It was a strange experience. For two mornings I woke with a pain in my chest. It felt that a great weight was pressing down on me and the second morning I felt dizzy and light headed. I have been super stressed, more than usual, as someone has got it in for me and is making my life a misery, despite my smiles life is hard. During the preceding days I guess I had been experiencing smaller pains, but being me I just ignored them and continued on with work, but this morning it was clear that something had to be done, so I took myself off to hospital.
Having spoken with a good friend, a nurse who works in A&E he told me to call an ambulance, but not being the kind of person who wishes to cause problems (even if my friend said that I need an ambulance in case I blacked out during the thirty minute drive to the hospital) I drove myself. Usually I am a great forward planner but this time I treated the visit as a jaunt, thought I would be given a code ‘white’ and kept waiting a few hours before being released, how wrong I was.
On describing my symptoms, the admissions clerk assigned me a code ‘yellow’ and I was swiftly taken through the doors and hooked up to an ECG machine, and then in to see a doctor. Apparently I had the classic signs of heart problems, and they wanted to see me quickly. Whatever else might be dysfunctional in Italy, and believe me there is much, the health service is extraordinarily good. With a needle inserted in my arm, they took blood to measure my enzyme level. Then I was directed to the waiting room to await results. In the waiting room I saw this guy in a wheelchair, his leg recently plastered resting on the only table. One of my neighbours who I learnt had managed to drop a base of a pool umbrella on his foot and break bones, painful.. He has a heart condition and was in to be monitored, unlike me he was driven to hospital. We chatted, I used my pitifully small amount of loose change to buy us two bottles of water and him a panino from the vending machine.
Return of medical staff, this time a wheelchair was brought and I was whisked off and put on a trolley in the observation ward, no information, just placed behind green curtains in a corner. After what seemed like hours a doctor appeared and I was told that they were keeping me in. “You cannot!” I said, “I have a business to run”. Ok I had only gone to the hospital because I knew I had staff coverage that afternoon, work and my guests come first. Panic, I had no phone charger, the phone was getting low on battery. Asking a nurse if I could borrow a charger was met with a negative. Explaining to the doctor that I had to stay in touch with my business and, not being able to do so would further increase my stress levels, asking ‘permission’ from the doctor to go to my car and retrieve a cable to hopefully connect to a computer to allow me to trickle charge my phone was met with a very reluctant “Yes Ok”.
So it was that I lay behind the green curtains on a trolley. No money for a drink – it is not provided, you have to buy water. Nobody to talk to, all the other patients were surrounded by visitors and family, I suddenly realised just how isolated my life is. Yes, I run the most beautiful Gay Guest House in Italy, I have a constant stream of beautiful guests from all around the world, here in Gubbio I have many many good friends, but basically I am all on my own. I did make a few calls, mostly to my dedicated team at Bellaugello to ensure everything was organised, yes a very busy house, and I really did not want my guests to know where I was, but otherwise I was reduced to staring at three green curtains and a scabbily painted wall.
For the first time in my life I realised just what it must be like to grow old and be placed in an old peoples’ home, endless hours of boredom and waiting just to die. No visitors, no social interaction, numbness. I did not think to bring my Kindle, nothing to read, not even graffiti on the wall, I never imagined they would keep me in, but they did. I was trapped and it was bad. More bloods were taken, enzymes still high, blood pressure taken regularly, high, “è alta lo sapevi?” your pressure is high, do you always have high blood pressure? “I dunno I never measure it”
Supper came and went, I was served on my trolley, the nurse putting an incontinence pad on the sheet and placing a bowl of thin soup with noodles and a circular item in red sauce that I guess was pretending to be meat, but tasted insipid, meanwhile others were brought food. No water, I was getting thirsty, and left my trolley, went back into the waiting room to see if somebody could change the 5€ note I had that I might buy water. Later that evening I was transferred to a bed, a clean sheet and another corner, solitude and by then no phone so I could not even annoy anyone outside the now two walls and two curtains.
Morning came, no breakfast, it seems I was to undergo a heart stress test. My heart was already stressed, I was lonely, very lonely, no contact with anybody much, no visits and nursing staff obviously deciding that I was to be left alone. Irritation when I overheard the duty doctor snottily pretending to pronounce my surname over and over again and say to the nurse “huh another foreigner who doesn’t speak the language” to be forcefully rebutted “excuse me he has an exceptional command of Italian”, I had an ally.
“What time are they taking me up?” I asked, I had to be home that evening by 18:00 at the latest we were serving dinners. “oh late morning”. Morning came and went, lunch trolley passed me by and finally at 15:00 I was put in a chair and pushed upstairs to cardiology. Another wait, blood pressure up again, another hole puncturing my other arm, more blood taken, and finally the indignity of having my chest brutally shaved, being connected to electrodes and made to ride a bike! “You do sport?” asked the consultant “No” I replied, “go to the gym?” again “no, I am just a peasant farmer who runs a guest house and I live half way up a hill.
Test over, I was wheeled downstairs and finally discharged – told to take at least two weeks off work and then to take it easy for the next month.. fat chance! However I was allowed to drive myself home.
Back at Bellaugello the team had coped splendidly, and I was able to slowly chat to the guys and help with preparation and serving of dinner.
This is not a photo of the dinner that evening but a more recent one, but it just illustrates the warmth and conviviality of Bellaugello, how friendships are made and life is shared. I am proud to be the host of this guest house. I realise it is a very important sanctuary for a growing number of people, sometimes I act not only as host but therapist, I listen to guests offload their problems, am an impartial shoulder to cry on, I am the cheery mad host who has crazy ideas and is aspiring to be normal, and having experienced the loneliness of a 30 hour hospital stay I realise now more than ever that Bellaugello must continue and grow, but it can only do that with your support.