Dispatches from Lucca #2

  • 24 January 2019
  • Prue Scott

Ciao a tutti

When I say, “all sorts of **** goes down here”, I’m talking about the joy that is Italy – chaos, bureaucracy, great bread and kind Luccans who wait while I stumble over my Italian. I’m also talking about a doctor who bypasses all the bureaucratic traps to help me.

It’s that old sinus problem and the drugs I’ve bought with me aren’t helping. I’m living in mortal fear of a repeat of 2018 when I had a nice morning at the hospital while they pumped me full of stuff, my eyes went bloodshot and I dropped 3kg. None of this was pretty, except the weight loss which I was chuffed about.

Dr C speaks good English and is excellent, I am told. Right, he’s up, and I wandered off to Sbarro 15 on Via Roma. Sbarro means “block” and in this case, it’s a double courtyard with doors and stairs. None mention Dr C’s name. I check again. I climb one external staircase to meet Mama shaking out her rugs. Scusi, I mutter and flee.

OK, he must be here somewhere.

A woman comes down a narrow, steep staircase of concrete steps. She has a red form in her hand. “Dottore?” “Si”.

Climbing the winding staircase, it strikes me that you must be pretty fit to even get to the doctor. The riser on the stairs is higher than normal and the handrail is ancient iron about the thickness of your average biro and dangerously loose.

I push the buzzer.

Now, let’s pause for a minute. When you head for your GP, generally there’s a sign on the street, in the courtyard, on the wall, at the doorway. Not here. You have to guess.

A man opens the door. I assume he’s the Dottore and start with my prepared script. He interrupts me and asks “Dottore P?” I nod and he waves me in.

Excellent, I’ve just explained my symptoms to another patient. Who has no English.

The hallway is about two-feet wide; the waiting room is five-feet wide. There are six chairs; four occupied by middle-aged Italian men who all look at me. To my right, a couple clearly speaking English (I nearly wept).

Not-the-Dottore asks whether I’m here for my husband or for me (I get that much of what he says). At that moment, there is deep coughing from inside a nearby room. Dear God, I’ve arrived at the prostate-testing clinic.

Gathering my courage – and desire for better drugs – in my hands, I talk to the couple. They are American/Scottish. They bring me up to speed very quickly.

Note – there is no receptionist, no magazines and, blissfully, no blaring radio. We sit in silence. The four Italian men watch me intently.

Did I call for an appointment? No, I’m a complete idiot and thought I’d rock up.

The door opens. Enter Italian man #5.

“L’ultimo?” The Italian men look at me.

“Ah,” he says. There is no seat for him. The Italian men look at me. #5 sidles around the corner to some sort of ante-room where there are chairs.

This is how it works. Each consultation is slow, so much so that I begin to wonder how anyone gets seen. When you enter, even though you may have an appointment, you ask “L’ultimo?” meaning – who is the last person here. This tells you how much time you have, and you may wish to go away for a large glass of red and some pizza, or to take up growing coffee.

More explanation from my lovely new friends (straight to the top of the Christmas card list).

They’ll tell the Dottore about me and talk to me after they’ve seen him.

Not-the-Dottore’s wife arrives and eyes me.

Dottore emerges from his room; a lean, wiry Italian of mid-50s or so. New chums are about to go in, but he sees me and raises his eyebrows.

“Sono tourista dellla Nova Zealanda. Molto male.”

Dottore finds this enchanting.

“Dear lady, my only concern is your health.”

I am won over.

I am happy to wait.

New chums take quite a bit of time and I’ve now been there two hours. New chums have explained that this sort of chaos is quite normal. While treating you, Dottore is also taking patient calls. He is, literally, a one-man band.

New chums say if this doesn’t work, head for the ospedale, put on the full theatrics and they’ll see me. Oh, and they tend to over-prescribe here.

They exit and Not-the-Dottore indicates I should go in. I shake my head, but he insists.

The room is small and appears to have been styled by someone not quite in their right mind.

A container of red liquid houses some sort or snakelike skeleton. There is stuff everywhere. A pair of the deadliest forceps I’ve ever seen dangle from the hot water heater.

Dottore is delightful. He listens and asks good questions. He has all the time in the world.

He checks my sinuses and they nearly shoot out the back of my head. He listens to my chest – no wheezing, I say, and he confirms this. He agrees, possible pneumonia last year might have been the real thing. It’s very hard to define on an x-ray, he says.

Drew the sinus diagram, shook his head at my salt water rinses and said my low-dose antibiotic wasn’t strong enough.

He then left to fetch the required drugs from the farmacia across the street, saying “It’s very complicated.” He left the phone with someone in the waiting room and I could hear her taking calls. A woman dropped in a bag of brochures (?), scribbled a note on his post-it pad and then left.

Back he comes with several packets. I could see my credit card taking a beating.

I open the door and every man in the waiting room rises. Not-the-Dottore looks particularly pleased.

“Due minuti. Grazie mille.”

They all sit down.

Meanwhile, back in the lab.

“Open this one, but be careful, it smells like rotten eggs.” I can smell nothing.

“Now we add this.” Some blackish liquid from a dropper.

“And one of these”. A tab of betamethasone.

We shake.

Over to the basin. We do the first round of the heavy weaponry with the nasal thing. Astonishing! And disgusting. But feeling better already.

A better antibiotic to be taken with food. Good old amoxicillin pills the size of something you’d give a very unwell Clydesdale horse.

“And this while you are fasting. We do not want your bowels to stop.” I like a doctor who suggests the period between meals is fasting.

If I’m not better in a week, I go back.

“Now, how do I pay you?”

“With a kiss.” Both cheeks it is.

“If you need me again, then I’ll charge.” I’m figuring the paperwork outweighs what he’ll get paid.

Across the road, the drugs cost me €30, about $50.

Utterly hilarious. 

Only in Italy.


A presto



P.S The container of red liquid was a lamp of oil with a woven cotton wick in it. Of course.

Share this post