Socialized Medicine In Italy. How To Not Die.

Socialized Medicine And The ER OF DEATH: Emergency Room In Florence. Apparently Almonds Are Deadly (clearly my husband is genetically flawed).

Socialized Medicine And The ER OF DEATH: Emergency Room In Florence, Italy. Apparently Almonds Are Deadly (because F’s body hates awesome).

Everything always happens to me as though it’s called on by the universe. If I think about someone a lot they are bound to pop up (which sucks because I think more about people I want to stab with a spork than people I actually like), if I want something to happen it usually does, and so it’s only natural that in the midst of arguing with friends on FB about socialized medicine that I’d end up in the emergency room in Florence. Well, I didn’t end up in the ER but Francesco did and we’re married so I had a sympathy experience. Because he was “itchy.”

On my birthday last year Francesco took me to this incredibly cute restaurant that I instantly fell in love with. One of my best friends and her then fiancè were in Italy and they met us there to celebrate my birthday. We didn’t even make it through the antipasto before Alex, my friend’s fiancè, had to rush Francesco out of the restaurant to the ER because his face swelled up and he looked like a Cabbage Patch Kid. It came out of nowhere and Ivetta and I just stayed and tried to finish dinner because we’d already ordered and couldn’t cancel it and also wine. Speaking of which, I have the worsts birthdays ever! It’s a curse. Luckily Ivetta was there with her cool, calm personality and her super fun sense of humor. She totally made up for the fact that my husband was dying.

We thought that this all happened because Francesco, the Italian, was allergic to the wine. I’d written it off as a one time thing and it didn’t occur to me that it might happen again. So I was not that supportive when we were on our way to the grocery store and he said he was itchy.

F: I’m itchy.

Me. Me too.

F: No, but I’m really itchy. My ears itch.

Me: Mine too.


Me: You know what? YOU don’t OWN itchy. I can be itchy too. My allergies are super bad this year and I’m itchy. I hate hay fever.

F: My mouth is dey itchy and so do my hairs (ears).

Me: Mine too.


Me: Well I’m sorry if I am also itchy. What do you want from me?

Then I looked over and noticed his body rejecting him with white dots on top of his suddenly cherry red skin.

Me: Oh man! You look like shit! Dude!? What the hell!?


Me: Oh. Yeah. Well, ITCHY IS KIND OF FUCKING VAGUE! You need medicine.


Me: No. You told me that you were itchy. That’s not the same as “I’m dying from an allergic reaction.”

F: English is not MY FIRST LANGUAGE!

Me: Right. Well, that is clearly our first problem. Benedryl?

F: I go to hospital!

Then he took a violent right-turn and sped maniacally towards the ER. I watched quietly while his face ballooned like it was trying to take flight and his hands turned rainbow colors. We arrived to the hospital, left Oliver in the car (it was raining and super cold outside, don’t worry, he was safe), and ran inside the double doors where we stopped abruptly in a dim-lit room. Chairs full of worried expressions surrounded an empty, island-type office with the sighn CLOSED taped to the glass.”Can the ER be closed!?” I yelled. Someone pointed to a small, pee-colored intercom on the wall. You had to buzz a buzzer to tell the secretary/nurse that you WERE DYING before they would buzz you into the back room for the patience. We buzzed three times before a woman answered, it was good that he wasn’t having a heart attack or something. A nicotine tinted door clicked open and we stepped through into the first scene of The Walking Dead. “Holy shit! ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE!” I said. “Porco dio!” Francesco said, which means, “pig god,” and is so not going to help his chances of surviving if he’s pissing off the gods. There was an office and a long hallway lined with bodies on stretchers, most of them sleeping or passed out.

The secretary/nurse shuffled over to us, and raised an eyebrow to ask, “what’s the problem,” because speaking would have clearly exhausted her. “Allergic reaction,” he said. She plopped into a chair and entered his information into the computer while she smacked her bubble-gum and chatted with some guy hanging out by the desk. Then she stood up so lazily that it seemed like her body was covered in weights and dragged herself three feet to us where she tossed a machine at Francesco. “Sigh. Put this on your finger to check your blood pressure.” She stood there while hd did was he was told, chewing her cud, hand on hip doing the “little tea pot” while she counted dots on the ceiling. “Your pressure is normal.” She said before flopping herself back into her chair, exhaling wildly. She tilted her head to me and said, “you wait outside.” I looked at Francesco who was nervously rolling his tongue between his teeth trying to itch it. A nurse next to us slowly covered a few  stretches with new sheets at the rate of a snail making it’s way across a sidewalk. He sang loudly and passionately to himself. The long line of people on the stretches hadn’t moved and I started to wonder if they were actually dead but hadn’t been removed because it would be too much work.

I walked to the car where I waited with Oliver for TWO HOURS before Francesco came outside. I spent most of that time taking a lot of Instagram photos of myself and Oliver with Francesco’s account, and trying not to pee my pants (there were no public bathrooms for miles). I sat forward, backwards, sang, unzipped my pants, and at one point even looked for a bottle to pee in. It was a frustrating two hours. When he emerged he said they gave him a cortisone shot and told him he’d be fine. The next time it happens to take a Benedryl.

