Obamacare: Amman, Jordan Style

hospitalGreen Prophets burn lots of calories trying to make the planet a better place, but you can’t do much do-gooding if you’re dead. I’ll share a day in my week as a cautionary tale (and offer a peek into Amman’s excellent, and sometimes culturally surreal, medical system).  File this one under “Please, everyone, take care of yourself”.

Some wacky bleeding sent me to the doctor ages after my menstrual ship set its last sail (could that pricey skin cream be reversing the whole biological clock?). The doctor peers inside me and says, “Oh.”


He writes a stack of ‘scripts for a litany of tests and says be back tomorrow for a biopsy. I whisper, is this serious?  He says 50/50 – don’t worry.  Throwaway advice that’s impossible to heed.

So I spend the day at Jordan Hospital getting poked and pricked. Here, you take a paper ticket for each procedure, patients served by number like a medical bakery. Your ticket is called; you register and pay the cashier, have the test, then take another number.  My 80 words of decent Arabic relate to taxi directions and food, so comic relief when chatting to nurses is rampant.

I go home, try to be calm despite imagining all manner of organ-chewing cancers throwing a rave in my belly. See, I had a funny friend who filled a coffin one month after getting tagged with ovarian cancer. I think about brilliant comedic actresses Gilda Radner and Madeleine Kahn, both felled by the disease. It doesn’t matter that my doc said “cervix”. It doesn’t matter that there’s no family history here, I never smoked, and I floss. I begin to suspect that wise-assness is hazardous to your health.  I’m doomed.

I think Please God I need two more years to get the kid launched into college.  Then I need to marry off my husband so she’ll have a decent new mom.  The Universe contracts.  It’s me alone on a blackened stage, a blinding spotlight pinpointed on my gut.  I’ve never been so terrified.

Next day, I’m admitted for the surgery. Doc is a handsome older Arab with a blunt bedside manner. As they prep to knock me out, I start crying like a newborn and he wipes my face and pats my stomach and chants don’t worry, don’t worry, and, incredibly, tells me he’ll sing me a song.

And there, in pre-op, surrounded by busy nurses and moaning pregnant women awaiting their cesarean sections, he starts to warble the refrain from the 1950’s tune Que Sera, Sera which (for readers who don’t speak Doris Day or Spanish) means “whatever will be, will be”.

Are you f**king kidding me?

Muslims have a very real acceptance of bad stuff.  It’s that powerful Insha’Allah thing.  It’s God’s will, so why worry or rage?  It’s a larger spiritual riff on Mad Magazine’s earsome cover boy Alfred E. Newman: “What, me worry?” But  this American control freak could more easily swallow a bus than that peaceful mindset.

(Afterwards, friends say it’s remarkable that my doctor even intimated anything could be wrong: it seems Jordanian husbands/fathers/sons are typically given their wives’/daughters’/mothers’ diagnoses first, possibly to avoid the drama played out by my wailing pregnant roommates – histrionics and keening I’d only ever witnessed at Italian Catholic funerals.)

That oddball pairing of excellent modern medicine with archaic paternalistic tradition was a good conundrum to chew on if only to get my head working on something other than my immediate problem.

When I awake, the crooning doc reappears, visibly happier. Produces a specimen jar with what looks to be a purple thumb bobbing in saline. Says he’s 90% sure it’s all fine. He says, “Looks like a polyp.  Lab will have test results in a few days.” I leave the hospital feeling like I dodged a meteorite, although I won’t feel completely fine until the lab results are in.

I didn’t think I needed a new perspective “snap”, but I got it anyhow. You betcha, each day is winning lotto ticket.

So the moral to this story: get yourselves to the doctor.  Regularly. Pap smears, mole checks, cholesterol and blood pressure checks. Mammograms, prostate checks and colonoscopies. Go to the dentist too. Overcome your embarrassment and excuses. Just check that your doctor’s song playlist includes tunes that match your own life outlook.

Because you can’t do any good if you’re dead.

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7 thoughts on “Obamacare: Amman, Jordan Style”

  1. tim o'hara says:

    i came up with a theory that involves the book of genesis (fig leaves) buddha (sitting under the bodhi fig tree) jesus (many sayings about figs) ross hornes’ book (new health revolution) and science (figs are the most important source of food for fruit eating rainfroest animals). i then experimented on the figs by eating mainly dried figs (same brand) for over 10 years now and found cycles which i related to the numbers in psgs 11/12 of the book of revelations. this theory has gone everywhere. so far i have had eliminations at days 504, 840, 1176, 1512, 1848, 2184, 2520, 2856, 3192 and 3528. today is day 3735. i have definitely found something. i am not lying. what i have discovered has gone around the world and many songs have been written about it……the foo fighters’ last 4 albums…….coldplays’ last 4 albums……..”vertigo” by U2 (my firs tname is phil). an elimination is a day when you experience strong flu-like symptoms and feel terrible. bad stuff is washed out of your body.

  2. tim o'hara says:

    greetings from tasmania………google figbat oswald and see if you can work it out.

  3. Laurie, I so adore your style of writing… the way you wrote your comedic-yet harrowing experience of medical issues that have befallen you makes it so real, so THERE… And yes, like Miriam above, I am forehead-wiping-ly grateful for your diagnosis of lab results being in/good!/ Whew! You are only one of a few people I have known practically all my cognizant life… and I am SO grateful we have the ability to reconnect after all these years! ((hugs))

  4. JTR says:

    Free enterprise regulated for a social safety net and a healthy environment is not free, but it’s the only way we humans have any chance of surviving on this over-populated and heavily polluted planet.

  5. Miriam Kresh says:

    Whew, Laurie, what a story. I was on pins and needles until I saw your comment that the lab results are OK. Stay healthy, please!

  6. Teresa Toole says:

    Ms. Balbo, we are so happy that you have made it thus far! Your work is very helpful for those of us who need to know that a strong woman is on the job! We learn so much of value from you. Fondly, an American from a shortsighted country.

    1. Laurie Balbo says:

      Thanks for the nice words, Teresa! Lab results are in – I’m all good. But seriously, everyone – keep on top of your health!

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