I Have Been Released

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.

The cot closet on my floor. They look like something you'd haul to the beach, don't they?

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.

Laura with our nurse, Salvatore

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.

Saying goodbye to the discharge doctor; photo by R. Corradin

PS Hope to keep you up-to-date on the budding romance.

Click to subscribe to BaroqueSicily.

33 comments to I Have Been Released

  • When I was visiting Sicily in Termini Imerese , my uncle Pino was in Hospitial the day before I due to arrive and still there after my arrival, needless to say we did the family visit , it was hysterical… there were peoplw everywhere brining food and chairs and me sitting beside my Uncle on his bed, windows were wide open pigeon nearly flew in,It was hospital Palooza! Two days later my uncle came home more festa upon his arrival.

  • sandee wheeler

    Jann, Sorry to hear you were sick! Your story is a good argument for Universal Health Care…….provided for everyone! Maybe someday, we can all enjoy the same right to health care. Glad you’re feeling better!

  • Dennis Berry

    Hi Jann,
    When i worked in Palermo i worked for La Mutua ( The National Health program)
    The picture of you with your Doc reminded me of a girl I met in Palermo in the late 80’s

  • So sorry to read that you have not been well , but happy that you are now on the road to a full recovery .. This hospital sounds amazing … we have nothing like that in the UK … 🙂

  • I also have recently had an experience with the Italian medical system in Sicily,Catania, Garibaldi ospedale, to be exact. I found them to be very good but overly cautious in their diagnoses and in the administration of painkillers.

    I was fortunate in that my partner, a Sicilian, had been training as a nurse and consequently knew several of the male nurses at the hospital, including the head nurse of the surgery department. Franco, the head nurse, shepherded me through all the prlimminary exams, to make sure it was safe to operate (I am 83), and arranged for the operation, to remove my gallbladder.

    My main problem was that they would not prescribe strong enough pain killers so I was in constant agony the whole time until I found a contact with the anesthetist at Taormina, who suggested a morphine like drug. This worked but I didn’t take it to the hospital for the operation, so I battled for the three days of convalescence.

    I was impressed by the attentions of the supporters of the patients in the ward, some of the patients even brought their own pillows as those supplied by the hospital were like bricks.

    All in all, except for the lack of decent painkillers, it wouild have been a good experience, and all free even the medications which I am still taking.

    The only reaason the Americans (I lived there for 20 yrs) could have for not voting in a National health system is that their politicians belong to the people who make huge profits out of the medical system and do not care for those who suffer becasue they cannot afford to pay. Give me the Italian system any day!

    • Jann

      Fred, thanks for writing! Ouch, sorry you didn’t get enough pain killers. What a bummer. I wonder why that was??? I had severe nausea the first day, and they immediately gave me something for that, but there was a guy on our ward who every once in a while cried out in pain (or so it seemed), and I wondered why they didn’t sedate him more….

  • Dennis Berry

    Happy to hear your well. Brava La Mutua.

    • Jann

      Dennis, now you’re being cryptic. Brava La Mutua I translate to Good Mutual. Insurance? Something like Mutual of Omaha?

  • Hi Jann,
    Wow, what a way to return to Sicily! Glad to hear that everything is OK now and that you are back at home up on the hill. We’re dreaming about our next visit almost everyday now and hope that you and Kim are around while we’re there. Stay well and write when you can.

    Buona Salute!

  • Sam

    Do the relatives who camp out in the room get free breakfast in the morning?

    • Jann

      Sam, lunch and dinner at the hospital were actually quite good, always a primo of pasta, followed by a secondo of (usually grilled) meat and a salad.

      Breakfast, however, was just a bowl of orzo, I think it’s called–that fake coffee (“children’s coffee!” the nurse laughed as he served it)–with two dry slices of those melba-toast like things. By the end of my stay, I had graduated to a bit of marmalade and butter, too. No, relatives didn’t get it, nor did they want it. They walked to the hospital bar and came back with real coffee and a cornetto oozing with pistachio cream.

  • cemal karahan

    Dear, Jann…Please , take care of you….Try to eat dried figgs, dried apricots, dates, dried beans, and potatoes and bananas, all of which are found in Italy…! I don’t want to be rude of course but my suggestion is to praise traditional dishes , most of the time….! Take care again… ! Best wishes…..!

    • Jann

      Hi Cemal–thanks for this message and for your suggestions! I think all the foods you mentioned are high in potassium, so I will be faithful about eating them. In fact, I just bought a box of sweet Tunisian dates. Mmm.

