You can find out many things necessary to live life in Italy from expat websites. You can learn how to get the Codice Fiscale, necessary for obtaining everything from a cell phone to a car. You can get information about visas, stay permits, citizenship. You can find the best places to buy peanut butter and who might have barbecue sauce. You might find how to get a card for the healthcare system. You might not find how to navigate the health system with its tickets and receipts, clinics, hospitals and ambulatorio. And, unless you know a local, you will not know these two essentials:
First, once you’ve chosen your doctor, gotten your health card, visited your doctor and been given a ticket for lab tests, you can either go to the hospital to make a “reservation” for the blood and urine analyses or you may find that your Comune has a weekly ambulatorio. I’m not sure exactly how they would translate it, but it seems to me that both the phlebotomist and the phlebotomies are ambulatory, in that they all make their way to this one spot.
Our comune has one and it’s on Thursdays from 7:30a to 9a in a couple of rooms at the base of the town hall building. It is filled with old people and they’re all clutching narrow little boxes while trying to pretend that they don’t know that you were there before them as you all wait to register. There are no numbers to take, nor sign-in sheets. As at the butcher, the baker and the lottery ticket seller, you note upon entering who was there before you and figure out when it’s your turn. Old people are notorious for flouting the unspoken rule, pretending you don’t exist and cutting the “line”.
Turns out, when it’s your turn, the lady who’s going to take your blood greets you with one word. A question, really. “Urine?” which brings us to the second, and really, more important item.
Fortunately, I had been warned the day before.
“Ah, tomorrow you go for analysis?” F. asked. “You have your contenitore for the urine?”
“Container. I understand. But why I have to bring with me? They don’t give to you when they take your sangue?”
“No no. You catch from pharmacy. You use in the morning right after you wake up. More comfortable. Especially for woman.”
How could buying the cup from the farmacia, where almost everything you really need is kept behind the counter thus requiring ASKING THE PHARMACIST FOR IT in earshot of other customers and then CARRYING IT (FILLED!) to the analysis office be more comfortable?!
We went to the pharmacy, me cringing as each additional customer walked in behind us.
The nice German pharmacist looked from us to the woman who had walked in after us and right up to the counter as though we weren’t there.
“Prego,” the woman said, surprisingly.
“No, no!” I protested, really not wanting to bust out my shaky Italian to ask for a cup to pee in.
“Si, si. Prego!”
V. took charge and asked the nice German pharmacist for containers for analysis. In English.
It looked like this:
Oh dear lord. I was going to have to fill that vessel, clearly designed by a man? Well, at least I could do it in my own home (thanks, F!), indeed more comfortable when I invariably missed, had to drink more water and try again as V. encouraged me from beyond the door, his own contenitore safe, sound and filled, in his jacket pocket.
There was some satisfaction as I stood in the waiting room with the knowledge that everyone there, especially the little old ladies clutching their plastic-tube-filled cardboard boxes and pretending I hadn't arrived first, had done the exact same thing. And I was able to hand mine over, triumphant, when requested.
Good thing, too. I don’t remember seeing a bathroom in the offices of the ambulatorio.