Before my first trip to Lebanon in October 2009, my Lebanese friend told me about two movies that I should see that he thought would give me insight into Lebanese culture and customs. One of them was Caramel (which I fell in love with) by Nadine Labaki, and the other was West Beyrouth by Ziad Doueiri. Caramel was easy to find, but I couldn’t seem to get my hands on West Beyrouth..but anyway, that’s beside the point.
I distinctly remember one scene in Caramel, where the girl who is about to get married reveals to her friends that her husband will not be “the first man she has ever been with” and how she has to go to the doctor to get a “little operation..” The movie later shifts to the clinic scene where she tells the reception that her name is “Miss Pompidou” or something like that..
I don’t think the fact that she was getting the operation (it is common the world over I think) struck me so much as the fact that she could easily use a false identity without so much as being prompted to show ID. But I resigned myself to the fact that she was likely in a black market/underground clinic where people could get surgical procedures without being asked so much as their name.
Fast forward a year.
I was reminded of this scene in Caramel when I was listening to a friend tell me about how she never uses her real name when she goes to the doctor in Lebanon.
“What do you mean you never use your real name? Don’t they ask you for ID? How do you file insurance claims if you run tests? What if something goes wrong during a procedure, how do you process the claim?” I asked her.
She looked at me like I had grown another head.
“You’re sooo American!” she said, “It’s common practice for people to not use their real names when they go to the doctor,especially when it has anything to do with taboo topics if you know what I mean…Lebanon is so small, and many people have uncles and aunts who are doctors..And doctors, around here?? They all talk, they all know each other. So, to answer your questions..I never use my real name, they never ask me for ID, I always pay in cash, and if something goes wrong with a procedure the only thing I can do about it is deal with it!”
Naturally, all of this information made my head spin. Yes, I know, I come from the US where they ask you for a background check even before they clean your teeth..but STILL! I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that in Lebanon, you can go to the doctor without confirming that you are who you say you are! What about your medical records? What if you get in an accident and are unconscious and no one..not your parents, not your insurance company, nor your primary care physician..is aware that you have an underlying pre-existing condition because there are no medical records under your name (not to mention the fact that you have to lie to your parents)?!?! I just don’t get it, and really think it’s not a smart or safe way to go about dealing with your health. And all because of appearances? Where does it end?
All of this whirled around in my head for a few minutes..I turned back to my friend and said, “Let’s say I really wanted to ruin your life. Following your same logic, couldn’t I go to a doctor using YOUR real name, you know, since they don’t check ID or anything..and pretend to have all of these diseases? What would you do then? I could easily slander your name in the same way you are trying to protect it!”
She fell silent.
I went to the doctor for the first time the other day. And as was to be expected, they handed me a paper to fill out and asked me for payment. Nothing more, and nothing less.
While there, I saw the below..
Anyway, that’s a topic for another day..