Yesterday morning I put on my sweats and raincoat and headed to Den Haagse Bos. As my feet left the pavement and landed on the gravel path leading between the leafy green trees, I inhaled deeply, breathing in the scent of nature. Usually this transition from the built environment to a more natural one creates a sense of calm, as if I’ve left the pressures of modern life behind. But that day, the darkened sky and rain cast the forest in a less friendly light. The birds weren’t singing. There was hardly anyone in sight.
As I walked along the dark paths lined with growing puddles, I thought of Sicko, the Michael Moore documentary we’d watched the night before. We’d only caught the second half, but that was enough to suck us in to the horror of U.S. health insurance coverage. The film showed that health care in France was about 190,000 times better than in the U.S., unless you’re a U.S. senator, that is. How is it that the U.S. can be the richest country in the world (is this still the case, actually?) and still not have universal health care? How is it that over 50 million Americans are uninsured? Why are the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay provided better health coverage than most Americans? The dismal weather seemed appropriate for such a line of thought.
My mind wandered over to my to do list: small things at work, maybe a blog post, trying a recipe out of the Sneaky Chef to get some extra healthy nutrients into my 4-year-old. Suddenly there was a man walking toward me, startling me into the present. There was something about him that made me uneasy. In his mid to late fifties, he had loose gray curls and a haggard look on his unfriendly face. I bristled, suddenly feeling less cozy and thoughtful in this forest I’d come to know, and more aware that I was indeed walking alone in an unpopulated forest in a big city.
A thimble-sized shot of adrenaline coursed through my veins as I walked firmly past him. I didn’t feel fear so much as strength, as if I had tapped into a primal, animalistic response. The type where feathers puff and muscles flex; a don’t-fuck-with-me sign in your energetic field. Moments later, a black, mid-sized dog came running down the path, and based on his unkept appearance, I was sure he was with the man.
It happened so quickly I couldn’t make sense of it. Instead of running past me, the black, mangy looking dog attacked, growling as he snapped at my leg. Just as quickly he was gone. So much for my animal instincts. I looked down at my sweat pants to see a gaping hole exposing my white skin. Had it actually bitten me? I peered into the rip to see two little red spots where his teeth had just broken the skin. No blood poured out, but the skin was broken. I called after the man in Dutch.
“Your dog just bit me!” A normal reaction would be for the dog owner to apologize profusely, but this man just ran after his dog, yelling for it to come back. Perhaps he was as shocked as I was.We weren’t nearly as isolated as I imagined, as a couple with a cute, friendly little dog came upon us. They saw the look on my face and slowed their pace. I explained to them what had just happened and they were shocked. Top news story of the day. They stopped and waited with me.
They suggested that the man pay for a new pair of pants. This man, whom I had viewed as a threat a few minutes before, now seemed less scary and more like someone who had been beaten down by life. I had never thought of asking him to buy me a pair of pants. This is a very Dutch way of thinking when it comes to taking responsibility for a wrong doing.
Let’s just say I agreed the man could buy me another pair of sweat pants. Wouldn’t that require exchanging information? Giving him my address to mail a check? They don’t actually use checks here, but wire money directly to your account. Was I supposed to give this stranger, who gave me a bad vibe, my bank account number? At the time, my mind couldn’t grasp onto any of these ideas, and all I wanted to do was to continue on my walk. Yet, I did want one thing from him.
“You can’t let that dog off his leash. He’s clearly dangerous.” He seemed to agree.
By the time I got back home and told Arie Jan what had happened, the idea of rabies and other unknown terrible diseases you can get from an animal bite had made an impressive number of laps through my mind. But Arie Jan–usually my Rock of Gibraltar when it comes to keeping me away from those ruminating thoughts–joined in on the refrain. When was the last time I had a tetanus shot? We need to get you to a doctor.
I usually lead a pretty healthy life, save a dog bite now and again, and thus visiting a Dutch doctor’s office was to be a new experience. Well now. Come to think of it. In light of Michael Moore’s documentary, I had been wondering what the Dutch universal health care system was like.
We called a local doctor’s office and were told to come right over. Because I’m married to a Dutch man, and have my work permit, I am covered under his plan. We hopped on our bicycles and rode through the pouring rain to the office, about 6 minutes away. When we got there, and pulled off our dripping rain coats, we were handed a four page health history form. Ten minutes later, I was whisked into an office. A friendly female doctor looked at my wound and decided a tetanus shot was in order on the premise of better safe than sorry. That was it. No line. No co-pay. No health insurance paperwork. Hopefully I won’t have to revise this story with any ghastly updates about the Dutch health system, but my first experience was, needles aside, rather pleasant.
We mentioned the dog bite incident to two people in church that day–one who is a police volunteer and happens to have a medical hotline programmed into her phone, and a nice Indonesian woman who works in the office, as Arie Jan had to go with me to do the initial paperwork and we needed someone to be on hand for the clients in the church.
But news of my bite spread like rabies. Just about everyone I’ve seen since that bite into consciousness has asked me about my leg. And you know what, sometimes it feels good to know people are talking about you.