Home living abroad Italian Healthcare: Is He Drinking Wine In The Hospital? And Other Issues Of Sanity.

Italian Healthcare: Is He Drinking Wine In The Hospital? And Other Issues Of Sanity.

written by M.E. Evans September 5, 2013

A few weeks ago my husband said, “Misty, we have to take care of your sanity” and I thought that he’d finally decided to send me off to a local institution but apparently not this year. Instead he was referring to my healthcare which is socialized and given to all residents. It’s called “sanity.”  People always refer to it as free, but free would be inaccurate since most people here work and their tax money pays for it. Instead we’ll call it “fair” healthcare because everyone gets to go to the doctor no matter what. Which I guess is kind of sane but the name (I think) comes from sanare which means “to heal” in Italian. Don’t quote me on that. I make shit up all the time.

Getting Sane:

First we had to choose a doctor at random from a list of names posted outside of an office door in the public administration building. “You don’t check where they went to college and stuff first?” I wondered because I’m clearly a spoiled freak or at least that’s the look F gave me. I originally chose Marie Antoinette because of obvious reasons but she was full. Of course she was. Instead I ended up with Maria Theresa or Mother Theresa, which is probably better for my health but not nearly as entertaining. Once we’d chosen her from the doc lotto  and registered everything in the computer we went to meet her. “So now we make an appointment?” I asked. F laughed. “Uhm, no. We-a go wait in the lines.” When we arrived there were about fifty people standing in line on the sidewalk in the rain. Not really what I’d equate to health but an excellent move on Mother T’s part. Give them pneumonia then treat them! Wait, no, that wouldn’t make sense. She’s not making money off of sickness here (see that subtle jab to the US of A’s system?). Mother T had yet to return from her lunch break and since there was no receptionist in her office we had to wait outside. And wait. And this eighteen year old super hot Italian woman kept turning around to stare at Francesco and I was all, “That girl is staring at you. I will cut her.” And then F got all puffy because he was getting female attention. And the next time the girl turned around I my two fingers in front of my eyes and then pointed them at her to say, “Bitch I am watching you.” Because I’m gangster (crazy) like that. Then we were let inside and we waited for another one-and-a-half hours.


List of random doctors. How I found Mother Theresa. Nice wall color choice of puss and snot by the way.

Mother T was pretty nice. She was a little stout woman with short mousy hair. She asked when the last time I’d been to a doctor and when I told her three years she raised her eyebrows and took out a massive stack of what seemed like receipts. “We’ll do a bunch of stuff to check your general health first,” she smiled. Then she wrote down about three-hundred things that I needed to be checked. Diabetes, thyroid, “because you look underweight. Are you eating enough? Pap smear, iron deficiency, bladder issues” and a bunch of stuff in-between. “I feel fine,” I told her. She raised her eyebrows. “Yes, but you could have something and not know. It’s better to control everything to be sure and safe, no?” Interesting. I’d never done that in my life even when I was young, carefree and had full coverage thanks to my mother. “Have you had any problems at all?” She asked in Italian. “No. I mean, I’ve had dysplasia in my cervix twice.” Her eyebrows raised again. “And the last time you went to the doctor?” It’s embarrassing to admit but I haven’t been since 2010. I don’t have insurance. When I told her this she turned to Francesco who was clearly confused. “But what is it?” He asked. The doctor explained it to him and by the end he was panicked. Thanks a lot Mother T.

As soon as we left the clinic F spun around to me, “You KNEW that you could get CANCER and you didn’t think it was important to check it more often!? WHAT THE FUCK MISTY!? I. I. I just don’t understand. I-a don’t-a enderstand you! If something happens to you I die. Scusa, ma no capisco. Non ti capisco!” Waving hands wildly and locking eye contact which in the US means, “he’s going to punch me,” but here means, “I’m mildly concerned.” I walked along for a minute without saying anything. “Sorry. I won’t die. God isn’t nice enough to free you from the M.E. burden just yet. Can I have a rose gelato now that I went to a doctor?” I still believe that if I visit a doctor or dentist someone owes me candy or ice-cream. Let that be a lesson to you parents. He rolled his eyes and we headed towards the gelato place.

When we arrived back to his parents house they snatched the receipts out of his hands and looked them over. Then they both started speaking simultaneously to me and Francesco in unison. “But why dis? Why dat? Why you didn’t also do dis one!? Mamma mia, dio mio.” They were concerned in the midst of being their normal controlling selves. Something I’ve learned to deal with by telling them, “leave me the hell alone,” which surprisingly works. Though in this case I understood that they just wanted to know what was happening with my health. Awe. The next day we left Cassino and returned to Florence.

