Public Health System. Until last week I had no experience of the system having only visited a private Doctor for regular checkups after my by-pass. He in turn is connected to a private hospital in Taranto. I did try to call him but like 90% of Italy he is, of course, on holiday this week .
However last Wednesday it seemed fairly obvious what I had got. The internet graphically displaying other unfortunates with shingles in all their blistered glory.
I, rightly, am not allowed to make this kind of self diagnosis as I can see likenesses to almost any disease when comparing either symptoms or visual images and would therefore arrive at any Doctor’s surgery with a list as long as your arm for the Doctor to busily dismiss. However my wife, the daughter of a Doctor and one time trainee nurse till the glamour of becoming a stewardess caught her fancy, is much more down to earth and rational. Actually by the time she joined the role of a stewardess was already transforming itself. By the time she left the airline it was not far removed from Tony Hancock’s description of a nurse’s role ” lugging great cart loads of mince up and down the wards “.
Resolved it was Shingles we happily put ourselves in the hands of our Italian neighbour and set off to meet our first State Health doctor in Martina Franca . His afternoon hours were she said 16.30-19.30 but we should not bother rushing as he was normally late.
He was indeed late a full hour and marched in at 5.30 and went straight into his office. He did, however, have the most stunning and sultry secretary who every ten minutes before his arrival flip flopped her way from her desk in her office to his office looking like a starlet from an Italian movie. So waiting seemed to pass in an instance for me at least.
We being English had got there just after 4.30 despite the protestations of our neighbour so were first through the door. His office was spartan, a large old desk a huge chair for him two smaller chairs for the patient and an examination table in the corner. It boasted no air-conditioning nor as far as I could see any heating for the winter months. Given the 9 stairs up from street level to gain access to his office which made scaling Mont Blanc seem chicken feed, this guy clearly didn’t deal with problem patients.
On his desk was a computer circa 1995 that clearly was connected at best to his sultry secretary but not with the outside world. Into it he tapped my surname and christian name and then asked me what was wrong. I raised my t shirt and he said ” ah yes it is him” in Italian. Here they call shingles fuocco di Sant’Antonio or St Anthony’s fire . Brutto brutto (bad,bad) and pulled my shirt back down.
He pulled a well worn diary like book from his small Doctor’s bag and began to look in it. It was all hand written and seemed to be crossed referenced by using different biro colours. He deliberated for some time and then began to scribble on a prescription pad.
Dolore ( pain ) he enquired and I nodded. Again the hand written book was consulted and clearly he was cross referencing the tablet name on the pad with his own hand written list of pain killers that went with it. Satisfied he again wrote on the pad.
Senti ( listen ) he said and gave me directions on how many times a day to take the tablets and when to use the painkillers . ” I take other tablets” I offered and he glanced quickly at the proffered list. ” Per pressione sanguigna ” ( for high blood pressure ) and handed the list back. We were dismissed.
I finished the course today at lunchtime but never took the amazingly strong painkillers he had offered as they sounded pretty fearful when I looked them up. On tossing the packet of shingles prevention tablets away a leaflet dropped out with instructions for use in Italian. It clearly stated that they were not to be taken by people over 65 years and not by people taking other drugs that affected the kidneys. Well I am over 65 and one of my tablets does indeed change the workings of the kidneys. No wonder I have been drinking full reservoirs of water each day !
Public healthcare down here is still way behind the north as this cutting from a large private healthcare organisation states “However, there are some state hospitals in Italy that are substandard, providing a comfort level below what most Northern Europeans and Americans would expect. These hospitals are normally found in Southern Italy.”
The site actually praises the North and says healthcare there is better than in the rest of Europe. It is telling that Italians down here we have known, who have anything serious wrong with them, have gone North for state funded treatment. The alternative is to attend the numerous private hospitals here instead. From now on I shall do the same.