A Broken Leg in Italy

So, you’re on an Italian holiday, with a broken leg… That, at any rate would be a worst case scenario. Thankfully, when I broke my ankle (a few years ago) I wasn’t on holiday, but lived here!

But what should you expect, if by chance it should happen? Well, after recently helping an American friend navigate an Italian hospital (and he was on holiday), helped me see how differently it all works here. When it happened to me I wish I’d been more prepared. But I figured that I can at least give you an idea of what to expect! 

How to navigate the Italian medical system.

First of all, should you break your leg in Italy, rest assured some things are the same. The excruciating pain. The emergency room. The x-rays. Isn’t it reassuring in this unstable world that some things are pretty much the same everywhere? 😉

But as I learned, you’ll probably find many things different.

The emergency room takes a long time.
  • Depending on how busy they are, and how many wards they trundle you to, seated with your foot dangling down. (Great for the pain and swelling!)
  • First you see the doctor, who sends you for x-rays, without looking at your foot.
  • You take the x-rays back, so they can send you to an orthopedic, still never looking at neither foot nor x-rays!
  • But at least that doctor examines the foot. Squeezing and probing, making sure it’s good and broken! Don’t want to put a cast on a healthy foot, after all! (I guess he couldn’t tell from the x-rays!)

They’ll probably insist on a heavy plaster cast, not a lightweight walking cast.

It must be due to Italy’s long-standing love affair with plaster. Plastered walls, plaster statues all over. Must seem more durable. Lord knows it certainly is hard and heavy!

We’d been forewarned to ask for the walking cast instead.

“A waste of money,” the doctor scoffed. “Over €100, and the bones don’t heal as well.” In all fairness, we could have insisted on a brace. But their negativity confused us. And €100 did seem like a lot to spend for only 20 days! So I got stuck dragging what seemed like a bowling ball around on my foot.

And all this time with no pain or anti-inflammatory medications. Best take those before you leave home.

But in recompense, you will get shots. In the stomach! What is this, the Dark Ages? “Shots in the stomach?” our friend asked. “Whatever for?” Yes, I’d been wondering that too… But it seems they don’t do blood thinners in pill form. Or perhaps they think the jabs help the patient better grasp the seriousness of the situation!

About this time, you start feeling like you’re in the Pit of Despair, from The Princess Bride. It almost does seem that medieval. But you’re still not done!

You’ll need crutches, of course…

And a protective shoe for the cast. So head to the pharmacy to buy them, or to at least rent the crutches.

And then off to the family doctor for paperwork.”

You’ll need a special red and white form (like the one  below), for each hospital or specialist visit, and one for every medication you’ll take.

[Image  via Wikimedia CommonsPubblico dominio]

Not that the forms will get you in to see the specialist!

First you go back to the hospital, where you make and pay for the appointments. Then back to the pharmacy for meds. But at least you’re now ready for the remaining future appointments! By which time you’re exhausted and glad to get home and rest!

All I can say is “Thank the Lord our medical costs are lower here than in many places.”

In the end, all this should only cost between €60-70. Not including the shoe or crutches, but our generous pharmacist didn’t charge us for those!

So if you ever have a broken leg in Italy, take medication before going to the hospital and insist on a brace. (If it’s not a serious break.) And don’t let anyone wish you Bon Voyage by telling you to Break a Leg!

PLEASE don’t break your leg in Italy, or anywhere!

[Ambulance graphic and image of hospital is our own.]

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