Socialized Medicine

I’ve had a few people ask me how things went with my medicine after the robbery. So you won’t be kept in a state of suspense while I give you the long dissertation – the short answer is: darn good.

For those with more patience — here’s the dissertation:

As with most “problems”, the real stumbling block was language. Getting robbed is scary, and then not knowing how to ask the right questions or understand the answers in Italian makes it even worse. So I spent my first couple of days acting like the deer in the headlights: “I’ll just sit here in the middle of the road and hope the car avoids me.” But even in that catatonic state, I realized that my limited supply of medicine was about to run out and I’d best get my rear in gear and move off the road.

I take 5 prescription drugs. Three I would describe as “flying under the radar”. If they aren’t working, I’d never notice the difference, though my doctor would when he looked at the blood results. The other two I would call “life threatening” in that without them, I’d be threatening to jump off a bridge and end it all. One of these is thyroid medicine, and anyone out there with a sluggish thyroid will know what I’m talking about. The other is a hormone, and it’s difficult to say whether this or the thyroid is responsible for my normally easy-going demeanor – but let’s just say that you don’t want to be around me when I’m low on either.

One of my brilliant friends (and I regret to say that I can’t remember which one it was….but if you’ll raise your hand, I’ll give you credit in a future blog) suggested I just take my list to the pharmacist – something I NEVER would have thought of on my own in that deer-like state of mind. It turned out that the 3 “under radar” AND the thyroid medicine could be easily purchased over the counter here.

Unfortunately, the all-important hormone did not fall into this category. The pharmacist said I would have to go to a doctor and get a prescription. None of my friends had an English-speaking doctor. My friend Liz called her doctor to see if he could give me a prescription. He couldn’t, but he suggested I go to the local hospital’s emergency room.

Now in the US, a trip to the ER is something to be avoided at all costs. It will entail more questioning than they subject prisoners at Guantanamo to, and though you’ll probably end up being there only 9 or 10 hours, it will seem a lot longer.

But Liz assured me that it wasn’t like that here. You see, with Socialized Medicine everyone must have a primary care doctor to whom they go for their problems instead of waiting until things get so horrible that they end up in the emergency room. I didn’t believe her, but indeed, the ER turned out to be the most peaceful place in the hospital……even more peaceful than the very pleasant bar in the lobby where you can get coffee or wine.

Anyway – in my elementary Italian, I told them my problem, and they scribbled something on a piece of paper, which I took back to the pharmacy, where they gave me the bad news. Evidently the ER guy just copied the name that I gave him, not taking into account that they don’t sell that drug in all of Italy, and haven’t since 2000. I was quite upset at this point, but not wanting to start sobbing right there at the counter, I hurriedly left so I could start sobbing outside. The Fates obviously took pity on me at that exact moment, because my friend Kip came around the corner and seeing my smeared eye make-up, realized something was wrong. I told him my problem, and he then asked the question that has perhaps changed my life forever. It was: “Do you have an American Express card?”

I don’t even have a fancy one. Instead of gold or platinum or whatever is an even more precious metal — I have just plain plastic. But they couldn’t have been nicer, nor more helpful. They said they would call me back….and they did!!! They have an English-speaking doctor in Rome who acts as their consultant, with whom we had a 3-way conversation. He asked medical questions, I gave patient-type answers, we exchanged cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses, he sent me an e-mail prescription for a substitute which was accepted by the pharmacy, both the doctor and American Express contacted me later to make sure everything had worked out….and I was happier than I had been since just before we’d discovered the robbery.

Now – if you’ve stayed with me this long, I’m betting you want to know what the bottom line is… know…..dollars and cents. If we just take drug cost against drug cost for 160 days, Italy is $117.49 versus the US’s $216.89. But that doesn’t really tell the story. The reason the US is as low as it is, is that I pay monthly for drug insurance, and if we’re going to be fair, we should add that 5-month cost of $337, for a total of $553.89.

The only downside I’ve seen so far is that all of their pills come in boxes with those pesky individual aluminum foil-backed blister packs instead of plastic bottles, and each one contains a different number of pills. One’s 20, the next 24, then 28 and the thyroid takes the prize with 50. Will they work as well as what I get at home? Well….if you see me up on the bridge railing, you’ll know the answer is no. On the other hand, if I cheerfully offer to buy you an aperitivo, you’ll know I’m doing it with all that money I saved benefitting from Italy’s socialized medicine.

As for American Express? They weren’t just kidding when they said: “Don’t leave home without it”!!!!


2 thoughts on “Socialized Medicine

  1. Hmm. Must get American Express card. And this — “even more peaceful that the very pleasant bar in the lobby where you can get coffee or wine” — reinforces yet again why you love Italy.


  2. Just one more wonderful thing about having an Amex card. Goes a long way to countering the fact that it is always the most expensive card to use and many places don’t even take it. Did the pharmacy? It is also interesting that four out of five meds that the FDA deems prescription worthy are over the counter in Italy (and I bet in the rest of Europe). Hmmm….

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