We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Meeting the family

One of the things on my must-do list while in Caserta was to track down the family coffee shop that I'd heard so many stories about growing up. My mother talks fondly of this neighorhood institution and of her great-uncle Vincentino who baked all of the pastries for the shop.  What a coincidence to learn that our hotel was only a few blocks from Caffe Centrale, on Via Roma!

Shortly after we checked into the hotel, we set off down the street, only to discover the caffe and everything around it was locked up tighter than a drum. I should have known, it was only 2:45pm- still siesta time!

We went back to the hotel, and tried again at 4:30.  Sure enough, the doors were open. And there was cousin Pietro behind the counter!  Pietro is the younger brother of cousin Enzo. I've met Enzo briefly before, and could pick out the resemblance instantly. Although I was hoping my arrival would be a surprise, Enzo had already informed Pietro I would try to find him.  And Pietro was waiting for me.

After big hugs and kisses, and drinks at the counter, Pietro gave us a bit of history about the caffe. It has been in the family just about 100 years!  Oh, I can't even imagine!  Pietro's grandfather, his great-uncle, his father, and now Pietro himself have run the caffe over the years.  He explained that the present site is not the original shop.  It used to be in another part of town, however an earthquake ruined the first shop,so they opened up in this second location and have been here on Via Roma ever since.  Pietro's grandfather's brother Vincentino was the baker, however no one followed in his footsteps. Today, the pastries sold in the caffe are made by another local bakery.  According to my mother, no one baked as well as Vincentino did.

By the way, Pietro speaks no English, so I was very pleased that my Italian skills got me through this meeting with a lot less difficulty than I had imagined.  I had to keep reminding Pietro to slow down, however!

In Italy, the neighborhood caffe is where you stop on your way to work for coffee and a pastry in the morning. It's where you take your coffee break in the middle of the morning, and it's where you stop for a drink of wine or whatever on your way home from work.  It's exactly like the Cheers bar, because everyone knows you there, and you know everyone. It's like your family.

For me, drinking a cup of tea at the counter of Caffe Centrale the other day really was finding my family! To be  honest, I'm not sure I can find the right words to describe how I felt being there. The emotions were running high- this was another dream come true for me.  And even better, this isn't just a story I've heard about the past any more- this is part of my life now.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Family and Food

My Italian family dinner was an event I will remember for a long time to come- all 12 courses of it!  Here's what we ate, in the order it was brought out, all served family style on large platters:

1) Mozzarella rolled in potatos and herbs, deep fried
2) Fried polenta and herb balls
3) Stuffed pumpkin flowers - filled with a ricotta filling
4) Fried  Jumbo Shrimp
5) Raw Oysters on the half shell
6) Bruschetta
7) Mixed cold fish platter - smoked salmon, fresh salmon, octopus salad, marinated anchovies, mussels and clams
8) Fritto misto- hot fried fish- shrimp, calamari, small fish, anchovies
9) Sauteed baby octopus
10) Mussels and clams in broth with bread
11) Pasta with clams
12) Dolci (Dessert)- assorted chocolate tortes, stawberries in cream, fresh pineapple with amarone sauce

Courses 1-10 were all considered Antipasto.  Prima Piatti ( first course) was the pasta with clams. We had to scream BASTA (Enough!) at that point before they brought out a Secondo Piatti.  We thought we would burst!  Nothing, absolutely nothing, tops eating Italian style!!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Meeting my Italian family!

For years when I was growing up my mother would talk about the family she left back in Italy. We've heard names, and know a few sparse details, but really that side of the family has always been a blank page. A big mystery.  I never thought in a million years that I would ever get to meet these strangers across the Atlantic ocean.

In 2007, the year before we moved here, I got the chance to briefly meet a few of my mother's relatives for the very first time, face to face.  My two sisters and I had brought my mother over to Italy to celebrate her 80th birthday, which included stops in both Caserta, where my mother's mother grew up and had family, and also in the La Spezia/Cinque Terre area, home of my mother's father. 

Since I moved, I've made many trips to La Spezia and Cinque Terre. I've gotten to know my Italian grandfather's side of the family who still live in that area fairly well.  Finding my Italian family has been one of life's great surprises for me.  I think all Italian-Americans wonder about their relatives back in Italy and have a huge desire to find them, meet them, become part of the family.  I'm one of the lucky ones who has done that.

While I've spent lots of time with my Nonno's (grandfather) family, I have not gotten to know my Nonna's (grandmother) people.  That will change this weekend. My husband Mike and I are going to Sorrento to attend a meeting. Sorrento is only about 2 hours from where my family is in Caserta. Too close to not go visit.  I had a phone number and email address of Cousin Enzo, so I wrote a little email explaining I'd be nearby and would like to see as many family members as possible while I was there.  Enzo jumped on it and organized a family dinner for Monday, January 24. 

Enzo isn't actually my cousin.  Technically, he is my mother's second cousin.  So what is he to me?  Second cousin once removed?  I think that's it.  Darned if I know.  Doesn't matter. It's his generation that is left, and I'm so excited to have the opportunity to get to know them. I have met Enzo before, briefly as I said. The last time we saw each other, he and his mother, Zia Maria, ran into the Caserta train station to say hello to my mother, sisters and I as we were changing trains there.  He handed us a plastic bag filled with mozzarella nd tomato sandwiches he had made us for lunch, which we ate on the train headed to Rome.  I'm thinking I should ask him to bring me a few more this weekend!

This side of the family speaks almost no English, so it's going to be alot of fun trying to communicate.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


We've been enveloped in fog yesterday and today, more forecasted for tomorrow.  One day last week we had fog as bad as we had today. This time of year fog is common here.  It settles down on the canals and calles, creating an almost eery setting.  It also brings with it a cold and dampness that just chills you to the bone. 

