Today was a day. A monumental day. Jeff got the vaccine. And we did a few other things, too. It started out early, and only 6 hours later we were home again.
I like to be early to things. To me, being late is disrespectful and just plain dumb. The early bird catches the worm. Jeff does not subscribe to this axiom. Especially in Spain.
‘Why are we going now? You know they won’t even open on time.’
But I don’t care. I like to be prepared and will use every tool in my toolbox to get him going.
‘Remember when you used to tell the kids to get their homework done early? ‘There could be a power outage. The printer could run out of ink. A snowstorm might pop up.’ You threw those around every time they had a project due. Moving to Spain, or within Spain, is a project.’
He hates it when I use his words against him.
So, today we were up bright and early. Jeff’s appointment to get the jab at the HULA (Hospital Universitario Lucas Augusti) was at 10:10. We left the house at 8:20. There might be traffic, and we’d never been there.
Holy Moly! Blocks away from the hospital off the A6, the streets were stacked with cars. Even before we could see the building people were parking and walking down the center of the road. Some were running.
I read in the paper that 6400 people between the ages of 50-59 would be getting the shot today at the HULA. And every one of them drove themselves in their own car. Madness. I weaved through the morass of people, cars, and chaos, trying desperately not to hit someone or something. It was not easy. No one seemed to have a common-sense approach to self-preservation. They risked getting hit by a car to get the Covid vaccine so they wouldn’t die. Wrap your head around that!
Still, Jeff was not happy with me. We were there more than an hour early.
‘I have a specific timeslot. I bet you they won’t even let me get in line.’ He grumbled as I finally found parking six blocks away in a dirt field.
‘Let’s go in and see. We have never been here, and we have no idea how they’re even running this thing.’
We walked the six blocks back to the entrance. The HULA is enormous. The building stretched those six blocks, and then some. The entrance hall was teeming with people of all ages. I went with Jeff to the correct floor, where he was greeted by an attendant who checked his text message invitation and waved him through. I went back down to the lobby. My Spanish health care still needed straightening out. More on that later.
I sat down and never made it through my first couple of articles on CNN.com, when he tapped me on the shoulder.
‘Let’s go. I’m done.’
‘Did they give you the jab?’ I was worried there was some glitch in the Matrix. He was back too soon.
‘Yeah. They took me right in. I had everything written out and translated in advance. Allergies, medications, history. I barely got my sleeve up, and the nurse put the tiny needle in my arm. I waited 15 minutes, and that’s it.’
It was 9:20 am. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t arrive early for an appointment in Spain. We had nearly 3 hours until my Social Security appointment to fix my Spanish Health care so I can get the jab. But we had other things on our list.
We are residents, yet foreigners, in Spain. Having moved from Valencia to Lugo, we have tried to follow all the correct procedures in getting things right. Car and driving license registrations. We registered with the local health authorities. And much more. But there is no list entitled: What you need to know to move across Spain. Just like there was never a list of Here is everything you need to do to move to Spain. It’s a little like walking around in a dark room feeling for the light switch. You bump into stuff. You bruise your shins. Eventually, blessed light illuminates everything.
As foreigners, you have to register with the Policia Nacional when you arrive. And with each visa renewal. So we thought we might have to notify them that we have moved. We didn’t want to run afoul of the national police. So we decided to put our 3 hours to good use.
Popping by the Policia Nacional station in Lugo on Rua de Madrid, I muddled my way through, but the lovely policeman told me that registering with the Concello was all we needed to do. It was not necessary to notify them directly. Whew! One less thing.
We ran some other errands that we can only do in a small city of more people than cows. Then we headed to the Social Security office. I was not looking forward to this. It’s that bureaucracy thing that gives me a rash every time I have to touch it. I spent last night tossing and turning in anticipation.
When we entered the building, the security guard had a list and was turning away those who were not on it. Luckily, we had an appointment, and he asked us to wait outside until 10 minutes before our appointed time. When it was our turn, he waved us in, then escorted us to the registration desk and explained that we needed an English speaker. Very nice of him.
We waited until our number came up. In the meantime, the security guard told the boss that we only spoke ingles. Again, very nice. But when our number was called the woman who helped us did not, in fact, speak ingles. We muddle through.