In Florence my husband immediately jumped on the phone and spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to coordinate the doctor visits. After every call to a clinic he’d call his mother who was frantically worrying for reasons I didn’t understand (he didn’t mention the dysplasia). Do I look sickly? Despite my begging and temper tantrum F set up the analysis stuff and the Gyno visit, or should I say Obstetrician visit. I guess here the Gyno doesn’t do the pap-smear. No, I don’t know why. I have no idea what they do if it isn’t va-jay-jay stuff.

F went to the pharmacy to get a pee cup thing for my urine analysis the night before. When I woke up he ran to the kitchen and grabbed the plastic cup and thrust it into my hand before shoving me into the bathroom. “PEE IN THAT!” He barked. “THIS IS SO FUCKING GROSS!” I screamed from the bathroom while I tried not to pee on my hand. I screwed the cap on, dropped it into a box that said URINE SAMPLE huge on the outside, walked out and handed it to him. “I’m not carrying that thing around with me.” He shrugged and put it in his man-purse. We got to the clinic at 7 a.m., took a number and waited in line. There were about fifty people before us but I have to say that the line went quick. I sat in the chair with my arms folded glaring at F. Yes, he was taking care of me, yes I’m five years old, but I hate going to the doctor and more so I hate giving blood. I have tiny veins and am always freezing so it usually takes the technician about four-hundred attempts before they finally hit the right place and I leave looking like a heroin addict. “Please remember to tell them I need pediatric needles.” I mumbled. F nodded and rolled his eyes. “I’m serious! If you don’t tell her I will murder you! I will!” He nodded. He clearly didn’t realize the importance of my plea and, remembering he had my pee in his bag, I thought he needed some coercion. I grabbed his man-purse and shook it violently. “Misty! NO!” His eyes went huge with panic. I laughed demonically. “Pediatric needle.” I whispered. He moved his bag to the other side,”You have serious mental problems,” he said. I leaned back and watched the digital number on the wall change. “It’s not so bad,” I said, “the line thing goes pretty quick.” It wasn’t the first time I’d been in a hospital here but it was the first time that I’d been a patient.

Our Friend Practically Died

A few weeks earlier I’d spent some time in the Emergency room. Well, I didn’t, per se, but our friend did. One of our friends came with her girlfriend from Brescia to visit us for a weekend. We walked around the city sight-seeing. At one point we were standing on the Ponte Vecchio bridge when an older woman suddenly fell down. A crowd rushed to help her up. When they brought her to her feet you could see blood, and something just wasn’t right with her arm. It didn’t take long to notice the bone that had protruded the skin. The older woman was American and she was dizzy and slurring, “Where is my husband? He was just here. Where is he?” Somehow her partner had been separated from her by the crowd, she’d lost her footing and broken her arm in the fall. Strangers from all over the world were holding her up, fanning her face, calling the ambulance, searching for her husband, rubbing her back, offering her water from their personal water bottle. That actually freaked me out a little bit. I mean, yes it’s sweet, but the poor lady was injured and it wasn’t a good time to offer her stranger cooties. We watched and tried looking around for her husband who was nowhere to be found. “What a bastard!” I said, “He’s one of those irritating husbands that walks twenty feet in front of his wife because he’s turbo sight-seeing. Now she’s injured and ALONE because he isn’t keeping an eye on her and being a partner. I am going to punch him if I find him.” Francesco shook his head, “Dis never happen to us. Dis is why I ALWAYS watch you to make-a sure you are-a safe-a.” Then, out of nowhere our friend fainted. She just dropped like a sack of potatoes onto the cobblestone.