These past two mornings, the fog was so dense that several vaporetto routes were cancelled.  Yesterday, I got up and set out for my normal physical therapy session at FateBeneFratelli.  I walked from the apartment to the Sant'Andrea boat stop, only to find it was barricaded closed, with a sign indicating that the boats would be running from Piazzale Roma this morning, due to fog.  A causa di Nebbia, is what the sign said-- because of fog.   So, I hobbled my way around to Piazzale Roma, only to discover that the #52 was completely cancelled, and the #42 was only making stops at Fondamenta Nove, not at St. Alvise or Madonna Dell'Orto.  If the boat wasn't stopping at Orto, I had no way to get to therapy.  Well, there was a way, I could have hired a water taxi for 50-60 Euros.  Residents pay the same water taxi rates as tourists.  I paid less than that amount for 20 therapy sessions!  I decided to just hobble home.

Today, in order to save me time running around with my cane, Mike volunteered to go to Piazzale Roma to see if the boats were running.  When he got to Sant'Andrea, he called me. Yes, boats were running, the stop was open, and people at the stop verified that the boats were stopping there.  Excellent.  I got myself out of the apartment on time and did the walk to Sant'Andrea.  There, tied to the ticket machine was a big sign- Chiuso a causa di Nebbia.  Closed because of fog.   It also said the #42 and #52 lines were running from Piazzale Roma.  In the twenty minutes between Mike going to check and me getting to the boat dock, the stop had been closed.  I hobbled my way to Piazzale Roma where I was told no #52 boat this morning, but the #42 was running, and was stopping at Madonna dell'Orto on a regular schedule.  Yahoo.  I got on the boat, and made my way to Orto. 

I have no idea how these boat drivers manage on mornings like this.  When I got off the boat at Madonna dell'Orto, I took a couple of photos so I could share them here.  The first photo is a view looking off to where you SHOULD be able to see Murano and San Michelle.  If you didn't know where they should be, you would never even know they existed! 

The next shot is looking towards Fondamenta Nove.  Can't see a thing, except the back of the vaporetto I had just gotten off.

This third shot is looking to the left from the Orto boat dock, in the direction of St. Alvise.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My borrowed Italian cane

One of my blog readers recently sent me an email and requested I include more of what my daily routine is like, and what our apartment is like. Here's something that might just begin to satisfy her request.

Our apartment here in Santa Croce was rented furnished, which was exactly what we wanted. We weren't ready to ship all of our furniture over here, in fact, we anticipated liquidating most of it. So something furnished fit the bill. When we arrived, we discovered we got a bit more than what you would expect when you think "furnished".

The landlords (Padrone, in italian) are a sister and brother, who inherited the apartment when their elderly parents passed away a few years back.  They told us their father and mother were in their early 90's when they died, one shortly after the other.  It seems they could not quite deal with clearing out their family residence.

They left all the paintings on the wall, all the knick-knacks on the shelves, and even family photos in the desk drawers.  We've found their mother's shoes in the armoire, her sewing basket in the hall closet,their father's tool chest on the attic stairs. And, an umbrella stand by the front door filled with umbrellas .... and six or seven old canes!  These must have belonged to Mom and Dad.  One cane has the head of a greyhound beautifully carved in the wooden handle, and another has an ornate silver handle. The others are just plain wooden handles.  And one of them is a bit smaller than the others, clearly this was Mom's. 

When I had my recent knee surgery, we had to go buy crutches at the farmacia. This past Tuesday, my therapist graduated me from crutches to cane.  I came home from therapy thinking I would need to go out later in the day to acquire a cane for me, when I remembered that umbrella stand and the collection of canes we had.  Sure enough.. there was that smaller one.  The handle, made of plain wood, is worn a bit. When I put my hand on the handle and tried it out for myself,  I couldn't help but think of the Venetian woman who lived here before me.  Just perfect for me!

This whole week, wherever I've gone, I've carried her cane with me.  I don't have to use it all the time, it's more a safety net for getting on and off vaporettos, or down some stairs.   I like to think my safety net comes with the added benefit of a guardian angel. Thank you, Signora Bortoluzzi, for the use of your cane.

What I've learned about Venice

On the occassion of our third anniversary here,  I've been reflecting on all the things I've learned in  the last 3 years.  Here's a few I'd like to share:

1) Venice needs more than 1 or 2 days.  I would tell every potential tourist who is planning a trip to Venice , and especially those who are quickly stopping by at the beginning or end of a cruise that they need more time.  Two days just doesn't do Venice justice.  It's only time to see the very top spots, and not nearly enough time to let Venice get under your skin, where she belongs. You will fall in love with Venice, if you let yourself. Trust me, you will.

2) Slow down. Don't rush through Venice, you will miss too much. Venice requires time to experience it, to feel it. Best place to do some of this is an outdoor cafe!  Just sit and enjoy passing time in one of Venice's campos.

3) Look up.   Don't forget to look up.  Why? Because there is as much to see above you as there is on ground level.  Look for all those roof top terraces.  Check out all the different types of chimneys.  Enjoy the architecture of windows, doors, balconies,  the iron work, and all that marble!

4) Stop to look in every canal.  Every single day the view of Venice you will see in the reflections in all the canals will keep you mesmerized. It's a never ending art exhibit, for free.  Depending on the light and time of day, even if you look at the very same canal day after day, you will see something different.  The light and color will stop you dead in your tracks. Here's a recent example. See, even on a fairly cold winter day, it's an awesome view.

(photo courtesy of my husband, Michael)
5) Spend an hour or so ON the water. Either on a vaporetto, or better yet, do the gondola ride. It's not corny or touristy, it's quintessential Venice. To me, the water is the heartbeat of this city, and you need to be on it to feel it.

6) Try to read something about Venice before you get here.  Not just Rick Steves guide book. Try to find a book that goes a little deeper, one that introduces you to some of Venice's secrets.  And then, try to find one or two of them while you are here.  While you do that, let yourself imagine what Venice was like hundreds of years ago. Believe it or not, not a whole lot has changed since then.

I have more, but this is a good start for today.

Ciao from Venice.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

January is ANNIVERSARY MONTH--3 Years!!!

We can hardly believe that three years ago today, Mike and his dog Leopold arrived to set up our household here in Venice.  I arrived 10 days later on the 26th, with Sam. Three years!!!  Where did all that time go so quickly??? 

