Sooner or later most travelers, however healthy and hearty, encounter some emergenza medica (medical emergency). If the problem is minor, do what Italians do and consult the local farmacista. (See previous blog on visiting an Italian pharmacy.)
If it’s after hours and not a matter of life or death, the best place to turn is la Guardia Medica, a sort of walk-in clinic available to anyone in every city after doctors’ offices close in the evening. Many tourist sites, such as popular beaches and ski resorts, have a Guardia Medica turistica, available to all day and night -- including foreigners, whether or not they have assicurazione medica di viaggio (travel health insurance). All patients usually are responsible for a co-payment.
In caso di vera emergenza (in case of a true emergency), whether an accident (incidente), injury (infortunio) or illness (malattia), you can call 118, the Italian equivalent of 911, or go to a Pronto Soccorso (the emergency department) at a local hospital.
Never hesitate to call for help (aiuto) if you think the problem might be a heart attack (infarto), stroke (ictus), appendicitis (appendicite), fracture (frattura), asthma attack (attacco d’asma), food poisoning (intossicazione alimentare) or another disturbo grave (serious disorder).
Most doctors (medici) speak some English, but they may ask you “Dove fa male?” (Where does it hurt?). You can always point and say, “Mi fa male qui” (It hurts here). However, it helps to be able to identify the troubling body part in Italian: occhio (eye), orecchio (ear), cuore (heart), petto or torace (chest), gola (throat), collo (neck), gomito (elbow), braccio (arm), spalla (shoulder), gamba (leg), ginocchio (knee), piede (foot), pelle (skin).
If you have a chronic health problem, learn how to say “I’m a diabetic” (Sono diabetico) or “I have a heart condition" (Ho disturbi cardiaci) or “I have high blood pressure” (Ho la pressione alta). If something goes wrong, say, "Ho bisogno di un medico" (I need a doctor). Bring any prescriptions (ricette mediche) with you, and learn the generic as well as the brand names of any drugs (farmaci / medicine) that you take.
Whenever and wherever you feel under the weather, take it easy. As Italians say, “Il letto è già una medicina.” Bed, or rest, is already a treatment.
Words and Expressions
Ammalarsi -- fall sick
Punti di sutura -- stitches
Antidolororifico – painkiller, analgesic
Anestesia locale – local anesthetic
Medicinale da banco –- over the counter medicine
Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.