I have had personal real-life experience with it, that’s why.

I spent a summer in Italy. I got very sick. Twice. So I’ve got two stories.

The first time I went to the emergency room in Florence on a Saturday afternoon. There was nobody in the waiting area.

Let me say that again. It was a Saturday afternoon in summer, in a tourist-packed city in Europe, and there was nobody in the emergency room. Yeah, I thought it was curious.

I was greeted warmly and taken to an exam room immediately. A nurse and a technician ascertained my condition and then a doctor looked me over, had the nurse weigh me and take some blood, and then I waited about an hour for the blood test results until the doctor came back and sent me on my way with a prescription and directions to the nearest pharmacy.

Nobody gave me a bill or had me sign anything. The only form I filled out asked for my name and address and the name of my physician, and I was given that after I had been seen.

There was still nobody in the waiting room when I was leaving. The place was not under construction, not hard to find, did not appear closed; in fact it had the usual red neon sign directing people in.

You can draw your own conclusions. I’ve been there. I’ve got an opinion.

The other time I was far more ill and in a smaller town. Luckily the town was home to the regional hospital. I had a friend walk with me to the emergency room. When we arrived we were immediately greeted by two people at the door and whisked right in to a treatment room. Can you even imagine?

I was admitted to the hospital and stayed a week. All sorts of tests were run to figure out what was wrong – the same tests that would be run here. Lab work, MRI, EKG, EEG. Medications and IVs. You name it, they had it, and they used it. And they did not let me leave until they were sure I was okay. I felt better after a couple of days, but they wanted me strong and healthy, so they kept me there to get well.

Some things were definitely different. The hospital did not supply things like patient clothes and slippers and stuff like that. Families supplied those to their loved ones. I was there alone, so my roommate’s family ‘adopted’ me and brought me things. Well, who really likes those open-backed paper-thin hospital gowns and gooey blue socks anyway?

Meals were different, too. Breakfast was a simple coffee and biscotti affair. Lunch was a huge meal, and some of the best food I ever tasted in my life. The midday meal always included a full loaf of freshly baked bread, with the expectation that one would save half the loaf to have with dinner which was a much smaller meal later in the evening.

Nights were very quiet on the ward and the nursing staff was pretty much a skeleton crew of maybe four – two men and two women – who spent much of the night dozing in cots behind the nurse’s station. (Did I mention the ward was segregated? Women on one side and men on the other, with matching nurses). Lights were dimmed in the corridors and all was as quiet as the beautiful countryside. The windows opened. The cool fragrant air came in. It was very restful.

I had a follow up appointment with the doctor at the hospital. He examined me in his office then we had lunch in the cafeteria with one of the nurses from my ward.

There was no charge for any of this. I asked if it was because I was a foreigner. No. I asked if it was because I was an American. No. I asked if it was because I was a student. No. Nobody gets a bill from the hospital. I asked how can this be? It just is.

When I was discharged, it was like leaving family. There was a lot of hugging and crying and promises to visit and stay in touch. And we did, for a while. I saw my roommate again. She introduced me to her son, a soldier in the Italian army. I ran into another one of the nurses in a restaurant somewhere in Tuscany and we had pizza.

Well that’s just one girl’s experience with socialized medicine. Don’t get me started on my experiences dealing with the bureaucracy we call health care in this country. It makes my stomach hurt.

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Tags: Care, Doctor, Emergency, Health, Hospital, Illness, Italy, Medicine, Nurse, Reform, More…Room, Socialized, Tuscany


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