May 18, 2011
Not from the pokey, but from a five-day stopover in a Sicilian hospital.
Which–I kid you not–was wonderful.
Maybe wonderful is a bit too strong a word. But other than the very first day, when I was genuinely ill, I found the experience entertaining, relaxing, and heart-warming.
There were surprises galore. Family members pretty much camp out in their loved one’s room, unfolding a hospital cot at night. Which means that instead of two people in a small room at night, there can be four (in my case there were three since I had no family member at hand. “You mean I coulda been sleeping in the hospital had I been there?” my husband giggled over the phone.) Poor “lonely” me, how I was pitied! My roommate’s family adopted me for the duration.
My friends came with pajamas, robes, toothpaste, soaps, novels (I read two!), camera, computer, underwear, creams, and smiles. They collared doctors and spoke on my behalf. They ran errands for me and even cleaned my house. That’s how friends are in Italy.
Public hospitals here are deeply religious places. A huckster came by daily to peddle icons of saints, like gypsies hawk roses in Roman trattorie. A crucifix hung high on a pumpkin wall so I could keep it in my view while lying on the cement slab that Sicilians call a pillow. Sacred images of Papa Benedetto XVI and the Virgin festooned the room. On Saturday evening, as my roommate and I lay prone in dim light, I blinked and saw a black-vested priest hovering over us. Was he performing Last Rites? Sure seemed like it.
Friendship bloomed in the room (between me and my sweet roommate Laura, Rescuer of Abandoned Dogs). So did love. Our male nurse fell under Laura’s spell. He’s already arranged dinner in romantic Scicli when Laura is discharged, with me to tag along as chaperone.
Evening visitation hours–when the doors yawned open to the general public–felt like a rowdy cocktail party or art opening. People milled about in corridors, smooching old friends and chatting, poking their heads in for a chat and a kiss-kiss with the invalids.
Sicilian doctors—like all Sicilians—travel in packs. They sweep into your sickroom every morning with flair, high spirits, and professionalism. I found them charming, competent, and caring. My Italian was really not up to discussing internal organs and such with four Italian doctors at a time, but they were Patience personifed. One doctor–the best in town, they say–was a hipster Kewpie doll, with mussed porcupine hair atop a baby face. Another doctor strode in every morning on high-heeled pigskin cowboy boots, stethoscope swaying, and when she sat down and crossed her legs I drooled over the gorgeously distressed jeans she wore under her white doctor coat. I didn’t seem to have a primary care doctor; they were equally involved. The medici were displeased at the medication my American doctor had prescribed, saying Europe had long ago quit using it and that it “was still used in the USA just because it’s cheap.”
How much did all these blood tests and EKGs and IVs and ambulance ride and meals and nurses and doctors cost?
Not a penny.
There wasn’t even any paperwork I had to do.
America, why are you fighting nationalized health care?
I’ll miss this place and the hardworking, heartful folks who labor within her pumpkin walls. Thank you, Italy, for this gift. Ti ringrazio dal profundo del mio cuore.
PS Hope to keep you up-to-date on the budding romance.