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A Hospital in Rome

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ABOVE: This check-in lounge at Fiumicino Airport was my last stop before I staggered to Pronto Soccorso, or First Aid.

Emergency treatment

The first-aid clinic at Fiumicino is outside and beyond the terminal buildings, so I exited the terminal, turned right, and zigzagged down the sidewalk. By the time I found the Pronto Soccorso sign, I was bouncing off parked cars in an effort to stay upright. An ambulance driver saw me, called for a colleague, and ran over to grab me until the other driver brought a wheelchair.

Inside the clinic, I was taken to an examining room and placed in the care of a sweet Romanian nurse who spoke excellent English and looked like a softer, prettier version of Mona Lisa. A female doctor examined me, and I was given an EKG, which didn't show anything abnormal. I was then hooked up to an IV, given a shot, and watched over by the nurse. The ambulance driver who'd rescued me in the parking lot stopped in to see how I was doing and reassured me, in Italian, that I'd be okay.

When it became obvious that my condition wasn't going to improve in time for my flight, the doctor strongly recommended that I check into the Ospedale GB Grassi in Lido di Ostia. The doctor and nurse rode with me in the ambulance.

At the hospital, I was transferred to a gurney and rolled into a large room where an emergency physician kept track of newly-arrived patients. She quizzed me about my symptoms, looked at my records from the airport clinic, checked my blood pressure, and ordered another EKG. I remained in a curtained area near her desk for another hour or so, chatting briefly with a white-haired businessman who'd come in with heart symptoms and was hoping he'd still be able to attend the wedding of his best friend's son. (This was his third recent visit to the GB Grassi emergency room, and he had only good things to say about the hospital staff.)

It wasn't long until I was rolled down the hall to an observation ward, which I shared with anywhere from three to six patients over the next three days. The atmosphere was surprisingly convivial, and the patients ranged from old men with smoking-related breathing problems to a Lazio Baseball player who'd been whacked in the face by a pitch. I quickly became known as "John" (or, to the younger nurses, "Signor John"), probably because my middle name was the only saint's name--or the only easily-pronounced name--on my passport.

During my time in the ward, I was given shots, pills, and several tests, including a heart X-ray and a CT brain scan. I got the impression that the test results were all negative, though it was hard to be sure--most of the doctors spoke little English, and my limited Italian was more suited to buying pastries than to discussing computed-tomography results. (I had to be content with the doctors' thumbs-up gestures and comments such as "Heart okay.")

Next page: Life in an Italian hospital


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