May 26, 2020
My favorite thing to do every single day is to walk along the lungomare, the promenade by the sea, now that it is open once again. Believe me, I had hoped to never experience what I did last Tuesday.
Actually, it began a few days earlier. My heart was doing a fast cha-cha whenever I walked. Headaches moved in and would not leave, neck pain, jaw pain, upper back pain, fast breathing, body aches. I wasn’t going to let it stop my visit to my favorite pizzeria but struggled to walk the short distance there last Monday. I actually had to take a taxi home from that outing for less than a kilometer’s normal walk.
When I lay down, my heart rate would go down. I decided to ride it out until Tuesday to see if it got better. When it had not gotten much better. my friends urged me to go to the hospital. But it wasn’t until my daughter gave me a virtual kick in the behind over the phone that I called the Croce Rossa, The Red Cross, for un’ambulanza, an ambulance. First, I called Mirko, my usual taxi driver. He told me no, I must call 118 for the ambulance.
I did NOT want to go. I wanted to forget. I wanted this.
But I called. I spoke to three, different people. They were very thorough and patient with my incomplete Italian. They actually had one person who spoke English on the third call. They told me to lay down and await their arrival.
I hate the sound of the ambulance. I remember cringing at the beginning of the pandemic every time I heard the sound approaching my neighborhood. The sirens bring tears to my eyes now. There were so many two months ago. Now this one was coming for me.
Yet, within five minutes, they were at my door. My house was messy as I hadn’t done much cleaning or much moving around. They did not care. They took my blood oxygen levels, heart rate, temperature, asked questions and put me in a wheelchair. One walked down the stairs while the other took me and my chair in the elevator down to street level.
Once outside, neighbors were watching from their balconies and down the street as I was moved to a gurney and pushed across the street. A second medical vehicle arrived with equipment and more people. I was embarrassed by all this attention.
Inside the ambulance the medics asked the same questions, did the same tests and followed up with an elettrocardiagram, and EKG. They kept saying firma, firma. I finally figured out that the word meant “hold still.” Again, I was embarrassed by all this attention. Sono imbarazzata. Non fa male come ieri. Le altre persone ti hano detto più di me. I said, “I am embarrassed. I am not as bad as yesterday. There are others who need you more. “
This is all happening inside the stationary ambulance prior to leaving. The wonderful medic covered in white from head to toe and with two masks. Said, “Non ti prioccupare. (No worries.)” Then he went on to say(in Italian), “Do not be embarrassed. It is better to come in when there is a possibility of heart problems. It is better to catch it early. If we wait longer there could be permanent damage. You were right to call. No worries.” He made it easy for me to understand it all in Italian.
I cried. They were so kind to me. We finally took off and he apologized for the bumpy ride as the ambulance needed work—I think he said on the compression. He held my hand the entire way.
Once we arrived at the hospital, they moved me to a bigger gurney and said goodbye. The next medics took me to a room with a few others where they took vitals, did another EKG and asked a lot of questions. One planned a trip to California for next year and we talked about travel in the US. (All in Italian). They drew several vials of blood in this room. It was difficult for them to find my veins as it always is.
Aftermath of attempt #1.
Aftermath of attempt #2
When they were done, they moved me to the next room. Yes, the entire gurney moves. You do not go into a separate room as we do in the USA, and wait for attendants to arrive—waiting alone and wondering.
In this room, I was asked more questions, answered the best I could in Italian with a few words in English. One of the medics ask me if I preferred to live in Italy or the USA. When I said io preferisco l’italia, I prefer Italy, they were very surprised. Again, they were kind and attentive.
Next, we moved to the adjoining room where the doctor was. He examined me, asked more questions, did another EKG and took all my medicines down.
After the doctor completed his work for now, my gurney and I moved back to the last room. There were only two of us in this room and we were divided by a thick plastic curtain.
Before the female medic hooked me up to monitoring equipment and departed, she said to me in Italian, “Don’t worry. You are not alone. I will check on you often and there will always be someone walking by if you need anything.” Again, I was impressed by her kindness and humanity as I was by everyone I had met so far. She also squeezed my arm and smiled—her eyes did at least.
As an aside, I never saw who was behind the blue curtain until that person left for a hospital room. I thought it was a woman who was snoring. Her snoring made me smile. When they finally took this patient to a permanent room, I saw it was a MAN. They do not separate male and female in these rooms. Surprise!
They monitored my heart rate and oxygen level for hours. She returned and took another vial of blood for more tests. At about 2AM, they decided I could go home. While at rest, my heart and breathing looked normal. They said something about the beating of my heart and prescribed a betablocker to help level out my heartbeats. All my tests were normal (blood sugars, cholesterol, triglycerides, creatine, etc.) except my blood pressure, which is normally low, was at 149/90.
I left the hospital with a prescription for the beta blocker, a prescription to see a cardiologist and have a heart monitor attached to wear for 24 hours. Also, I would have another EKG. Everything is written down for us –all that was done. I even carried the EKG data. Next, I go to my doctor and move forward. So far the beta-blockers seem to be helping. I walked a mile or so yesterday with no issues, no heart rate of 160---just 100 to 110. I am hopeful that this will pass.
I am sharing this with you, not for pity, but to let you know how a visit to the ER, il pronto soccorso, can go. Here in Chiavari, the experience was exemplary, the staff, the rooms, the cleanliness, the care—all were exemplary. It does vary by hospital. I had a bad experience in Lazio 2 weeks after arriving in Italy in the beginning of 2017. Since then, however, every hospital and doctor I have had experience with has been wonderful. Note also, that as a dual citizen, I pay zero for this attention, except through my taxes. You, as a non-citizen, can visit the ER or hospital and pay a minimal fee, very minimal compared to the USA. Do not be afraid of medical care in Italy.
Above was the 3rd attempt to draw blood. I think a vessel may have broken. I need this looked at tomorrow too. Arrggghhhh!
One final note: I mentioned my usual taxi driver, Mirko. I call him when I need to fly somewhere and have too much luggage. We meet infrequently but I give him my business. He called me the next morning to see if I was all right. A taxi driver called me to see if I was all right. Even with all that Italy has experienced so far in 2020, with all the loss, with all the fear, with all the anxiety, this man, this kind person, took time out of his day to see if I was home or in the hospital. I love Italy. I love Italians.
Take care and be safe.
Ciao for now!
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