29 November 2011

Socialized Healthcare? Per me, sì, grazie!

So, we went to the doctor last week to get “tickets” so we can get our eyes examined to renew our NYS drivers licenses and have V.’s shoulder checked out.  Our doctor doesn’t speak English, but he was very nice, sitting there in his white doctor coat, trying to get our family health history using a combination of Italian, French and English.

He handed us our tickets and a post-it with the free-phone number to make “reservations” for the exams.

I called the number last week.  First, I got a recorded message, then a live woman answered. 

In crappy Italian, I said, “Excuse me, I don’t speak Italian well.  Do you speak Engish?”

She answered, “Non ho capito.”  I don’t know if she meant that she didn’t understand English or she didn’t understand me.  I said, “OK. Thank you,” and hung up.

F. told us that we could also make reservations at the hospital.  We all agreed we might have better luck in person, handing over our papers to the person behind the window.

I checked the hospital’s website, which said their walk-in reservationists are available from 8:15a-1:15p and 3:15p-6:15p.

We got there at around 2p, thinking it might take us a while to find the office and that once we did, there might be a line of people waiting for them to re-open.  Because this is Italy, we found the office right away and it was open.

Outside the office was a ticket machine that dispensed numbers.  It looked like this:

The sign on the left says “take a number.” 
The sign on top of the machine says “closed” and one of the signs underneath, next to one of the buttons says “don’t touch.”

V.  and I looked from it to each other for a few minutes.  How do we take a number if it’s closed?  Maybe they’re not taking any more people today?  Maybe it reopens later?  Someone walked up in between us, pushed the button marked “prenotazioni”, took their number and walked in.  We did the same.

Twenty minutes later, our number came up on the board.  We handed over our health care cards as I, again, excused myself for speaking Italian badly.  The woman asked how long we’d been in italy, entered it into the computer with the other info from my ticket and asked for my phone number.  I read it off to her and went too fast.  She got one of the numbers wrong.  I repeated it.  V. kindly told her not to worry, that my accent is strange.  Apparently.

Ten minutes later, we left.  Me with an eye exam appointment for Wednesday, V. with an x-ray appointment for Today.  Each exam is under $40 (legally, none can cost more than ~$50) and two of them are happening within days.  The other two are in the next three weeks.

Today, we drove 45 minutes to another hospital for V.’s xray.  We could’ve gone to our hospital, but that would’ve meant waiting another two weeks.

We arrived at 9:30a for a 10:20a appointment, again thinking we might need some time to figure it all out.  There was one tiny visitor parking lot and it was full, so we parked on the road like everyone else.

There was no signage directing us anywhere, so we walked into what looked like a main door and found the signs for radiology and for payment.

While we were paying for the xray, the woman behind the window let loose with a stream of extremely fast Italian.  We told her we didn’t really speak Italian and she looked terribly scared and afraid until I turned to V. saying, “I think she said something about either coming back in 6 days for the results (which we then bring to our doctor) or paying €3 to have the results sent to us.”  it was my turn to be terribly scared and afraid, since I still haven’t mastered the phrases, “Can you repeat that? I'm not sure I understood.” 

V., typically non-plussed, asked her, “Posta?”

Gratefully, she said, “Sì.”

We headed down to radiology, stopped to check in, and V. was brought in by the very attentive technician who tried to understand what the problem was, what might have caused it and took the xray. 

We were out of there and it wasn’t even time yet for his appointment.

In the US, after paying into a system whether or not I used it, often waiting months for appointments, paying for each visit and portions of exams, then fighting with the insurance company that didn’t want to pay for a service that either my doctor or the medical community at large deemed necessary, I’ve got to say that socialized medicine (at least in our part of Italy) = not so bad, so far.

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