If you had asked me back then what my expectations were, I think my answer might have been something like " I hope everything works out and we get to stay here."   We had all those legal issues ahead of us, and had no real clue what might happen.  We were just hopeful.  And we had no idea if we would be happy here six months, or 1 year down the line.  The days slipped away so quickly, and now I can't even imagine NOT being here.  It's official- we are very happy here.

Today I've been wondering to myself, "How could I not wake up in the morning to the smell of baking bread from the Majer next door?"  or " How could I live a day with out being able tosee a gorgeous reflection in the canal?"  And..... "Could I ever go back to the rat race we called life back in Baltimore??"   I know the answers... No, No, and No.

Living a simpler life required some tough decisions on our part, and even tougher actions.  Like getting rid of 95% of our belongings. That was major.  Or selling the house we had lovingly restored and enjoyed so much.  That one tugged at our heartstrings.  Leaving our jobs, family and friends were even more difficult, Thankfully many of them have come to visit us here.  We firmly believed we needed to make this move, no matter what.

Three years later, we are still pinching ourselves in a little bit of disbelief, giddy like little children.  We have navigated some tough situations and some frustrating days, but we did it.  We did it!

Happy Anniversary to us!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Out with the old...

Recently it was Venice's turn for digital television. Over the last year Italy has been phasing in digital,region by region.  I'd see the anouncements publicised on TV every once in awhile, so I knew eventually it would be our time. What that meant was we'd either need to go buy new TV's or buy the decoder boxes that would allow our current television sets to work. 

We rented our apartment furnished, and were actually surprised when we arrived and saw it for the first time that there were two TV sets here- one in the living room and a smaller one in the bedroom. These were older sets, both Sony's, but functional.  Once we knew that it wouldn't be long before these would be unusable, we decided not to bother the landlord about TV's- cause we already knew what their answer would be! (That's right, they wouldn't be buying new TV's to put in the apartment).  We purchased a new flat screen TV from Panorama on the mainland, and moved the big old clunky TV from the living room downstairs to the storage closet.

Once Venice completely converted over to digital, that meant the TV in the bedroom wasn't functional at all anymore, since we didn't have a decoder box either.  We rarely watch TV anyway, so the one in the bedroom was just another dust collector.  We ( ok,  it was me), decided that the apartment doesn't have a huge amount of excess space to begin with, and it would be great if these old unworking TV's were out of here.   I noticed that there have been boats collecting old TV's after the switch to digital happened, and that made me think that perhaps electronics aren't allowed to be put out with our normal trash. Sure enough, that's correct.

We phoned our "Padrone"- landlord, in Italian, and told him we'd like the old TV's removed. Also, we had an old, non functional airconditioner sitting in the apartment, we'd like that gone as well.   He didn't give us any grief,just said he'd arrange pickup and let us know.  He was very prompt, pickup was set for this morning.  He told us Daniele would be by around 10am, we should have all the stuff downstairs ready for him.

Daniele is the landlord's handyman, jack of all trades, whatever you want to call him. Daniele has been by to solder a hinge on an old metal door on the back of the house. He's also done work painting and patching plaster down in the entryway.  Today his mission was to haul away junk in his boat. 

Right at the stroke of 10 am this morning, sure enough, Daniele rang the front door bell.  He and a buddy came in, took out the TV's that Mike had downstairs, and then came up to the apartment to help carry out the old airconditioner.  They went into Daniele's boat, and away down the canal they went. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Adventure continues- Fate Bene Fratelli Phase Two

Yesterday I started my outpatient rehab sessions back at Fate Bene Fratelli.  What an event that turned out to be! Just getting there is plenty of rehab all itself, and that's only where the fun began.

From our apartment, the only realistic way for me to get to that side of Cannaregio is to ride the vaporetto.  With me and my crutch, it's a slow walk of about 12-14 minutes to the vaporetto stop at Sant'Andrea/Piazzale Roma to catch either the #42 or #52 line to Madonna dell'Orto.   Anyone else can probably do the walk in 5-7 min. It's also just my luck that recently the boat dock for these two lines was moved from right outside the Coop at Piazzale Roma to quite a ways away in front of Sant'Andrea church. Nice and inconvenient for someone with a mobility problem to begin with! 

Once I get on the boat, it's a 20 minute ride to the Madonna dell'Orto stop, then another 15 minute walk to Fate Bene Fratelli. Again, someone without a crutch can probably do the walk in 5-7 minutes. 

Yesterday my husband Mike was good enough to accompany me on this trek, as I was not confident I could actually find Fate Bene Fratelli once I got off the boat.  I had only seen the entrance of the place twice before. The first time was the evening I arrived by boat to begin my stay. Being pitch dark, and given the fact I was in pain and not really paying much attention to anything but the pain, I never noticed what the building looked like.  The second time was the day I was released  and again, I was not in great shape that day.  I was focused on just putting one foot in front of the other and trying my hardest to actually GET to a boat stop to get home. 

Once we arrived at Fate Bene Fratelli yesterday, my first stop was the Appointment Office.  I had been instructed over the phone to report here the first day to complete paperwork. Turns out I also had to pay for my therapy sessions. As soon as it was my turn at the window , the woman on the other side exclaimed, "Ah, yes, Signora!  I remember you. The Americana!".   Then the woman behind the next window looked up from her work, shot me a big grin and said "Ciao, Signora.  I was the one who spoke with you on the phone".  All this is going down in Italian and I'm feeling pretty good that I understood everything.  And then a third woman, this time on my side of the counter, joins in and says, "Ciao!  I know you from our pool sessions a few weeks ago! How are you?".  Yes, now that I look at her more closely, I also recognized her.  This was old home week already and I hadn't even gotten 20 feet in the front door!

