Back When an Időpont Was an Időpont

Doctor’s Office, by Lee Dubin

My experiences with doctors here in Hungary have been mostly good so far. I haven’t been sick or otherwise in need of urgent care, so I’ve been to the doctor just for routine things. Getting the first Pfizer shot on Friday was a perfectly satisfactory experience; the doctors and staff were very organized and on top of things, and I didn’t have to wait long at all, nor did those I saw around me. There were actual appointments, and they were honored. (Granted, getting an appointment for a shot has been a challenge for many; that’s another matter.) Also, my “háziorvos” (general practitioner), whose office is on the same street where I live, has a friendly, accessible style; he and his staff see patients fairly promptly, answer phone calls incessantly, and clearly work hard to give everyone proper care and referrals.

But the system here is far from ideal overall. I have learned, over time, that an “időpont” (appointment) can mean little or nothing. Many doctors’ offices lack any kind of reception staff, so they see patients in order of arrival. In addition, as I learned today, having what seems like an appointment does not mean that the doctor will even be in.

I have an underarm scar, from surgery years ago, that has been acting up. I went to see a dermatologist about it; first she recommended using a prescription cream, then she gave it frozen nitrogen treatment (which brought down the swelling a bit) and referred me to a doctor at the large medical center. The referral said Friday, April 9, at 8 a.m. So I went there early this morning, checked in at the entrance, and was told to go up to the “kiemelt kezelő” department and wait. I went there, sat outside, saw no sign of anyone in the office, but waited. I had cancelled my first class for this appointment and was hoping not to have to cancel my second one too.

About an hour later, I went back down to the receptionist and said that no one was there. She said, “They’re coming, they’re coming, just wait.” So I went back upstairs and waited. And waited. I cancelled my second class (fortunately, my only other class today; my Fridays are light). It was nearly two and a half hours when I went back downstairs and asked the receptionist what was going on. She went into an office, called someone, spent some minutes on the phone, and came back to tell me that I should come back next Friday at the same time, since the doctor wasn’t in today.

Now, I am not going to cancel next week’s classes; I will talk with the referring doctor and find a way to come in later. This kind of situation is not particular to Hungary, by the way. In New York City, when I was working on my second book and had to buy my own health insurance, I first made the mistake of signing up for one of the city plans. It was awful: no real access to doctors, hours of waiting in a crowded clinic filled with poor people who seemed in much more urgent need than I. I switched to Blue Cross, which was substantially more expensive, and magically had access to first-rate doctors, waiting rooms, etc. Here in Hungary, the equivalent would be going to a private doctor in Budapest, or to one of the best hospitals there. I have been warned that medical care in the vidék (provinces) can be subpar.

But anyway, that charmed world of doctors’ appointments and personal attention is really only available at a cost or with good luck, no matter where you are. If you want cheap (or “universal”) health care, you have to put up with the imperfections. This doesn’t mean you can’t get good care, but you need a lot of patience, and you need to know in advance what mistakes not to make. For instance, don’t show up at 8 a.m. when showing up at noon, or not at all, will get you the same result. And don’t assume that an időpont is an időpont, unless it actually is.

  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

  • TEDx Talk

    Delivered at TEDx Upper West Side, April 26, 2016.



    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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