My first real foray into the Italian health system went like this:
Show up a half hour before appointment time.
Go to the hospital.
Take a number from the machine, now void of handwritten notes telling me it was closed and not to touch.
Pay €26. I think ten of it, the “ticket fee”, or part of it, might go to the referring doctor.
Stand outside the eye doctor’s office, where a handful of Italians are sitting.
Wait while my “reservation” time comes and goes.
Walk over to the little white-clad, rubber-clogged woman appearing periodically at the office door and thrust my ticket in her face.
Sit and wait for them to call my name.
Go into the office, shake the doctor’s hand and inform him that I don’t speak Italian well. And, no, I don’t speak French either.
Am I alone? I looked around. Yeah. Solo io.
He took the papers from my plastic folder and asked about the ones I hadn’t shown him.
“These? These are for my patente di New York. My New York driver’s license. See?” I said, pointing at the translation, at the fields for the examining doctor’s signature and license number.
He motioned me to the chair against the wall as he used the remote control lying atop an ancient wooden box filled with all manner of eye-glasses, turned out the lights and turned on the Snellen eye chart.
I accepted a pince-nez on the bridge of my nose and tried desperately to remember how to pronounce the alphabet in Italian.
“Z? P-eh? C-hay. B. eh-L-e. aH-ke. eM-eh?”
A sheet of paper was thrust into my hands, from which I was expected to read. In Italian. I tried my best.
I had drops put in my eyes, strips swiped across my lids, chin placed in a holder and scopes aimed at my pupils.
More drops put in.
Blank stare, in response to the question of when I should return.
“Uhhh….quante minuti?” I tried, hoping he’d understand.
“Oh. Meza ora?”
“Sì. Meza ora. Come si dice in inglese?”
“Half an hour.”
“Ah. Half hour.”
As my pupils grew as big as a ‘90s rave attendee's, I realized why they wanted to know if I was alone. I could barely see.
Sitting outside, feeling very Italian in my Miu Miu sunglasses at 11am, I waited another forty-five minutes until I was called back in.
Many bright lights, some sun-spots and a torrent of tears streaming down my face later I was pronounced, “Diece/diece. Perfetto.” 10/10. Maybe that’s like 20/20. Va bene. After the usual hand-flailing accompanied interrogation regarding why I was in Italy, and more specifically this part of Italy, instead of New York, I was instructed to return in a year.
“Oh, “ I stopped, pointed at my print out of the NYS license renewal paper and its translation.
“Patente? We don’t do that here. You must go to via Blah blah blah.”
“No, no. I do not need patente. Just need doctor’s name, signature, the numbers “twenty/twenty” and your license number. For New York patente.”
Frightened looks exchanged between he and his secretary.
“Um. You go via Blah blah blah.”
“Ok, ok. I speak to my doctor. Grazie. Ciao.”
I put my sunglasses back on and went home, pie-eyed for another ten hours, hoping my Italian doctor in town will just fill out my damn form as I instruct him so I can renew my New York license.