Her face was white, her lips blue, and we had no idea what was happening. Zombie apocolypse? Everyone just starts dropping to the ground for no reason? F gave her water as she came to disoriented and panicked. Her girlfriend held her up and rubbed her back, I shoved candy into her mouth in case she fainted from low sugar. It was three in the afternoon and none of us had eaten yet. A french woman charged over to us and sprayed Evian water in her face, “It’s too hot! It’s too hot she needs to get out of the sun!” She said. A Ukranian man arrived with sugar packets. An Italian woman fanned her and told us to get her out of the summer heat. We got her up and walking and headed for a little bar in a shaded alley. She started to feel worse instead of better. She swayed in the booth we sat her in. The barista came over with a cold glass of sugar water. An American man stopped to ask if he could bring her a cold towel. A Japanese mother in the booth next to us waived frantically for us to lay her down and unhook her bra so she could breathe. It’s amazing how useful are hand gestures. An Italian man with a gray ponytail and a pirate patch over his left eye came over with newspapers and started to fan her. She was now laying down in the booth. Another barista brought a chair over and put her feet up. F called an ambulance. I thought to myself that this is one case where the european lack of personal space is actually nice. At home people would have surely helped but they would have been nervous to get so intimate, to touch her, to bring her things. They would most likely have done as the young American man did, “Could I grab a cold towel for you?” Which was polite and helpful but an Italian would have done it and then shoved it under her head without permission. People were just helping without fear, without worry for personal space, or being sued.

Despite what I’ve heard about socialized medicine, that people are dying every minute because the system is so bad,  entire cities are practically lying in the streets in anguish, dying from the common cold, a stubbed toe, or seasonal allergies, the ambulance arrived in the heart of the city center in less than five minutes in the middle of the street-crowded weekend afternoon.  They calmly walked over to her, sat her up, checked her vital signs and just to be safe decided to take her to the ER for more tests.

Photo By Saliko

Photo By Saliko

When I walked into the hospital to see her the first thing I noticed was that she was in a waiting room area hooked up to an IV with a saline drip. It wasn’t even nearly as dramatic as it would have been in the US. She wasn’t in a vulnerable gown strapped to a bed in a curtained room. Instead, she was in a wheelchair, fully dressed, with the IV drip seated near a man who was yelling at everyone. He was also in a wheelchair. He smelled of alcohol, the source, a carton of red wine, wedged between his legs in the hospital. I looked at our friend who was smiling at the man. “Is he drinking in the hospital?” I asked her. “Oh yes! This one is drunk. He’s been yelling strange things at everyone the entire time. He’s funny.” She laughed. My ethnocentrism kicked in and I was all, they would never let someone get drunk in an American hospital. And then I realized why not? He wasn’t hurting anyone. He wasn’t unhygienic. I realized that in the states we’re wound so tight with so much worry, and rules, we drive ourselves insane. Insanity. Not Sano. Not healthy. Then I noticed that our friend had sticker things all over her body. “What the hell are those?” I poked one. “They gave me a head scan, and a body scan in a big machine thing.” They did that already!? She’s only been there for forty-five minutes. “They also took blood, urine, and did a bunch of tests on my movement.” That, my friends, is fast analysis.

When all of her tests came back a while later she was totally fine. They decided that seeing the injured older woman must have caused her to faint. Just in case they kept her for six hours and made her absorb three liters of solution, “just in case.” When I left the girls there the drunk man waived me goodbye with his drunk-love euphoric smile.

“It’s amazing how many people came together to help that older woman and you today,” Francesco said, “I would have never expected that.” We sat around the dinner table and discussed healthcare, happiness, and the fact that the world might not be as far gone as we’d thought.

Exposing Your Vagina To The Entire World

The entire ordeal reminded me of art school. I moved to Italy originally to study at an art school here in Florence. I loved it. I really loved it. It was out of control with the weird art projects and the partying, and the partying, and the partying. One of the best years of my life. During that year I met a lot of people who became some of my favorite people in the world and who I am still incredibly close with. One of these women, a brilliant artist and film-maker, ended up at that same hospital one night after a night of debauchery.

At six a.m. Francesco’s phone began to ring like crazy. We’ been dating for about five months at that point but he pretty much never left my apartment. “Who the fuck is that!?” I grumbled. He answered and I immediately recognized the voice. It was my roommate who called to tell us that our other friend “C” was not doing so well. He hung up. “C is in the emergency room. Something about she passed out without panties on?” He sat up and began dressing immediately. This is something that i loved about him in the beginning. He seemed to care for anyone in my life that I cared for. The emergency room was less than a block from my apartment which was then in the Duomo Piazza. We jogged to Santa Maria Novella Hospital as quickly as we could.