  • Margo Chavez

    Jann! I am so glad you are all better again. This was all a very interesting adventure for sure, and I am glad it had so many happy consequences. You are so absolutely right about our silly dispute with nationalized health care. I have had similar experiences with students in Spain, taking them to the clinic, having them surrounded by doctors and nurses and then getting a surprised look when I ask what we owe. And your doctor was definitely cute.

  • catherine Billups

    Jann, I had the same potassium imbalance when I was in Pennsylvania two years ago and my bills for hospital and doctors were over $30,000. which I had to pay as I am now an Italian citizen with no American insurance.
    Last year I had a severe attack of vetigine which led me to call a Sicilian winemaker friend for help as his wife is a doctor. Within an hour I had an appointment with her friend the neurologist from Modica who came to my
    house in Modica who gave me a prescription which a friend rushed to the pharmacy to fill. In the meantime the neurologist booked a day of appointments in the day hospital in Modica with the otorino (ear specialist) for every exam possible. The doctors and the staff were incredible while the Modicani in the waiting room were very curious about this American who was there ALONE! Since I had no one to bring me lunch one of the staff came back with roast chicken from their cafeteria. The hospital was immaculate unlike a nameless hospital in Milano which was really third world. The diagnosis of vertigine from inner ear was exactly what my neighbors, the old ladies, had told me was the problem and how right they were. Again no charges for the hospital and exams including a TAC which is usually expensive but only a modest amount for the house call. I was pleasantly surprised.

    • Jann

      Catherine–thanks for this detailed comment. I’m horrified at what you had to pay in Pennsylvania. A cautionary tale for visitors to the US: be sure to get travel health insurance before going. After that you certainly deserved a good medical experience, and I’m glad you had it in Sicily. (How amazing your elderly neighbors made the correct diagnosis before the doctors!)

  • Gianfranco

    Be careful with hospitals! If you are not sick in a very serious way they are another parallel world with social life (the tipical approach is “what are you sick of..” and “I have this…”),romance, etc … and you still can explore the other divisions… it can be addictive!! LOL 🙂

    • Jann

      Yes, it’s a parallel universe, with all the drama of the “real world.” But at this point I don’t think I really want to explore the other wards :)!

  • That is such a reassuring story, to know that one can be so well cared for in a country foreign to one’s homeland–even better than at home! Camp cots and family gatherings, budding romances and pumpkin walls, stylish doctors and lingering farewells. Sounds like the makings for a very entertaining weekly soap opera, Sicilian style. I’m glad you’ve been released and hope you are feeling in the pink (as opposed to the pumpkin). That doctor shaking your hand was not too hard on the eyes, either…don’t tell me you didn’t notice!

    • Jann

      Tee hee, Louciao. Yes, pumpkin is good, but pink is better. Stuff for a Sicilian soap opera–yes! You’ll never get ME to admit that all the docs were cute!

  • Cathy

    Hope you are doing well now Jann! That certainly sounds like an interesting hospital stay 🙂 Keep us posted..

    Best wishes and Good health,

  • Welcome back home Jann! Almost makes you want to go to the hospital! 🙂 Sounds like you are much better and ready to take on Ragusa again!

    • Jann

      Ciao Diana–yes, I have a new lease on life and can’t wait to get out there with my camera!

  • Jann, what were you in for? I’m so glad that you were so well taken care of! What a beautiful thing to be taken care of in such a manner that you’re hardly aware of your surroundings–just the lovely company. Your friends sound like wonderful people. Imagine so much care and love–I’m sure it made for a speedier recovery! And no charge? It doesn’t get more amazing than that! Here’s hoping you’re all better now! 🙂

    • Jann

      Bella, I was in for a serious electrolyte imbalance. It started with a long plane ride from New Mexico where I got dehydrated (loss of potassium). Then I picked up a virus–on the plane?–with all the concomitant results, including more loss of potassium. Then I saw my blood pressure was high so I gave myself an extra dose or two of a diuretic I take (which also depletes potassium). When you lose too much potassium, your organs–including your heart and brain–don’t work right. My heart was hammering away and suddenly I was confused, sluggish, and unfocused. Anyway, 4 days of a slow-drip IV fixed the problem perfectly. I didn’t ask what would’ve happened had I not gone into emergency when I did. Don’t wanna know!

  • NorahS

    Sorry to hear you were not well! Hope all is better now.

Site Meter BlogItalia.it - La directory italiana dei blog