I felt a mild tugging sensation in my chest. With the tugging came what seemed like a burning sensation similar to heart burn. Since I didn’t have any medication for such, I told myself it would pass. Unfortunately for me, this burning sensation grew worse with every tick of the clock. 3 hours later, I was lying on the floor in my hotel room holding my hotel pillow close to my chest with the hope that it will relive the pain. My travel companion at this time had become so worried especially because she couldn’t get over-the-counter medication for me as most pharmacies were closed being Sunday. The only alternative at this point was for me to visit the nearest A&E. So I managed to get dressed, got into the cab while my tour guide tried to get in touch with my travel insurance company just in case I needed it at the hospital.
The hospital experience turned out to be one I would not forget in a long time for so many bad reasons. A combination of being lost in translation and the lack of empathy displayed by the doctors on duty contributed to this unpleasant experience of mine. One would think it was my fault that I didn’t speak a word of Italian and they too couldn’t understand English.
To make matters worse, it seamed like my tour guide had forgotten how to speak Italian. I think somewhere between her getting me into the taxi and the disposition of the nurses she met at the A&E made her forget every Italian word she knew. Even though in pain, I could still see from the corner of my eye that she was turning to Google translation to describe words like ‘chest’, ‘burning sensation’ , ‘heart burn’, ‘travel insurance’ e.t.c.
The next couple of hours was spent with different nurses and doctors trying to interpret what I was saying in English. When that was not happening, they were prodding my veins in the name of taking blood for all manner of test that I just couldn’t understand. The most sympathetic of the doctors would come to me and putting her palm on her chest she would say, ‘dolore di petto’ (meaning chest pain). I could tell she was trying to convey the meaning to me in her own way. I too would nod in acknowledgement while rolling my eyes which conveyed nothing but disdain. Minutes later, a nurse came over and handed me pain killers. They did all sort of tests none of which was explained to me nor was I informed of the result.
The test went on until about 1am when another doctor came and brought a paper and a pen to my bedside. He indicated with his hand and gesture that I sign a form. At this point, my tour guide had gone back to the hotel. I dialled her number and just passed the phone to the doctor to explain himself to her. Then the doctor passed the phone back to me and from the other side of the line my tour guide explained:
“Hmmm… I think he said they want to do a minor surgery on your chest… that’s all..”
I said ‘hun…’ I could not believe what was happening to me. Besides, the word ‘minor surgery’ did not exist in my vocabulary. I have watched enough Grey’s Anatomy to know that when a doctor gives you a paper to sign before any procedure, there is the likelihood of such procedures giving rise to other complications.
I told the translator to tell the doctor that I wasn’t interested in any more prodding of my veins or ‘minor surgery’.
I was right. the doctor confirmed this to my tour guide.
I think my refusal made them become so angry that they stopped giving me pain killers for the pain. From then onwards, they completely ignored my side of the ward just on the account that I rejected a procedure.
When my tour guide came back the next morning, they wouldn’t let her see me despite her plea that we needed to catch our flight back to London that evening. They said I was unlikely to be released on the basis that I would be putting them and myself in great jeopardy should anything happen to me on the flight back to London. When I saw they were adamant, I knew I had to be creative if I was to be released from these hell hole that found myself in.
I am not sure I had a plan when I started, but for some weird reason, I got out of bed and started rolling on the bare floor of the hospital crying. I could see this outburst of mine somehow made all the nurses and the doctors feel uncomfortable so I increased the tempo. There were also other patients and onlookers in the ward whose face kind of conveyed that the doctors should do something. I guess to save them (doctors) any further embarrassment, two very handsome Italian male nurses were ordered to pull me off the floor and take me to one of the examination rooms. Since we didn’t speaking the same language, the doctors on duty had to summon my tour guide into the ward to ask me the reason for my outburst and display.
I told my tour guide I have had enough and just wanted to get out of the hospital.
Minutes later, I was signing an undertaken which meant the hospital will not be blamed should anything happen to me on the flight. That was the best thing they did for me in all of my 16-hour stay at their A&E.
I was so happy to get out of the hospital. Since it was Monday, the pharmacy opened and I was able to numb the pain with Ibuprofen. By evening, we made our way back to Malpensa Airport. The driver was kind enough to take the route where I could still catch a glimpse of the Colosseum walls.
‘I’ll be back soon…‘ was all I could silently and painfully mutter under my breath.
I arrived safely in London that night and went to UK’s A&E in the morning. By the time I saw a doctor, it took him just half an hour to tell me I had caught a bug that led to an infection. He also said I was dehydrated. He gave me some pain killers and antibiotics and sent me to my house in one piece.
I was so mad at those Italian doctors for a long time after the trip. Afterwards, I started thinking about how to prevent such from happening to me ever again. So I came up with a travel health plan. You can call it making lime out of lemonade.
Top on the travel health plan is to always have a translated version of all medical conditions and medication just for precaution when going to a non-English speaking country. It also pays to have a comprehensive travel insurance. Even though I had a crappy hospital service, it does pay to have health insurance nonetheless. While most single people may often find themselves travelling alone, I realised that travelling with a least one other person is not only fun but can also be life saving. Having emergency fund at hand either in the form of cash or credit card will also come very handy for unforeseen situations.
While this experience was indeed one of my worst nightmares, I did learn my lesson and do hope I can keep my advice during my next trip to a non-English speaking country.