Last Words: Where Has Iceland's Healthcare System Gone?

Last Words: Where Has Our Healthcare Gone?

Last Words: Where Has Our Healthcare Gone?

Published March 21, 2018

Alice Demurtas
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Say you live in Iceland and you’re on minimum wage. More than half of your wage goes into your rent every month. One day you wake up and you’re covered in painful red cysts. Crying, you try to make an appointment; it’s urgent, but you have to wait two days before you get one. As you walk in, you pay $15. If you can’t make it, you can try your luck at the after-hours shift: it’s $30 now, please.

After waiting for hours, you finally get in. The doctor thinks it’s just an allergic reaction so he gives you some antihistamines: it’s another $50, thank you very much. Days go by and the cysts don’t get better. They’re itchy, painful and terrifying. Two more trips to the public medical centre, a different antihistamine and some blood tests and another $100 have gone down the drain. The doctor has also made an appointment for you at a dermatologist so they can check the cysts.

Finally, at the fourth trip to the centre, a young doctor sighs as soon as he sees you: “allergy?” he says. “My dear, it’s clear you’ve got adult chicken pox!” Well, at least your sick days are paid for—but only if you have another $50 for a medical certificate to take to your employer.

“The question is no longer when will this stop, but will it ever get any better?”

Six months later, while you’re on holiday, you get a call: “we just wanted to remind you about the dermatologist appointment that you booked.” Yes, six months ago.

This was three years ago. Since then, the hospital has been taken over by mould, while entire wings have been closed due to the lack of staff. There aren’t enough nursing homes in Iceland, which means that the elderly permanently live in our hospitals. The emergency room is packed. You can end up spending two days there, sharing a bathroom with ten other people because there are no extra beds. When public institutions begin asking for endless amounts of money that we don’t have to cure diseases we don’t choose to contract, the question is no longer “When will this stop.” It’s now “Will it ever get any better?”

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