This third woman and I completed our transactions about the same time. By the way, I must add this little fact here:  10 sessions of water therapy and 10  45 minute long sessions with a private physical therapist cost me a whopping 36.75 Euros.  I love the Italian Health system.  Ok, back to the third woman.  We both  exited the Appointment Office , and stopped in the main lobby area to chat for a minute about our respective illnesses , and said goodbye.  The the woman says to me, "I'll see you again here, and also, we should meet outside of here, in a cafe for coffee!"  A new friend!!  This may seem odd to you, but I loved that I was making Italian friends- and here in a rehabilitation center of all places. 

With a big silly grin on my face Mike and I proceed down the hall. The very next person we encounter is none other than the Orthopedic doctor who was assigned to me when I was a patient- the one who snapped my leg in two. I'll never forget her, and she didn't forget me either. She said "Ciao" to me first, and then we had a pretty lengthy conversation about how I was doing, all in Italian too!  I thought it was an omen of some kind that she was one of the first I bump into again.

Next stop, the pool.  This is where Mike and I parted company. While I was in my sessions, he was going to go find a cafe out on the street somewhere and wait.  I changed clothes, entered the pool area, and immediately heard " Mar-gar-eeeet!".  I've gotten used to alot of the staff here calling me that, even though it's my middle name.  No one in Italy can pronounce Karen properly. It comes out something like "Ca-reeen".  The therapist handling my 11:30 pool session was the one yelling my name. This felt like coming home again!

I love my water therapy sessions.  The time goes way too quickly, I could stay in there for hours.  My knee feels different in the water-it does things I cannot get it to do otherwise, without pain.  Yesterday it felt great to be back. 

I had about 20 minutes to dry off , change clothes and get to my next session, which is with the same therapist  I had during my 3 week residence. When I saw Blaga we did the two kisses on the cheeks routine, and a big "Ciao, how are you??". We got caught up on our holidays since we hadn't seen each other since before Christmas, and then we got down to work.  Physical therapy is no picnic. For me it is more like what I imagine torture to be like. For 45 minutes Blaga somehow works some magic and gets my leg to do more than it wants to do.  She hadn't been massaging my leg for more than 10 minutes yesterday when she said," This is a miracle, your muscles are relaxed and doing great. I am going to call the doctor right now".  For me, that was a miracle, as regularly my muscles are like rock and don't want to cooperate at all. This was huge progress.  The part about calling the doctor is a running joke we have. Blaga knows my doctor snapped my leg in two, and that made me be scared to death of that doctor. Blaga always jokes about reporting my progress- good and bad- to the doctor.

Somewhere during this session, another therapist walked past where we were, recognized me and said hello. It really did feel like old home week. She went on about her business then turned around and walked away. Two seconds later she returned, and walked right up to me. This time she said, in Italian, "I remember you.  What did you do?"  My response was " Huh???".  She said, " You are thin. How did you do it?".  I laughed.  "How did I do it?  I was here for three weeks. I lost 12 lbs!".   (Note:  for being a hospital facility, Fate Bene Fratelli served excellent food.  It's just that during my stay, I didn't have much of an appetite. What I did eat was really, really good!).  I didn't  realize the weight loss was that noticeable. Evidently it is.

Mike met me when my sessions were over, and we made the trek back home.  By the time we reached our apartment, I was ready for one thing only- a nap. I was whipped.  Physical therapy for the next two weeks was going to be one heck of a challenge for me, especially since the plan was that after the first day, I was going to get there and back on my own.  That alone would be a huge challenge. First things first though, I took that nap.

Today, it was more of the same, however I had  two big accomplishements.  First, I made the trip there and back all on my own!  That's was big. Even bigger was the fact that I did the entire return trip WITHOUT my crutch.  I carried it, but didn't use it.  During today's session Blaga insisted that I would put the crutch away and walk without it from now on.  I wasn't sure I was quite ready for that, a little afraid I would fall.  Her way of proving to me that I would be ok was pretty interesting. She had me walk the whole length of the therapy room, and every 3-4 steps she would give me a pretty hefty shove, either on my left side or the right. I didn't catch on what she was doing at first, I thought she was trying to get me to stand up straighter and quite wobbling.  When I asked her if I was not standing straight enough, she grinned and said " You aren't falling down, either!".  I got it then. I had no excuse now, and she is not someone I want to piss off.  I agreed I would walk without the crutch, and she threw in a compromise. I could carry it, and use it at a boat dock, or on a stairway or bridge that didn't have any hand rails.  Mission accomplished.  I got home in one piece.

And now there is tomorrow to look forward to.

Buona Notte, tutti!

Friday, January 7, 2011

After Fate Bene Fratelli- Report from home

I've been home from the rehabilitation center for almost 3 weeks now.  I can tell you it has been a pretty scary time. While I have been more than delighted to be in my own environment, it isn't easy to handle the pain and  frustration of recuperating from knee replacement surgery sans the comfort of doctors and nurses close at hand.  Fate Bene Fratelli spoiled me in that regard.

Mike has been fabulous, handling the homefront for us. He does all the cooking and groceries,and other miscellaneous errands. I've been able to manage taking care of myself- bathing, dressing etc., and my designated main focus has been my therapy.  I walk every day and also do exercises, I massage my knee in a warm water bath twice a day, and while I am in the tub, I take advantage of how big the tub is and get in some bicycle exercises in the water. Those have been so helpful. Still, progress has been slow, slow slow.  And, there is alot of pain still. 

As for a Venice Experience, I get to recover here in Venice.  We walked outside for the first week and a half. Usually we'd go to Campo Santa Margharita, stop for lunch or a cup of tea, and then make the return trip home.  Despite the weather, Mike would go out with me for a 30 min or so walk every day.  We walked in snow. We walked in high water (Aqua Alta).  We walked. And what a heavenly place to have to walk in. We walked, until one day I was feeling really good and decided to keep walking. We walked for almost an hour and a half, and I could barely get home in one piece. I had overstepped my limits and completely wore myself out. I had no stamina left. 

