How I got my Wife to a Doctor in Venice

Venice's Hospital (Ospedale) Photo by Currybet via Flickr (Some Rights Reserved.)

My wife had been fighting a urinary infection since we left home, and the antibiotics had run out and she needed to see a doctor for another prescription. So we were winding through the back alleys and canals of Venice towards the hospital, hoping that someone knew enough English to understand her problem.

A good map is essential in Venice, and despite her misgivings I navigated through ‘seldom seen by tourists’ Venice to get my wife to the Emergency Room at the hospital.

We got our first break when the young nurse at reception spoke English well enough for us to clearly communicate her problem. We filled in a form, and took a seat in the waiting area.

A steady stream of injured and sick people, tourists and locals, arrived with the usual assortment of aliments and injuries and most more serious than a simple infection. So we waited patiently as those in need pushed us down the waiting list. Nothing unusual, and typical of any hospital emergency room at home or abroad.

When we got called into the see a doctor, he asked a few standard questions in stilted English and then said, ‘You see specialist?’

‘No’, my wife replied, and immediately a look of confusion appeared on the doctor’s face.

‘You see specialist?’ he repeated.

My wife tried to explain that she had only seen her GP, and not a specialist.

‘You need urinary specialist’, the doctor said frustrated by the language barrier and it finally clicked for me. He wanted to send my wife to their specialist, and her refusal understandably bewildered him. Having resolved that issue, he had us escorted to the specialist who thankfully spoke enough English to avoid further confusion. Thirty minutes latter we headed back to the emergency room to get a prescription and settle our bill.

The nurse gave us our bill, and directed us to a machine in the hall where we paid by credit card (it also took cash), and returned the receipt to collect the prescription. Total cost after filling the prescription, €57.00, extremely cheap by any standard. Latter I discovered that Italy and Australia are signatories to a reciprocal health care agreement which covers travellers for up to six months from their date of arrival in Italy. This helped to defray our costs but I should have known about it prior to departure to ensure we did not over pay in an emergency.

Italy’s health system worked fantastically for my wife, friendly and helpful despite our language difficulties and surprisingly inexpensive. We learnt two critical lessons:

  1. Be better prepared by checking all the information on the Smart Traveller website before a trip. (For US citizens, check the State Department Travel site. Other countries have similar information available.)
  2. Ensure your phrase book covers likely situations, ours failed to provide any useful words for this common aliment.

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