Experiencing all of Italy, not just what you find in the travel books…
With being a member of a military family and having a military hospital on base who would have ever thought I would have the opportunity to be a guest in an Italian hospital? Not I. In fact, that is exactly what happened on April 17.
Back in Alexandria, as I completed all my physicals in order to get a medical clearance to travel to Italy, the doctor is required to ask all kinds of questions. One set of questions led to the revelation that perhaps I may have some sort of a sleeping problem and she advised that once I got to base I should take advantage of the facility and have that checked out. Since giving birth to Ben, I began snoring and according to Rob, there are moments that I wake myself up and fall back to sleep. As a result, I wasn’t always feeling well rested, and obviously I wasn’t helping Rob feel well rested either since my snoring was keeping him awake. As most mothers can identify with, making appointments like this are easy to put on the back burner, right? I mean, I wasn’t in excruciating pain and there was always something more important to do. Well, I finally got around to making my initial appointment. I have an amazing doctor here and she made a checklist of all the potential sources of my sleep deprivation: weight gain, diet (caffeine intake etc.), allergies, or even early onset of diabetes. So she created a list of tests that we could look into in order to get to the source. She also ordered a “sleep study”. I was to call the appointment line and schedule a sleep study.
Like everything else in the military, an appointment for a sleep study takes time. I finally got my appointment and it was for a month out. With our Spring Break trip to Greece coming up, this was actually a good thing. I was to report to the base hospital at 2 PM and I would be finished around 10 AM the next morning. Rob would come home a little early to get Ben from the bus, see him off in the morning and I would be home by the time Ben came home from school the next day. So the day I was to report to my sleep study appointment, we were set.
Except we weren’t.
Rob got orders to go on a Temporary Duty Assignment (TDY) to Sarajevo and he would leave at 6 AM the next morning, before he could put Ben on the bus. We found this out hours before I was to be at the hospital. We’re a military family, we are totally flexible, we are used to last minute chaos, right? Of course we are. So instead of planning out what I would need to take to the hospital, I spent the morning running around packing a bag for Ben to drop off at a Aaron’s who lives on base and whose parents was so wonderful they agreed to make sure he got his homework done and get him to school the next day. Realizing, I should probably have something to stave off the boredom of sitting by myself in a hospital room, I grabbed one of our laptops, my iPod, and a book. Two bags in hands, one for Ben and one for me, I was off!
I dropped off the bag at Aaron’s house and reported to the hospital as scheduled. Upon arrival, I was told to keep my things as I was going to follow my escort in his car to the facility. He had all of my paperwork and he would get everything set up.
“Oh, okay,” they must be taking me to Capo (another one of our facilities) I think to myself.
As we drive out of the base, I realize we aren’t going into the direction of Capo. Before we know it, I am driving into a wall. Okay, I didn’t actually drive into a wall, but the car in front of me, appears to have literally driven and disappeared into a building. That is how small the space was for cars to drive through and park in the courtyard. I swear, I might as well have closed my eyes and prayed, which is basically what I did with about one inch on either side of my car. I don’t know how these people do it!
Great God Almighty, somehow I parked unscathed.
I followed my escort into what was clearly NOT an American base facility. The most my escort could get out after speaking to the people at the check -in desk in his rudimentary English was that they would lead me to a room, get me when they were ready to “hook me up” (whatever that means), bring me back to my room for dinner and then I would sleep and leave in the morning.
I asked when they would be coming to get me and he said around 5:30 PM…and then he left.
SO here I am at approximately 2:30 PM and someone would be coming for me around 5:30 PM?! What the heck was I supposed to do until 5:30 PM?! I was taken to my room that consisted of two beds, neither of which reclined like the cool hospital beds in the states to facilitate good ‘ol television watching. There were two twin beds, a TV (with only Italian programming, which while entertaining for the first couple hours is not going to do the trick here), and a bathroom that was simply a sink and a toilet (that will be important later).
So I set down my bags, thinking, “Thank God I brought my electronics!” I took out my iPod hoping to browse Facebook or email for a little while (that’ll kill sometime). Nope. No WiFi. Hmm. No problem, I’ll use my phone. Nope. The signal was so poor I had to stand at the window in order to get any reception. Hmm. Whew, good thing I brought my laptop, there are tons of things I can work on there! Oh God, this isn’t my laptop! I brought Rob’s laptop! Oh my gosh, I brought Rob’s laptop! He’s going to kill me, especially since he leaves tomorrow at 6 AM to Sarajevo, and who knows I’m just spit-balling here, but I’m thinking he might need his laptop. Okay, so I’ll need to let him know to grab my laptop and take that, but meanwhile it occurs to me that this is the laptop he had in Afghanistan so surely there is lots of cool stuff to watch that will help me kill time, right? So I power it up, find the video libraries, and there is just one folder. Seriously, one folder? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, for the next 8 hours or so to kill time, all I had was Season 7 of none other than…South Park. Seriously? Just shoot me now.
So I call Rob, let him know what’s going on. He thinks that the fact that all I have to watch is South Park, the one show I loathe is hysterically funny, and only perfect justice for the fact that I took his laptop. I give him the low down of what is going on and we agree to try calling each other a little later.
At 5:15 PM, an orderly comes in who speaks no English whatsoever, leaving it all up to me with my rudimentary Italian to get all the information necessary for my medical procedure. Needless to say, the butterflies in my stomach far outweighed the confidence in my Italian but we seemed to understand each other okay. Now, differently than American hospitals where the nurse comes into your room and hooks you up to whatever you need; Italian hospitals take you from your room and hook you up to an IV, or transmitters, or machines that record your vitals in one central location. So I was brought down to a hallway (waiting area, if you will, lined with chairs) filled with people waiting to get hooked up to whatever they needed. There was this adorable little old Italian woman sitting next to me among many others. She smiled at me, I smiled back. Then they called my name.
