Sunday, April 5, 2015

Italian Health Care & A Personal Resurrection

Today is Easter, and with no disrespect intended to Christ, I would like to write about a personal resurrection in part engineered by the Italian nationalized health care system (free for everyone, even tourists, no need for insurance).

This year, I was one of the many laid low by a particularly nasty form of flu.  Laid low is a compliment, knocked out is a better description.  It started as a cold and stuffed sinuses and progressed from there.  I had to take a cab home from work after emailing La Repubblica -- for whom I write a column -- 
that I was ill.

The next morning, with practically no voice, I called my family M.D., Dr. Carlo Ressel (pictured above in his office at Due Strade).  He is available for phone consultations twice a day -- again at no charge.  When he heard me croaking, Dr. Ressel immediately asked if I had a fever (Italians are obsessed with la febbre as a symptom).  I don't think so, I replied.  "I will be in your neighborhood tomorrow afternoon, and if I don't see you at the clinic, I will make a house call," was his reply.

In Italy, a house call doesn't cost a dime.

The next day, despite chills, aches and pains, I managed to get dressed and walk down the block to his office.   He examined me and again asked if I had had a fever.  "Well, I don't know," I replied.
"I couldn't find the thermometer, and really....I don't get this bit about sticking it under the armpit 
like everyone here does and not in my mouth.  
Plus, the temperature is in Centigrade or Celsius, not Fahrenheit."

Ressel laughed and proceeded to measure it.  Despite his name, he is indeed an Italian 
-- a Florentine he would specify -- M.D.  
He is descended from Josef Ressel, of Austrian-Czech origin, who emigrated to Trieste and invented both the ship propeller and steamship.  His great-grandson has inherited Josef's love of the sea.
 On duty 11 months a year, Dr. Carlo Ressel takes a month's vacation
(as all Italians did pre-recession)
in July on the island of Elba.  As state-subsidized health care is available year-round,
a substitute takes his place.

Here and now, he told me to come back in a few days and wrote a prescription.  
As in most clinics in Italy, the pharmacy is practically next door.

Well, I believe in natural remedies and holistic medicine but I was in no shape to go to downtown Florence.  I was grateful for what I was given (above), which helped me greatly, along with throat remedies and the Italian version of Vicks Vaporub.

After displaying my tessera sanitaria (Italian national health care card), I pulled out my wallet.
Guess what?  I didn't pay anything, not a single euro.
 I turned the above box around and read (as the gentle reader can see)
Confezione dispensata dal SSN -- medicine courtesy of the Servizio Sanitaria Italiana
--the Italian Health Care System.  
I will take that over an HMO or Blue Cross any day.
After spending three more days in bed, somewhat better, with a hint of appetite returning,
I had breakfast on Monday morning and returned to the office.
Despite the fact I had sent an article to Repubblica written by a collaborator, 
I noticed the old column was still online.  There was only one possible thing to do:
invent an option.  I communicated this via email, specifying that I wasn't completely well,
and astonishingly (my editor is rarely in contact, simply too busy)
received this reply:

"Ciao Rosanna, just tell us what we can put.  A big hug.
lm" (= Laura Montanari)

Thanks to to that message, I entered into a quiet interior space.
It reminded me of 20 years ago, when I wrote a column for the print version of Florence's La Repubblica, that I reported for work once more with the flu, this time with a fever.  I sought a free computer, and found one, next to executive editor Claudio Giua's office,
 at the desk of the late Paolo Vagheggi.

Again, I was in the eye of the storm, the tempest being a deadline I was really too ill to meet.
I went beyond time and space and did it in just under two hours.

Fast forward to the present, then as now, I made it.
The next day, again in bed, with Arlene, the faithful Filippino cleaner (since '96!) hovering over me instead of ironing, the congratulatory phone calls began.
The column I wrote in a comatose yet calm state was a huge success:

Well, I had managed to get home the day not by cab but on my own power.
Luckily, I didn't need an ambulance.  And -- guess what -- if
I had (like this one pictured above at the Santa Maria Nuovo hospital close to my office)
it, too, is FREE.  The vehicle is supplied by the Italian health care system.  The drivers and paramedics -- all specially trained -- belong to a completely volunteer ambulance service,
the Misericordia (literally: mercy or compassion for others in misery, to be helped with heart).

The Misericordia had been helping the the sick and injured in Tuscany since the times of the plague,
that is, 1244.  

But that's another story.

Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                             -- Rosanna