This is when my experience with Spanish bureaucracy comes in handy. I have an approach that works every time. Bury them in paper. That’s right. Bring along everything you have an inkling you might ever need. Still have that certificate from winning the best cookies at the fair in 5th grade? Bring it! Got your 11th-grade report card with the comments from your gym teacher saying you run like a gazelle? Include that, too! Bring it ALL!!
She asked; I had it. Jeff’s docs. My docs. It was all there. At one point, she printed out the application and told Jeff he needed to fill it out, AGAIN! Ugh. But I just reached into my plastic folders, and voila! I had it already done, and he had signed it. The woman laughed behind her mask. She knew she was dealing with a pro. Not my first Spanish Social Security Rodeo.
Then we got to our marriage certificate. Yes, it was apostilled. That wasn’t the problem. I watched as she took the staple out and I visibly cringed. Taking the staple out of an officially apostilled document renders it invalid. Jeff reached over and grabbed my hand.
‘Just breathe.’ He told me.
She went line by line through our marriage certificate and questioned everything. Why were the names different on the certificate than they are on our passports and NIE cards? Come with me in the way-back machine on how we got here.
When Jeff and I got married, I did not want to change my name. I had been down that road before, and I wanted to keep Field. I was determined to keep Field. But it was important to him that we have the same name. This may sound strange to you if you are reading this from a country where everyone keeps their name after marriage. But in the US, often, one or the other partner (usually the woman) takes the other person’s name upon getting married. It’s just a thing. A throw back to when women were the property of their husbands.
Jeff decided that he would take my name if I would take his. So we hyphenated with my name first. If I have one piece of advice for anyone, anywhere, NEVER EVER hyphenate your name. There is no upside, just multiple downsides. Airlines can’t handle it, and you’ll never get your airline miles assigned correctly. Governments hate it. The post office struggles to deliver your mail. Many, many websites can’t accommodate it. Your children will curse you. And if you move to another country, they don’t get it.
People in Spain ask us if we are brother and sister, all the time. When I say we are married they look at us like we’re from Appalachia. Huh?Yeah, that’s what I did. Married my brother, then fled to Spain so I could get on his health care. Seems like a simple solution. 🙄
This is why my healthcare got screwed up. Jeff’s visa has a hyphen. My visa, attached to his visa, does not. And because of this, I couldn’t fix it online and was sitting in Lugo in front of a woman who was going through our documents with a comb. She asked me for an official document linking our marriage certificate, with our old names, to our passports and NIE, with our new names. Surely, she told me, you must have this. But I told her that document didn’t exist. The US government has no such document. After you get married, you go to Social Security in the US with your marriage certificate. You fill out a form and say – ‘This is what I want to be called now.’ It’s officially called A Life-changing Event. Duh. This allows you to change your name without going before a judge. Jeff and I could have said we wanted our last name to be MoonyMcMoonface, and they would have just shrugged and officially entered it into the Social Security rolls. That’s how much names mean in the US. In Spain, your name means a lot. It’s your family. Your heritage. We had blown this woman’s mind.
Finally, she got up and took it all into el Jefe’s office (The actual Boss, not Jeff), and they went through them together. I saw a lot of arm-waving and shrugging through the glass. I took this to mean What the Hell? This brother and sister married each other? And then, Why do they have different names on their marriage certificate and the same names on their NIE and passports? What kind of witchcraft is this?!?
I wanted to go into the office and try to explain. But Jeff held me back. Getting my Covid jab depended upon those two shrugging, dumbfounded people rummaging through the pile of paperwork I provided, including my baptismal certificate, and I didn’t want to leave it to chance. Finally, the woman who was assisting us came out shaking her head. This was the crucial moment. If she needed some other document, I didn’t have it. She sat down and started typing and typing and typing. She sorted the documents. Then, she sorted them again. We held our collective breath. Then she took them and ran them through a machine. At that moment, I started believing it was going to be OK. The running documents through a machine thing means they are being transmitted to the home office in Madrid. Transmitting to Madrid is a good thing.
Finally, she gave them all back to me with our passports and NIE cards. And a paper that said I was legit – if Jeff goes with me to the health department in our area to register me. Whew! It was touch and go.
After all that, Jeff got the jab. I’m on track to get the jab. And it was all worth it. Six hours is what it took, and we are good to go. Now, I just have to wait for that blessed buzz telling me it’s my turn. The beginning of the end is truly in sight.