I recently returned from several weeks in Italy. While my trip was dedicated to family and friends, the primary reason I went back to Italy was for health care. I stayed for about 4 weeks and saw several doctors, had numerous ultrasounds and blood tests and consults. One day I was in my local hospital, and since my first appointment for a gynecological ultrasound was late I had to inform the technician expecting me an hour later for an abdominal ultrasound that I would also be late. The clerk at the front desk looked and me with a wink and chuckled, asking me if I was in for a tagliando, basically a 50,000 mile maintenance check. She was teasing, but if she only knew how right she was.
When I was living in Italy, I was always careful to take a defensive stance when talking about my homeland. I'm not quite sure where this came from, if it was a natural reflex from living far from home, or my own reaction to the battering I often took for no other reason than the fact that I was American. When anyone would ask me about the health care system, I would answer that it wasn't nearly as bad as the press made it out to be. That like everything else, the criticism was overblown. I rarely thought about the fact that I had left America nearly 20 years ago, when I was young, single and in the good health that comes naturally at that age.
This time was different. When the doctors and nurses taking care of me asked me why on earth I was in Italy taking care of my health issues, I told them the truth. I told them that even though both my husband and myself have been forced to join the ranks of the uninsured in America, that even though I had to buy a transatlantic plane ticket to seek medical attention, my dual citizenship made me one of the lucky ones. I told them that even though a health care reform bill has been signed into law, people like me are now waiting for 2014, which is a slight improvement, considering that before I was waiting until 65. My husband had already lost his insurance several months before our trip. He had been in a "high risk pool", a frothy, malodorous, overcrowded swamp of murky water inhabited by those poor souls who genetics had failed to smile upon. I was trying to hold on to my own policy, since I reasoned that my Italy trip could produce something really awful, a long term illness, perhaps. But the letter I received from my insurance company literally days before my departure informing me of another 30% premium hike effective immediately sealed the deal. I could not do it. I officially became a dead woman walking.
My medical testing in Italy revealed that I need one minor surgery as soon as possible, and probably another in the not so distant future. I do not have a long term illness (which would have meant uprooting my entire life, my entire family, to return to Italy), but I do have a condition which is painful, which could be dangerous if I don't stick to very strict dietary guidelines, and for which the doctors in Italy wanted me to stay to have the required surgery immediately. Instead I am returning in November. The cacophony of shaking heads and disbelief when I explained my situation to them was stunning. In America.
So here I sit, up most of the night with nausea and now chewing on a Saltine cracker, working on a translation due this evening. I am distracted and have trouble concentrating. I have arranged for my children to stay with their grandmother when we leave in November. I am hoping the flight back to the US so soon after surgery will not be too difficult. I do not think it will. I look in the mirror in the morning to make sure the whites of my eyes do not look yellow, signs of jaundice, and I think about all the people just like me, or much, much worse, who do not have the options that I do. And I wonder again, again for the umpteenth time in the last three years, how on earth I can stay. Waiting to be 65. Waiting for 2014. A dead woman walking.