A few days after that, I came down with some horrendous stomach/intenstinal bug that lasted a week and a half.  Some of those days it was all I could do to get out of the bed and walk around the inside of the apartment, but I knew I had to keep walking, keep the knee moving, so I did it.  It became a very funny routine, because my dog Sam would follow me step by step around the house every time I did my circuit.  Just the other night, I noticed both dogs were trailing behind me. I felt like we were doing the Baby Elephant walk from the movie Hatari, remember that? Come on, babies, come on. 

Despite the exercises and walking, my knee has made only slow progress. I've wondered at times if the surgery is worth it, considering how bad my knee feels now. Sleep is difficult. Every time something rubs across the incision, like the sheets, or pajamas, it feels uncomfortable.  The skin surrounding the incision feels different, not like my own skin.  The knee itself is swollen and heavy, and tight, like it's not my knee at all. But, I've been told that in time, everything will feel better, so I religiously keep up the walking and exercises.

For the last two days the stomach bug has been finally on it's way out, I've felt alot better, so I've kicked up my walking.  I've also been working hard to be able to sit at the table for meals with my knee at 90 degrees. For any length of time, that is a killer. I can do it for a few minutes, then have to move my leg so it's more inclined.  I also just got a phone call from Fate Bene Fratelli letting me know that my out patient rehab will begin on January 10. I am excited, because I really feel like I am ready for the next step, and also scared, because Blagha will be on my case about my knee not doing better, I think.

Last night I spent alot of extra time exercising my knee, working on that 90 degree bending, which hurts so much.  After I got done exercising, I noticed my knee moving much much better, with less pain, and commented to Mike about it. Hummm.. something is going on.

Also, last nite I got some decent sleep for a change. I woke up with a very "unswollen "knee, looking very much like an ordinary knee. During the night the scar did not bother me when clothing touched against it,and today my knee feels like an ordinary knee, not like I have some foreign object in it that isn't part of me. Even the skin around the incision feels much better.  Glory hallelujeah, there has been another breakthrough!!!!  This is good, very good.  Very funny thing about my two breakthroughs- one the day my knee was bending without having the socks on, and today, when I have almost no pain and my knee feels and is acting like my own knee, finally. Both of these events happened on Feste days.  First it was after Feast of the Immaculate Conception and now, Feast of the Epiphany, which is when we celebrate the three Wise Men arriving at the manger bearing their gifts.  I feel like I got my gift today. Thank you!!!!

Now I am excited for the next phase of recovery, and whatever comes with it ( possibly throwing the crutches away??? being able to actually get down on my knees again ?  or sit crosslegged on the floor?  or run a little ways slowly???? or dance??  ) 

Fate Bene Fratelli, I'll see you again on Monday!

Fate Bene Fratelli- Part V Gruppo di Ginocchi and going home

              Boat parked INSIDE Fate Bene Fratelli's water door  - photo by Mike Henderson

I got assigned to attend a special physical therapy session called the Knee Group (Gruppo di Ginocchio) at the beginning of my second week at Fate Bene Fratelli.  Oh boy, yet another session, I was thinking.  I remember the first day I went to Knee Group.  By now I was mobile enough that I could get myself around fairly easily with my crutches. One of the things I loved about Fate Bene Fratelli was as a patient,you have free reign to come and go around the place as you please.  I could get up, walk out of my room, and go all the way to the front entrance, I could stop in the coffee shop for as long as I wanted- it was great.

  So, that day, I got myself to the Physical Therapy area, and had to ask where the Knee Group was meeting. There were two girls at the reception area, one whose name I knew- Barbara. The other I didn't recognize.  I asked where the Knee Group was, they pointed me to the place, but before I could leave the girl I did not know said to me (all in Italian) "You are from Germany?".  Barbara then chimes in "No, No, she is Napolitana, I know it."  I'm laughing, "No girls, I'm from America!  I'm an Italian citizen also now. And, I have relatives near Naples".  Barbara smiled " See- Napolitana!!!"  Get off to your group now ". 
I was as much a novelty to everyone at Fate Bene Fratelli as they were to me, it seemed.

My Knee Group was a tiny bunch , just 4 of us, two men and two women. Turns out 3 of us had knee replacements, I never did figure out what the other woman's problem was, as she had no scar, but wore some sort of brace that she took off for our exercise session. Our therapist was a young adorable woman named Alberta.  At Fate Bene Fratelli, the nursing staff all wear white scrubs and blue sweaters, while the therapists all wear something differernt- white scrub pants with a pale grey t-shirt. The shirt has FATE BENE FRATELLI printed on it in small letters on upper right side of the shirt.  Many of the therapists personalize their outfit by wearing a particular color of crocs.   Alberta always wore a lilac color sweater/jacket and matching lilac colored crocs. That was her signature color. 

Each day at Knee Group, Alberta (Albi) tailored the exercises to each of our injuries and capabilties. She made it fun, despite the pain involved.  Often she would play music from her iPhone for us to exercise to. One day she was very excited, she had the video Walt Disney's Snow White, which she loved, on her phone so we exercised to the music of Snow White, sung in Italian, of course.  I laughed, and said we should really be exercising to music from Fantasia, cause I felt more like the hippos wearing Tu-tu's.  She loved that idea, and promised to find it so we could use that music. Sure enough, 3 days later we were straining our old knees to Fantasia.  Funny, everyone in the room knew the movie well.  On my last day of the group, Albi planned for us to exercise to music from Peter Pan-"You can fly, you can fly".. Perfect.  I loved her enthusiasm. 

Albi called me "Margaret".  The first few times she did, I didn't even respond, didn't recognize she was talking to me. Then it dawned on me, my middle name Margaret shows up on all my medical forms, and she didn't know how to say Karen.  No one at the hospital or here ever called me Karen. I was "Signora", or now "Margaret", or even I was called by my Italian last name, which is different from my American last name. I know, very weird!  But I soon got used to answering to "Mar-gar-et" for Albi. 

Albi was also the therapist in charge of my 6pm water therapy session, so I got to see plenty of her and her lilac shoes for the next two weeks.  She was a joy.

