The interesting thing about travel is you never know what places you might discover: a delicious hole-in-the-wall restaurant, a unique little artisan’s shop, or even, the local hospitals.
My mother met me in Rome for a week of sightseeing. Unfortunately, she did not do such a hot job of packing and left all of her medicines at home. She was fine without most of them for a week except for her pain medications that she was taking for a nerve problem until she could get in with a specialist. Without these pain meds, the nerve problem is debilitating, making it difficult to walk, and obviously, difficult to sightsee. If she was going to make it through the week, we had to make a trip to the doctor. Our hotel owner let us know that the hospital was only about five blocks down the road. We walked there and entered into the ER. The check-in desk was empty, and some people sitting in the waiting room pointed through the automatic doors to triage. We went through and sat down at one of the two desks. The first nurse did not speak English so we were moved to the other desk. The next nurse spoke very basic English. Our first question was, ‘How much will this cost?’ He didn’t know the word cost. I wrote down the Euros symbol, and he looked puzzled. Luckily an EMT walked by that understood and said, “It’s free in Italy.” Excellent. I explained my mom’s situation. Although he didn’t exactly understand which medicine she needed, through a series of dramatic gestures and miming, he got the gist of the problem.
We were put in a secondary waiting room where there were only two other people waiting. ‘This shouldn’t take too long,’ we thought. No one was called back for an hour. I don’t know why but my mom was the first called back after that. The doctor didn’t speak any English, so we were sent next door, where a warm and friendly doctor greeted us. She claimed to not speak much English but we were able to communicate, which was the important thing. She wanted to give my mom an IV of medicine and a shot. In the meantime, people are milling in and out, standing around, and there is obviously no one in charge and no organization in this hospital whatsoever. The two nurses start to administer the IV and give her a shot. I was shocked when neither of them put gloves on to give her these meds or even to remove the IV. I saw the box of gloves sitting beside the bed and yet they didn’t use them. The only medical history question they asked my mom was if she was a diabetic. They have no idea what my mom does or does not have. The doctor wrote my mom a prescription for four medicines. We go to the pharmacy and get them, then Google them when we get back to the hotel. None of them are pain medicines; they’re anti-inflammatory meds, which my mom has on her.
Fast forward two days later. My mom is in severe pain. We were leaving for Sorrento the next day, and we had no choice but to go back to the hospital. She had to get pain medicines. The hospital is a lot busier this time, so we have to sit in triage to be checked in. This is when my mom and I saw perhaps the most horrifying sight I’ve seen in a modern-day hospital. A woman is on a gurney in triage looking half-conscious. A nurse walks by, tries to talk to her, and the woman doesn’t respond. She casually walks to find a doctor (in no hurry). The doctor comes over shakes the woman, lifts her eyelid, and when she moans, the doctor indicates she’s fine. What?! They haven’t checked this woman’s heart rate, pulse, nothing. The woman lies there for another 5 to 10 minutes. My mom and I seriously looked at each other wide-eyed. When they decide to do something with this woman, she is not responsive. They slowly take her pulse, and since she has one, they don’t look concerned. The nurse checks her blood pressure and then just drops the woman’s limp arm. Appalling. My mom gets through triage, and I leave her in the waiting room while I go to the train station to get tickets. I couldn’t handle sitting there so I told her I’d come back for her shortly. When I get back they had called my mom back already, so I sat in the outer waiting room. Besides all of the other family and friends waiting, there is a dog tied up to a pole near the ER automatic doors. Yes, inside! He’s a scrappy little dog, yapping his head off when someone walks by and doesn’t pet him. A doctor come out to tell him to be quiet, but as soon as the doctor walks away, he’s back to barking. A dog in a hospital?
My mom came out, and the doctor wouldn’t give her pain meds, just stronger anti-inflammatory meds. The hospital staff was nice, but if you’re ever in a real emergency in Italy, go to a private hospital. They might just let you die in the ER, and only discover your decaying body when someone recalls that they’re actually on duty and should be working. After Italy I went to Jordan, where they are known throughout the Middle East as having the best medical care, and yet a country like Italy can’t seem to wear gloves or check on a woman going in and out of consciousness.
So, just remember, you never know what side of a place you’ll get to see when you’re traveling. It may not be your typical tourist spot, but two trips to an Italian hospital was definitely interesting, and my mom and I had quite a few laughs over that scrappy dog in the ER.