Bongiorno from Toscana,
It’s May 24th (Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday anniversary), and we are moving northwards through Italy. Just in passing, it’s worth noting my brief experience today with the Italian health system. This was an unscheduled visit to the Pronto Seccorso (casualty) at l’ospedale (the hospital). I had been suffering from a lingering respiratory infection which had deteriorated. I’d had a terrible night, struggling for breath and missing sleep altogether.
The hospital was a busy, well-equipped establishment in which
everyone was cheerfully going about their business, with blurred distinctions between doctors, nurses, patients, volunteers and visitors. It resembled a well-run community centre, really. The service was immediate, thorough, professional, and careful (in the true sense of the word). The doctor’s attire – polo shirt untucked, denim jeans – along with the roughly-hewn beard did nothing to dampen confidence in the service.
A premium level of care was maintained throughout, even as more urgent cases interceded. My overwhelming sense is that the staff actually wanted to find out what was wrong. This is distinct from whipping up a prescription for some drug and showing you out the other end like the proverbial sausage (with me not even being an Italian taxpayer!). After a number of tests, second opinions and thoughtful diagnoses, the doctor pronounced that I had Asthma. This has proved to be spot-on.
Nearing the end of seven hours under expert care, I started to wonder just how much it was all going to cost. What a relief to discover that their universal health care scheme extends to foreigners. For the standard of care, suffice to say, “Va bene!”.
Italian National Health
When I subsequently entered the pharmacy, the assistant there was surprised to learn of our willingness to pay for the prescription. Apparently the Italian national health scheme also covers pharmaceuticals. I’ve promised to write to the hospital management to praise the relevant staff, two of whom were identical twin nurses, one seamlessly replacing the other at shift change. That’s surely a unique experience for the patient. The whole episode was a credit to the Italian medical system and I couldn’t thank them enough.
Lago di Garda
We then spent three tremendous days on Lago di Garda, Italy’s largest lake (dimensions: length 42 kms; breadth 17 kms; surface area 370 sq. km; depth 346 m). The only flat ground in the vicinity is a large alluvial fan (le promontorio). That’s where people like us stay to visit the magnificent lake.
Lago Occidentale e Lago Orientale
In the immediate vicinity, there is ample evidence that tourists love the area but they haven’t yet arrived for the season. For that reason, we missed most of them, which is good. Apparently, German tourists gravitate away from American tourists. This means that the Germans end up at Lago Occidentale whilst the Americans are likely to be found playing their loud games and sipping Martinis on Lago Orientale. Perhaps by a sense of intuition, we ended up on Lago Occidentale. We were sharing the space with a family of beautiful white swans: father, mother and 4 fluffy cygnets.
sardines at dusk
Every evening local fellows – perhaps ranging in age from 10 to 70 – descend on the lakeside. They’re here to fish for the sardines which run at dusk. A conservative estimate would put their number at 300, with as many spectators, evenly spaced along the water’s edge. The anglers use lures and rods with triple hooks. There must be a huge number of fish in the lake because they take quite a lot every day. (The same can’t be said of the Mediterranean where the fish catch is a fraction of what it once was.)
The lake is very spectacular from all angles. It seems unspoiled by industrial pollution. One day we hired a motor boat and traversed a whole lot more, including the northern reaches, where the mountains drop dramatically into the deep water.
Leaving the lake behind, we travelled through the Dolomites, which were so stunning they could easily warrant an epistle on their own. Le Dolomiti were once a coral reef but now they tower up in stark fashion. Here, the lightly-coloured rock juts well above the treeline: a favourite destination for mountaineers in summer.
After an overnight snowfall, the mountains and trees looked ethereal. We sought reassurance from Touristico Ufficio about the safety of the road over the pass. She said, “Don’t worry!”. We enjoyed some magnificent scenery. High mountains were covered in fresh snow, with azure skies in the background. The creeks ran clear. During these past few days, we have seen some of the very best of nature. The lake and then the Dolomites have been arrestingly spectacular. Anyone visiting Italy, put the Dolomites on the list.
Also, whilst we were boating around Lago di Garda, I noticed a particular building on the shore. Faded signage on the walls said “Asilo Infantile”. This interested me because, in other similar jurisdictions (including Australia) there once was a regulation which prohibited insane people from being transported through public places. This meant that the asylums had to be built on the water so that the patients could be moved by boat without being seen. That explains why such places occupy what have since become prime real estate. Apparently, the same rule applied in Italy.
Having seen first hand the slick operation of the physical health system in Italy, I can vouch for its sophisticated standards. It’s good to know that both the physical and mental health systems of Italy have advanced beyond those primitive times.
Ciao from Italy