Walking as I ususally do on a Monday afternoon, gingerly up from Via Peschiere Vechie in my adopted town of Bologna where I had just picked up my weekly supply of cheese and thinly-sliced salumi, as per my Italian head-of-household job description, I felt a strange sensation wash over me as I approached the car, where Gina was waiting. I turned around and could have sworn I was seeing the city fold back on top of me, inception-style. I felt SO dizzy, I nearly fell over. As I got into the car and told my loving wife, the world kept turning faster and faster. Not enough sugar in my system? Impossible. Walking too fast in the cold? I don’t see how. The freaky think is that I felt no pain, anywhere. Prone as I am to Ophthalmic Migraines, which blur my vision for an hour before slamming into a pounding headache that can last for twelve, I am used to my eyes fucking with my head but this was different… Coincidentally, we were picking up the kids from school at that time and bringing our youngest (Leeloo, 8) to a nearby public hospital for an ecography long-scheduled to check on stomach pains she’d been having and when we arrived, after a few minutes of sinewy roads, I was not feeling well at all and had to lie down over multiple chairs in the waiting room, trying to breathe through what was increasingly becoming an episode of sorts. As Gina and the kids went into their test room, I attempted not to panic, which is really hard to do when you’re hyper-ventilating in a hospital. A few seconds later, I felt a hand grabbing my arm, which was covering my eyes, and saw two doctors, furrowed-browed, bending over me and asking if I was ok. I was not ok and they could see it, apparently. They called emergency personnel.
Now, all this is happening in Italian, not my mother tongue and which I have only really so far properly acquired the all-important vocabularies of food and bathroom usage so a lot of what is going on, notwithstanding the increasingly whirling black hole my brain seems intent on taking me through, does not compute. I know that I went on a short ambulance ride, from one side of the hospital to another I suppose, to find myself alone, my family still in the test room, and in a wheelchair, trying to describe my symptoms to a busy triage nurse: “Gira la testa!” “Vertigino” “Non posso vederre qualcosa!”(Head spinning! Vertigo! I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING!) were some of my UN translator-grade gems I believe. They wrote it all down and just when I thought I was in good hands, irony of all ironies, I could feel my body completely tensing up. That is something I had never felt before and do not want to ever feel again, a tension so acute that it forced my hands into lobster claw shapes, which I could not control! Panic? Yeah, Panic. The nurse had turned her back to enter my data and was unaware of what was happening until I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Gina and the kids just entering the building, looking frantically left and right for me, and I yelled GINAAAAA! She saw me with my hands up and rushed over. At this point, I thought I was having a stroke as my entire body was stiff and my arms were stuck up in the air. She called the nurse who gave me oxygen and explained that I was having a tachycardia attack, which tends to force the body into this shape. Great. Thankfully, after a few minutes, I calmed down enough… for the vomiting to begin. Fantastic.
I will gloss over the next few hours of visual tests, vomiting, cat scan, vomiting, blood vessel-searching, vomiting, neurological exercises, vomiting… I was finally told to shut my eyes for the foreseeable future and that I would be kept at the hospital for a few days under observation…
ALL I WANTED WAS CHEESE AND MORTADELLA, WHAT DID I DO WRONG???!!!
At this point, I could no longer see where I was or where I was going. Since I had been woozy since the school pickup, I didn’t even really know where in town, if in town, this hospital was and I found it really confusing to not even be able to imagine where, just even so that I could have something concrete to think about. I was transferred from wheelchair to wheelbed and taken somewhere, a room? A hallway? I had no idea. It was full of people certainly, old people screaming in Italian. Competent nurses, I suppose, tended to me, fit me with an I.V. but all I could imagine was the hospital in Born On The Fourth Of July where Ron Kovic (lil’ Tommy Cruise) is transferred after coming back and finds a leaky, rat-infested slum in which you are taken care of when there’s time. I do not recommend this imagery if you ever find yourself sight-less in a foreign hospital.
The next three days were a complete blur (see what I did there? Ugh, I’m tired…) The whole pee-in-a-bucket/vomit-in-another cycle was a truly wonderful experience but the best part was really at night when my roommates decided to scream for the nurses at the top of their lungs for no apparent reason. “AIUTO! SIGNORA!!” was the chorus I was treated to nightly, from who knows how many members in this choir, I still had NO idea where I was! Of course, Gina came to see me during visiting hours and that was great help, especially when she brought the kids a couple of days later. From what they would tell me, with an eye mask on, a scruffy and pale face and sunken demeanor in my reclined bed, I did not look so fresh. So they both started crying on my bed as if this was to be the last time they would see their papa… I reassured them that I just had a bad headache and that there was nothing to worry about. Then my son asked:
Is this how God punishes atheists?
I let out such a loud laugh, my first since the whole thing began, that he saw that I was ok. I told him that no, it was just an inflammation in the eighth nerve behind my ear canal, not divine punishment. And although I am slightly disappointed that my attempt at secular upbringing has obviously failed, I was indeed told that I have Vestibular Neuritis, an infection of the aforementioned nerve which can supress one’s sense of equilibrium within a few minutes, as it did me. Just stunning. I was told that with proper treatment and diligent rehabilitation, I would be back to normal in about a month.
So I stayed in there, Gina brought me some headphones and I discovered, and easily got up to date with, Serial, slowly took off my mask and even, on the last day, got reacquainted with solid foods. Italian hospital food, I must tell you, even though I only had the strength to take a bite or two, was fucking DELICIOUS. Risotto? Grana mashed potatoes?! Made me want to live again!
Finally, on Friday and after an extensive new battery of tests, they told me that I could do at home anything they were doing here and that I could go if I wanted. I wanted. Now armed with brand new emergency room vocabulary, I slowly and carefully packed my bag, waiting for Gina to pick me up. I asked for whatever checkout papers I needed so that she could review them before signing and paying and after about two hours, they came. Except, no bill, just prescriptions… Yup, five days in the hospital, tests, food, even a cat scan, all for zero dollars. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to whether this burden borne by the government, and most certainly dragging it down, is worth the ease of care but I must say, when you’re caught in the middle, it’s hard to argue with it.
I cannot even explain the roller coaster that was the ride back home but I have now returned, still dizzy and scheduling an MRI for tomorrow so that I am absolutely sure that there is no neurological damage but I am told the extreme symptoms should subdue this week to transition into a milder version for the next two and finally disappear by the end of December. You might have noticed that perhaps my spelling, syntax or grammar is not quite up to snuff and now you know why… All in all, this should be no biggie and I will be back delivering cured meats and macerated grapes to my stomach soon, God willing…