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Sunday, 4 February 2007

The Costa del Sol Hospital

I've just come back from a Sunday morning visit to a friend in the large Costa del Sol Hospital. Seven kilometres out of Marbella towards Fuengirola just in front of the Los Monteros Urbanization where Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffiths have their home on the coast, the regional hospital is a prominent landmark.

27 years ago when we first arrived in Spain to make a similar hospital visit we would have made a hazardous two hour journey to the Hospital Civil in Málaga. Our little Seat 850 would wind its way along the narrow coastal road passing through the very centre of Fuengirola past the bus station, over the Los Boliches bridge, negotiating the two lane road which wound tortuously around the cliff top curves before reaching Torremolinos with its English Pub signs offering Full English Breakfasts. Passing the very foot of the airport runway we would search for the hospital in the labyrinth of roads of 1980 Málaga. That was Spain then. Now we have a super fast road system and the ultra modern Costa del Sol regional hospital is right on our doorstep and served several times every day by the Costa del Sol bus service.

Our friend was on the second floor where the short term trauma patients stay. Sunday hospital visiting is big in Spain with nearly every two bedded room crowded with visiting family and friends in their smart Sunday outfits. With every day visiting hours until 9.30pm in the Costa del Sol Regional Hospital, the Spanish medical system expects the patient’s family to play a full part in the care and recovery of patients. Pay cards for the TV system in each room are available from the dispenser in the lobby next to the lifts. Water is dispensed from slot machines on each floor. Newspapers, magazines and gifts are sold in the shop downstairs. All of this supposes that the patient is mobile, or has a member of family on hand all day and if needed, sleeping overnight in the upright chair in the room. Don’t hang back in with supplementary care or lengthy visits to your bedridden friends or relatives, the hospital expects it.

Brilliant marble floor tiles reflect the light in the large cool entrance area and passages. On the way to the room we passed one of the open plan ward stations. Four nurses male and female were on duty. Two sides were open to the public. It looked purposeful and organized. Looking up as we neared we asked for our friend’s room and one of the nurses gave us her room number without consulting a list. The visiting room for family to meet mobile patients was airy and light and looked out towards the sea and the green links of the Santa Clara golf course. A young girl hooked up to her drip on a stand chatted comfortably to her friends.

The Costa del Sol hospital rooms are visited frequently. I asked the young woman cleaner how often the rooms were checked. “The rooms are cleaned once a day” she said, “And the bathrooms are cleaned once a day. Diapers are changed four times a day.” The older woman floor cleaner was off at 3pm and couldn’t wait. I asked her if she would be cleaning at home when she got home. “No!” she said putting both palms towards her face to indicate the need for rest, “I am going to sleep, then get myself made up and perhaps have a little walk in the evening” The bathroom, room, passages and lifts looked spotless to me.

A good looking young male doctor the very double of any star in a medical TV series breezed in. With a syringe poised at the ready he greeted my friend cheerily by her first name, asked her how she was, gave her an injection and was gone. Another young orderly leaving his laden food trolley outside, brought in a covered lunch tray, whisked off the insulated lid and moved briskly on to the next room. The food was hot and certainly looked and smelt appetizing; chicken soup, fish croquettes and hot chips with a side dish of paella. A fresh roll in a cellophane wrapper and an orange rounded off the meal. Exactly thirty minutes later another orderly popped in to remove the tray. No sooner had she gone than a member of the Costa del Sol’s excellent voluntary interpreters team called in to see if our friend needed any help or liaison with the medical staff. She was making a daily call on all the foreigners to make sure they lacked for nothing for the sake of language.

As the patient ate I read a colourful yet discreet sign on the wall outlining the rights of the sick in Andalucía from prompt admission and attention through to confidentially and full medical reports and records on discharge. Our friend certainly seemed to be receiving all the attention all she was entitled to.

The heavy rains from the night before had stopped and the sun was shining for the first time for some days when we walked back down to the car park. Dark clouds still hung over the Sierra Bermeja range of mountains which create the micro climate for which Marbella is so well known. The air was fresh and the car was pleasantly warm as we pulled back onto the busy CN 340 road.

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