It was in my Knee Group that I met Carlo, also.  Each of us in the group had our own massage table we would lay on or sit on during our session. Carlo was on the table to my right every day. I was the newcomer, the other 3 had been in the group already by the time I got there.  On my first day, Carlo introduced himself to me, and said "Are you English", to me, in Italian. I explained back that I was American, but also Italian, and now lived here.  Carlo asked, "Please speak English with me, I like to practice". Sure, that made it easy for me. Carlo and I would see each other several times a day in sessions, and also in the halls while doing our walking practices. It was Carlo who tipped me off about a thinner type of sock (Calze) than the one's I was using. 

On my very last full day at Fate Bene Fratelli, I was not having a good afternoon. Every other day I was happy, smiling, getting through whatever I had to endure.  But this afternoon just defeated me, I didn't have a smile left in me.  I had been informed a few days before that I would be discharged on Wednesday, December 15. Yahoo!  I also knew from watching my roommate that there was a discharge procedure- you met with the doctor, there were forms to fill out, and the hospital arranged water transportation to take you home.  Here it was the afternoon before I was scheduled to leave, and no one had said one thing to me.  So, I stopped at the nurses station. Yes, I was leaving the next morning.  Was I going to meet with the doctor, what time would my boat be taking me home?  No one knew anything. Turns out, no arrangements had been made. I slipped through the cracks. This was bad.  The answer I got was you can leave when you want, and just go catch a vaporetto home.  Oh good lord, that made it worse. I definitely wanted to speak with a doctor, get prescriptions for pain medication, find out what kind of things I could or could not do at home,a nd when was a follow up appointment?  Seemed logical to me.  How could this happen? Why me?

That evening when I entered my pool session at 6pm, I was beside myself.  I was in the water, doing my normal routine when Barbara, the young girl who insisted I was Napolitana says to me, "What is wrong, you are not smiling?? "Huh?"  "You are always the sunshine, with a big smile when I see you. Now you are sad. What is wrong?"   "Not sad, very mad"  "Why".  "Oh, it's ok. Nothing you can do"   She brings Albi over, and insists I tell them what is wrong.  So I proceed to tell her about my discharge problem, and tears start flowing.  Albi says," we can figure out something, cause this is not right. Tomorrow morning you have a session with Blagha before you leave.  Have Blagha take you to Il Premio, the head doctor, and get the information you need from him, because this is not right". Then Albi turns to Carlo, and tells him to help me in the morning, in case all the Italian throws me for a loop.  My merry little band of Knee Group cohorts came to my rescue. 

Fortunately, the nurses must have been jumping on my behalf also, because at 8 am the next morning, the doctor who took my staples out ( he was not the orthopedic doctor assigned to me, she was on vacation it turns out), came to my room and gave me all the answers to all the questions I had, gave me the necessary referrals for outpatient therapy sessions, and then handed me my discharge papers.  Thank goodness I didn't need to go barge in on Il Premio!!! 

I did my last session with Blagha at 8:30, Mike arrived about 9:30, a nd by 10 am we exited Fate Bene Fratelli to make our way home.   We walked out of the building, and I got my first look at the neighborhood surrounding Fate Bene Fratelli. We made our way to the vaporetto at Madonna Dell'Orto, and away we went.  Homeward bound. After one whole month away, home was going to look pretty good to me.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fate Bene Fratelli- Part IV

I've been thinking about what the best parts of Fate Bene Fratelli were.  I have a few favorites.

First there is Camomilla time!!!  Every nite, around 8 pm, one of the staff made the rounds on the floor with a metal teapot full of steaming camomilla tea.  8 pm was the beginning of the dispensing of medications for the evening, and the start of bedtime. For me, by 8pm every nite I was wiped out and very eager to hear that voice at my doorway asking "Camomilla????"   SI!!!!!!!!!

Next there's Giordano, my next door neighbor.  Every morning, right after breakfast was served, I had to run (correction, make that hobble) to my 8:30 am session with Blagha.  And every morning, right outside my door, Giordano, in his wheelchair, was taking up his position for the day.  Most of the wheelchair bound residents seem to do this same thing, They would get themselves ready for the day, then go to the hallway to watch what was going on.  When I did my walks up and down the hallway I'd pass them all one by one. No one ever said a thing to me, but they all watched me.  And when I was in my room in my bed, I'd hear people pass my room and ask Giordano about " the Americana",  One day on my rounds I just started saying hello to people as I passed by.  Giordano was the one who spoke back.  The next day I found Giordano wheeling right along beside me as I walked, so I said, "Let's go together!" I could manage that in Italian.  We ended up stopping at the end of the hall to have a great conversation. He asked me about why I was here in Italy, and he told me about his one and only trip to America, a month long vacation to the West Coast. 

Thereafter when someone passed Giordano's room asking about "the Americana", I'd hear him answer "She's Italian too!!", and day by day, as I made my rounds down the hall saying Buon Giorno to every one, little by little they would answer me back.  Giordano and I would have little conversations every day whenever we passed each other.

Giordano was such a character. My room, and also his, were right opposite the nurses station.  He never rang his bell to call a nurse if he needed one, he would just bellow.  Nightly, we would hear him yell " Olio!!".  Giordano needed a nightly dose of oil, I guess.  It got so funny hearing him yell for "Olio" that I also started yelling " Bring Giordano his Olio".  The nurses would just stop in my room , laughing, and say "OK.  Basta (Stop)".  I miss seeing Giordano everyday. I hope he is ok.

Next there is the nursing staff on First floor. Oh my god, this is a great bunch of men and women.  There were only one or two of them who knew a few words of English, so I not only had the challenge of getting my knee rehabilitated, but also to communicate.   All of these people are special, a few of them stick out in my mind:  Nicola, a nurse, who had his first day of work at Fate Bene Fratelli during my stay.  I'll never forget the day he and another nurse had the fun task of getting my sock (calze) on my leg after one of my pool sessions.  He had never done this before, so it was a good training exercise for him.  These two poor nurses looked like they were trying to hog-tie me and all I could do was laugh.  It took them both about 20 minutes to get the one sock finished, and they left my room exhausted.  And one one of my very last days, Nicola was the one who brought me my ice pack at the end of the day.  My leg was swollen and hurting. He handed me the ice and said to me in Italian, "Basta. Stay in bed. You are on the go all day, from 8;30 to now, and in between you walk. And then you die. Let your knee rest now. Basta". 

