Moving to Italy | Healthcare

1st Italian Hospital Visit & COVID

Here we are in the first week of July. Where the heck did June go? How do two flippin’ months of life in Italy fly by so quickly? Why do I feel like we’ve achieved nothing substantial beyond getting here? Oh, yeah COVID.

Originally, June was when Paolo and I were scheduled to start house-hunting in Tuscany. Our plan? Start in Livorno and head south through Grosseto to Orbetello. After which, we’d planned to spend more time outside Florence looking at properties in areas like Certaldo, Greve in Chianti, and San Casciano In Val di Pesa.

Italian Hospital

June came and went and no Tuscany. COVID put our plans on hold. Now, this is not a boohoo woe is me story. Instead, it’s an unexpected, humbling, honest one. Much like everyone in the world right now, our plans for June have come and gone. Instead of answering the question “where should we live in Italy?” our second month in Italy took on a different focus. My health.

First off, thank you to my followers! I’m humbled and grateful to be making new friends on this ride. Being an expat is a lonely journey. Your comments recently have brought a lot of joy to this journey. Secondly, thank you to those who shared their support after hearing the rather embarrassing story of my first doctor’s appointment in Italy!

I’m happy to report this Cicciona Americana followed Doctor’s orders. Remarkably amid all the amazing wine, cheese, and food in Italy, I have indeed lost six pounds since meeting my Italian Doctor. I have also followed up on his other orders. Blood tests and X-rays, check! How did it go?

Blood test, smashing success! Both the results and the experience of going to a facility to have my blood drawn. Luckily, the phlebotomist was a young man who spoke English. Something that wasn’t revealed until midway through the appointment when he asked for my campione di urina (urine sample) and he could tell I was completely confused.

Urina is very close to urine linguistically but it still threw me for a loop because in Italy, the standard practice for medical exams is to pee into a test cup at home before heading with your sample to the testing facility. This was an “Oh. Ohhhhhh?” cultural moment for me.

I’ll be honest, I found this process a bit weird. Inevitably you’re walking around with a cup of warm pee in your purse, hoping the cap doesn’t come loose.

As an American I’ve never once bought a urine test cup. Italians either stop by the pharmacy and buy a urine sample cup when they need it or have them at home on hand if a urine test is needed. Mental note, stock pee cups at home!

While the blood test was at a testing facility, the X-ray had to be done in the hospital. Not something anyone wants to do these days with COVID.

What Italian Hospitals are Like After COVID

Now, I’ve been to hospitals in Italy before to visit family, but this was my first time going into an Italian hospital as a patient. I wasn’t sure what to expect out of my first visit, but given COVID restrictions are still in place, I was prepared for it to be an intense experience.

Going to an Italian hospital after COVID is a tightly controlled experience. Masks on, everyone waits outside the hospital in one of four lines. X-ray line here, surgery line here, etc. Tape lines on the ground mark safe social distancing. Italians show respect for masks and social distancing requirements which makes everything less stressful for everyone.

A security guard goes down the line asking for documentation showing appointment times and occasionally reorders people. Plenty of time, step back a few people, appointment in ten minutes, come on in. Technically, only patients are allowed to enter the hospital. Since my Italian is not strong enough yet Paolo was allowed to accompany me.

Inside the hospital doorway, two zones were set up that we had to pass through. The first, documentation. We both had to fill out and sign paperwork stating we had not been in contact with anyone who had COVID and that we did not have any COVID symptoms ourselves.

Zone two, our temperatures were checked. Once declared healthy, we were pointed towards hand sanitizer dispensers and then allowed to continue on inside the hospital. My nerves kicked in at the Radiology check-in desk.

The man behind the counter had a low voice. Between that and the plexiglass and I couldn’t understand most of what he was saying. Paolo thankfully did and helped check me in for my appointment. Unfortunately, that’s as far as Paolo could go in helping me. This was after all an X-ray.

We waited down a long hallway with five doors. Every fifteen minutes, a nurse would come out one of the doors and call a patient’s name. When mine was called it sounded really funny. Like SHE-rar-rar. The nurse who was very kind lead me through a doorway into a small interior room of the X-ray suite.

A small chair, a hanger, and a mirror were my clues. Thinking ahead, I had left off jewelry and worn a wrap dress. Good thing too! I was allowed to leave on my dress but, one embarrassing hitch came when having not yet learned the word for bra in Italian, the nurse had to mime taking off a bra. Let’s just say reggiseno (bra) is permanently ingrained in my memory now along with urina.

Once inside the X-ray room, everything felt strangely comfortable. The equipment was the same type of machine I’ve been standing in front of or laying on for X-rays my entire life. I finally started to relax. The X-ray tech was a young man in his 20’s who spoke no English. So now, it was up to me. Did I know enough Italian to follow his directions?

Yes, I did! The X-ray tech’s first sentence included the words girare and schiena. Turn and back. I turned around and placed my back against the X-ray machine. He smiled. Nailed it! Then he stepped back, held his mouth open, and said “non respirare.” Respirare, I knew that too!

