The last 48 hours have been a wonderful, terrible microcosm of all that marriage entails: sheer tedium, extreme happiness, strong partnership, and a little bit of pure terror thrown in for good measure. What a fitting way to end our second year of marriage and begin the third.

Wednesday, also known as our second wedding anniversary, started out with a good dose of tedium. Our 9 AM appointment at SEF (Servicos de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras) to get Gabe’s permanent residency card turned out to be yet another two and a half hour marathon of waiting. This time, instead of standing in line like I did for the Metro card, we got to sit — along with a room full of screaming children and people made rude and pushy by the waiting and their desperation to get EU residency. Oh, such fun.

Despite our appointment, we waited in no less than three separate lines. And again, all this waiting was just to have a roughly half-inch thick stack of paperwork checked over by two separate people (with a line for each one), and then turn it in. After all this, Gabe didn’t even actually get his card!

No, they will send us a letter when the card is ready, at which point we get to make yet another appointment (and remember, it took us two weeks to actually get an appointment in the first place) and go back in yet another time to pick up the card. Ridiculous. Why they can’t just send us the card, I do not know. As we’ve established, efficiency is not their middle name around here.

So with that auspicious start to our anniversary, we decided to make the most of the rest of the day… which in this case involved going back to sleep, since I was still pretty sick. We did so, and then went down to the gym for a late-afternoon workout and hot tub/sauna session to see if I couldn’t shake off the last of this cold.

As I sat in the sauna hacking up a lung and sweating profusely, I unexpectedly had my first real solo Portuguese conversation. The woman who came in shortly after me turned out to be trained as a journalist and married to a diplomat, and had taught Portuguese to foreigners while they were stationed in Croatia. So she was the perfect person with whom to practice my language skills, as she didn’t mind correcting me. We made plans to see each other at the gym again, and voila — my first Portuguese friend was made! I was thrilled. Friendship always waits in the most unexpected places.

Finally, for a proper celebration of our big day, we decided simply to walk up to our usual breathtaking miradouro above the house and have a drink up there. This time though, we splurged on glasses of champagne, and sat looking out over our adopted city, bemused by how far we’ve come in two short years. We then made a lovely dinner at home and watched the slideshow of our wedding photos, followed by a couple of celebratory pasteis from the local bakery. What a fitting way to end our second year!

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Thus concludes the happiness portion of this tale. Next enters the partnership and terror part, with a small nod back at tedium just for good measure. We spent the entire first day of our third year of marriage in the hospital, after Gabe woke up yesterday morning suffering from terrible abdominal pain.

So I spent the morning running around like the proverbial chicken, simultaneously trying to take care of Gabe, get us both dressed and fed in preparation for what I suspected would be a very long day, and negotiate the Blue Cross bureaucracy to find him a doctor or hospital.

Of course we’d been saying we should find doctors since we got here, but I kept saying, “Oh no, we just have to call Blue Cross and they’ll make an appointment for us when we need one.” At least that’s what their website said, but their website was wrong. All they did in the end was suggest names of hospitals and doctors, and at last told me that we could actually go to anyone, these were just suggestions. Well crap, why didn’t your website just up and say that?!?

Even worse, it turned out that out of the list of four hospitals and doctors they gave me, both doctors were no longer at the clinic they said they were, and the closer hospital did not in fact have an emergency room. Fabulous! Thanks so much Blue Cross. Way to really be there for your subscribers.

By this point Gabe had entered into another pain spasm, so we found him a taxi and got him to the one hospital that did have an urgent care. He basically marched straight into a treatment room without bothering with the line, and by the time I found him, he was already talking to a nurse. Nothing like a man grimacing in agony to get straight past the queues.

I was sent back to stand in line and register him, and, anticipating many forms and bureaucracy, I resigned myself to waiting. Not calmly mind you — now that we were finally at the hospital and he was in someone else’s hands, I was pretty much starting to lose it, especially when confronted with the language barrier. However the lady simply asked for his passport (which of course I hadn’t had the presence of mind to grab before we left), and when I said I didn’t have it, she just had me write down his name, address, and phone number… and that was it! That simple. No way would he have been treated that quickly at an urgent care in the States.

Another large difference in medical care soon presented itself as they took his problem into hand. They never took his vital signs, nor did they consult him on what they were going to do — they just diagnosed a kidney stone (which we had been suspecting as well), and proceeded to treat him for such.

Despite the quick treatment, his pain took a while to subside, and I could only stand by and witness mutely, unable to help or hurry it in any way. The nurses gave him a nitroglycerine pill, which seemed to help eventually, but only after I’d ventured upstairs to try to make him an appointment for a sonogram that afternoon.

Unfortunately none of the three women in that reception spoke English, and what little Portuguese I have had flown the coop at the first sight of my normally imperturbable husband doubled over in pain. So a hilarious pantomime ensued, wherein I gave them the prescription the doctor had written for the sonogram, which made them all shake their heads and look at the appointment book and talk amongst themselves with a general attitude of gloom.

I decided oh what the hell, and let loose some of the tears I’d been valiantly struggling to hold back up to that point. I figured the poor helpless American wife card oughta get me somewhere. Sure enough, after calling urgent care to figure out what this woman was on about, the verdict was passed from the nurse to the first receptionist to the other receptionist (whom I suspect was someone’s teenage daughter visiting her mom at work), who then attempted to translate it into broken English. Bottom line: they would come to get him down in urgent care at 3 PM.

Since it was not even 1 PM, we hurried up and waited. Luckily by this point the medications had taken effect, so Gabe was able to walk around outside with me for a bit, picking up his prescription and sitting in a nearby park for a while, then getting some lunch for me on the way back. I was able to sit on my own for a minute and eat lunch and have a quiet cup of tea, and then the rest of the afternoon was spent waiting in the urgent care for them to come and get him.

By the time they did, the pain was back, so we lurched up to the waiting area up there and continued to wait. Finally the sonogram person saw him, but couldn’t see any stones, at which point she pronounced it might be a kidney infection and we should go back to urgent care and talk to another doctor to see what he said about the test results.

Small problem: the results took another 45 minutes to prepare, during which time we had to sit. And wait. Again. At one point (of course after Gabe had finally managed to drift off in the stiff plastic chair), the little sonogram doctor poked her head out and said, “You’re still here??” Um… yeah!

Finally, an hour and a half after we were originally supposed to get the sonogram, we went back down and saw another doctor, who gruffly informed Gabe that stones can be “the size of mountains, or tiny grains, and sometimes you don’t even see them.” So he stuck to the initial diagnosis, and finally — finally! — we were free, almost 7 hours after we’d gotten there. I took Gabe home, fed him, and put him to bed, then immediately set out for the gym, where I hopped on a treadmill and ran til I was drenched in sweat.

I felt much better after that, which was a good thing, because the rest of the evening was pretty rough. But the good news is that Gabe slept through the night (as did I) without any further pain. He still has more tests and a urologist appointment today, but it will be much much easier for both of us to handle if he’s not in pain the whole time. Not to mention the flight to Venice on Monday, which I’m very much hoping we can still make. We’d originally planned to go yesterday — thank God we didn’t!

All I know is, by the time we get there, we will have more than earned our trip to Italy. This has been a momentous week, both in terms of our health and our relationship, and I think at this point we both need a vacation from our year-long vacation.

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