(Note :This turned out a bit long, but the background stuff is necessary today! The ending makes the read worth it, I think.)
I’ve been slowly learning the ropes of the Italian medical system in the last month. I had no idea my education was still so lacking!!! I’ve managed to get through most of the hoops in obtaining our National Health Insurance, finally, and regret I have been negligent in blogging that tale. I promise I will get on it as soon as I finish this blog episode, as yesterday was by far the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
There’s been a strange faint ringing in my left ear for several weeks now. It’s nothing I’ve ever experienced before, has not gone away, and frankly is bugging me, so when I made my first visit to my new Italian doctor a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned this as well. He referred me to an Ear specialist for tests. Making this new appointment required finding a different building in Dorsoduro, the old hospital at Giustinian. I knew exactly where that was, it shouldn’t be an issue getting there. I just would have to figure out the procedure once I got in the building.
Immediately upon leaving my doctor, I trotted off to Giustinian. No point putting it off, I would have to deal with it soon anyway-- this would be one more little adventure. Once inside the building, there is a reception area where you have to check in. I handed the man behind the window at the reception booth my referral from Dr. Viannello, and also my Tessera Sanitaria card (I’ll explain this one in my blog on the National Health Insurance system ). In short, without presenting this card, you don’t get very far. This man told me to go around the corner to the right, then another left, then the second Sportello on the right. Sportello, btw, could be either a counter or booth or an office, depending on what government office or bank you may be at.
At this Appointment Office, you take a number and wait outside with the rest of the herd. Some days it’s a long line. One by one when your number appears on the Neon sign, you go in and take your turn. When my number came up, I went in, explained to the girl behind the window that I don’t speak Italian very well, and handed over both my referral form and my Tessera card. With no problems whatsoever, she was able to schedule an appointment for me on January 9th, handed me a form with all the information on it, and explained that the doctor’s office is in this same building.
Yesterday being January 9th, I ventured off to Giustinian to meet my new Ear doctor and see what fun would be awaiting me! First stop, the man behind the reception desk. Once he checked out my appointment form and my Tessera card, he instructed me to go to the Primo Piano. I was also able to pick up the results of some recent blood tests from the same window, so I tackled two birds with one stone while there. I was feeling quite confident, I must say. I still had to make my co-payment for this visit, but I had figured out the mechanics of that on my first visit. You make your payment by deposting money into a machine, exactly like the ones you use in parking garages in the USA. The machine prints out a receipt for you, and away you go.
I followed signs to the Primo Piano (first floor, what we in America would call the 2nd floor), but once I got past the next doorway, I was faced with two stairways, an elevator, and no way to know where to go next. Fortunately for me there was a nice nurse in the doorway at the same time who I was able to ask for more directions. I’ve pretty much now made it my routine to first explain that I only speak halting Italian--- my attempt to pre-empt what could be an ugly scene when we get to the point I can’t understand anymore. She was delightful, indicating to follow her. We set off for the next floor via the elevator. This place is HUGE. Thank god for her, I would never have found my way. I need to do some research on what this building was originally. It has to have been one amazing Palazzo or something important to be the size it is. We made some pleasant conversation as we walked, talking about where I was from originally, where I live now, where my mother was born. She dropped me off right at the Ear specialists office, a very long way from the elevator via a windy path of corridors. I remember thinking to myself I would be having a devil of a time finding my way back out without her.
While seated in the waiting area (a few old chairs in the hallway outside the door), a nurse came to retrieve my appointment form, my receipt from the machine downstairs , and my Tessera card. When it was finally my turn, I went in, just a little hesitant. You never know what to expect behind the doors, you know? There was a little man in a lab coat with sort of wild grey hair and glasses. For some reason, I liked him instantly. He smiled when I told him I can’t speak well. “No problema”, he responded, and directed me to sit down in an examination chair, alongside which was a table with an assortment of instruments. He took about 1 minute to look in my ears, then my nose, and asked me what kind of work I do and if I smoke ( I don’t). He already knew what ailed me, but I mentioned that I have been sick with a cold this week. Ok. He took a different instrument, a tiny flashlight gizmo and peered into both nostrils again. Next thing I know he is tilting back my head, and inserting this bent- in- the- middle tweezer- like apparatus into my left nostril. I just wasn’t prepared for that! He was twisting and turning it--gently, mind you-- but honestly, I was afraid something was going to get ruptured in there. God help me, for an instant there I was afraid for my brain . Clearly I don’t know enough about this part of my anatomy!! This went on for more than a few minutes. I had to close my eyes, grip the armrests of the chair and just breathe slowly to relax. Finally he was done. He showed me a huge pile of mucousy-glop he had extracted from my left nostril cavity. This must be the stuff of sinus infections!!! I had no idea! Then my little old dottore smiles and says “Bene” ( Good).
