Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

June 2015

The White Rabbit syndrome is upon me again. The main reason for tardiness this month is the removal of a cataract. My Kalamata ophthalmologist had been nagging me for at least two years about the state of my right eye, but when it came to the crunch she recommended that I have the procedure done in Athens. So of course I complied, and went to a branch of the Athens Eye Hospital, where everything is so hi-tech and new that patients are in a fair way to be dazzled post operation.

How things have changed. Before I came to Greece I had heard various horror stories about the state of medicine in rural areas, and not just rural areas, as it turned out. In the late 1960s an Australian friend of mine was living in the north of Greece when a cholera epidemic broke out: the local doctor lined people up and injected them with vaccine, using the same needle until it was too worn to do the job. In the 1980s, my local doctor used a teaspoon when checking on the state of my children’s throats. In the big Athens hospital where my youngest son was born, most of the nursing was done by Filipina nursing aides, and patients’ families were expected to help. And they did, faithfully and conscientiously. There was usually a family member present right through the night: these people took the messier parts of nursing and the business of sleeping in an armchair very much for granted. It was, they clearly believed, part of the obligatory programma.

And now that public hospitals are under extreme pressure because of Greece’s interminable economic crisis, the sick and suffering would be in a sorry plight indeed if family members were not around. Pity those people who are aged and alone.

I was nervous last week. Well, I’m always nervous about something, and it was a matter of an eye, after all, so I was inclined to disbelieve those people who said how routine the matter was, that there was no pain etc. But it so happened that they were right. The worst part was the tedium of waiting while the essential eye drops did their work. We, the patients, were attended to in groups, and then sat about in a state of Cyclopean suspense: my grandsons thought it good sport to gaze at my enlarged eye while I made noises of a suitably threatening nature. Most patients were there en famille, as is the custom, and well grownup grandchildren waited on their elders hand and foot, while joining in the pleasant buzz of conversation.

The actual procedure took only about six minutes. And there was, as I had been promised, no pain: a little pressure and very mild discomfort were the only sensations, and they lasted merely seconds. You are instructed to gaze at a very bright light, which is an easy task, as your eye has been more or less paralysed beforehand. Then it’s just a matter of enjoying the show, which is similar to a kaleidoscope: all different colours and shifting shapes. Then guiding hands lead you out of the operating theatre, you get to sit for a few minutes, and then you are taken downstairs to see a brave and bright new world. It really is miraculous: where once there were only blurs, suddenly there are sharply defined edges and much more vivid colours.

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During this time, I was staying with my son and his family at their home in Nea Peramos on the Saronic Gulf. It is only a short distance from the much more famous Megara, which used to be a very wealthy place, once famous as a trade centre, and notorious for triggering the First Peloponnesian War: it had defected from the Peloponnesian League, having become disillusioned with Sparta. (Not hard, I imagine.) Megara is also the birthplace of Byzas, founder of Byzantium, and Euclid the philosopher.

The history of Nea Peramos is humble by comparison. When the ill-conceived Greek invasion of Turkey failed in 1922, countless numbers of Greek refugees fled to the patritha they knew only through song and story.  The inhabitants of Peramos came to this spot, and named it New Peramos in honour of their old home: on every national day they wear the traditional costumes of the Greek community of Asia Minor.

Both Megara and Nea Peramos are close to the island of Salamis, or Salamina, as it is called in Greek. It was in the straits of Salamina in 480 B.C. that an Athenian fleet managed to defeat the Persian one, while emperor Xerxes sat on the beach (on a golden throne, apparently) and doubtless gnashed his teeth, and exhibited other signs of ill-temper. He had already had the Hellespont lashed three hundred times as punishment for a storm that had destroyed various pontoon bridges that he had had built. In the event, he took his fleet and his armies home after the Salamina rout, and so the Greeks had something of a respite.

On my first day of new vision I spent an hour or so watching marine commandos practising on those self-same waters that had seen such decisive action all those centuries ago. What would Xerxes have made of military jet skis, helicopters, and motorised rubber rafts?  One can only wonder and ponder.

Gillian Bouras

 

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