Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hilary's Cancer Fund Bleg

Or,

Further Exciting Adventures in Dealing With Italy.

You may have noticed the new thing on the sidebar...



I'm terribly embarrassed about it, but I've got a good excuse for brazenly begging my loyal readers for money.

I'll explain.

I'm home from the hospital from the first surgery and everything went well. I'm going to be holed up at home for a fair while yet and really can't do much of anything. This is the first time since I was four that I've had any surgery that involved taking anything out, and it's the first time I've ever had anything out that I was still using, so it's been a little nerve wracking. As I said, however, the initial examination of the lymph nodes was encouraging and now we just have to wait for the histological examination of my bits, and for me to get over surgery. Which is presenting challenges, not least financial.

Our little adventure getting to the farmacia today to get the medical stuff is a perfect example of why Italy drives everyone nuts, including the Italians.

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In order to be properly discharged from the hospital, you need to have a thing called a Lettera di dimissione, that gives all the details of everything they've done to you in relation to your illness, all the tests, results, procedures, medicines and surgeries. It's a very useful document and a Good Thing, that helps you understand and remember everything they've told you, and all the aftercare instructions and prescriptions. The one thing they can't do, however, is give you a prescription to take to the pharmacy. For that, you have to go see your medico di base, your public system GP. My regular GP in Rome, however, is private, so for things related to the Italian public medical system, I have to go to the doctor in Santa Marinella.

Aye, there's the rub. When did they release me from the hospital, you may well be asking? Why, naturally, at six pm on a Friday. Guess when the Santa Marinella doctors' office isn't open... Go ahead...guess...

I was to be sent home after having one last ultrasound to check how my kidneys were handling all the wear and tear. This was to happen "about 12:30 or 1". At 12:45, they brought in lunch (first meal since Monday night! Woot!). I ate it and waited.

Christopher got off work and came over to the hospital, and then we both waited. To give ourselves something to do, and as per medical instructions, we started taking slow little strolls up and down the hall to get things working again. Still terribly wobbly and weak though, so they were very slow strolls indeed. During one of these, about two pm, the nurse came to walk us to the ultrasound place, which really wasn't going to work. The Gemelli is a HUGE hospital and I could barely make it to the end of the hall, so a wheelchair was found and Chris pushed me. Which was fun.

(At the end of the ultrasound, when we were waiting for the nurse to come escort us back through the labyrinth, Chris popped out for a puff, and I amused myself by spinning around and around in the lobby of the waiting room...no one was looking.)

Ultrasound was the easiest and fastest part of the day, and when we got back, Chris stashed the wheelchair in the room, though he didn't tell me why. And we waited. And then we waited some more. I got dressed, and we packed up all the gear, very...very... slowly.

After an hour or two, a nurse came in carrying a sheaf of papers, and said in rapid-fire Italian...something neither of us caught a word of. After a few carefully managed blank looks from us, the nurse said, "Oh, sorry. I come back. Aspetta..."

She didn't come back.

At five thirty, I decided it was time to go home. I had called a friend who, providentially, had just sent me a note on Facebook offering a lift home from the hospital. (Thanks Samuel. And thanks Italian hospitals for having no rules against electronics... stupid Anglos! Stupid!) I levered myself carefully out of bed and hobbled down the hall to the doctor office and knocked.

"When can I go home?" The nurse, we explained, had not come back with the paperwork.

They looked annoyed, but produced the necessaries and gave us the instructions. I have to change dressings every day for the four holes they poked in my tummy, give myself a daily injection of something that will prevent thrombosis (holy crap! I have to do WHAT?! to prevent WHAT?!!) and a pill to control stomach acid.

But for these, one requires a prescription which you can't get from the doctors in the hospital (of COURSE not! what a silly idea! weird foreigners!). That has to come from your GP. Your public GP, not private. We found out later that they could have given me the drugs in the hospital for free, but of course, they didn't. Go figure.

You have to take the Lettera di dimissione to your public-system GP, get a ricetta bianca and take that to the farmacia. Facilissimo.

