Friday, 18 January 2013

I came, I saw, I found a doctor.

It has been almost a year since I found my doctor here in Rome and since this is an important fact of life - finding a doctor and dealing with medical issues - I thought it was worth a blog post.

Ginevra's office is in a fabulous location: Piazza Santa Maria della Pace, one of the sweetest little squares in central Rome. Very near the Piazza Navona, but don't blame the square for that! Often, after an appointment, I treat myself to a coffee in one of my favourite cafes, in the Bramante Cloister of the church of SM della Pace.

I was referred to my doctor by the nearby pharmacy last winter when I caught a terrible bronchial infection. Ginevra saw me right away and helped a lot. And by a remarkable coincidence, only a few months ago I discovered that one of my dearest friends in Rome, who has connected me with great people (and work) at the news agency ANSA, has been a patient of Ginevra for 20 years!

I mostly see Ginevra for refills on prescriptions. And it is always an interesting experience.

I'm not sure her medical office style is common in Italy and it's quite different from my general practioner in Canada! First, she doesn't appear to take appointments and has no secretary. She keeps daily office hours that are posted outside the building, so patients just show up.

The waiting room is about the size of a large bathroom; only 10 chairs, so it's very cozy. You must greet everyone politely and ask "Chi รจ l'ultima?" or, "who is last?" so you know who you'll follow. (My friend Anne-Marie told me once that an old wag replied to her question: "Who is last? You are!" Not helpful!)

Then, you wait. This is when it can be challenging because very often, a discussion group breaks out and everyone is expected to join in. This means you. Often, it's about fairly easy subjects, weather, viruses, where did you buy your shoes? But it can be stressful practicing Italian in a crowd where the whole room is watching and listening!

On the plus side, Ginevra brings a very personal touch - she seems to have known many of her patients for years, so there are often a lot of "caras" thrown about; and hugs and kisses as patients come and go. 

Anyway, now that I have my tessera sanitaria - my Italian health card - I receive the very complicated-looking prescriptions on a large pink form that looks like the computer printouts of the 1970s. But I don't care; with these, I pay very very little for my prescriptions. An asthma drug that was easily $200 Cdn is 3 euros here. Thank you public health care! And, just to be clear, Italian taxes are withdrawn from each of my paycheques, so I'm living completely cleanly - fiscally speaking!

The farmacia can be a challenge. For reasons that aren't clear to me, it can be very difficult to find my brand of asthma inhaler. Everyone knows its name and everyone seems to be continually out of stock. I often have to hit 5 or 6 different pharmacies to find one that has my Pulmaxan in stock - and next time I need some and return to the same place, they're out and the cycle begins again. This is how I fill my days, waiting in lines and hunting for medication!

Once, for a thrill, I tried the Vatican pharmacy. It's hidden inside the walls of Vatican city but I was allowed in with my pink prescription. I came to regret that. 

What a scene! First, I had to sign in at the Vatican gatehouse, which meant a queue to fill out a form and leave a piece of photo ID to get an entry pass. Once inside the pharmacy there must have been 100 people milling around! There were about 6 pharmacist serving Vatican staff, but only 1 pharmacist for non-staff, like me. And apparently everyone else. I drew the number 72 while they were serving number 6. 

I lost heart and left.


Trekcapri said...

Hi Sandra, your doctor sounds really wonderful and I love how she has such a familiar relationship with her patients. You gave me an instant visual describing the waiting room and conversations about shoes and viruses. I pay $10 US for my inhalers so what you pay is less. Health care seems a lot better in Italy. I don't blame you for leaving the Vatican with a line like that. Maybe next time when the wait is shorter that would be kind of cool.

Thanks so much for giving us an insight into how health care and things work in Italy. Have a wonderful weekend.

sandrac said...

Hello Kathy! Yes, so far health care in Italy has treated me very well. And I will try the Vatican pharmacy again some time to see if it's always as mad as it was that day!

Hope you're having a good week!

Annie said...

Wow! So interesting and your doctor sounds so cool. I like that it's so casual and informal.

Lucianne Poole said...

It sounds like your doctor is worth her weight in gold (or at least perscription forms). I like the idea of waiting-room discussions (a great way to practice your language skills, too!). In Ottawa, you're lucky if someone spares you a sympathetic look.

Anonymous said...

If my doctor were in a spot like that I might go more often!