F: The hospital here is scary.

Me: Totally is the scariest hospital like ever.

F: Yep. That’s Italy for you.

Me: How much was it?

F: Free. All free.

Me: Well, at least there is that.

F: But it’s better in the US.

Me: Our hospitals are faster but we pay a fortune for it. And I don’t have insurance because I have a pre-existing condition so nobody wants to take my business. So, if I were you I would have had to go into debt a few thousand or just hope I didn’t die.

F: Oh. Well, that’s scary.

Me: No help is much scarier than shitty help.

While this post probably sounds like I hate socialized medicine but it’s actually the opposite. All of the republicans are throwing up their hands right now, I know guys, sorry, I am a fan of socialized medicine and here is why: The public facilities might not be the best care in the world but at least everyone is entitled to it. If you have extra money you can go to a private facility that is excellent and top-of-the-line but if you’re middle-class like the rest of us at least the government won’t let you die or take your house away in return for ER payment. It doesn’t happen, you say? I have a friend who is a fashion designer. A few years ago she was teaching part-time at a community college and running her business on the side. She went on vacation, went hiking, slipped and fell onto cliffs and broke her back. She’s twenty-seven years old. She had to be flight-lifted to the ER. She owes nearly ONE MILLION DOLLARS because she couldn’t afford health insurance at the time. Her entire life will be spent paying off that debt. In Italy her care would have been a little ghetto, but she would have lived, and she could spend her life building her business and being a stand-up citizen by buying a house and a car and putting money into her company. An accident that doesn’t kill you shouldn’t cost you the rest of your life.


9 thoughts on “Socialized Medicine In Italy. How To Not Die.

  1. Very funny in a scary sort of way! Glad I haven’t had to go to a Latvian ER yet (touching wood). My ex-boss went in with a sore shoulder and they tried to take out his appendix.

  2. I think I know which hospital you went to. They treated in the same nonchalant manner. I was there for two days after eating something not good that caused some ugly body reactions. The older Italian women in their were kind. They liked my locks which I always kept neat and they admitted that they didn’t meet a lot of black Americans so the experience was not so bad at all especially when walking out of the hospital with no bill in hand.

    • Santa Maria Novella? If you were in the center it was probably the same one. My friend was South African so people here treated her like an African (which is not great), although I have heard that if they know someone is Afro-American they are nicer. Given your other comment it seems to be true. Although, being a woman, and the way they view American women in general, I don’t know if that’s “better.” I know that in general people assume I’m a huge whore because of my nationality. It’s sad, really.

  3. I like your post and the hospital sounds just like the one in Alessandria. As your hubby is Italian, I guess I don’t have to tell you Italians have a different take on illness🙂 A tiny spider bit my ankle and I had an allergic reaction to it. My thoughts were antihistamine creams and a glass of wine, my wife rushed me to the hospital. I sat there feeling like such a fraud and malingerer . While the nurse took blood samples, tested my heart, eyesight etc..

    P.S. Do Italian men suffer from cervicale??? I keep telling my wife it is an Italian illness and can’t be caught in the UK

      • Cervicale is something like a stiff neck, but much more severe. It can send your avarage Italian to bed for days.

        It is caused by a puff of wind and it can be contracted even in the midst of a hot summers day. This is why Italians always wear a scarf, even in the summer. The Italian scarf is not a fashion accessory it is as important as a sticking plaster.

        Post on sickness

        Maybe your hubby is immune to Cervicale caused by colpo d’ aria🙂

  4. Ah, il Pronto Soccorso! We’ve gone twice for our son. One time a bug bit him and his ear swelled up terribly. As we live in the US, he doesn’t have a doctor in Italy so my wife called 113. Despite our objections, they sent an ambulance. According to the dispatcher, the lazy EMTs needed to stop playing cards and get out of the break room.😉
    The other time, we walked into the E-Room at the local children’s hospital. There must have been 15 kids waiting with all kinds of extended family along for the ride. He had a fever, but it wasn’t anything big. However, on the triage board on the wall, he was moved to #2. We were in and out in an hour.
    We’ve spent much more time waiting in the ERoom in the US. Some of the people on the big board had been there for several hours. That said, by American standards, our kid wasn’t even sick so I am thinking that Italians will go to the hospital for some pretty piddling complaints if our kid jumped the line like that.