Paolo’s parent’s home is a condo building with a handful of other neighbors. One day while leaving we passed one of the neighbors on the steps. She was taking out the trash, we were headed to the car. None of us were wearing a mask. Something you don’t tend to think about when you’re “home.” She made the joke “non respirare” and with a cartoon-like gesture took in a big breath and held it while we passed. Her joke had taught me the word respirare (to breathe) a few days before the appointment.

I held my breath trying not to smile when the x-ray tech stepped out of the room. Listening for the hum to stop I took a deep breath and felt relieved that learning Italian through immersion is possible albeit slow. I gave myself a little pep talk. “You know this process, you can do this!”

Throughout the rest of the series of X-rays I was able to follow his instructions without him having to repeat anything. Turn and place my shoulder here, my hands here. Sit and wait here. My self-taught Italian, learned mostly through immersion, got me through a medical exam without help.

After the last X-ray, we managed to have a cordial conversation

“I’m sorry about my Italian, I’ve only lived here two months”

“Wow, two months! Your Italian is great!”

The conversation was all in Italian or at least broken Italian in my case. I left the X-ray room practically bursting with pride. Two days later, we left the hospital with the X-rays themselves.

When it comes to healthcare, record-keeping is something that’s different in Italy vs America. In Italy, you get and keep your own medical records automatically. Man do those X-rays need a big envelope!

Moving to Italy in the face of COVID meant the first few months of our move have looked nothing like we planned. I keep saying, these are not the stories of moving to Italy I wanted to tell. They are however mine right now.

I might not understand everything the doctors are saying right now, but I’m tremendously grateful my story no longer includes phrases like a pre-existing condition, out-of-network, out-of-pocket deductible, or explanation of benefits. Friends and family back in America, can you imagine?

In addition to doctor’s appointments, Paolo and I both continue to work on our projects which for me includes this blog. Here is a collection of posts in June! If there is anything you’re curious about when it comes to moving to Italy, please let me know in the comments below. I’ll do my best to provide answers or find them if I don’t know them offhand because chances are good, I’ll need to know them too!

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    1. Thank you Pam! I’m doing very well now thanks to health care here in Italy. I’m down 23 lbs and the spinal issues have subsided with physical therapy. It’s been a strange year for all but thankfully we are doing well amidst everything. I hope there have been silver linings among the mess that was 2020 and is 2021 so far for you?!

      1. So glad you are doing better! Quite the strange times, but we are holding up and doing fine so far. Hopefully will be getting a COVID shot by summer.

  1. By the way, I need to thank you for this post as I have to do my first urine sample test since I moved to Italy and now I’m armed with the knowledge to do it at home. I stopped by a pharmacy between my GP visit and an aperitivo. I hadn’t realised how big the cups would be (got a spare just in case) so arrived for my evening out with two urine sample cups in a pretty much transparent bag! 😂

    Wishing you all the best on your healthcare journey here. It’s fascinating reading about the comparison between the US system and Italy.

    1. That’s too funny! Oddly I had to drop off a second-round today and was just laughing to myself thinking “well here I go walking through the city with a shopping bag that has two pee cups.” The clear plastic bag for your evening out is classic hilarity right there. Wishing you the same with your journey and hopefully, we’re both done with pee cups for a bit!

    1. Italy is not yet as advanced as America with virtual medicine. That said Italian Doctors are also far more accessible to their patients. During COVID my Papà had a nurse come to the home for routine treatments to keep him out of the hospital. Additionally Italian Doctors communicate via email and phone more openly. Many are life long caregivers and often befriend their patients. Papà Doctor comes over for dinner once a month. I was assigned my National healthcare Doctor rather expediently after moving here as a citizen and was bale to get in to see my Doctor in a weeks time. Twice. So while telemedicine is not a formal system that’s used here in Italy, it’s not needed as badly as it is in America to contain costs of healthcare visits. In America I used telemedicine successfully a few times but ONLY to avoid paying expensive doctors bills. I am taking comfort in my ability to not need to use telemedicine to avoid expensive doctors bills here in Italy to be fully honest.

  2. Love your blog! I would like ,ore stories about cultural differences, grocery shopping maybe? The simple things where we differ, but also the commonalities. And details about life in Covid times will be memorable in years to come, so document away!

    1. Thank you Kym! The difference in what’s less and what’s more expensive when it comes to things like over the counter medication and toiletries has been funny for me. I’ll have to work on something around those soon!

  3. I really enjoyed this post! Well done for embracing life here and going with it. Good on you for recognising so many words already – you’re flying it! I too have had plenty of awkward moments in doctors’ offices over the years. Miming has been a great tool for communication!

    1. Thank you for reading! Omgoodness I have a feeling there is so much more to go, years worth. Thankfully everyone has been kind and willing to speak REALLY slow! Thank goodness Italians love gestures.

  4. I agree! How did 2 months fly past so quickly!

    Hey, I would accept Mom’s edits in advance of publishing. It would give her something to do and save you the frustration of ugggg…really Mom. Copy and paste into an email. If you don’t use one of her suggestions, no big deal. If you add a coma, great! Love you.

    Thank you,

    1. Ahhh that’s Sis. PS when you reply to an email with the latest blog post, it’s posted publicly on the blog. I’m not deleting this because #thisismyfamilyandImsosolucky

  5. That’s great you managed to communicate with health professionals! That’s a big step in learning any language! I can’t wait to hear more of your stories 😁