Thursday, 15 September 2011


When working the day shift at the hospital, Maria's morning starts around 6:00 to prepare breakfast for her aging and ailing parents and for her daughter. As a nurse at a hospital in a southern province, she needs to be at work just before 7:00. The austerity measures have resulted in salary cuts and eliminated her 'holiday pay', the combined total amount of about 25% from a salary that was hardly sufficient to make her loan payments and meet routine household expenses at a time that everything from gasoline to utility rates and indirect taxes (23%) have risen sharply in the past two years.

Meanwhile, her husband working in construction has not had a job for more than two years ago. Construction is finished for the next few years and he has no prospects for securing regular employment. He he had been collecting unemployment that has a limited span, and his unemployment money is just about enough for his cigarettes and alcohol which he consumes more and more with his friends at the local tavern. He is thinking of returning to his village to live with his parents so he would not be a burden on his own family.

Maria asked her parents to move in with her because she needs their social security money more than ever. However, austerity has reduced those by approximately 20%, so she finds it difficult to meet mortgage and car payments payments to the bank that is threatening to foreclose on the house. The bank had encouraged her to borrow a 'Swiss franc' loan when terms were more favorable and banks preferred making those loans and using the euro as collateral. Mary now regrets having to borrow on the Swiss franc because the exchange rate has tanked and the bank is threatening to foreclose if Maria misses any more payments.

Like the rest of the taxpayers, she has to meet three 'extra-ordinary taxes' that the government introduced in September 2011 as part of a deal with the IMF-EU  "TROIKA" deciding what policies Greece must adopt to qualify for each 'tranche' of the first loan (110 billion euros)-. The first 'extra-ordinary tax' is one based on the value of Maria's home that the bank is threatening to take away and will probably do so by the end of the year. The tax comes as part of the electric bill, so if she does not pay the entire amount, the electric company cuts off her electricity!  The second tax is on her vehicle, for which Maria pays an annual tax of 600 euros because it has a 2350 horsepower engine (although it is five years old), and a third tax is surcharge on income earned in 2010. 

Maria has calculated that the only way to keep afloat is to divorce her unemployed husband who is another expense on the family that she cannot afford. For now, they are separated because neither can afford divorce costs. She often takes anti-depressants, but they interfere with her fast-pace job, so she takes them on days off when she works part time at a flower shop. Maria will not know for another three months if the bank will renegotiate the mortgage to allow for half the payments that she was contracted to make, or whether she will finally lose the house. The total sum of the 'new extraordinary taxes' combined with sharp rise in utilities and indirect taxes have made it impossible to meet her daily living obligations. The most significant concern for Maria is that she may be asked to work part time at the hospital, owing to lack of funding from the ministry of health.

When Maria arrives at the hospital, she is already stressed knowing that it lacks everything from basic supplies like cotton balls, plastic gloves, and clean sheets to essential medications and instruments to conduct surgical operations. She hates to ask the patients' relatives to bring their own supplies, but she does it. Having to make the rounds in 15 rooms hosting two to four patients each, Maria works with only another nurse and attends to the most serious cases in the pathology wing of the hospital; in other words, the real emergencies like a patient bleeding uncontrollably, another about to go into a comma due to low blood sugar level, and always with an eye on age, giving priority to younger patients.

The wing is staffed by interns overworked and invariably edgy knowing that their future in the glorified medical field is not good unless they leave the country, retrain and secure a job in an developed country. Like Maria, the interns gossip about the doctors performing surgery securing illegal payoffs from the patients' relatives in order to schedule the procedure. Otherwise, the procedure is delayed for many months and even then, fear forces the patients' relatives to pay off the anesthesiologist and surgeon who supplement their salary also by ordering drugs from certain companies that offer vacation packages and gifts to them; by ordering medical devices after securing kickbacks; by often charging patients coming to see them at the hospital when in fact they are on the hospital payroll.

Maria wanted to become a nurse 'to help people who were ill', but now she sees the job as mechanical. She is too demoralized to care about any patient, and tries to work hard to save her full time position. She is thinking of going back for specialization training as a means of job security and better pay, but she cannot afford to make the move amid the austerity economy right now, and besides, she would needs a Master's or Ph.D. to really make a difference in her salary. Maria has also thought of becoming a 'traveling nurse' and earn about 2000 euros, or more than twice what she is currently earning, but she has a child and elderly parents. She keeps telling her co-workers that when her parents die, Maria and her daughter will leave the country for Norway, Australia, or New Zealand. As far as Maria is concerned, t
he only future Greece has is for tourists, priests, and politicians. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"It all seemed grotesque to me, and presently I said, "Well, Professor, I know you always have a reason for what you do, but this certainly puzzles me. It is well we have no sceptic here, or he would say that you were working some spell to keep out an evil spirit" (Bram Stoker, Dracula. 1897).

Maria needs garlic where ever she may roam, however, if fear grips her spirit and she is motivated toward self preservation, a cache of silver bullets will suffice.

The bloodsuckers are everywhere.