Some very honest words about Hungarian doctors (2)

Andrea's father was eighty-eight, which is considered to be very old because Hungarian men die a great deal earlier than elsewhere in the western world. Life expectancy for men in Hungary is 73.3 years, which puts Hungary in the 78th place on a list of 191 countries. He wasn't in the best of health in the first place, even before his daughter died. He had had narrowing of the arteries, but in the last six months his condition worsened. The family thought that perhaps he should be operated on. The doctor instead suggested a more conservative approach which didn't helped his pain. Then one evening he had a stroke. He was moved to a hospital. He couldn't move one of his arms and he had difficulty speaking. However, in this condition he was supposed to answer a whole slew of questions, and when he mispronounced the name of one of his medications he was yelled at: "There is no such medication and hurry up!"

At this point Andrea lost her patience and she yelled at the doctor: "Who are you that you think you can talk to my father like this? I will report you." He didn't even lift his head, threw his stamp (everybody in an official capacity must have a stamp in Hungary, otherwise nothing is legal in the eyes of the authorities), and told Andrea that he didn't care. Go ahead, report, but he must hurry and can't wait. Andrea yelled back: "My father would hurry too, but he is half paralyzed. It is a stroke, you understand?"

Andrea's father's condition stabilized after about a week and the decision was made to release him. So Andrea asked the nurse to get her father's belongings, which apparently are locked up in a separate room. The nurse was giving her a hard time and Andrea, who by that time was mighty upset, got into quite a conversation with her. They threatened to remove her from the hospital with the help of the security guards. A woman doctor showed up and asked: "Are you a psychologist?" "Kind of," answered Andrea. The doctor had an immediate answer: "In that case you should be treated!"

Another hospital followed where within two days Andrea's father died. Andrea felt that death was near and asked the doctor whether her father could be moved next door to an empty room where the family could be with him alone. Moreover, in the room there were two other patients who could be spared witnessing Andrea's father's death struggle. She was told by the doctor that death was not at all near and in any case there was no empty room. When she pointed out that there was one next door, she was told that it couldn't be used because it was reserved for women.

Another day went by, the room next door was still empty. This time Andrea asked the nurse to move her father there. The answer was the same. It couldn't be done because at any time it might be needed. Eventually she relented. She turned to Andrea and said, "Well, OK, then let's shake the old man a bit!" Four very annoyed nurses showed up and rolled her father next door bumping into every item on the way. He died at two o'clock in the morning. Interestingly enough, the doctor who Andrea and her mother were told had to be called "Mr. Professor," promptly asked her into his room. He gave a detailed explanation about why an autopsy should be performed. Suddenly, he was polite and behaved as a doctor should. Yet while her father was alive, she was chasing him down the corridor and was glad if she managed to exchange a word with him. It seemed to Andrea that the doctors were interested only in dead patients.


As you can imagine, an incredible number of comments followed this story. Let me translate a few that are typical. (1) In spite of all this we give billions and billions as gratuity (hálapénz) to these predators. (2) Unfortunately, I know from my own experiences that there are only very few places where the staff treats the patient and his family members as if they were human beings. In the last three years I have lost several close relatives and came to know six hospitals. Out of these six there was only one where conditions were bearable. In five hospitals we were screamed at or ignored until I waved money in front of their noses and suddenly I became "my dear lady" (kedves asszonyom). (3) My father, who had a stroke earlier, was taken to the hospital because he was dehydrated. That was on Friday. On Saturday my mother went to visit him and was astonished to see that one of his arms was black and blue and swollen enormously. It turned out that the nurse gave the infusion not into the vein but into the muscle. Next week he died of blood poisoning. (4) The hospital (internal medicine) in Tatabánya is called the "death factory." I can tell at least three horror stories. Sometimes I dream that I go there with a machine gun…. (5) In the family ONLY negative examples. My grandfather was treated for a sore throat for months by the family physician. It turned out that he had throat cancer. If treated in time he could have been saved. It was too late. My grandmother was in terrible shape after his death but another doctor fixed her up and put her on medication. The old family doctor showed up at the house uninvited and announced that the medicine the other doctor prescribed was no good. Here is the one he recommends. Two weeks later she was gone. An autopsy showed that it was the wrong medication. (6) Our doctors are deaf and mute. Why don't they teach these people to communicate at the university? He does this or that, says two words to the nurse, and leaves. No explanation, no alternatives, not a word. (7) And this is not just a question of inadequate financing. (8) I'm telling you, this is not Europe. (9) Our doctors complain that they have too little money. But look at those cars in the doctors' parking lot. (10) The people at APEH (the Hungarian equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service) don't dare to ask about their illegal extra income because they are afraid of them. After all, eventually everybody will become old and ill. (11) This is not a new phenomenon. My father died in 1967 and two years later I read in the hospital's library his medical report because by that time my brother-in-law was a doctor there. It was evident from the EKG taken around noon on Sunday that it was a heart attack, but even at this most elegant hospital in Budapest the staff refused to look after the patients over the weekend.