When we arrived I asked for my friend. The receptionist couldn’t find her in the system initially and it took some time to figure out that they had put her in with a double last name. She is South African so it was something like, “Habooda Habooda” as her first and last name because apparently she lives in a cave 2,000 years ago. Then they took me to an empty bed. Finally we found Habooda Habooda in a handicap bathroom stall where some nurse had placed her. There she sat on the toilet with an industrial size garbage can in front of her and an I.V. stand next to her. The plastic tube ran from the saline bag down to the inner elbow that was resting lazily on the garbage can. “What the FUCK!?” I barked. She slowly lifted her head up and looked at me. “Ugh, I’m Teh-reh-bleh sawry muh lawve.” In her private school educated, all too proper for that scenario, british accent. The nurse told Francesco that they had to keep her for another few hours to rehydrate her. I hoped that they didn’t plan to keep her in the bathroom the entire time. My roommate found us in the hospital hall to tell us that apparently Habooda Habooda had passed out in the street wearing a party dress, without panties and her legs all flailing in the air. An ambulance drove about fifteen feet to pick her up right near our apartment after someone saw her flailing about and called the hospital. “The ambulance people were totally trying to cover up her junk the whole time but she kept kicking her legs all over the place.” Excellent. A few hours later she was released to me. I scolded her and put her to bed where she slept for nearly two days straight and then hoped that we’d all forget about it. However, four years later, here I am reminding her because friends always remind friends that they passed out with their vaginas in full view while an ambulance carts them off to a handicap bathroom.

While we’re talking about the healthcare system and vaginas, I had to do a pap test today in Florence. It was a little different than what I’m used to. Let’s just say that there was no “how are you” and “right this way, please.” The doctor didn’t even want to pretend that I was there for something else. She marched into the waiting room, pointed to me and yelled, “You’re here for the pap smear, RIGHT!?” Where everyone turned to stare at me. Awesome. Yes, I’m here to display my uterus, enjoy your coffee everyone. In the US there is a lot of formality. “Ma’am, right this way. Here is a nice cozy gown. Please lie back and gently rest yourself on this paper covered $5,000 dollar luxury hospital cot. Nope. My Italian is fine but I don’t trust myself to speak with doctors so I followed the doctor into the tiny room dragging F behind me. He wedged himself in the corner behind the closed door. “Now can I go?” He asked every five seconds. “NO. NO YOU CAN’T. You’ve seen my vagina plenty of times, dude. GET OVER IT!” He exhaled slowly and tried to get a grip.

The doctor asked him a few questions about my history then turned to me,”Take off your pants” She stood in front of me expectantly. “Now?” I asked. “Yes. Now. Go. Then sit down on the table and spread your legs.” Francesco’s mouth fell open. I did what any mentally stable grown-up would do and looked at her, stuck out my tongue and blew a raspberry farting sound at her. She raised her eyebrows but seemed unfazed. “Take off your pants.” She repeated. I undressed awkwardly from the waist down tossing my pants and knickers at F before I flopped onto the table and set my legs on padded, cracked, vomit colored leg stirrups. They were the same material as a Lazy-Boy from the 70’s. She grabbed the plastic duck bill contraption off of a metal table, pivoted, and shoved it into my hoo-haw without a word or a warning.  No pep talk, no, “this is going to be cold” or, “I know this part sucks.” Why wasn’t I being coddled!? She click, click, clicked it open. F turned a weird color of red. I frowned at him. Then the doctor reached around and grabbed a mini toilet brush cleaner and scrubbed down my cervix really quick. She set it in a petri-dish and then click, click, clicked, to downsize it and removed the scary duckbill from my body. She then threw it, basketball-style, across the room into an open garbage can. “You can dress now. Goodbye.” And off she went. I got dressed and practically ran outside. F had to work so I rode the train home with Oliver who waited in the car (at 7 a.m. it was cold outside, I wasn’t baking him in the summer sun, I promise). He suspiciously had chocolate brioche all over his face and I couldn’t find mine. Asshole.

I felt mildly violated on the way home but also a little relieved knowing that no matter what happened in my life I’d have healthcare. If I lose my job, if I’m dying, if I am homeless or finally institutionalized. I’d not been able to afford a doctor visit for three years in the US because without insurance those things are pretty fucking expensive. I was denied insurance because of my pre-existing dysplasia. In Italy we’re not coddled or pep-talked but we’re looked after regardless of history, or economic status.

Side Note: Do not leave your dog in the car EVER. I checked the temperature (under 70 degrees), the car was in the shade, and we watched him through the window. I also made F check on him once to make sure the car was still cool.

After 9 a.m. in Tuscany I would never leave him in the car (and even before 9 a.m. is questionable from June-August. Right now it’s very cool in the mornings and evenings). Cars are metal. They heat up very fast and thousands of dogs die that way every year. Don’t do it. Some people multi-task well and might forget they even have their dog with them, ahem, (FRANCESCO).

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