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The Roman Holiday from Hell

Author: LSKahn
Date of Trip: December 2011

When you travel a lot, sometimes a trip is the trip from hell. Such was my recent home exchange in Rome.

No, it wasn’t the apartment I exchanged for. It wasn’t the girlfriend I traveled with (I have had some problems with traveling partners before but this friend is the best person I know to travel with me). I had done my research and I had been to Rome several times before. I looked forward to seeing the old sites with my girlfriend and some new places as well.

It was not to be.

We arrived in Rome on December 4, 2011, and immediately headed for the Borghese Gardens. We walked around the lovely gardens and took photos. There were some fantastic chocolate sellers there in the run up to Christmas and, of course, we bought some. We also took some photos of the usual crowd on the Spanish Steps and waled by some of the upscale boutiques. It was the only day we had before disaster struck.

On December 5, 2011, we were walking toward the Trevi Fountain when I slipped and fell. I was immediately in excruciating pain. I thought maybe I dislocated my shoulder. I should have been so lucky. I shattered the humerus (upper arm bone). It took 7 minutes for the ambulance to come. It seemed like a lifetime. I was taken to the hospital on the island in the Tiber (near the ghetto area). I didn’t know where I’d been until my girlfriend showed me photos she had taken. I was totally focused on the pain.

The way Italian socialized medicine works is that you go wherever there is a bed. I was bandaged up at the first place, but, after I told my girlfriend to go and enjoy room without me and get out of the hospital, they moved me. My girlfriend had the cell phone. I didn’t have one having left mine in the US for my exchangers (we traded phones in the exchange). I did not have the number of the phone either. What to do? I emailed my girlfriend and that is how I was able to tell her where I was, the phone number, etc. If that had not worked, I would have called the American Embassy to give them the information in case my girlfriend called there.

The Italian hospital (Vaninni in Eastern Rome) had no internet but one of the kind doctors gave me his smartphone and that is how I did email. Apparently the entire Italian hospital lacks internet connections.

I spent 6 days in the hospital. I had surgery there to put a rod and pins in my left arm to set the fracture. Italian medicine is very conservative and I had a hard time convincing them to release me. I think if I had been traveling alone I would not have been released until the day before my flight. I ended up lying about the the date of the flight to get released. In the US I probably would have spent only 2-3 days in the hospital at most.

I did receive very good care but only managed one day of excruciatingly slow sightseeing after being released because I was just so exhausted and in constant pain. We made it down to the Pantheon and Piazza Navonna. After that, I spent the rest of my “vacation” in bed. I just couldn’t summon up the energy. I did make sure my girlfriend went to the the usual places. She saw the Forum, the Colosseum, Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s, Scavi tour, and Ostia Antica without me. It was better to let her see those things solo than to have me be a drag on everything. We had one good pasta dinner off Piazza Navonna, but, for food, mostly my girlfriend just bought back food from the market downstairs. We did manage the coffee shop near the apartment as well.

The most important thing I learned from all of this is is that, when disaster strikes, not to lose your head. I never bought that traveler evacuation insurance but I will purchase it now (I was not about to be evacuated anywhere until my arm was set because there was too much pain to even consider that as an option). If this accident had to happen, Italy is a good place as medical care is free there. In the US, for something like this, the hospital would not turn away the initial ER visit, but I wonder if they would operate; probably not.

I made it back after a flight across the Atlantic that never seemed to end and went to an orthopedist for after care 2 days later. I was told that the arm was not set the way they would have done it, but the arm is healing and that is all I care about. If there are problems, we can deal with them in due course. Overall, I thought the medical care was excellent but the whole experience was different from an American hospital (You are expected, for example to bring your own clothes, soap, shampoo, toilet paper, napkins for eating, etc. By the time I figured it out, I was discharged).

It is not an experience that I would recommend to anyone. It was truly the vacation from hell, but I survived.

One good thing: I got upgraded to economy plus on the plane. I wanted to pay for an upgrade for my girlfriend but every seat was taken because, on December 17th, when we flew home, there were no empty seats. Due to the pain, I was afraid of passing out on the plane and not being allowed to fly. I was in a harness to keep the arm stable.

My souvenirs: Two different arm harnesses (The first one was impossible complicated and I could not put it on myself so I bought another) and one calendar for 2012. I hope my next trip is better than my Roman Holiday.

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