Going into hospital
Would you have the patience to be a patient in an Italian
A ward to the wise - beware of the toilet!
Going into hospital is something that no right-minded person
can look forward to but I believe that the whole experience can be
positively or negatively affected by the attitude and behaviour of each
individual nurse, doctor, surgeon and consultant that the patient comes into
In December 2007 my left leg flared up again but this time with an
infection. The whole of the leg from just above the knee went bright purple
and I was really convinced it was amputation time. I had a fever which
peaked at over 41C. Even my GP who 'does have other patients with fewer
problems, you know' couldn't argue with me going into hospital as an
inpatient so my wife packed my overnight bag and I went in.
After the fiasco last time about going into hospital, we had been to see a
Patient Liaison Manager whose duty was to ensure that patients received an
acceptable standard of care and, to repeat my phrase of earlier, to see that
their experience was a positive one. He was to meet me at outpatients where
I would be admitted into the main hospital.
I didn't relish going to Outpatients again and, sure enough there were the
same sorry old faces on duty including the two worst doctors from last time
(one male and one female). Yes, they remembered me too and they were no less
obnoxious although with our representative being on-hand, they had to
restrict themselves to simple surliness. There were no detectable rude
remarks about my going into hospital but I think there were a few puerile
jokes being bandied about by some of the doctors.
Having completed the paperwork, I was manhandled by several burly orderlies
onto a gurney which had been brought specially to Outpatients to cope with
my weight. This was then pushed around the hospital, into a lift and up to
my room which was on the top floor. By this time I was almost out of it
because of my fever. I remember sitting up on the bed shivering with cold
asking for blankets and just getting a blank look from the nurse who didn't
seem to be able to do anything except look in my ear (why?). In the end my
wife took charge and I was wrapped up in two over blankets still shivering
A succession of doctors and nurses passed by me - most attending to the
other occupant of my room (there were only two beds per ward - if that is
what it was). They took my temperature and peered briefly at my dark purple
coloured leg which was probably hot enough to warm a pizza up on. None of
them were particularly interested and, eventually, I was given two
paracetemol and, basically, ignored. When I asked for some water to wash the
tablets down with the nurse looked puzzled and told me that there was none
available unless I cared to buy a bottle from the machine down the corridor.
A (brand new) hospital and no water!
This combined with my previous experience suggested that going into hospital
wasn't likely to be a better prospect than I had feared so my wife stayed
with me until quite late but it was snowing and I was afraid she would not
be able to get the car up the drive to our hillside home. I was left alone
apart from my neighbour (who was a diabetic and in a semi-comatose state as
a result of an insulin reaction) and his wife who danced attendance on him
as he endured the nausea and constant abdominal pains. Unable to sleep, I
noticed how little help was grudgingly given by the nurse on night duty.
In all this time I was not given a hot drink or even examined despite my
dangerously high temperature of 41C. A meal of tepid pasta and meat was left
for me and I managed to force down some of it. The bed was too hard for me
(my joints are distorted by my weight when placed on a hard surface for any
period of time). At about 3am the back support gave in and collapsed thus
rendering it impossible for me to even sit on the bed any more, never mind
actually sleeping. I asked a nurse to fix it - she said she didn't know how
and came back with a colleague who giggled a couple of times before
shrugging her shoulders and telling me there was nothing she could do about
As a result, I had to spend the rest of the night sitting on a plastic chair
that was not suited for my weight and which cut off the circulation to my
legs - just what I didn't need.
The morning after going into hospital my wife arrived early having wisely
spent the night in our office in Foligno rather than risk the journey up
into the now snowy mountains where our home is. She quickly fixed the bed
for me so that I could get a few minutes sleep.
Then I had the joy of seeing each consultant, doctor or surgeon as they did
their rounds. This consisted of generally ignoring my leg in favour of
trying to 'sell' me an operation to stitch up my stomach. Remember I came in
with a severe (and still untreated) leg infection and lymphedema - I do not
have an eating disorder. For the record (and apart from its complete
irrelevance) this operation has a lousy success record with many of its
survivors wishing that they hadn't because of the hideously unpleasant
side-effects that come with it. As soon as I started to argue about not
having the operation this gave them the opportunity to disown me "Well, if
you won't accept the treatment ...". It all got rather unpleasant at about
this time as some of the characters who had laughed at me 2 years before
came around to gawp and offer their irrelevances.
The climax came when one young nurse asked to talk privately to my wife. I
knew something was amiss when I saw that her face had gone much the same
colour as my leg (which still hadn't been treated). Apparently word had gone
around the hospital that they had admitted an exceptionally heavy man and
this had created a full-scale panic among the higher echelons of management.
So much so, in fact, that this nurse had been instructed to advise me that I
was forbidden to use the toilet as it might be dangerous for me. I was
supposed to request a bedpan and somehow the two nurses on duty would then
be expected to manhandle me on and off of it plus all 'additional'
functions. If I was to stay in hospital, it was going to be a condition that
I didn't use the toilet. This sent me begging to ask my wife for some paper
and pencils so that I could put up a sign saying 'Beware of the bog' or
'Warning - this toilet is dangerous' or even 'Abandon hope all ye who
enter'. The possibilities seemed limitless.
So, here I was, nearly 20 hours after going into hospital with what is
considered to be a life-threateningly high fever, still not having received
any treatment (unless you consider being asked 'Have you always been fat?'
by each passing doctor to constitute treatment), not having had a hot drink
or hot meal (breakfast was essentially non-existent although my wife managed
to bum two biscuits and a cup of the most unbelievably weak tea off of a
lady with a trolley who just wandered past our ward without coming in and
offering a drink to each patient) nor any prognosis beyond being told to
have an entirely irrelevant and dangerous operation on my stomach (you
recall I went in with a leg infection?). On top of that I wasn't allowed to
use the toilet.
It was time to go and I discharged myself amid a certain amount of rancour.
My overall experience of going into hospital in Italy for a normal person
would suggest the following:
A ward is much smaller than you might expect - you will be
isolated from other patients.
Nurses have very little power and only perform the most
menial of functions and then grudgingly. They are not often seen on the ward
- a patient has to summon them first.
Providing meals and drinks to patients is not seen as being
the province of the hospital.
As a result of 1, 2 and 3 the expectation is that the
patient will be supported by his or her family with at least one of them on
duty 24 hours a day.
As a consequence of 4, the concept of an official visiting
time is meaningless - family members can march in at any time; even in the
early hours of the morning; in fact they are expected to.
If you are facing a stay in an Italian hospital and you
don't have much or any family support then you must make sure (if you can)
that you can be entirely self-sufficient (plenty of squash, things to eat,
clothes, books etc) as it is not deemed to be the function of any nurse,
doctor or orderly to assist you with your day-to-day needs as a patient.
I hope you have a better time than I did if you are going into hospital.
Going into hospital
House for sale
House in Umbria
Food and drink
Link to us