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Archive for July 2011

An Afternoon in an Italian Hospital

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Last week I had to spend an afternoon in an Italian hospital. It was a surreal experience. And not just because it didn’t smell like a proper hospital. How can anybody run a hospital without making every corner smell like disinfectant?

It all started during some off-track hiking in Italy, during which I slipped and fell. My first thought was that it wasn’t all that bad; possibly a scratch. My right leg disagreed, and my sock was quickly saturated with blood.

It turned out that I had ripped open my leg to the bone on a sharp rock. For years I’ve been carrying a basic aid kit with me (actually a gift from my mom, “just in case”) and now for the first time I could put it to good use. It took only a minute or so for my friends, who were closeby, to reach me. We bandaged my leg and then started the long 4km walk back to civilization.

After we reached the car it took us another 35 minutes to reach the nearest local hospital. This is were the fun started.

The hospital was halfway on one of the mountains, and we had to take a couple of hairpins to get there. Luckily we had one of those annoying “How and what in Italian” booklets with us. Normally we only use this fine piece of literature to look up bad pickup lines when are bored (we’re all too shy to actually try them out), but having it with us meant we could now actually look up “First Aid”.

We parked in front of the building that said “Pronto Soccorso” and went inside. There we found a bunch of people hanging around in a corner with various ailments, but no sight of any medical staff whatsoever. After 15 minutes or so some medical staff finally emerged, just to grumpily indicate they were still busy. Two of my friends stumbled around the hospital a bit and ran into another doctor, who explained that for a leg injury we had to go to the first floor. So they fetched me, and the friendly doctor accompanied us to orthopedics.

The friendly doc asked us where we are from and, after the obligatory standard references to pot and hookers, told us that somebody would be with us in 2 minutes. He left us in a corridor, in front of a sign that said “ortopedics”. So we hung around, joked about the whole experience and discussed why we didn’t bother to bring any cards to kill the time.

Roughly 20 minutes later a doctor emerged, also grumpy, but thankfully he spoke some English. After a short discussion he told us that, actually, we were in the wrong spot, and that really, we should be downstairs, in the corner, waiting with all those other people. It later turned out that there were also various signs (in Italian, of course) in that corridor telling patients to please not wait in the bloody corridor but in the waiting room. Ah well.

At this point we were starting to become mildly annoyed but we meekly took the stairs down and walked back to the corridor with the other patients. It took another hour or so before a nurse came up to me and asked me to fill in my details on a form. After 20 minutes she came back and showed me into the doctors room. I explained what had happened, with lots of hand gestures and the five words of French I still remembered. They seemed to understand, shaved my leg, gave me something for tetanus, cleaned the wound and then put some simple bandages on. When they were done, I was told to go to radiology and then return.

Now, I’m not opposed to X-rays in general, but I’m also not the worlds biggest fan of unnecessary medical procedures or radiation. Unfortunately I seemed to lack the sufficient number of limbs and/or French vocabulary to communicate how I fell (I merely slid past the stone), and that I managed to walk 5 bloody kilometers after hurting my leg. The only thing the doctor seemed to understand was that I objected to the X-ray. He took the cheap way out and he did what most people would do in this situation: making it somebody else’s problem.

That somebody else turned out to be the same guy from orthopedics we pissed off by waiting in the corridor earlier. After we had waited another 20 minutes or so he finally emerged. I tried to ask him, as I did earlier, why the X-ray would be necessary given the way I fell, that I could still walk on it, and how it felt. At home, I’m used to doctors taking into account comments from their patients (or pretending to do so), or giving a decent explanation of why a particular procedure might be necessary. Not here. If we hadn’t pissed him off earlier by talking loudly in the corridor, he definitely was annoyed at this point by (what I’m sure he considered) being second-guessed. He seemed to think I was being cheap, and said something about how “this is not the market”.

At this point I decided that it wasn’t worth the fight – I just wanted to get the fuck out of there – so I reluctantly gave in. The radiologist happened to be the doctor who erroneously sent us to orthopedics earlier. He took two X-ray scans of my entire body and (surprise!) didn’t discover any cracks whatsoever.

Within 5 minutes I was back in the waiting room for orthopedics, and after 30 more long minutes, back on the table of my favorite doc. He literally stapled together the hole in my leg and then left it up to his nurse (who only spoke Italian.. ) to bandage my leg. This happened with great enthusiasm, and soon my whole leg was wrapped up – from just below my knee to the beginning of my toes. And while this already got me worried I would be immobile for the next couple of days, it got even worse when the nurse rode in a wheelchair for me. This all was much to the rejoice of my friends, who thought it was hilarious considering I’d cheerfully walked into the hospital.

After that whole episode it was back to “Pronto Soccorso” for me to wrap up the paperwork and the prescriptions – antibiotics and painkillers. The pain killers (brufen 600, pretty heavy stuff) seemed excessive, and I skipped them. Roughly 4 hours after we arrived at the hospital we were standing outside again, one of us looking like he just had a major ski incident.

I can’t really recommend the whole process; it was all very theatrical, bureaucratic and slow. It makes me appreciate the current Dutch system, with all its flaws, all the more. Fortunately, though, the doctors were competent (if grumpy) and the wound has healed up nicely in the end. It is now two weeks later and the only noticeable things that remain are a small scar and one leg that is noticably less hairy than the other.

Written by aristillus

July 17, 2011 at 22:57

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Reading between the lines

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(discussing whether we should take the train or a plane to Croatia)

Me: “I’d prefer to go by train, that way we have the flexibility to take a different train than we originally booked.”
Friend: “Flexibility? You could just not oversleep.”

Written by aristillus

July 14, 2011 at 19:38

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