A Stitch in Time

It took them 45 seconds and 3 hours to take off my one stitch.

I was in the A&E of Orbetello hospital to remove a stitch on my left eyelid, done back in Geneva. We were on holiday in Tuscany and I had to have the stitch removed before heading back home. We were advised by local friends that the best course of action was to visit the A&E, known here as “Pronto Soccorso” and this was where the adventure began.

The first challenge was to register. The COVID-19 situation did not help with all the numerous constraints and routing that it implied. The obnoxious paramedic who welcomed us and whose reply to my “non parlo italiano” was to speak faster and with more words, did not help either. The registration of a foreigner into the Italian healthcare system required the collective brainpower of all present. My Swiss ID was turned over a hundred times in all dimensions. It was scanned by a bar-code reader to no avail. At one point there were no fewer than 4 white-clad healthcare workers staring inquisitively at a monitor trying to make sense of what it was displaying. And this is at the Emergency section of a hospital. I’m guessing that it was a quiet day. They finally figured something out, made me sign a bunch of papers and I was the proud wearer of an Orbetello Hospital wrist band with all my details correctly printed. All this only took 20 minutes. But that was just the Prelude. Act II was about to start. 

I was directed to the Waiting Room, where there were 3 other patients. I figured A&E waiting rooms were not known for speed and efficiency and I wanted to warn Corinne, who was waiting patiently by the car thinking she would see me half an hour later, that there was no point waiting for me at the hospital. Unfortunately I had very poor phone reception and I needed to leave the room, just on the other side of the sliding doors, to be able to send the message. This was much to the consternation of the original paramedic, who this time gestured to me to go back illico presto to the Waiting Room as he didn’t want me to contaminate his foyer.

I settled for a long wait, but figured that since it was only for a stitch removal they might be able to quickly squeeze me in between two patients. Two hours later they had called only one patient. At this rate I could be here all night. All this to remove one stitch? I lost my patience and was seriously thinking of leaving. I felt so lucky that I didn’t have something more serious. But the longer you wait, the more difficult it is to leave as you feel so much time would have been wasted. So I went back to the “registration office” and asked the person who registered me how much longer did he reckon I would need to wait to remove one stitch. He disappeared behind the scenes for a few seconds, and came back to tell me “10 minutes”. At that point I had conflicting thoughts running through my head. On the one hand, I was relieved that the waiting was about to end, but on the other, I was thinking I should have really complained a lot sooner. 

10 minutes turned to half an hour (I believe Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity said something about time running slower in Italy — something to do with being closer to the Equator). I went back to complain to the same gentleman and this time he told me to follow him inside into the inner sanctum. It seems you need to complain twice to get service. This was where I was expecting to see harried healthcare workers scurrying left and right with serious looks on their masked faces, amongst patients with tubes sticking out of them, surrounded by medical equipment emitting a regular “beep, beep”. It was not to be. I found 4 healthcare workers chatting amongst themselves with a few patients lying in beds. A sense of urgency was not exactly pervading the air. One of them showed me an empty bed to lie down on, upon which he proceeded to remove my stitch, not without some effort. And that was it. I waited two and a half hours for this? He couldn’t have interrupted his chatting a little sooner?

Of course the story does not end there, as it has an Act III, “The Payment”. I was directed by a doctor (who printed out my invoice), to a couple of counters further along through the doors, turn left, follow corridor, next to Radiology. (I’m not sure why a doctor was needed to print an invoice, but this could explain why Medicine is such a long study). It was hard to miss the counters as there were a number of people waiting their turn to pay. Goodness, I thought, another Waiting Session. Luckily, there was a system of numbering so there wouldn’t be a mad rush to a free counter. I took my number and found there were 7 before me. I did have a moment of panic when the number on display did not increment with the next customer, and I was wondering whether the system was actually working. But this turned out to be only a glitch and I waited for my turn. The man at the counter asked to see my Italian health card and I thought I was in for another session of “how to invoice a foreigner”. But fortunately he worked it out quickly enough and I paid my dues, and I had to restrain myself from running out of the hospital. Never had the sight of an open-air car park and exhaust-fuming cars been so welcoming. And the best part of all? Taking off that surgical mask. My respect to all who are obliged to wear it for long hours.

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