Posted by: 4initalia | August 11, 2009

Cover Me

Leg pain? What leg pain?

We’re seven months into our Italian Adventure, and we’ve taken some casualties. In Cinque Terre, a set of gorgeous villages strung along the Ligurian coast, my son Alex sliced his foot.

Now that he’s thirteen and his foot is no longer under warranty, we considered amputation. But we had just bought him a new package of socks, and we wanted to make good on our investment, so we made him soak it and apply antibacterial spray.

The bacteria hissed and melted away like the Wicked Witch after a sponge bath. Phew.

Why didn’t we take him to the doctor? In case of emergencies, we can call Dr. Williams, an American doctor who lives in Bologna, a half-hour train ride away. The kids have a wonderful pediatrician, but she’s a thirty minute train ride and a twenty-minute bus ride away, not a good option for a foot injury.

We’re in a weird insurance limbo, so we’ve paid for doctor visits here in cash. There are local clinics and ERs, but who knows what that would cost? We haven’t yet received our Permesso Di Soggiorno, which gives us permission to live in Italy but may or may not entitle us to free medical care. We have private insurance that covers us internationally, but what it covers us for is a mystery.

So we’re handling injuries with an arsenal of Tylenol, a small bottle of antibacterial spray, and several verses of “Que Sera, Sera.”

The day Alex hurt his foot, I blew out something in my left leg. My thigh swelled, and it hurt mightily. But we were in Cinque Terre, where architecture, nature and scrumptious seafood compete to make you cry. There are houses stacked on houses, in gelato colors, reached by tiny winding steps of stone. The water is aquamarine glass, clear and deep. I had no time for agony, there were stairs to climb, and long walks on cliffs bordering the Ligurian Sea.

Liguuuuurian. Seeeeeea.

I wanted to wrap it around me like a crystal cloak, and I did: I floated in emerald laced with silver, and the fish juussst out of reach of my toes spoke Italian. Swelling, schmelling.

For the rest of the day the leg pain was outvoted by the rest of my senses, which were trying to decide whether to swoon over the stunning views or the spinach ravioli in a creamy tomato sauce flakey with smoked salmon. With a rabid shark affixed to my thigh bone, I still would have continued to smile.

Beside the Ligurrrrrian Sea.

Later that evening, we took several trains home, which involved dragging my aching muscle and my rolling suitcase up and down several million stairs. The next day, when we finally stopped moving, my leg was on fire.

Fortunately, I had access to the best medical care my international insurance can buy: I looked up leg injuries on the Internet. I researched various leg parts, and what happens when you harm one, and concluded I had blown a muscle in my thigh. Ignoring the injury caused everything else to, in medical terms, go kablooie.

In keeping with the treatment information available to me, most of which was delivered by my friends over Facebook, I kept my leg elevated, iced it, and watched to see whether it would get better or fall off.

My treatment plan was flawless, except for the icing and staying off it parts. Hello, Italians don’t do ice. In the blaze of summer, Italians are relentlessly cool in sweater sets and impeccably pressed suits. They are too cool for ice. They don’t sell it in stores, they don’t make it at home, and people with dubious insurance need to get over that.

I had ice cube trays I bought at the open-air market, but they produce single-cell ice chips. In the undulating heat waves of our apartment, the chips melted on the walk from the refrigerator to the couch. I had an entire leg to freeze, and sandwich bags that left a pool of water in my wake. Not cool. Fortunately a Facebook friend suggested I try a bag of frozen peas.

We had two whole bags, but when you have no car, a teenaged boy, and a constant need to buy groceries, the decision to sacrifice a food item is harder to make than a pot of risotto. I had to make a choice: Give peas a chance, or crawl north until I found an ice floe. I seized a bag of peas and applied it to my leg. Who needs an orthopedist?

So I had ice, but the second part of my treatment plan, resting, was problematic. Only Andy, Alex and I can carry groceries the quarter-mile home from the grocery store. So the three of us eye with suspicion anyone who claims to be unfit for a walk to the market. When one of us is horizontal, life in the apartment takes on all the bonhomie of the Donner Party. So I had to get back in the traces or I’d have a one-way ticket to dinner. Hoping to avoid a fatal test of family loyalty, I settled the peas on my leg and listened for signs of trouble, like the opening of a bottle of steak sauce.

The peas cooled my leg, and then warmed into a comforting bag of pea soup. When the smell became offensive, I boldly claimed the second bag. With that the pain receded, and the vultures at the foot of the couch shuffled back a few paces. The kids, who had been asking probing questions about the contents of my life insurance policy, grew resigned to their two-parent status.

A few days later, I could walk without screaming, at least when the kids weren’t blaring Guitar Hero. (I’m developing an allergic reaction to Ozzie Osbourne, but that’s a separate issue.) We were back to a three-mule family.

And then Andy attacked an innocent suitcase in a train station. One minute he was reading the departures board, and the next his toenail was ripped like a cheap piece of Formica. Blood was involved, and fainting, but the fainting part was just me.

Although my grandmother and aunt were both RNs, I do not have the Nursing Gene. I once got woozy when my sister described how her Saint Bernard, 150 pounds of determined stupidity, wrapped her metal chain around Paula’s fingers, and bolted. Paula described blood blisters and popping fingernails, and then the room started to go gray.

Worse, in a traumatic vacuum cleaner injury, I once rolled an upright over my toe. That actually did suck, and led to the surgical removal of my toenail. When my podiatrist had completed the nail extraction, he recommended that I check out his fancy footwork. I demurred, explaining that if I looked at my toe, I’d either faint, or blow chunks.

Podiatrists are not good listeners.

“You really need to see it,” he insisted.

I didn’t faint.

So taking a hard look at Andy’s foot wasn’t going to happen. But I asked, every four seconds, whether it was bleeding, or if the toe had developed pus, or gangrene, or scurvy. I like to think these requests for updates were a comfort to my spouse.  Message: I care.

As a vegetarian, I posed no danger to him in his weakened condition. I love him, and I also had an intense interest in his return to health. Wounded, he couldn’t carry groceries. Or the huge bottles of water that we rely on for drinking. Or go pick up the pizza, on Fridays, from Pizza Ragno, around the corner. Things were bleak. So I looked for signs of recovery, without actually looking. And he…heeled.

But then I woke up with a new leg thing: my upper thigh sprouted a small angry blister, surrounded by a huge red circle. The whole area was raised, hot and painful. So of course I sought medical assistance on the Internet.

Half the web sites suggested that it was no big deal, as if discovering a crop circle on your leg that was actually on fire wasn’t a cause for alarm. The other half predicted I would die within minutes, in which case there wasn’t much point in trying to see Dr. Williams in Bologna, or going to an ER that I couldn’t afford..

Further research revealed that I had either a harmless spider bite, a poisonous spider bite, or a serial-killeresque bacteria that would devour my flesh with audible chomping. Two out of three of those options were fatal.

To determine my fate, I needed to scroll through spider bite web sites and play “Match That Wound.” I faint at the mere description of injuries, and the spider bite web sites displayed 3D gore. While scrolling through photos of gelatinous flesh studded with glistening maggots, I was reminded of Jello desserts at the office potluck.

I refused to die with that image in my head, so I turned off the computer and hoped that there was time for one last cup of gelato.

Que Sera, Sera.


  1. this is wonderful!

    • Thanks, Vickie!

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