Everybody's Nightmare? No, It's Already Reality
"Death with Interruptions" by Jose Saramago, the Nobel prize-winning Portuguese writer, is a great novel, indeed.
In it, death decides to take a holiday and the people of an unnamed country suddenly stop dying. No one knows why.
The months that follow the death strike are a time of instability. Families carry their loved ones across the border to kill them. The government tries to prohibit it. Then the other underworld — the criminal one — muscles in to get a piece of the action.
Finally the king's councilors tell His Highness that "unless we start dying, we will perish".
Why am I telling you this story?
Ivan Krastev, a prominent Bulgarian political scientist, once said Saramago may prove a real prophet, who gave in this novel a grim, but accurate snapshot of what Europe will be like in the near future.
"We all live in aging societies and what seemed natural and normal yesterday is impossible today ... The greatest social inequality will soon manifest itself not so much in what we consume, but in how and when we die," Krastev told the online e-vestnik.bg in August last year in I thought was the grimmest forecast I had ever heard.
Today, the terrifying prophecy is already turning into a reality. I don't feel in a position to comment whether this grim forecast holds true for the whole of Europe. Yes, may be, in a broader and more abstract sense. For Bulgaria, however, it holds true in a very direct and literal way.
Do you remember the story of a former miner, who blew himself up to stop the excruciating pain that cancer and lack of morphine caused him? Or the story about the orphans, elderly and mentally ill people, who faced the grisly prospect of having their teeth pulled out without anesthesia?
There were not stories from the annals of the Inquisition. This is today's Bulgaria and the stories of its most vulnerable heroes – the terminally ill and the abandoned.
The echo of the miner's blast is so loud and the thought of no anesthesia so shocking that it makes any comment sounds silly and cynical. Including the comments by those readers, who were harsh on me for being that harsh on my own home country.
I bet if they dare wander out into the corridors of any state hospital in Bulgaria, they will mistake the place for a shabby version of an Afghanistan emergency room.
People have a tendency to blame the horrific situation in the health care sector on whatever they worry about most in Bulgaria today - ranging from the unquantifiable (culture), through the omnipresent - corruption and lack of money, to the simplistic - inequality and history.
Are these the reasons why the problems in the health care sector are so resistant to the remedies peddled by politicians?
It is rather that politicians are too fond of surrealist experimentation with a kind of peasant pragmatism (check the latest ideas of the current health minister as she struggles desperately to make sure everybody pays the obligatory monthly contributions to the coffers of the state Health Insurance Fund).
If the combination of surrealist experimentation and peasant pragmatism reminds you of Jose Saramago novels and characters, you are wrong.
They were sardonic. The Bulgarian health care officials fit just part of the collocations – experimentation and peasant.