Posted by: puebloman | November 13, 2009

Blood Sweat and tears

I’m at the Comarcal Hospital in Velez-Malaga and I’ve come to have some blood taken.

When you get to the blood queue you have to take a ticket from the machine, like when you go to the fish stall at Euroski’s – though at Euroski’s you have to be careful to get the right colour ticket, orange for fish to be prepared, green for insti-fish. But I digress.

The hospital blood queue is at once more and less complicated than the fish queue. It’s 8.30 am and I’ve come early because I’ve learned from experience that the ticketing is not as predictable as a Brit might expect. In the UK you find you’re always 100 away from being seen. You despair, or you go shopping, or both. But when in Spain you see you are only 25 away, it can raise dangerous false hopes in you unless you know that, as with the fish queue, the numbers aren’t absolute. For example, people  who are called by name slip mysteriously past you in the queue regardless of ticket number. Children likewise go through. They are swept up by the receptionist, smothered in kisses told they are muy guapa (gorgeous) and whisked to the childrens’ desk where a post-adolescent para medic with glazed eyes and two-day stubble chats  to them until, apparently numbed and hypnotised by the inconsequential one way banter they fail entirely to register that blood is being taken out of them. Likewise, people who seem to be the friends and family of the staff glide past you and through the door, deep in chatter.

The queue is immaculately polite, but you feel in them the occasional surge of panic as time plods on. Those in the know are aware that the portcullis slams down at 12.30 and no one else will be seen that day. Well, actually 12.15 because the staff don’t want to be pitched into lunch without having a little time to prepare. In order to avoid disappointed customers, only a very limited number of tickets are placed in the machine, which quickly runs out. This leads to flurries of distress from patients who have been sent by specialists to get a blood test only to discover that their are no numbers left. This can lead to incidents, especially when the patient in question comes from afar and is accompanied by their entire family, all pitching in on their behalf. I was in a state of panic once myself when, as a rookie blood queuer, I realised I was not going to be seen that day and that my sample might not reach the consultant in time for my appointment. I remember being saved by what I can only describe as a female ticket tout, who slipped me a very desirable number saying  “Have that dear. I always take several, just in case”.

So I get in. Not for me the unshaved adolescent. I am directed to a very large blonde woman who has not done her roots for a long time. She is wearing a white coat that looks like it might have been owned by a surgeon in the Crimean war. “My” seat is occupied by her large friend, and they are deep in hilarious conversation. Eventually she sees me “Urino?” she shouts “Urino?” then seeing I am a foreigner she slips deftly into English “Pee Pee?” “Pee Pee?”. I seek to explain, in my halting Castilian, that no one has in fact asked me for a urine sample but she waves me away, thrusting a huge sealed bag of plastic implements and telling me to go and find a lavatory.

When I get there I sit down and examine the kit. There are wierd shaped flasks presumably to accommodate a range of women, medium and large buckets I guess for men who have forgotten how to hit the toilet bowl, let alone the test tube. There are funnels, pouring flasks and, at last, the sample bottle. A truly socially inclusive kit.

As I sit there I start to worry. Last time I had blood taken was at the “Orchard Practice” in Surrey. A “phlebotomist” had dug around in my right arm to get blood, and then in my left arm to no effect, and had then called in an “expert” (excuse me? wasn’t she the phebotomist?). They had drawn off the blood by putting a catheter between the first and second fingers of my left hand, and had looked at me throughout as though I was being awkward. How was I going to deal with all this in Spanish? I stuffed all the spare plastic stuff  into the pedal bin by the toilet . . .

When I returned it was as though I’d never left. The “friend” slipped out of my chair although the conversation didn’t abate and was apparently reaching some sort of hilarious climax. The blonde woman pushed up my sleeve and slapped my arm around with her meaty hand. Just for fun I supposed. As they both burst into gales of laughter she slipped the needle into my vein, drew off three substantial vials of dark blood, sealed and labelled them. She hadn’t even looked at me, let alone my arm.

“Go and see your doctor in a week. Eight days. Or nine. More or less”

Elated, I left for the hospital canteen. I’d get a coffee, a pan con tomate or a pitufo with serrano ham. When I got there, I learned from another customer that you don’t just go to the bar and order. You queue at the till and the checkout staff gives you a ticket marked with the items you require then you queue at the bar and when you get that order the camarero marks your ticket to say you have received your order, then you queue at the till with your ticket to pay . . . I made my excuses and left.


  1. Wow! My medical experiences in Galicia have been totally different. I’ve never been to a blood queue (didn’t even know they existed)! I guess it’s because you had yours done at a hospital or `residencia.´ I’ve only ever been to the `centro de salud.´


    • I didn’t mean to alarm anyone. The Comarcal in VelezMalaga is a fabulous hospital. I’ve had to take emergency patients there from time time and they are always wonderful. My experience in the “blood queue” (my term- no one elses!) was wholly positive. It was just a bit of a fiesta!


  2. Ha, Ha – so funny I laughed out loud especially the ticket reference to fish counters and canteen orders – I thought that kind of queue organisation was peculiarily British!
    I think you should write a book about the odd and funny side of everyday life in Almarchar, El campo del passos and costa del sol!
    We could read it in our bookclub then book a group visit!


    • Hi Kate
      Yeah maybe I’ll do that – this blog is getting querkier, and so am I!
      You could just bring the bookclub out and read something worth reading?


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