugues” became our most commonly expressed phrase.

keep-calm-and-speak-portuguese-4Over time, I couldn’t understand why some people would just keep talking in Portuguese after hearing us say that. The one who confused me the most was a Brazilian delivery driver who called on the phone to let us know they’d be here at 7:00. It took us over five minutes to figure only that out on the phone; I don’t think he spoke a word of English. Upon delivering the goods, he said to me a couple of times, “Nao fala Portuguese,” and then he would bust out laughing. Not in an unkindly way, but he obviously got a kick out of something.

The other day we learned what was so funny to him. The best way to explain it is to imagine this conversation in English:

“Good morning sir. Welcome to Continente. I will be very pleased to help you today. Do you by any chance have a Continente card?”

“You don’t speak English.”

That, in effect, was what we were saying. “Fala” means “you speak.” Falo (pronounced “faloo”) means, “I speak.” So the correct way to say it is, “Nao falo Portugues.” A lot of people understood we were floundering around, but some found it funny, and others just kept talking in Portuguese, perhaps to convince us that yes, they do actually speak Portuguese.nc3a3o-falo-portug

So we have left a trail of baffled and bemused Portuguese in our wake. But most of them are kind to us (unless they’re from France) and are happy to put up with our mangling of their language. At least we’re trying, which I hear earns us points.

As far as we know, we haven’t yet done what the Swedish husband of our attorney managed to do during the first year of his stay here. The word for coconut is “coco.” However, if you put a little hat on the “o,” as in: “cocô,” it is pronounced just a little differently.

So when you say it with that difference, it actually means “shit.” So he went to a bakery and ordered a “shit pie.” To this day, some thirty years later, he refuses to order a coco pie, and instead just says “coconut.” I’m sure we’ll have some more of our own cocô to deal with as we muddle on.


Lastly, below are pictures of the inside of our apartment in Alfama. If you do a search on “Panteão Nacional Lisboa” in Google Maps (a very cool and huge cathedral), you’ll be within roughly 50 footsteps of the apartment.

Pretty soon, it will be up on Airbnb and Booking.com and so forth. If you’re a Facebook friend of ours, or a relative, start planning for a very inexpensive way to stay in Lisbon. It’s a very cute little apartment, and of course Carolyn did her usual impressive job making it all the more so. Let us know what you think!



Walk out the door, up the small alley and a few steps, and this view of one of the more impressive buildings in all of Lisbon greets you!

Honey We’re Home!

After over 5,300 miles, five separate living accommodations, dozens of prospective homes viewed, thousands of kilometers driven around the countryside, nine trips to Ikea, numerous interactions with the Portuguese bureaucracy, living without WiFi for over a month, fifteen arguments about whether the GPS was telling us to veer slightly right or stay straight within the three seconds allotted between the decision and running straight into the divider, countless cappuccinos and pastries (setting us back only a couple of bucks each time), and just a few batatas consumed… we are home.IMG_4614

We love our new house. It’s in the countryside, where it is amazingly quiet. Well, that is until you go outdoors, where you can hear dogs barking, birds chirping, a turkey warbling, a rooster crowing, bees buzzing, and a continuously annoyed goose honking from just up the road. But as soon as you walk back inside, the blood coursing through your ears is about the only sound you hear. Unless it’s at night when either of us can hear the other snoring. I think we’re alternating snoring nights, but I’m sure I have a few more than her.

We’re busy furnishing the house right now, so inside pix will have to come later, as well as an opinion piece about Ikea, which alternates from heavenly shopping and appreciation of its genius, to looking at the 154 pieces intended to make a nightstand and calling the manual the Instructions from Hell.

Carolyn predictably wanted to change the wall colors, so we decided, being retired and all, we’d just paint it ourselves. The bathroom ceilings were an awkward light blue, so that was the first on the agenda. I taped the walls, stirred the primer, dipped the roller, and proceeded to drip whiteness everywhere except the blue ceiling. Any primer that happened to stick to the ceiling only served to make the blue just slightly lighter in streaks. The rest of the blue more or less spat off the primer, as if taking offense to the idea that we wanted to cover it up. It was having none of that, and the thin primer was complicit.

The stuff was so thin that I spent more time trying to catch the drips than rolling more of it onto the ceiling. After only about eight rolls, we decided to bring on the calvary.

We are very fortunate in that the seller of our house was a very detailed English gentleman who left us awesome notes about everything we need to know about the house, including who painted it for him in the past. So we rang up Luis, he showed up the next day to talk about it, and the day after he’s waxing paint poetic on the walls. Best money we’ve spent so far!

Luis saves us from an eternity in Hell due to all the swear words we didn’t have to utter. On the right is the old color, on the left the new.
Our crack transition/realty team celebrating the purchase of our home. We couldn’t have done it without them, and in addition, we have lifelong friends in the bargain.
This is us toasting our new apartment. We kinda didn’t get around to doing the same thing in the house because we have been near exhaustion getting everything taken care of. We’re working harder in retirement than when we were working! And the pay sucks!
Carolyn enjoying her one-course dinner at our makeshift dining table.
This is the view from my office in the attic. You can barely make out the line of the ocean there, but it’s there. If you were to take off as the crow flies and fly some 4,000 miles, you’d land in Brazil, with virtually no land in between.
Carolyn has really turned the corner into becoming Portuguese. After insisting that we needed to have a clothes dryer no matter what, she’s finding out that the air drying thing really does work! It’s faster, cheaper, and very green! To the left is our very own lemon tree… I’m enjoying hot water with lemon wedges just about every morning.


This is the view that greets us when we leave our little street to head toward Sesimbra. In the distance is the west side of Lisbon, which includes Cascais. In front of that is a long, beautiful stretch of beach that has been called the most beautiful in all of Europe.
I had to run an errand to the local hardware store about 10 minutes away to get a part Ikea forgot to include, and when I was turning the car around, I spotted a little road and decided to see where it led. Five minutes later, I had this view of Sesimbra. We haven’t even begun to explore!