Back to the room, called Fabio who would be round to the main entrance in 20 minutes, said fond goodbyes to my nice young roommate (who also had cancer and had been having a dreadful time of it) and her mum who had been terribly nice to me; Chris pinched the wheelchair, loaded me into it, piled the luggage on top and we hightailed it out of there. I was home around eight.

At six thirty-five this morning, the birds were all yelling their heads off, the sea breeze was waving the palms and the sun shone mightily down, doing his best to make the billows smooth and bright, and my first thought was, "I have to give myself an injection."

Next thought: "Sure hope the Santa Marinella doctor's office keeps Saturday hours."

They don't.

My friend and I stood in front of the apartment calling all two of the taxi drivers in town, which is how we discovered that in Santa Marinella taxi drivers do not come when they are summoned. One was in Rome and the other in Civitavecchia. Would we like them to come tomorrow?

(Most small businesses are like that in Italy. They do not exist for the convenience of customers, but to keep oneself and often one's family, employed, so if you want their services, you have either to wait until they're ready or book a week ahead.)

I had just enough juice to get out of bed, put on some clothes and make it down the stairs. The doctor's office is about 3/4 of a mile down the road, and we don't know anyone in town with a car.

Today I learned that I really am sick, weak and unable to do things like walk 3/4 of a mile in the hot sun. After discovering the doctor's office was not going to be open until Monday, we went to the farmacia where I flopped into a chair (thanks again Samuel) and focused on not passing out.

My friend stood at the counter and explained the whole thing to the farmacia ("farm-a-chee-ya") lady. The drugs, she said, are quite expensive and we could get them for nothing if we went to the emergency room in the hospital in Civitavecchia. She also said she didn't know why the Gemelli hadn't given us at least enough to get through the weekend. Neither did we. My friend looked over to me, now shivering and growing increasingly pale, and said that Civi was out of the question.

Without a prescription, the drugs, gauze, sterile bandages, peroxide, goopy brown antiseptic stuff, tape and six doses of the nasty little pre-packaged syringes (I will need 20 in the end) came to... well, all my money. About 70 Euros.

I handed Isobel my wallet with a shrug. At that point, I just wanted to be unconscious. At least I would be lying down. And I no longer cared that I was out of milk.

Through yet another (thanks again Samuel) small miracle, and the S. Mar. ex-pat network, we found a friend of a friend who had rented a car that week to take his seriously pregnant wife to the hospital, who was able to zip out and drive us back home.

This brings me all the way back to the top of this post, to say, I could use a little help.

LifeSite has been incredibly generous, but we live by donations and it's not at all a bottomless well. While I am covered by public health insurance for all the big stuff, one of the problems has been all the little incidental expenses that keep adding in. For the PET, MRI and ultrasound scans, the bulk of the cost was covered, but there were fees that added up to about 200 Euros, and there are going to be more.

Between me, Christopher and other friends, we have run through at least that again in phone cards in the last couple of months. I don't know how it works elsewhere, but in Italy, every call you make costs by the minute and I have been topping up my cell phone about every week by 20 or 30 Euros. It has really drained us making calls around town to find rides, make appointments, and especially to try to reach the Gemelli oncology office (where there seems to be some rule against EVER answering the phone).

At some point our luck is going to run out with rides and I am going to have to shell out for a taxi home from the hospital, which is 60 miles, about 100 Euros. And as we discovered today, now that I'm actually getting treatments, there will be drugs and other medical things from the farmacia that are not covered on The System.

It never seems like much when you're doing it one little thing at a time, but...

So, I've reluctantly put a button to my Paypal account on the sidebar.

A lot of people have said they would love to help. Well, this is a simple way to do so.

Ten or twenty bucks from a few of you who can afford it would really go a long way to making things easier.

Call it an emergency taxi fund.

And thanks.

Thanks to everyone who has sent notes and prayed and helped. I really can't say how much it has all meant to me.

HJMW.

UPDATE:

Holy Cow! Thanks guys! In two hours people have sent in enough to cover today's pharmacy expenses. It's a great help, thank you again!



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