oes Spoleto even have a 911 number? I pondered that recently at 2 a.m. when I awoke with sharp pains between my shoulder blades. It was unsettling to realize I didn’t know.
Funny how invincible I feel as I fly off to foreign destinations, my trusty backpack holding my passport, my travel insurance policy, and little else. Maybe I think of myself as a superwoman whose only threat to life and limb is kryptonite.
It’s not as if I haven’t had foreign medical emergencies. I fell off a table in Turkey while showing friends how young and agile I was. I just took it a whirling dervish too far and the table went. In mid-whirl I recall wondering if there might be a hospital close by.
There wasn’t. The nearest was a two-hour drive. That allowed me to sober up before speaking to the hospital translator, followed by Propofol for my ankle surgery. They threw in the crutches for free. If you haven’t perfected your whirling skills or the ability to drink copious amounts of raki, I recommend avoiding Turkey as your next destination, medically speaking.
So, back to Spoleto and the wakeup call: I lay in bed contemplating what a heart attack felt like and what to do with no cell phone, no neighbors who spoke English (which didn’t matter anyway since they were probably finishing their grappa at the restaurant down the street), and how anyone would get a stretcher to the third floor.
The fact that I’m Superwoman (or in this instant Wonder Woman, as in wondering what to do next) came in handy. I began drawing upon my supernatural strengths. I devised a cunning plan. Since the Spoleto hospital was only a few blocks away, I just needed to walk myself to the emergency room.
Step one was in place. Step two: take a shower, shave legs and shampoo hair. I did this routine giving birth twice and it worked well. One can never be too clean or smell too good when writhing in pain.
Back in bed and relieved that I hadn’t died naked in the shower, I decided to Google my symptoms and see if I might change the diagnosis to something less frightening than coronary thrombosis. The best I could come up with were liver cancer or a gall bladder attack. When Google suggests you get yourself to an emergency room, you listen.
When I first arrived in Spoleto I was told the hospital didn’t have a translator but that the hospital food was delicious and they served wine with the evening meal. I imagined a post-op stay from open-heart surgery. The thought of lasagna (no horsemeat added, thank you) and the excellent hospital red offered up by the critical care unit sounded like the vacation I’d been hoping for.
I laid out my hospital outfit, picking my least favorite blouse in case I collapsed in the lobby and they had to cut it off. It was at that moment that I figured out how to overcome the language hurdle. I needed to draw take the black marker from my passport pouch and draw a circle around my heart. If they cut away my blouse they’d see just where it was. Or, if conscious, I could play show-and-tell with the admitting nurse. As I drew the heart shaped diagnosis between my breasts and gave thanks that I wasn’t experiencing a gynecological issue.
I wrote a quick last will and testament directing my heirs to have me buried at the lovely cemetery in Spoleto. I included an apology for obliging them to come to Italy to pick out the appropriate shrine. I placed a note on the dining room table for my landlord and stepped out into the 3 a.m. Spoleto air.
I walked slowly and carefully, enjoying what would most likely be my final night on earth. I thought how my two daughters would love this endgame story. “Hey remember that night Mom died in Italy?” They love to travel so in a way this would be my parting gift to them.
Suddenly I began emitting… arias, but not the kind sung in opera houses. The most eloquent one came just as I reached the double doors of the emergency room. It sounded like a tuba blast. And after the blast my inner pain was gone.
I suddenly remembered the large bowl of farro I’d had for dinner. It all made sense. I smiled at the nurse, turned around, and left.
I had clearly experienced a medical miracle. My travel insurance people would be thrilled! Ah Umbria, lands of beans, vegetables, chest pains, and… opera. Too bad the hospital didn’t have any of its red wine handy.