The one place you don’t want to see while on vacation

Going to the hospital is a scary experience no matter where you are. I never expected my first hospital visit would be outside of Canada. I won’t get into the details of what brought me there because it was a precaution and everything was fine. In fact, this blog post isn’t so much about getting sick in a foreign country, but how the day’s events panned out, and how a healthy imagination can keep you distracted from a nerve-wracking situation.

It happened in Rome – a city where transit strikes are frequent, smoking is common, and everyone drives a Vespa in ways that you wouldn’t imagine (would you ever put a whole family on one bike?). It’s pretty different from what I am used to in Canada, which is part of the charm that makes you want to visit. These quirky aspects of the city become less charming when your health takes priority over vacation.

I woke up in the morning and knew something was wrong. Hotel reception gave us two options: go to the hospital or to pay a fee to bring a doctor to me. I was capable of leaving the hotel so off we went to the hospital. This day, of all days, happened to be a day of a transit strike. That meant the roads were ridiculously busy, and taxis were charging whatever they wanted – if you were lucky enough to come across one. We stepped out of our hotel into the chaos and started walking in the direction of a taxi stand. We tried to flag down any taxi we saw along the way, but had no luck. We waited in line at the taxi stand for about 45 minutes and negotiated a ridiculous price to get to the hospital. Driving in Italy in general is a bit out of my comfort zone. Riding in a taxi during a transit strike is a combination of scary, a thrilling and pretty entertaining. We were weaving in and out of traffic, horns were honking all around us, hand gestures were made out the window at others, and on the street at us, along with plenty of yelling and cursing from our driver.

Back to my adventures. We finally get to the hospital. They take my passport information and ask me what is wrong. There was only one doctor who spoke english (apparently there are hospitals in Rome that cater more to foreigners and have english speaking doctors), but we managed to communicate fine. They took me in for a blood test right away, and then we waited (and waited) for the results. It was a long three hours in the hospital waiting room, so we had to keep ourselves entertained. There were quite a few characters who came in and out, and we made up our own narrative as to why they were there. This is what I will share with you:

A man and a woman arrive together in the ambulance. It looks like they were in a motorbike accident (as I said, those people with two wheels and an engine take some risks on the road). The man was hurt. The woman was not, but she had a black eye, and she seemed to know the nurses, as if she had been there before. Her hand gestures made it seem like her story was that she ran into a door. This raised some alarm bells. The doctors looked at the man, and then the woman got called into the exam room with him. While this was happening, another woman entered the hospital. We could only assume that this woman was his wife, based on the wedding ring and her concern for him. Plus, as soon as she got there, the man and woman who came in together suddenly acted like they didn’t know each other.

My test results came back before we saw the conclusion of this soap opera, but in our version, the man was having an affair with the woman who had the black eye. His wife suspected it, but she did not act on her suspicion because he had money. By the end of this ordeal, both women gave up on him and left the man at the hospital!

None of this has any truth behind it, but if you are ever stuck somewhere for 3 hours with other people around, and you can’t understand what anyone is saying, you might have some fun making up stories about their lives.

The ultimate moral of the story is that hospitals in Rome aren’t that different from hospitals in Canada (although you may find some doctors smoking a bit too close to the waiting area). Here is my advice to all travellers:

  • Even if you are healthy, before you leave, you should get an idea of where the hospitals are, and how to find a doctor who speaks your language.
  • If you do need assistance while abroad, ask about your options at your hotel and/or a pharmacy.
  • Be prepared for anything. Something like a transit strike can result in lengthy wait times before you even get the help you need.
  • Transit strikes are very common in Rome, and I recommend you be prepared for one if you are visiting there for any length of time. If you are relying on transit for any of your travels, have a back up plan in case of a strike. If you get frustrated, wait for a taxi and enjoy the madness around you.

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