Well that was an experience: my week in an Italian hospital

“Maybe if I fall asleep in this dream, I’ll wake up in my own bed,” I thought, as I tried to get comfortable on the stretcher I was lying on, somewhere in a corridor in the emergency department. Around me, nurses distributed drugs, chatting with patients in rapid Italian. “I can’t believe I’m dreaming in Italian!” I thought, as I drifted into a doze.

I woke up. I was still in hospital.

This was getting weird. I tried to weigh up what I knew, which was swimming around in my head. I couldn’t quite remember how I got to be sitting on the side of the road, talking to an ambulance crew who convinced me I should go with them, but apart from that dream-like start to the afternoon, everything else seemed awfully life-like: the xrays I’d had taken when I arrived in hospital, the busyness of the corridor, the steady stream of patients on stretchers being pushed past where I was lying, ambulance crews cracking jokes with the nurses. Also, I had a splitting headache which seemed rather too realistic for my liking. I was starting to think this might be real.

In the end, what made me decide I couldn’t be dreaming was when two traffic police officers showed up at my hospital trolley. There’s no way I’d dream about Italian traffic police.

“Here are the insurance details of the driver who hit you; we’ll need a statement from you eventually,” they said.

Driver who hit me? Well that would explain how I ended up in an ambulance. Even now, I don’t remember what happened: I remember starting to cross the street, and I remember thinking, “ooh, I’m not sure I like seeing that car there”. And the next thing I remember is me telling the ambulance medics I really didn’t see why I should go with them to the hospital and them telling me it would just be a quick check-over but I really should get it done.

Of course, a good way to turn a quick check-over into a longer hospital stay is to arrive in an ambulance, confused about what’s going on, with a bump to the head. In the end, I spent just over a week in hospital. Most of that time was simply under observation — I wasn’t allowed to go home until I had a CT scan that showed significant improvement, but all anyone could do was wait.

Until a bed opened up in the ward, I had to stay in the emergency department, in a busy observation room that had been designed for 6 beds and now held 8 — or even 9 — trolleys. Most of the patients had respiratory problems and the constant wheezing was one of those noises you can’t quite ignore, no matter how long it goes on for. I suppose you could call it a way of gaining perspective on life: I can breathe and walk to the bathroom all by myself, I must be doing pretty well,

It took a while for that lesson to sink in. On my third morning, I started to have a little cry about being stuck in hospital when all I wanted to do was go home. This didn’t last very long. My eyes, which were puffy and swolen from the accident, were covered in sleep, which I hadn’t removed because I’d tried to wipe my eyes the day before and it had hurt. As soon as I started crying, all the residue got into my eyes. It really stung! So then I wasn’t crying about being in hospital, I was crying about the stinging.

On the other hand, I genuinely did realize I was doing pretty well when a new patient came in, who all the nurses knew by name already. Evidently she had some on-going health problems that weren’t being managed so much as sending her to the emergency department on a semi-regular basis. I’m glad that at least that safety net was there for her, but I hope to never be in her position.

One thing they were strict about in the emergency department was following the dietary notes on patient charts. I’d spent my first night in hospital vomiting every few hours and as a result wound up with “light diet” written prominently on the end of my trolley, which I couldn’t do anything to get removed. This meant every meal was either mashed potato or bland semolina. I have never liked mashed potato and it turns out I’m fussy about my semolina. Even with visiting friends trying valiantly to convince me to eat up, my diet was very light indeed for a few days.

The other point of strictness was visiting hours. One visitor at a time per patient, two hours only per day for visits. This made sense, since the emergency department was always full and if there had been any more visitors the staff would never have had a chance to get any medicine done, but it was disconcerting having a security guard come to get people to leave at exactly 7pm.

Really, this was only a problem for me because my friends are amazing and wonderful. I don’t even remember contacting the first one to say “I’m in hospital” — I think it was the ambulance medic who made sure I let someone know where I was. But word got out about what had happened and every single visiting hour I had friends come to check how I was, to let me know they were thinking of me, to bring me food (very welcome considering the hospital food!) and to generally add some cheer to the whole experience. I’m so grateful for all of you! Especially considering that when my Mum came over here — turns out it’s not possible to emphasize the “I’m fine” part of “I’m fine but just to let you know I’m in hospital” enough to stop my Mum from coming to look after me! — my friends all took her under their wings as well.

Also, now I have a lot of plants to try not to kill. They're still looking beautiful, but I am no gardener...

Also, now I have a lot of plants to try not to kill. They’re still looking beautiful, but I am no gardener…

I’ve been out of hospital nearly a week now, still feeling a little bleary from not sleeping well while I was there but otherwise in good health. (Yaaaaaay!) For all my comments about the food and the crowding I am genuinely impressed by how well I was looked after in hospital. Nurses, especially, are amazing people.

I’ll leave you with a moment that I swear is true even though it’s absolutely living-in-Italy-blog perfect. I went to the police station the other day to sort out giving my statement about the accident. Their conclusion, after hearing my version of events, was this: I had crossed the street away from a designated crosswalk, and as such they were going to fine me 25 euro for breaking traffic laws. Thanks guys. I kinda wish you had been a figment of a dream.

PS: About a year after this happened, I wrote a follow-up post: That time I got hit by a car: injury, uncertainty and stories


8 thoughts on “Well that was an experience: my week in an Italian hospital

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