Sometimes, the system works.
Against what I’d imagined to be the greatest of odds in this socialist bureaucracy, where Covid vaccinations are only available through government departments and dispensaries, I got called to come in for my jab.
What’s amazing about this is that I’m neither a citizen nor permanent resident … just another expat-immigrant still classified as a “temporary” resident, even though we’re working on four years since we arrived in Portugal.
Even more extraordinary was the fact that I was called – not messaged, emailed, or contacted via the postal system – by a real person speaking Portuguese so quickly that, twice, I had to ask her to slow down a bit.
“Pode a senhora falar um pouco mais devar, por favor?”
At first, I thought she was another salespeople, calling like MEO telemarketers to sell me something. “A senhora quer vender-me alguma coisa?” I asked as she came up for breath. “Não, não, não!” she insisted, stating that she was calling me in Alcains, Castelo Branco, to schedule my first Covid shot. Odd, though, that she said she was in Évora, despite the fact that my caller ID showed her location as Estremoz.
I asked her where I was to go and when.
“Elvas. In the old business center located in the industrial zone, at 1:30 pm on Thursday,” she replied.
“Can I get the shot here in Alcains, instead?” I asked. Elvas is a good two-hour drive away.
She didn’t know. I’d have to ask the officials here in Alcains. But, if I wanted to get my shot two days later, I would have to confirm with her for Elvas now. I’d tried getting information from my local centro de saúde, but the doors were (almost) always shut and the people inside just shook their heads when I knocked on the door and spoke Portuguese with my English accent peppered with Spanish.
So, I confirmed.
This, in itself, is a matter of no small significance!
See, we divide our time between small homes in Alcains (Castelo Branco) and Vila Boim (Elvas). When in Elvas last year, I suffered from some gastrointestinal malady that forced me to consult with a doctor, who insisted that I undergo a colonoscopy—something I’d defiantly avoided for 70 years.
To undergo the colonoscopy, however, I’d have to bring proof that I tested negative for Covid within 48 hours of the procedure. The Affidea clinic (in Évora) offered to do the test while I was there, before my colonoscopy—for €120. The same test was free in Elvas, the concelho where we lived.
But I was registered with the health department in Alcains, our first and primary home.
“Not a problem,” advised the drive-up Covid technicians. “Just have the test prescribed by your physician here in Elvas … take it to the hospital … and they’ll schedule an appointment for your test within 48 hours. Come back here, the same place, when you’re scheduled.”
Trouble was, my doctor was off for the week. Her receptionist suggested that I go directly to the hospital, which I did. Very pleasant people. But, before they could attend to me, I would need to get my “Utente” (health care) paperwork changed from Alcains to Elvas at the Centro de Saúde in Elvas and then return to the hospital to be scheduled for the test.
All that accomplished, we were ready to head to Affidea in Évora for the colonoscopy, when an SMS (message) arrived on our mobile: My procedure had been cancelled because I hadn’t booked a Covid test at the clinic.
We ran to the doctor’s office, negative Covid results officially in hand, where the receptionist called Affidea and gave them a piece of her mind. In rapid-fire Portuguese. Turning to us with a smile, she said “Sem problema. Tudo bem.” And off we went.
All of the preceding is prologue, a digression, if you will, to contextualize my marvel at how the Portuguese system had actually worked: Despite all the changes and complications, I had been called to come in for my first Covid shot.
The process was precise and professional. I showed my identity card and it was confirmed against the list the facility had of who had been scheduled that day and at what time. Remaining outside, they brought me a clipboard with a short form to fill out: Had I ever had Covid? Had I ever had a Covid shot? Was I suffering any of the (listed) symptoms?
Handing me a card that said Astra-Zeneca, the guard escorted me inside, where six cubicles had been set up for the injections. Within two minutes, a nurse entered, had me roll up my sleeve, and jabbed me. Amazingly, I didn’t feel the shot at all!
Another attendant led me to a seating area, where people were purposefully seated in the order we’d received our inoculations. First shot, first seated. We sat there for 30 minutes, watching a slide show about Elvas play over and again. Half an hour had passed when the guard came to escort me out, asking how I felt.
“Tudo bem,” I said, as I really did feel fine at that moment.
“Do I need to schedule my next appointment?” I asked before leaving … even though my second jab wasn’t to be given for another three months. Three months!
“Não,” responded the guard. “We will call you again.”
Over the next three days, I suffered chills and flushes, alternatively feverish and cold. I was “spacey” in that way that older relatives can become. My bones felt like jelly, jamming in a loosey-goosey way that made walking an exercise in futility.
As Portugal heads into the next stage of its vaccination process – those over 65 are being jabbed – I look at my Astra-Zeneca card and feel a bit more confident and trusting.
Despite their tendency to be helpful and courteous, in Portugal and Spain, you don’t call them. They call you.
And they do! It just takes time …
Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.