Next there is Rosita.  On the morning I met Rosita, she was coming into our room to make beds.  The first thing she said to me, in English, was " Put it on the table".  I was confused, I asked her " What?". Then she said, in Italian, "That's the only English I know, so I thought I'd say it to you".  Quite a few times after that when I'd see Rosita either she or I would begin with " Put it on the table".

On my last few days at Fate Bene Fratelli, I started taking photos of people with my iPhone. The staff cracked me up, they all wanted to see the photos of themselves. I honestly never want to forget them, or my time spent there. My one regret is that one of my favorite characters was off from work those days so I missed getting a shot of Guilio.  Guilio scared me at first because he just didn't look like a nurse to me. He looked more like a biker dude.  He had longish hair, and this scary tattoo of a snake that took up half his arm.  I had to hold my mouth shut from laughing when it was his turn to serve meals because he looked so darned funny in a plastic apron and plastic cap on his head. But, despite his outward appearance, Guilio turned out to be the most gentle and tender of them all. He found his calling as a nurse, I can tell, and I was lucky enough to experience it.

My list goes on, but I'll stop here.

My Italian improved dramatically during my three weeks here. Who knew there'd be such an additional bonus!

Fate Bene Fratelli - Part III - or "The Great Sock Debacle"

Week two at Fate Bene Fratelli was more of the same- alot more, as my rehab schedule increased to include two water therapy sessions a day, and a special "Knee Group". 

I loved the water therapy.  I had one session at 10 am, and another at 6pm.  Before going to the pool, I had to get to my room, change into a bathing suit, and then stop at the nurses station to have them put a plastic protective covering over the incision.  Oh, and before I forget, I got to take off the SOCKS. More on this in a minute. 

To get into the pool, you sit in a  mechanical chair that swings over the water and you are lowered into the water.  In the water, your knee feels great.  No pain. You can do things with it that you couldn't do so easily outside the water.  I loved it.  I could stay there forever doing bicycle exercises.  My 10 am session consisted of people I had never seen before, but all of my "Knee group" members were also at the 6pm pool session, so I saw these people alot and got to know them a little better.

Now, more on the socks.  One of the things I was told to bring with me to Ospedale were these special socks (calze) that are specially designed to protect you from blood clots. It's customary to wear these after knee surgeries of all kinds. In my case I was required to wear them for 40 days following surgery.   I had to be measured for them to get the correct size for my legs. Both legs had to have them on, even the unoperated one.  These socks are stretchy, and tight. They fit like skin.  And they are not easy to get on. It ususally took two nurses to wrestle it on to my poor knee, trying hard to get up and over the dressing on my incision without sending me into orbit in pain. These socks have to be on night and day, and frankly, they  hurt, and are a pain in the butt.  But I understand the purpose.  So. Once I started water therapy, the socks came on and off twice a day.  What an ordeal.  I could get them off me by myself ok, but needed the nurses to get them back on. My leg felt great when the socks were off, like I'd been released from prison or something. Lots of benefits to the water therapy!!! 

On Sundays and holidays, there is no rehab at Fate Bene Fratelli. It's a day off for you to relax.  On Saturdays, you have a reduced schedule, since the physical therapists only work half day.  By week two, with my increased therapy schedule, I really looked forward to Sunday. December 8th was a special holiday here in Italy, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I was raised Catholic, but I don't go to church regularly. Don't ask me why, but I decided to go to mass on Dec 8th.  Oh I do know why, I needed some divine intervention and I needed it pronto. I was certain my knee was never going to bend, and that scared me to death.

 I haven't quite figured out the workings of Fate Bene Fratelli, whether it is a religious organization run by nuns or a government facility, because it is part of the Italian National Health service too. There were a couple of nuns always around.  On the morning of December 8 I asked our resident nun to remember to please come pick me up on her way to the chapel.  Almost all of my fellow residents on our floor were present in the pews when I arrived and I saw several members of my Knee Group too.  Mass was nice, although difficult to sit through because of the position of my knee as I was sitting.  When it was over, I hobbled back to my room on my crutch, happy for a day off from work!!

The next morning  I decided to get the nurse to put the plastic protective covering on my incision first thing in the morning to save time.  I got to my 8:30 am session with Blagha and things went miraculously well. Everytime she asked me to do some knee bend, I was doing it. She was aghast. What the heck is going on? You could not do these day before yesterday.  I know, I know. It was a miracle.  Yes, that and the socks.  I didn't have them on.  Blagha and I seemed to realize that at exactly the same moment. Wow... the socks.  They were so tight and restrictive on my knee, it couldn't move. Without it, my knee was moving.  Blagha called the orthopedic doctor immediately!  A breakthrough!  Blagha asked the doctor to give me permission to stop wearing the socks, but she said no. Instead she told my husband to go buy another pair one size bigger.  I was so dejected to have to wear them.  Blagha had a great solution!  Every morning when I went to her, we took off my socks, and I left them off until after my 10 am water session.  Alot of progress was made in the next few days. Alot.

Mike bought the larger socks, and I was back in them as directed.  About two days later during my session with Blagha in the morning, the head doctor, whose title is " Il Premio", stopped by Blagha's station.  He ran his hands over my knee, asked her a few questions, smiled and said " Buon lavoro" (good work). I'd seen him around before. In fact, he had been in my room examining my knee early on. He's hard to miss, he wears bright blue framed glasses that separate in the middle and connect with a magnet at the nosepiece. The glasses are always around his neck on a chain hanging in two pieces. Funny.  I didn't think anything of his visit that morning, just a routine thing.   When I finished up with my all my morning sessions and made my way back to my room, the nurse on duty called me over to the nurses station when she saw me turn the corner.  "No more socks for you," she said.  "I don't know how you did it, but you are out of the socks. Brava!"  Thank you, Il Premio. Thank you, Blagha.  And thank you, Lord, because maybe I did get alittle divine intervention thrown in!

