Monday morning I began to feel some chest discomfort – a pressure – which became more acute as the day wore on. Finally I decided enough was enough and with the help of colleagues from the Embassy*, an ambulance was dispatched and an Italian speaking colleagues was sent over to help.
The ambulance doctor spoke some English so communication, though not faultless, was at least established until my colleague Santina could arrive. After a quick ECG it was decided that a trip to the hospital was in order and then the fun began.
I may have mentioned in the past that only large official buildings and hotel chains here have elevators that will accommodate more than 4 people, let alone two people and a stretcher. Solution? A kitchen chair! Okay. So I assumed the idea would be that I would sit in it and be carried down – seems logical right? Wrong – the chair was placed in the elevator, I sat in it for the ride down; then walked to the stretcher in the lobby?????? The next problem was getting the gate open – it is at the end of a long driveway and the button is back by the building, if you can find it amongst the greenery. I thought for a moment that I was going to have to get out of the ambulance and open it but someone found the right button. Finally me stretchered, gate opened we roared off rattling across the cobblestones, sirens blaring.
ER at Policlinico is infamous in Rome if not all of Italy – chaos does not even begin to describe it. Think of one of those crowd scenes from a Hollywood Roman epic – throw in stretchers, wheelchairs and IV stands and you are getting close to the visual. Now add in the noise of a Cairo market, a children’s birthday party and Friday night at the local pub plus some wailing from ambulances and people and you have the aural.
A few clicks should indicated the size of Policlinico Umberto Primo - it comprises 47 buildings and is part of La Sapienza University.
After being bumped and banged around ER for a few hours – triage, examination room, observation hall – young Doctor Rossi (how could he be a doctor he’s only 14?) appeared and suggested that a stay in Spa Policlinco was in the stars for the next three days. So I was plopped in a wheelchair with one slightly flat tire and manoeuvred, rhythmically making a thump-k-thump sound, through a maze of long colonnaded corridors. Propelled through a set of double doors I came face to face with an illuminated statue of the Virgin Mary. Well this is it I thought – they’re taking me to the chapel – this is the end.
Instead of flickering votives illuminating polychrome statues I was wheeled into a high old-fashioned hospital room where a flickering neon illuminated my new roommate, Nazzareno. There were only two beds – not the 8 I had seen when visiting my friend Linda a few months ago at her regional hospital and given the noise level I recall from that visit I must remember to put some flowers in front of that statue of the Virgin.
Nazzareno was a round faced, large bellied gentleman in his late 40s who had fallen into a diabetic coma at the beach last Saturday. As can be expected he speaks only Italian but that has not stopped us from having long conversations. Throw him a subject and he can converse on it for an hour and I don’t have to say a word – just nod, smile, say “si” or “non” as the topic requires and give the occasional laugh. Thank you to my high school drama teacher Doug Livingston, who taught me a good part of acting is reacting. It’s a lesson that has served me well.
Tuesday morning after more blood work – I’m going to have a few bruises for the next week or two – and ECGs it was time for morning rounds. I have never seen so many white coats in my life. Ten medical-types poked, prodded and examined; comments were made that elicited laughter – hey my chest isn’t that scrawny! – and my condition and what to do about it was discussed loudly and passionately if though a meal were being ordered at a local trattoria. I should mention that in Italian hospital there are no bedside screens or curtains so everyone, including your roommate, can and does take part in the conversation.
The Senior Doctor – full white hair, ferragosto tan, designer glasses, polished fingernails – got into a heated discussion with a tall redheaded ward doctor that was halted in mid-spat by the entrance of another doctor. Not that her appearance stopped it, there was just a momentary truce as greetings, compliments and kisses were exchanged – then they were back to me. I was a bit startled when the new arrival began fondling my feet – I thought that sort of thing was against the Hippocratic Oath – but it turned out she was checking out my circulation. Based on general consensus – and I’m not at all sure that Nazereno’s opinion wasn’t taken into consideration – I hadn’t suffered a heart attack but Pavilion 7, 2nd Floor, Bed 11 was to be my home for the next few days.
... to be continued
*Just as a sidebar I've been on my own this week as Laurent went to Tirana for business last Sunday - no not the International Film Fesival, that would be Toronto - this is Tirana as in Albania.
12 settembre - San Tesauro dei Beccheria