These lines are hard to read, but out of the hundreds of comments there was only one who tried to defend the doctors. He claimed that he was longshoreman but everybody suspected that he was a doctor.

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The situation in health care is the shame of Hungary. I think Laszlo Molnar was right when he said, even before he became a minister, that this system in Hungary is, in fact, killing people. It is the main reason why I, thank god I can afford that, have a seperate insurance that allows me to go to any (privat) clinic in Hungary or elsewhere in Europe to get treatment, whenever I have a serious problem and deem it necessary. I suspect that most well to do Hungarians, including the Highest and Almighty and his entourage, do the same. There is this persistent myth that Hungarian docters are up to standards as far as knowledge and expertise is concerned, it is just the lack of money and the bad system that is keeping them back. I don’t believe a word of it. Apart from their huge attitude problem towards patients, you can’t be as backward as they are for decades and still keep up your expertise. I know there are good and friendly doctors, specialist and certainly general practioners, but overall I’m afraid the main problem is that a layer of a few thousand chief doctors (főorvos)in hospitals, who have… Read more »
Odin's Lost Eye
This contribution was written for the first part of this article, but a program glitch prevented it from being up loaded. The problems with the hierarchal structures in hospitals is probably world wide. It is a traditional thing in the doctoring business, all doctors demand respect (except perhaps in China where the doctoring trade was different). Doctoring is a trade in which the customer (the patient) is in the position of a supplicant and the doctor is in the position of being the almighty. This gives them exaggerated feelings of their own importance. Doctors are not selected in the same way as military officers where people are selected on their personal qualities before they are trained. So they know little about leadership and have developed little in the way of leadership qualities etc. In Medicine people decide that they want it be their trade. That is all that it is a trade, just like any other. They read, practice and learn. They take their degrees, after which it is a matter of luck as to what they do thereafter. Unlike many other trades, in medicine, skill and ability count for little. Promotion also tends to be a matter of medical… Read more »
I had the opportunity to visit a friend at the Cleveland Clinic yesterday, who had suffered a brain aneurysm on Monday. I can’t begin to tell you how awed and humbled I was by this short experience. Firstly, I arrived in the reception area of the main building — for those unfamiliar with the Cleveland Clinic, it is one of the top US hospitals and one of Ohio’s largest employers. So it is huge. I was greeted in the reception by the sound of a live jazz quartet playing soft music. Volunteers worked the front area to help people find the right building/wing, etc. The ground floor shops, and indeed much of that reception area, resembled an airport or a large hotel/convention center. It was gorgeous. The Neurology ICU was amazing: quiet, professional, courteous nurses, doctors, staff. A calm hush is the only way I can describe it. Our visit lasted about 20 min. Smiling nurses came and went with pills, meals, etc. The nurse quietly explained what each pill was for, smiled and left. My friend told us that the doctors explained the procedures and answered all questions. There was a place for everything and nothing out of its… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh

Jules: “So many Hungarian doctors have traveled overseas on exchange trips…don’t any of them see this?”
Yes, they do see it and as soon as they get home they continue where they left off. I know that from the head of a large Hungarian hospital who himself spent some time in the United States. He mentioned in an interview that unfortunately the experience doesn’t have a lasting impact on doctors who had the opportunity to work in this country. He was talking about the doctors in his own hospital.

John T

As others have said, the practice of hálapénz is a shameful practice in a supposedly civilised, modern society. To pay an additional amount for care you have already paid for and are entitled to receive is disgusting. The healthcare staff who indulge in this are crooks, pure and simple. They are also potentially murderers if they do not provide the service they are capable of, simply because someone hasn’t given them a “gratuity”.