I had to say, “ Dr., I still have this problem with the ringing in my left ear”. Yes. He takes my hand and leads me to an adjoining room, which contains an isolation booth. Yup. An isolation booth. Just like the ones you used to see on game shows where they don’t want you to overhear anything. And this booth was that old,too! I am seated inside it, with earphones on, and have been given instructions to signal with my hand when I hear a tone in my right ear. I do that. Next, I am to repeat that for the left ear. I want to laugh, because there is a window between the doctor and me, and he is looking up at me whenever there is a new tone to hear. The devil in me wanted to just wave my hand at him whenever he looked up at me. I behaved. For the right ear, I had passed with flying colors. On the left side, obviously there was one tone that I was missing, I could tell by the look on his face.
Finished with that portion of the exam, we go back to the other room. He writes me two prescriptions, tells me the dosage information, and sends me on my way. I’ve survived another Italian doctor visit! Not so bad, I’m thinking, feeling pretty proud of myself. If I had only known there was one more twist yet to come. I had to find my way OUT of this building. I walked down several corridors, trying to remember which way we had come on the way in. Every hallway looked the same. I was doomed. It’s late in the afternoon on a Friday, not much going on in Giustinian. There is no one around. I will have to file that tidbit of information for the next time I have to make an appointment here. I decide instead of trying to hunt down the elevator, I would take one of the exit stairwells, as they were clearly marked.
I opened an exit door. Immediately upon entering, I knew something bad was about to smack me in the face. The door shuts behind me, and is locked from this side. The stairwell is completely dark. I bang on the door for a few moments, but I already know no one is on the other side to help me. Only one thing to do, I go down the dark stairs, and am let out in the dark bowels of the hospital basement. And I do mean dark bowels. There is no one down here either. I wandered a bit and found an open exit door into an old courtyard. Ah ha!! There is a gate to the outside. I walk there, only to find it with a large chain and padlock on it. I’m now locked inside here. A woman leans out a third story window of a next door building and asks what I need. “An exit”, I say, in recognizable Italian even. She points me back inside. Not good. Ok. Back inside I go.
I start trying each of the doorknobs on every door going down the corridor in this scary, dark ,deserted basement. Just to remind you, this is a building built in the 1500 or 1600’s probably. (For anyone familiar with Venice, you know that there are no basements here, it is actually the first floor.) Just the same, it’s dark, deserted, old and starting to cause me some anxiety. Each door is locked. Some doors have hazardous waste signs on them, I see a few really old wheelchairs sort of tossed around, and a lot of construction-like cordoned off areas. I keep trying doors, -- one of them opens!!! I push it open wider. Inside is one man, in his drawers and a plaid shirt, standing near an open locker. He looks up and sees me at the door. What have I walked into??? I mumble “Mi Scusi” and back out quickly. Back to trying door handles, but nothing. I am so doomed. I thought I should probably go back into that locker room and have a chat with this guy, but abandoned that idea very quickly.
All I could think was I would be locked in here for the weekend, ‘cause it’s approaching 5pm on a Friday. I have THAT kind of luck. This place would be tighter than a high security lockdown facility. I’m trying a few more door handles a good 5 minutes later when this man steps out of his room and sees me in the hallway--- still . I had no choice but to explain that I had come out of the stairwell lost and now couldn’t find an exit, would he please help me--- in some half English-half Italian mumbo jumbo. He pointed and we walked together, down the hallway I had just come from. Eventually we got to an open doorway. I recognized the reception area where I had started out earlier in this adventure. This dawning on me, I said “Mama Mia!!” . We both laughed. I said “Grazie mille” about a mille times, and we went our separate ways.
The really funny thing is, my new city is quite small. I know it won’t be too long before I’ll pass this man on the street, and recognition will occur. We’ll both know that I have seen him with his drawers on!!! I think I will just have to invite him for a caffe and make a new friend!!
And so goes another day in Venice!!