martedì 30 marzo 2010

Like drawing blood....

Since the expat blogosphere could obviously do with a few more long, drawn out tales of bureaucracy, frustration and system failure (note the teeny-tiny hint of irony..), I thought I would add my 10 pence worth. Don’t worry – this blog isn’t going to turn into one of those moan-moan-winge-winge Italy-bashing forums… Hell, who am I kidding? It totally is….Anzi, it ALREADY is!! Just kidding – it won’t. Promise.
Anyway, following on from my little visit to the lovely non-judgmental doctor (irony’s my thing today), I took myself off to the San Matteo hospital in Pavia this morning to get my blood work done, arriving at 8:40. I’d already warned my boss that I may be a few minutes late for work (snigger snigger), but even though I was mentally prepared for long lines, lots of paper shuffling and some potential high blood pressure moments, I didn’t realize that the lines would be quite so long, the paper shuffled quite so much, the blood pressure…..well, through the (public health system and therefore probably asbestos-filled) roof.
Here is what followed - in notebook format in order that you don’t fall asleep whilst reading:
8:40 – arrive and go to “Ticket Desk”, wait in line for 10 minutes before being told that this is the old ticket desk and they are no longer paid for here (despite the sign above the window) –“no, Signora you have to go to the other end of the hall and take a number”. In case you don’t know, the “ticket” is the “standard” payment you have to make prior to any kind of specialist visit, blood work etc. Prices seem to vary according to what you are there for, whether or not there’s an “R” in the month, and the usual exceptions to the rule.
8:45 – locate correct ticket desk and take a number. I’m number 74, and they are currently serving number 45. Ho hum…
9:15 – make it to the (I have to say, friendly and efficient) lady behind the window, only to be told “Sorry signora, you have to do a prelievo (blood test), and for those you pay the ticket afterwards. Go straight up to the 3rd floor and take a number”. Booooooooo
9:17 – arrive at 3rd floor to find another sportello (window), staffed by 2 very slow people, another numbering system. Take a number. 90. Currently serving…… 63. Sit, wait, snooze.
9:55 – make it to window to register for my prelievo. They take my details, make me sign a few forms, huff and puff a bit, and have me take a seat in the “waiting area”. So I waited to wait to wait, effectively.
10:05 - They call me in and do the scary needle bit with no fuss ( I will emphasize again that the staff were friendly and efficient despite my very low expectations!) and then they remind me to go back downstairs and pay the freakin’ ticket.
10:10 – Get back to the ticket line and it has HUNDREDS of people in it. OK, maybe not hundreds, but enough to make my already spinning head go that little bit faster. Ah, but there’s an automated machine over in the corner with just a small line (Italians hate technology) – I’ll go over there! It even has a credit / debit card sign on it, YAY! I – somewhat victoriously – join the end of the queue and just 15 minutes later it’s my turn. This is good news as I’m now feeling seriously queasy, having left my emergency banana in the car (who was to know that they would make me wait AFTER the appointment???). As I go to get my bankcard from my wallet, the old guy behind me – obviously an expert – points out that “Signora, non funziona il bancomat”. What? How do you mean you can’t use cards?? It’s written on the machine that you can! “Eh sì, but it just doesn’t work. There were 5 of us trying earlier and we all ended up going to the cash-point down the street”. Ever the optimist (haha) I try anyway and the machine almost eats my card, so I give up and head to the little number machine. I hate that bloody number machine! I take number 202; they’re serving 151. I’m already two hours late for work. I no longer care…. Sit, wait, snooze again (feeling green this time and dreaming about the cappuccino and brioches in the bar across the road).
10:45 - I get to the window, pay my 75 euros - which hurt more than the needle – and get out of there. I am obviously exhausted and vulnerable as a charity person with a stall outside the front door of the hospital stops me and I give him 10 euros just to stop talking. I’m lying actually – it was a charity close to my heart, they seemed legitimate, and there was no line so I got to go straight to the desk. That was worth 10 euros if nothing else….
I arrive at work (35 kilometers away) at lunchtime, and glance at the papers they gave me in the hospital for the ‘ritiro’ (collection of results). Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:00 to 16:00. Marvellous….

lunedì 29 marzo 2010

Judgement Day...

