If I ever had any doubt that Bulgarian life was going to be more than a little different than back home in Blighty, the following confirms it.
The day after we arrive at the apartment in T_, Digger is out and about on a pharmaceutical mission. During our travel through Europe to get to Bulgaria, Granny Westcountry sent us a message saying that a letter had arrived at their house for Tiddler inviting her to come and have a seasonal flu jab. Now you have to understand that Digger is a bit of a stickler for medical advice. He firmly believes he should do what he is told, whereas I occasionally can take a more laissez faire approach (certainly with my own health as far as broken toes and the like go).
Digger is determined she gets a flu jab, particularly as we are intending to try and find her a place in a nursery for a few hours a week so she can interact and socialise with Bulgarian children. The poor child is clearly bored of just Digger and I after a few months in the campervan and needs some new friends. Digger and I also will benefit from a break from providing constant entertainment for a very enthusiastic toddler with a limited number of toys and books. The much favoured pop-up book Hansel and Gretel is on route to become my nemesis.
Back to the point. The slight logistical issue on the flu jab front is while we all are carrying EHIC cards which allow us to temporarily access healthcare services while in Europe (another doomed facility as Brexit talks continue?) these are really for emergency use only. We can’t register with a GP here as we don’t have the ‘golden ticket’ which allows Bulgarians to access anything- be it healthcare, a nursey place, or employment- that is an official, rubber stamped ID number on a registration certificate. We will have to register as residents within three months, and then carry our ID at all times to avoid incurring a fine if we are randomly stop-checked, but the process is laborious and will take time. Digger intends to circumnavigate this.
Normal practice in Bulgaria regarding vaccinations it turns out anyway, is to buy them at a pharmacy, take it to the GP who will then administer it. This may be normal procedure for many parts of the world, but for me growing up with the NHS wanting to provide the jab and the service for free, it is a little strange. Digger googles which brand of vaccination Tiddler needs, and does a round of all the local pharmacies. Nothing available. “We had some in earlier but they have all gone” is the refrain. Digger smells a rat. “That’s Big Pharma” he says “Only giving a limited supply so everyone can’t get the preventative medicine, and they have to buy the treatments instead that will cost way more. Or I bet the pharmacies have got some and they are holding on to it to sell it for a better price. Typical corruption”.
I try and reign in the conspiracy theories. “Maybe they have just all sold out?”
Digger unleashes his secret weapon. Diado is ex-police. Diado ‘knows’ people. Diado visits a pharmacy and comes back with the little orange box containing the vial and needle held aloft proudly.
“So are we going to go to a GP then?” I wonder. Turns out, no.
Digger and Diado knows a lady who lives in an upstairs apartment in our particular block. She is a nurse. He goes up after 6pm when he expects her in from work and knocks on the door. She comes down with a pair of reading glasses, a handful of cotton wool and a chocolate biscuit. Watching her peer over the top of her glasses to read the Bulgarian small print on the box while talking ten to the dozen to Digger who she has not seen in years, I am overwhelmed with panic. Tiddler has spotted the chocolate biscuit and is fully prepared to do whatever she is asked provided there is that biscuit at the end of it. I grit my teeth, and gird myself to have faith.
This is a drug I can’t read the instructions and warnings for, and this is a strange lady in her civvies who has come into this still unfamiliar and twilight lit apartment halfway through making her husband’s dinner talking to us in a language I can’t understand, and in a few short seconds she will take Tiddler’s arm and inject her. This is the moment I realise fully that we are not in Kansas anymore.