Sidenote on the socks: Now I have two pairs of these things, size medium and size large.  In addition to that, I also discovered that the men in my knee group were wearing a different kind of sock, one much thinner than mine, so I sent Mike to buy a pair of those for me, just a day before Il Premio gave me the pardon.  If anyone needs these, let me know!

Fate Bene Fratelli - Part II

Fate Bene Fratelli.  Where in the world do I begin? I've got so much to say about this whole experience.  First of all, I think small miracles happen here.  Really.  Or at least very good things.

My home away from home for 3 weeks, room 123, was great.  All rooms here are set up for two beds, a table with two chairs, ample separate closet space for two people, and a separate bathroom, including a shower that was big enough to accomodate a wheelchair. From my window I could look down on to a canal, across the canal was a large soccer field  and  beyond the soccer field was the lagoon and I could see Murano.  Not bad.

My roommate for the next 3 weeks was an 86 yr old native Venetian woman who only spoke Venetian dialect.  I can barely speak standard Italian. Venetian dialect was beyond me, but, by the end of our time together, we managed to  communicate pretty well.  She had been in Ospedale for 30 days, then 20 days in Fate Bene Fratelli by the time I arrived.  I never figured out her name, and never figured out exactly what she was in there for.  She scared the heck out of me at first, I have to be honest, because she had a problem with everything. If the staff didn't arrive to get her out of bed and dressed when she wanted them, she let them have it. If they did arrive on time she let them have it.  And, after they left the room, she cursed them out at the top of her lungs for another 30 minutes.  I truly believe they put me in with her because they knew I wouldn't understand a thing she was saying.  After awhile I tuned her out, except when she was muttering " Morte de cani di Venezia", which happened often, mostly at night after lights out. I was convinced she was putting curses on all of us, and prayed I would be exempt.  Still on my "to do list" is to find a Venetian and figure out what that phrase means.

Rehabilitation is the entire focus of life at Fate Bene Fratelli. Your whole day revolves around it, and you quickly fall into the routine.  Breakfast is served at 7am, which is always pane (bread) and marmelatta  delivered to your room on a tray, followed by someone serving your choice of espresso, macchiato, caffee latte, cappucino, orzo or tea.  I am a tea with milk drinker. Every morning when I asked for latte (milk) in my tea, I got strange looks or "No, Limone (lemon)" back.  It took a few mornings, but eventually the tea with latte came daily. And it was good.

Right after breakfast comes the morning distribution of medications.  The nurses here do double and triple duty, as they also must do all the food serving. I've never seen anything like it, it all operates like clockwork. And then rehab starts. Everyone has scheduled rehab.  My first session of the day started at 8:30 am every day, a private session with my physical therapist, Blagha.  Since I arrived at night, my first session was the following morning. Normally you are either taken by wheelchair or you get yourself  to the therapy room, however if you aren't mobile, the therapist comes to you. So I met Blagha on my first full day when she came into my room.  My blood pressure was still so low I wasn't able to get out of bed yet. 

That first day Blagha massaged and manipulated my leg and knee.  The second day, I got delivered to the therapy room for my time with Blagha, and added on a second session - 30 minutes on the knee machine. Each day after Blagha worked my knee, I'd get on the knee machine. Each day she'd kick up the setting another 5 degrees or so. That determines the angle the machine bends your knee to, and it does this non stop for 30 minutes.  Blagha is a tall, very attractive blonde woman from Bulgaria, who lives on the Lido. She was murder on me every single minute, she didn't let up. I was supposed to be bending my knee, and as much as I tried, that knee wasn't bending.

By day 4, I had been sent for x-rays. Blagha and the orthopedic doctor had conferences with the surgeon at Ospedale. They determined the new knee was good, there was nothing wrong with it. The reason my knee wasn't bending was all ME.  I had no idea why. I was trying, it wasn't bending, and the pain was excrutiating. Blagha explained to me that I had to relax the muscles, then the knee would move. And when the muscles were tense, thats what creates the pain. Why wasn't I relaxing them?  Huh? I don't know why.  This was a huge problem. On the evening of night 5, it became an even bigger problem. I got a visit from the orthopedic doctor at my bedside.  Why isn't my knee moving, she wanted to know.  She felt up and down my leg for a few minutes, then before I knew what was going on, she grabbed the shin part of my leg in one hand and the thigh part in the other and bent my leg like it was a wish bone.  I heard several huge popping and snapping sounds, and I was screaming in pain.  A nurse actually RAN into my room to see what was going on.  Oh my god, I was in agony. I was afraid to look, thinking I'd see my leg in two separate pieces on the bed. After she finished with that, the doctor said, "See, you can bend that knee".  Now here's the really odd thing. 30 minutes after she did that, my knee felt much better. Much better. 

The next morning, the doctor was waiting for me at my 8:30 session with Blagha. She wanted to know if I was ok. Yes, thanks, everything is great :).  My knee still wasn't bending the way it was supposed to, but it did feel better.  For most of the next week, I worked hard every day to get my knee to bend the way they wanted me to.  My sessions jumped from 2 times a day to 3, and in between I was walking the corridors on my crutches.  I graduated to one crutch by the middle of that week, and I am sure I was a regular eyesore for all the residents on my floor because I was walking the halls whenever I wasn't in some session.  I was making small progress. That was good for me, but not good enough for Blagha and my doctor.

I arrived on November 21. On November 30, the staples (30 of them) were taken out of my leg, and I got my first look at the incision. Even though the dressing was changed daily, I never looked, I didn't have the guts. I'd ask every day if everything looked ok.  That;s all that mattered, did it look like it was healing up ok.  When I did look, what I found was all 10 inches of it was pretty darned ugly.  But, now with the staples out, I could  start going to water therapy, which I did twice a day, bumping my sessions from 3 a day to 5. Whenever there was some "down time", I was in my bed exhausted with ice packs on my knee.   Very slow progress being made.