I had no fucking idea what the Hell a pancreas is, or what it does, when the doc told me mine wasn’t working. On the way to the ER, Marina informed me that the pancreas is an organ that that creates insulin. If your pancreas does not create enough insulin to convert sugar into energy, you’ve got problems. Or something like that. Evidently, I have problems.
But I still wanted to watch the football game. There was an hour and a half until kickoff. My creative mind started searching for a solution. The sick side of my creative mind came up with one.
“Can we buy a pancreas from one of the Albanians standing in front of the hospital? Nip inside, do a quick switcheroo, and get to the bar in time for kickoff. I promise I’ll only drink lite beer,” as if such a things exists here.
If that joke means nothing to you let me explain: during the mid/late 90s insurrection in Kosovo it was widely believed that the ethnic Albanians were organ mining the hated Serbs. Some times, it is said, they harvested the organs while the Serbs were still alive.
Marina was not amused. She tolerates my perverse sense of humour, but does not always appreciate it.”There are no Albanians selling organs in front of the hospital,” she informed me.
“No, of course not. You can’t get away with that kind of shit when you’re trying to get into the European Union,” I said. “They must be out back.”
It did not feel like an emergency. No pain, no bleeding, no shortage of breath. I wasn’t faint or panicked. What I was, was annoyed.
I wanted to have a beer, or two, and watch the Montenegro vs England World Cup qualifier. I did not want to sit in an ER waiting room all night.
Every health care facility I’ve been in, in Montenegro, has been overflowing with old people. Not old like me (now 50) but old. Some of those old people were surely younger than me. But, fuck me, they sure looked old. I don’t look old.
Not as old as I am, anyway.
And I sure as Hell don’t act old.
If not for the fact that Marina looks 14, instead of the healthy and beautiful 24 that she is, we wouldn’t draw as many disgusted looks as we do when we engage in public displays of affection.
And there we were, in the ER, shamelessly carrying on as if we love each other in front of a couple dozen old people. Somewhat surprisingly, no one was giving us that look of disdain. I suppose they had other, more pressing things to concern themselves with. We were in an ER, after all.
Many of the old folk were conversing animatedly. There was no hint of mirth in their banter. Conversely, I was laughing, perhaps a little too loudly. We were in an ER, after all.
Marina was explaining that, for many old Montenegrins, waiting rooms in health care facilities are social gatherings. Montenegrins love to gossip. There are precious few recreation facilities in the nation’s capital; a bowling alley and… well, that’s about it. But there are 3 million coffee shops in this city of 160,000. They gather at these coffee shops, knock back half dozen espressos and gossip all day, all night.
The seniors, who enjoy free health care coverage, congregate in the waiting rooms of health care facilities to do their gossiping. They don’t have to pay for a half dozen coffees, so it’s a great way to meet new old people and while away what little time they have left. And they don’t have to bother attiring themselves in something fashionable, as they would if they were to lounge around coffee shops all day, all night.It’s some kind of marginally-heavenly purgatory for the poor and slovenly.
If they are in the waiting rooms of general care facilities, they compare ailments. If they are all similarly afflicted, and therefore waiting in the foyer of a dedicated care facility, they compare and contrast the severity of their afflictions. They take satisfaction from the fact that they are not nearly as bad off as someone who has just explained how awful it all is. They take pride in the fact that they are much worse off than the others, who, they grumble, “shouldn’t even be here, they’re so healthy.”
Once they’ve established who is in better, or worse, shape, they get down to the serious business of gossiping. It’s a small country – population 650,000 – that’s not exactly overrun with immigrants, so it does not take long to close the two or three degrees of separation that divide them and discover a link. Then they proceed to talk shit about any family they both know, or, more likely, know of. When their business is finished, they shuffle off, in their sweat pants and slippers, to their next appointment.
I asked Marina if her generation would carry on this weird custom. “Yes,” she replied, “but we’ll all be online.”
I howled with laughter at this admission. Marina smiled and said, “Shut up! It’s a Yugoslavian thing. You wouldn’t understand.”
My laughter drew disapproving stares from the old folks. “Hey, I said to them, “laughter is the best medicine.” None of them understood what I’d said, so they grumbled and went back to gossiping.
“What time is it?” I asked Marina.
Forty-five minutes to kickoff.
“C’mon, ” I grumbled, losing patience for this non-emergency.
Then they called my name, “Sa Tan,” said the nurse, looking straight at me. There was no doubt who Sa Tan was.
Doc was a jovial guy. Could have been my age,. Could have been twenty years younger.
“I’ve never treated Sa Tan before,” he laughed, telling me to sit down. He’s the only person in the Balkans to catch the joke. I was impressed.
“Pleased to meet you,” he smiled.
I caught it. “Hey, that’s my line,” I objected, feigning indignation. “Glad you guessed my name!”
Doc started air-guitaring. The demonstrably puzzled nurses giggled.He directed a nurse to take another reading. She did. It was 19.8.
“Let’s see if we can get your blood sugar down, you handsome devil, you.”
The nurse gave me a shot of insulin and sent us back out to wait.
At 9:40 they called us back in and took another measurement. Not good – 20.4. The insulin shot had done nothing. Not good.
Marina was on the verge of tears.
I walked a few steps to the window, looked out and said, “You sure there are no Albanians out there?” Gallows humour.
It worked. Marina cracked a small smile. I cracked a big smile. Marina’s smile enlarged. She’s so beautiful.
I peeked out the window again, turned back to Marina, moved my eyebrows up and down a couple times.
Marina broke. She started crying. I went over and hugged her. She looked up at me and said, “Don’t you die on me, Brian Salmi.”