  5. Conobbi quello che poi “non sarebbe mai” diventato mio suocero nel lontano 2001. In effetti, non è che non lo sia mai diventato per qualche inconciliabile divergenza insorta tra me e sua figlia, quanto piuttosto per un infausto destino che decise di portarselo via prima che il matrimonio venisse celebrato. Lo incontrai in una piccola stazione dei pullman a Saratoga, nel nord dello Stato di New York. Viveva, assieme alla moglie, non lontano da lì, in un paesino di pochissime anime, quasi tutte contadine, dove svolgeva la professione del… fabbro? Si sforzava di spiegarmi che il suo lavoro consisteva nel lavorare con lo “sheet metal” (e già lì la mia fantasia scatenava nella mia italica mente orripilanti visioni di lastre metalliche di dubbia e mefitica origine – cinese? – che lui meticolosamente si prodigava a rendere quantomeno decenti grazie alla sua prodigiosa esperienza). Quando, però, il termine “blacksmith” balzò fuori dal mio inseparabile dizionarietto tascabile, lo vidi irrigidirsi, quasi avessi pronunciato la parola più sacrilega del creato. “Che minchia fai, allora?” – chiesi – “il maniscalco, lo stagnaio?” – mi venne anche “arrotino”, ma mi trattenni dal pronunciare quell’ennesima nefandezza. Ci accordammo per “artigiano” e, grazie a quella parola, entrai per sempre nelle sue grazie. Fu così che mi spiegò quanto avesse sofferto della decisione dei suoi due figli maschi di andarsene da lì e di non seguire le sue orme di… “artigiano”, di come le tasse picchiassero duro (su quel punto mi sentivo imbattibile) e di quanto l’avesse deluso il sistema previdenziale a causa del quale avrebbe dovuto continuare a lavorare fino alla fine dei suoi giorni. Un paio di settimane dopo, una volta conosciuti zii, zie, cugini, cugine, cavalli, galline, capre e mangiato cheesecake a go-go (ormai, quando qualcuno arrivava con un pacchetto in mano, pur continuando ogni singola volta a mostrarmi curioso e colpito da cotanta grazia, sapevo fin troppo bene cosa si celasse al suo interno), dopo aver appreso l’utilità dell’acqua per il taglio dello “sheet metal”, aver percorso in lungo e in largo con la bici le sterminate vallate dell’upstate, tracannato un’infinità di birre (quello non era un frigo, era uno scantinato intero con tanto di tino di fermentazione incastonato al suo interno!), dovetti ripartire per tornare a casa. La figlia dell’artigiano già viveva con me in Italia e, anche per questo motivo, oltre che per vicissitudini varie, non ci furono molte occasioni per far ritorno dalle parti di Saratoga. Un giorno però, era di Settembre, un paio di anni dopo, ci venne comunicato che il mio futuro suocero aveva scoperto di avere un tumore al cervello, di quelli che non ti lasciano molte speranze. Cominciò così per lui una lunga battaglia fatti di interventi, terapie varie, speranze e delusioni, perfino un viaggio in Canada che poi si sarebbe rivelato del tutto inutile, perdita della parola, perdita di qualsiasi risparmio accumulato durante i suoi infiniti anni di lavoro, casa ipotecata (casa ipotecata????). Quando lo seppi mi venne da vomitare, veramente. Sua moglie continuò a lavorare come segretaria presso un’impresa locale e fu così che portò avanti la situazione fino alla fine.
    Quando arrivai all’ospedale nel quale il mio futuro suocero era ricoverato faceva un freddo pazzesco. Salii con gli altri fino al quarto piano e raggiunsi la stanza in cui dormiva da ormai una decina di giorni. Dal suo ricovero non aveva più ripreso conoscenza, era in coma e, mi venne spiegato, non lo stavano neanche più alimentando. Si stava spengendo, poco a poco. Rimasi con lui per qualche minuto e poi, per rispetto, mi appartai nella sala d’aspetto così da lasciare maggior privacy alla sua famiglia. Di fronte a me, stravaccata su un divano similpelle rosso sbiadito, c’era una donnona bianca come una di quelle mentine nelle scatolette di plastica, che mi fissava. “Hi” le dissi, per pura cortesia, ricambiando il sorriso… l’avessi mai fatto! Iniziò un panegirico di cui non capii una celeberrima mazza. Mi scusai – “Sono italiano. Il mio inglese non è così buono…” “Ah, Italian!!!” – e via andare. Capii che era del Texas, che era lì per suo fratello che aveva un problema (grosso) all’intestino. Le spiegai, così, per ingannare il tempo, il motivo della mia presenza in un posto così lontano da casa mia e, quando ormai davo per chiusa la nostra già breve conversazione, vidi i suoi occhi sgranarsi e le sue paffute guanciotte gonfiarsi ulteriormente. Fu lì che se ne uscì con qualcosa del tipo: “Is it true that in Italy you have to pay for water at the restaurant?”. Vidi la vita passarmi davanti in un secondo, le mie verdi valli toscane sfrecciare come un rapido sulla Pisa – Firenze, il sorriso della mia dottoressa che mi consigliava di rimuovere le adenoidi, mio padre operato al cuore in una stanza dell’ospedale di Siena, e l’artigiano, fermo immobile nella sua stanza semibuia contorniato dalla sua famiglia sommersa dai debiti. Mi venne da sorridere, davvero, e alzandomi, senza mai distogliere lo sguardo da quel sorriso ebete di tronfia e ottusa redneck, espressi il più nobile e raffinato “MA VAFFANCULO” di cui mai sia stato capace nella mia movimentata vita.

    L’artigiano decise di trasferire la sua attività tra le ospitali nuvole del creato appena un paio di giorni dopo. Non ha mai saputo del mio matrimonio con sua figlia e dei tre figli nati dalla nostra unione. Non lo nego, mi dispiace da matti.

    See you later, grande uomo!

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