I am insulted. And indignant. And slightly annoyed. I am not, however, surprised. When you live in a place like Italy – or rather when you live in the greater Milan area – you get used to being judged for your appearance, pushed out of the queue at the fish counter, harassed from a distance of precisely half a meter by the car behind you and forced to dodge the “doggy doo doo” that decorates every urban pavement. After a while you (almost) get used to it, put it down to experience, and get over it because, at the end of the day it’s not personal. People are what they are, they behave like that with everyone and you just can’t take it to heart.
Being humiliated by your own GP when you go to them for advice is another matter, and this is what happened to me last week. I needed to see the doctor anyway, and since I had to request a referral to get some blood tests done (which had been suggested by my Gynecologist), I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. You see, here in Italy the system is as badly organized as they say it is. Going a little off-topic now, but I went to my Gyno to have a random annual check-up and we discussed the fact that I’m starting to maybe-possibly-sort of-think-about-starting-a-family-at-some-point-in-the-not-too-distant-future (before anyone starts getting excited!), so she ‘prescribed’ some standard blood tests, reminding me that I would, however, need the referral from my GP in order to actually get them done. A 120 euro an hour specialist is evidently not enough to physically refer you to the lab, so I paid my bill, left and, a few days later took myself off to see my new (and therefore never previously visited) GP. It was all going so well – the 12 people waiting to see her when I got there had dwindled to just a couple within an hour (the last time I visited a no-appointment doctor in Italy it took 3 and a half hours to be seen – this is how many of them operate). I took my turn, discussed the current problem and then pulled out the note from the Gyno listing the blood tests she wanted me to do. “And why do you wish to have these tests?” she asked, taking no prisoners, bearing down on me over her glasses like some kind of scary school teacher. “Because I just turned thirty and we were thinking we might look into having a family at some point soon, and I thought it best to make sure…..” “How long have you been married?” she positively snapped, cutting me off in no uncertain terms. “Ummm…..errrrrr…..I’m not married…. I….. ummmmmm…. live with my partner”. The woman gave me such a look it still haunts me a week later. She literally looked me up and down for 30 seconds, before pulling herself together enough to tell me that my Gynecologist has no idea what she’s doing, these tests are not the right ones, why do I even go to her, etc. etc. No querying my family history, my medical background – nothing. Great first meeting between medical professional and new patient. NOT. Ask me personal questions so that you’re capable of managing my health, Dottoressa; keep your personal marital status issues to yourself! I repeat, I am insulted, indignant, but not particularly surprised. Just another day in paradise!

lunedì 22 marzo 2010


Last night at around 8:30 I was busy organizing the house and clearing up following somebody’s great idea to paint the spare bedroom when my phone rang and, glancing at the display I realized to my horror that it was that time on a Sunday and there was no escape – the weekly call from Luca’s grandma in Sicily, except that I was home alone and she speaks only Sicilian dialect, making no concession for the fact that I don’t. It’s sweet that she called, knowing that Luca was at work and thinking that I have nothing to do while I await his return(!) but she speaks no Italian whatsoever and so what followed would for sure make a great anecdote in one of those cutesy “Under the Tuscan Sun / Driving over Lemons / Another freakin’ novel about the expat bella vita”-type books. In reality I immediately broke out in a cold sweat, knowing in advance just how much effort the next few minutes would require. She talked about the weather, the fact that her family have all “abandoned her” to live in the north, her work as the village seamstress, how she’s convinced she’ll be dead before Luca and I bother to pay her a visit, how I never call her and do I have both her landline and her mobile…..? How did I get all of this in pure Sicilian? Good question! Let’s just say that the 1 in 4 words I managed to pick up were enough to understand the subject, and for the rest I just kept up the “uh huh… sì…. mmmm… ho capito”, hoping that I was understanding enough not to respond “wow, che bello” when she told me someone died. Luca found it all very amusing when I recounted the story to him later on that evening, admitting that she had called him first and asked after me, and he had suggested she give me a call. That smirk was soon wiped clean when I told him that I had promised we would make a trip down to see her before the end of the summer, and to make sure that the aunts, uncles, cousins etc. would all be ready to welcome us… I don’t think he'll be giving out my phone number any more!