As a youngster I had little to do with doctors, just dentists. On the basis of that experience I’m not at all surprised at the sorry state of most Hungarians’ teeth. I have read scores of articles in Hungarian papers recounting how bad things are. I remember one article in particular in which the author claimed that the Hungarian situation can be compared only to the Ukrainian. The amazing thing about all this is that theoretically people should make frequent visits to the dentist because medical insurance covers dental care.
In practice, the situation is pretty grim. Most people don’t go to the dentist regularly, only when they have a toothache. Then it is often too late, and out comes the tooth. The state-provided dental care doesn’t have a very good reputation, and most people who can afford it would rather pay to have their own private dentists. I understand that there are some very good dentists, especially the ones who cater to foreign patients in search of less costly treatment. But I have the feeling that one can go very wrong even here. I have an Internet friend who made the mistake of going to the “very best” dentist in a large Hungarian city, and this very best doctor did a real butcher job on her. Back in California she had to pay thousands of dollars to fix all the problems the Hungarian dentist caused.
I also know something about Hungarian dentistry from the inside. Another Internet friend was a dentist in Germany. She went to dental school in Hungary but shortly after finishing her studies she settled in Germany. She was telling me that in dental school in Hungary there is a lot of emphasis on theory and very little attention is paid to practice. As she rightly pointed out, a dentist works with his hands and thus hands-on instruction is a must. According to her–and of course she might have been biased–a large percentage of Hungarian crowns don’t fit properly. She explained to me, but now I don’t remember, the exact number of millimeters that can be between the remnant of one’s old tooth and the crown. In any case, according to her, most of the Hungarian crowns are ill-fitting. I’m pretty sure that this was the case with my cousin who one day told me that there was a problem with one of her crowns. The tooth underneath was decaying. Well, I’m no dentist, but there had to be a gap somewhere. I suggested that she change dentists but, of course, this particular dentist was the best in all of Pécs! She trusted her. This way it is not at all surprising that most Hungarians lose their teeth by the age of sixty. Another problem is that Hungarians are afraid of the dentist. I have never experienced any discomfort in a dentist chair in Canada or in the United States. On the other hand, I have nightmares even thinking about my visits to a number of dentists when I was a teenager in Hungary.
Moving on from dentistry to physicians and their patients. Starting with the patients. I was somewhat taken aback that even professional, middle class people know very little about medicine. I mean the kind of medicine we pick up from newspapers and television. There are always articles about new discoveries, new methods, new drugs, and one is bound to absorb a great deal of information this way. And of course for the last ten years or so there has been a growing body of sound medical information available on the Internet.
A couple of examples of what I mean. About ten years ago I had a conversation with a young Hungarian woman who had just finished medical school. The conversation was about breast cancer. I told her that if it is caught early, 80-90% of the time it is curable. Well, that was not what she had learned in medical school. What they taught her was that it was a deadly disease. Once a woman discovers breast cancer she is done in. She will be dead in no time. Now, if this is what they were teaching young doctors in medical school, the results are predictable.
A doctor’s mother-in-law went blind due to glaucoma. I inquired whether the old lady had regular check-ups for glaucoma. What? Glaucoma check-ups? They didn’t know about such a thing. A not too close relative of mine lost a lot of weight. The family suspected cancer. He went to be checked out. The doctors found nothing wrong. Within a month he was dead. A cousin of mine was feeling pretty awful during a theater production and decided to go straight to the emergency room of the largest hospital in the city. They didn’t want to admit her, but because her daughter-in-law worked as a doctor in the same hospital they sighed and reluctantly signed her in. Most likely they stuck her in a bed and didn’t bother further with the lady whom the doctors obviously considered to be a hypochondriac. A few hours later she suffered a heart attack and, although she was already in the hospital, they couldn’t save her. Everybody tells me that it is a great advantage if the heart attack occurs after the patient has been admitted to the hospital.
My relatives at least, even with all the doctors in the family, don’t have the foggiest idea of what we consider to be healthy living. They’d rather take pills to lower their blood pressure instead of walking half an hour or so and losing a few pounds. A relative of mine, the wife of a doctor, has occasional lower back pains. I suggested simple exercises, maybe 15 minutes a day, that can do miracles. She refuses. She’d rather take pain killers.
Maybe there will be a gradual change in attitude. I see more articles about medicine in newspapers and there are several useful Internet sites as well. The problem is that relatively few older people use the Internet. The younger people who do don’t have to worry about aches and pains at the moment.
Just a couple of footnotes here. The first is that one of my readers doubted the accuracy of my description of the Sarkozy-Orbán meeting in September 2007. He found a right-wing blog that claimed that the whole incident was concocted by Gábor Demszky, mayor of Budapest. Demszky allegedly made up the story in order to cover his own mistake.
Sarkozy had a very tight schedule because he spent only one day in the Hungarian capital. He allocated twenty minutes to a talk with Orbán in the parliament building. From there he was supposed to go to the Buda side in front of the College of Engineering to pay tribute in front of a statue commemorating the 1956 Revolution. Demszky and some other dignitaries from City Hall were supposed to welcome him there. However, when Sarkozy arrived Demszky and entourage were not there to greet him. Demszky claimed that they were not late, that Sarkozy was early.
So, journalists tried to find out the truth and asked Péter Szijjártó, spokesman of Fidesz, about the duration of the meeting. Why was it cut so short? Szijjártó’s answer was that “the success of a meeting doesn’t depend on its length.” Well, to me this is pretty much of an admission. If the right-wing blog had been right, Szijjártó should have answered something like: “What do you mean? Mr. Sarkozy arrived early and spent twenty minutes with Mr. Orbán as was scheduled.” In any case, the attached picture tells the whole story, I think.
The other footnote is that Viktor Orbán just spent three days in China. Although during his first tenure as prime minister he paid absolutely no attention to China, lately he is a great admirer of the country’s economic achievement. He is planning to entice Chinese companies to settle in Hungary. He tried to endear himself to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao with whom he had a half hour meeting by mentioning that the Hungarians are also Asiatic people and are related to the Huns!
Well, that the Hungarians are not related to the Huns we all learned in high school. Maybe even in elementary school. Fine, this is certainly neither here or there as far as Prime Minister Wen is concerned. Except for one thing: the Huns, or as the Chinese called them the hiungnus, were deadly enemies of China. It was against them that the Great Wall was built. Anyone who would like to read more about the Chinese and the hiungnus should take a look at Klára Sándor’s article in Galamus. In fact, she wrote a whole series of articles on the origins of Hungarians, all very interesting.