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Think's Guide to the Famous Czech Spa Town of Karlovy Vary

Karlovy Vary is a small town nestled snugly in a narrow valley along the banks of the River Tepla, and is famous for its charming fin de siecle architecture huddled below picturesque hills and its twelve natural hot springs.

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I have never had much time for conventional, "western" healthcare, but one memorable evening last year, I alighted from a tram to walk the short block home, and had my head smashed in by a frenzied attacker.

After regaining some semblance of consciousness two days later, I found myself in the intensive care unit of a brain surgery ward. Didn't have much choice, did I? 

What would you have done? 

Upon release from hospital, I was amused to note that my records stated that at the time of the attack I had been "inebriated".

I asked a doctor, who confirmed that, not having had any alcohol for more than 24 hours, there would have been none remaining in my bloodstream. I contacted the consultant that had overseen my case, who explained that the report had been written on the night of my admission, before any test results had been obtained.

Evidence through speculation?

Of course, the above is a minor incident, but it proved to be an accurate foreshadowing of what was to come. I bring up this whole dreary story to illustrate the prevalent attitudes which exist regarding health.

Throughout the aftermath of the attack, I was met with attitudes ranging from complete disbelief to severe shock when I took responsibility for my own body.

In fact, I was accused of acting irresponsibly when I refused to place myself unquestioningly under the control of the medical authorities.

Since the start of this millennium, I could now be labelled as acting illegally, as well as immorally - the new foreigners' law requires residents to have health cover.

I would like to throw some light on the implications of this, through sharing my own experiences of Czech medical care.

In order to obtain health insurance, I had, naturally, to undergo a full medical. One of the features of this was the HIV test. In the popular imagination, HIV is linked directly , or seen as a forerunner, to AIDS, the notorious immune deficiency syndrome.

There is no valid evidence to suggest that this could be true. The person who announced that HIV caused AIDS was an American, Doctor Robert Gallo

He had since been accused of professional misconduct, his test has been exposed as fraudulent, and two of his laboratory executives have been convicted of criminal offences.

Tens of millions of people are tested for HIV antibodies every year and Dr Gallo, who patented his "test", gets a royalty for every one. If you are HIV positive and you die of tuberculosis, pneumonia or 25 other unrelated diseases, you are diagnosed as dying of AIDS.

If you are not HIV positive and you die of one of these diseases, you are diagnosed as dying of that disease, not AIDS. Therefore, if you test HIV positive, you will be refused medical insurance. (And, if your immune system is dissolving, but you are not HIV positive? Your condition is diagnosed as "AIDS Related Complex".)

Several months after I was attacked, I received some interesting information about my own diagnosis. 

I had been working for a multinational, and immediately after my release from hospital, I was monitored by a neurologist at the First Medical Clinic of Prague, having been assured at work that this clinic was automatically covered and available for my use. 

You would imagine that a medical facility aimed specifically towards foreigners would be above the "mistakes" that plague the regular system. Wouldn't you?

The documentation which was mailed to me concerned my visits to this neurologist, and included a bill which had been rejected by the multinational's insurance company. 

It was fascinating reading material. Not only was there absolutely no mention of head injuries or concussion, but the diagnosis, which appeared several times on this paperwork, was of an immune deficiency syndrome which had never been mentioned to me by that or any other medical professional.

I had always assumed that the advice I was given was appropriate for concussion (which I knew very little about at the time). 

As guidance arising from this condition, it was possibly the worst I could have received. Incidentally, this chronic physiological disorder had been diagnosed without any physical examination or testing whatsoever.

In addition, the two items in the "treatment provided" section of the forms, described treatment that I had not been provided with. I wrote a letter to the clinic, wondering whether it was standard practice to bill people for medical care they had not received. 

A month later, I followed my unanswered letter up with a phone call, clearly causing some confusion, as the administrative spokesperson I spoke to said she would have to call me back. She never called me back.

I discussed these discrepancies with another doctor familiar with my case, who patiently explained that it is standard, habitual and legal for doctors in the Czech Republic to withhold information or mislead their patients if and whenever they see fit.

As for the unprovided treatment, knowing full well that what I was saying was true, he looked me straight in the eyes, and said, "Well, you'll never prove it, will you? You'll never prove that you didn't receive this treatment."

I have made multiple phone calls to the First Medical Clinic of Prague, seeking an explanation for their paperwork.

On one occasion, I visited their premises, was told my letter had been "lost", and was then ushered into a private office, where I was told that, as I was dealing with the "top" clinic in Prague, everything I said would be contradicted and I would be branded a liar.

My "lost" letter must have come to light as, a month later, I received a standard reply, acknowledging my complaint, and assuring me that it was being investigated. 

Eventually, eleven and a half months after receiving my letter of complaint, I received a phone call at 8 o'clock one morning, from the Commercial director of the First Medical Clinic of Prague.

He told me that my complaint had been regarded as too important for his management, and so had been passed on to the clinic's director. I dread to think of the number of urgent matters awaiting that person's attention, if my case merits only slight acknowledgement and zero investigation in a whole calendar year.

When I shared my irritation and misgivings about the healthcare system with a friend who is a medical student, he summed up the situation for me - 

"But... people don't want to know what's wrong with them!" 

The Czech state not only benefits from the energy and creativity of its "foreign" residents, but it now expects their physical bodies to be hard-wired to the system as well.

In the light of my experiences of misinformation and/or deception on the part of the medical profession, this could well be a sign that it is, quite literally, time to move on.

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