I went in to find all kinds of wires and connectors laid out on this table along with a little plastic tub that read “glue” (in English). Think Noxema or body lotion, that was the type of container. They (the nurse who had come to retrieve me and some female nurse) were going to connect these wires to my body, they would send me back to my room, I would eat dinner, and then at 11 PM, everything would turn on so I would need to turn off all electronics so as not to interfere with whatever these wires were doing–at least that is what I was able to gather with my handle of the Italian language (so here’s to hopin’). I followed the nurse’s hands as he dipped his fingers into this goop and applied it to my temples, my forehead, my chin, and chest. To each mound of goop he attached a transmitter of sorts. I asked them how you say “robot” in Italian, and they both laughed as they explained it was the same word in Italian. Then, there was this back and forth discussion that I didn’t understand. The male nurse kept showing the other nurse this diagram they had been following in order to determine placement of the transmitters. Apparently, one of them was supposed to go on the crown of my head. He looked at me and said what I believed to be the word for “shave”. Oh my God, they are going to shave a little patch of hair on the top of my head!! My eyes must have been the size of golf balls because they both started laughing at me. He explained that he was kidding. They parted my hair and put an extra helping of this goop and attached the final transmitter. Just as they were doing this, a man came into the room. He was the doctor who would be conducting the procedure and he spoke fluent English. The nurse looked worried, he spoke very fast Italian and I caught very little of it. The doctor explained the nurse’s concerns and asked if I understood what was going on. I explained what I thought I had understood and as it turns out I’m not doing so bad with this Italian stuff. The doctor gave me a sheet of paper that is to serve as a sort of log. I am to write down anything that disturbs my sleep that will likely cause an anomaly in my sleep patterns, like for example going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. That was that. So, I was set to return to my room.
As they opened the door, the same little old lady was still sitting there. Since I couldn’t see what I looked like, I can only assume it was scary based on her reaction that consisted of enlarged eyes, a very loud gasp followed by, “Ayyy Mamma Mia” and the sign of the cross. Later I would take a picture to send to Rob that would explain this woman’s reaction. She must have been freaked out at how I went in looking normal and came out looking like Frankenstein.
So, I returned to my room to continue watching South Park and approximately 30 minutes later my dinner arrived that frankly would have been enough food to feed a football team. If you have ever seen the rectangular tubs that busboys use when they are retrieving dishes from a table, that is what my meal came in. Not on a tray like we are accustomed, no no no, I got a tub of dinner. For dinner I received a behemoth bowl of pasta with meat sauce, three pieces of some kind of meat slathered in tomato sauce (because after all we are in Italy), a salad, two kiwis, and a bottled water. I ate about 1/4 of what they gave me and returned to my South Park viewing…sigh!
When I had my fill of Cartman, Kyle, Kenny and Stan (which wasn’t long I promise you), I played a few games on my iPod read several chapters in my book, and finally lay down. Somewhere around 1 AM I turned over and noticed that all the connectors were lit so it must be working properly. Around 2 AM, I went to the bathroom and diligently took notes as instructed. And at 4 AM, my cell phone rang full blast. Heart racing, I jump up from bed and look at my phone. ROB, I read on my caller ID. Seriously? Sleep study here, right? I answer the phone.
“Hello,” I whisper, barely conscious.
“Rob, is that you,” I whisper.
Oh my god, my husband just butt called me during a sleep study! Really?
Okay, let’s try to fall back asleep. If you know me at all, you would realize that I am not really good at doing this, but I try. I can’t even imagine what my heart rate was doing with that. I must have finally drifted back to sleep, because I woke again around 6 AM and couldn’t fall back asleep. So I added my 4 AM “butt call” from my lovely husband to my log sheet, read a little longer, and at 6:30 AM my nurse came in to detach me from all my wires. Most of them were uneventful, but I have to admit the one on the top of my head was less than pleasurable. While he is doing this, another nurse comes in and asks what kind of coffee I would like.
When I tell her cappuccino, she looks at the nurse and says in Italian, “Of course, Cappuccino for the American.”
My nurse finishes taking off all of my wires and tells me I will probably want to wash my hair because of all that goop they put in it. He takes my log sheet, glances at it and quizzically looks at me. I already know before he asks. I explain that my husband called and though I don’t know why, I think it was a butt call. Yeah, try explaining THAT in another language! Ironically, I think he understood, laughed, and shook his head. He said, “Ciao” and left.
Taking a shower sounds just like what the doctor ordered, until it occurs to me…I don’t have a shower! Well, isn’t this going to be interesting? I mean obviously I could wait on a shower until I got home but I absolutely needed to wash my hair, so I stick my head into the sink that I assure you was never designed for hair washing based on its size and the fact that I bumped my head repeatedly just trying to pull my head out of the sink.
Just as I am finishing up, I hear someone enter the room and announce, “colazione,” which means breakfast in Italian. For one moment I must have forgotten where I was and that Italians don’t really “do” breakfast. So, I came out to a carafe of coffee and a little packet of miniature toast and one packet of jelly. Wow. THIS is my breakfast? Yes, yes it is, because you are in Italy my friend. So I jelly up my little morsel of toast and drink my coffee, get dressed and find my car to have completed one of my most memorable adventures in Italy.