The last time I spent the night in the hospital was in 1976. I was nineteen years old. I had a collapsed lung, double pneumonia, pleurisy, and possibly jaundice. I’m not sure about the jaundice. The doctors spoke no English, and my Italian, having had only one semester, was pretty rough. But one doctor looked it up in my little dictionary and showed me what I had.
It started with a cough — probably bronchitis, and got serious after I got hit pretty hard in the chest while going for a rebound in basketball. That led to the collapsed lung and everything else — including a night of gasping for air and an early morning ride to the hospital in an ambulance boat (it was Venice).
I was in the hospital, on the Lido, for ten days. Most of the care was delivered by an army of doting nuns — the nurses.
Each morning for breakfast, they brought me a large serving of cafe´ latte, served sweet in a soup bowl with a soup spoon.
Lunches and dinners were great, typically Italian: soup, pasta, meat or fish, awesome bread, cheese, salad and wine.
I got three shots of penicillin a day. My backside felt like a pincushion.
At discharge, I expected a bill, but I didn’t know who would pay it.
Back then, phone calls between US and Italy required a call to the operator. If you were lucky, they would call back later when they had made the connection. So I had not talked with my parents — although Dr. Buck Yearns, the Wake Forest history professor who taught us and lived with us, had called them.
Would the University pay for this? Would my parents get a bill?
There was no bill. That was not an issue in Italian health care. It was something they called socialized medicine, wherein the total focus was on the caring for the sick — with no regard at all to the bill.
There was never a bill. No paperwork. Just doctors, nurses, medicine, and excellent food.
A few years later, the bronchitis returned — while I was in England. I remember visiting a doctor who practiced in his home office — a perfectly good office with a separate entrance at the back of his very nice house. He had a staff of one — him. He listened to my chest and prescribed an antibiotic.
I took the prescription to a pharmacy. The medicine cost $3.
Thankfully, I quit smoking and haven’t had bronchitis in many years.
Good thing. Here, such inconveniences cost a fortune.