Roman ER on the Itinerary? Fear Not.

this memory from July 2012 popped up on my Facebook feed this morning, and it seemed a good time to share it again. 

Italian kidney stones are less expensive than American ones. This is how I know:

On our second day in Rome, my husband started writhing on the floor of our hotel room in agony. We initially assumed he had strained his back, and I was overwhelmed with guilt since he had carried my bag as well as his (it was small! I swear!). But then we figured out it must be a kidney stone. He has never had a kidney stone. Apparently Italy is as good a place as any to have your first one.

So off I went in search of narcotics in Rome on a hot Sunday morning.

Times like this, it is good to travel with friends. The Schauers whisked our children away to tour every Roman ruin in sight while I repeated the “for better or for worse mantra” over and over in my head.

Here is a little known fact about Roman pharmacies: they are all closed on Sunday morning. At least the ones within a mile of our hotel were. I returned to the hotel room narcotic-less, much to my husband’s dismay. He had now been writhing in pain for about four hours. Agony does not to begin to describe his condition.

When I imagined touring Rome, I imagined touring the Coliseum, the Forum, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, with several stops along the way for cappuccino and a gelato. The Roman Emergency Room was not on my list. But it became clear that would be our next stop.

The taxi dropped us off at the door and zoomed off.

There was no wait. Because everyone in Italy has access to healthcare, no one was there with a cold or a hangnail, waiting for hours to be seen, then sent to collections for a bill they could never begin to pay.

We rang a little bell, and out popped a provider who took a brief history, did a brief physical exam in which Nat ran away from her when she tried to thump on his left flank (inflamed, hydronephrotic kidney located there), then showed me to the waiting room and took him back for further evaluation.

Evaluation included a urinalysis, some blood work, and a renal ultrasound (done by the radiologist himself, not a tech) which confirmed that he did indeed have a kidney stone, and he received IV fluids and toradol resulting in immediate relief. Ninety minutes later, he was dancing down the hall, insisting that we tour the Coliseum, the Forum, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, stopping along the way for a couple of cappuccinos and a gelato.

But our first stop was a little shop down the street so that he could buy his new ER buddies a couple of boxes of chocolate because when he asked about the bill for the excellent care he received, they laughed and said “there is no bill for this!.”

Nat and I fully understand that there are some drawbacks to socialized medicine, but as patient and patient spouse last Sunday, we became fans. As we toured Rome, we did not come across any physicians begging for Euros on street corners and wondering how they were going to feed their family that night. It is true that the Italian economy is not in great shape… but last time I looked, neither is ours, and healthcare bills remain the number one cause of bankruptcy and misery for families in our country.

I have a friend whose daughter recently suffered a complicated course of kidney stones (to be fair, much more complicated than Nat’s). Last I checked, the bill was nearing $100,000. Fortunately, she remains on her mother’s health insurance because of Obamacare. Another friend recently had knee surgery and spent one night at the hospital. She recently received her bill: $70,000.

We liked our bill better.

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2 thoughts on “Roman ER on the Itinerary? Fear Not.

  1. You have a new fan! I am Charlie Greer’s Aunt, Frank’s older sister. Dana sent me a few of your posts and I am thrilled to read your wonderful thoughts! My mother and I both printed out your perfect musings on why many of us were devastated in November – ugh. And it continues to get worse. We are also travelling to Italy in September, so I hope we won’t be visiting the hospital, but perhaps we’ll think of some small medical procedure we can have while there, between wine tastings and sight seeing:-)
    Thank you for your blog, and for your lovely daughter!


    1. Lynn–thanks for your kind words! I do worry about offending people sometimes (but I do it anyway;). I found it was really hard to write anything at all for awhile after November, but we keep on keeping on and doing the small things in a big way, as Justin Trudeau suggests! We love the Greers, and it’s nice to know another one. Have a wonderful trip to Italy. We advised having gelato at least three times a day while there.


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