Along The Italian Riviera with the Penn State Alumni Association

A group of 22 Penn State travelers explored the Italian Riviera from Oct. 27-Nov. 4, 2007, in a Penn State Alumni Association tour. You can experience the region’s beauty and history vicariously by reading dispatches from such places as Sestri Levante, Portofino, Genoa, and the Cinque Terre.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Tina Gets a Bonus Excursion

In addition to seeing the city of Carrara and its marble with the other Penn State travelers, I got to see something the others didn't: an Italian emergency room.

It's a long story, but here's the semi-short version: When we visited the marble workshop in Carrara, as we watched an artisan at work and listened to Umberto explaining things, there was a dog in a large caged enclosure barking his head off the whole time. At one point, one of the workers went over to pay some attention to the dog -- which was sort of police-dog in size -- and petted him through the metal fence. I wandered over that way, and using hand gestures (I speak pretty much zero Italian) I asked her if it would be OK to pet him. She nodded yes. Turns out she misunderstood what I was asking, or else she would not have nodded yes. I stuck my hand in there and that dog went after it instantly. I don't know if I'll ever forget the sight of those teeth! I yanked my hand back quickly -- quickly enough to spatter blood down the front of my off-white pants.

One of the workshop employees came over to get me immediately and walked me to a back room where they have first-aid stuff for cuts. Turns out that people who work with marble get a lot of cuts, because the unprocessed marble has a lot of sharp jagged edges. So he poured some sort of peroxide-esque liquid over the two fingers that were cut, then bandaged them with some special tape and sent me on my way.

Oh yeah. I said I was going to make this short, didn't I? So I went on with the tour, applied a lot of pressure to get the bleeding to stop, kicked myself continually for being so stupid as to stick my hand into a dog cage, and thought the incident was over. But Umberto meanwhile checked with an AHI rep, in part to make sure there was no risk for rabies -- or "the rage," as they call it over here -- and it was decided that maybe I should have a doctor look at my fingers. (There was brief talk of maybe a rabies shot, but after some checking, the word came back that rabies has been all but eliminated in Italy.) So when the other passengers headed off to lunch, Umberto and I went to the ospedale.

By the way, like every other building in the city, the hospital has large amounts of gorgeous Carrara marble in its construction. Anyway, we went to their ER, where Umberto talked to the staff in Italian -- I could make out a few words, like signora Americana (American woman), cane (dog), and domestico (domesticated), but not much else. With Umberto serving as my translator, the triage staff person got me typed into their computer, and the medical staff took a careful look at my cuts. They poured more peroxide-like stuff over them, then another liquid that looked like Betadine, only darker. (One of the other travelers in the group suggested later that it might have been balsamic vinegar.) They put a butterfly bandage of some sort on the one finger, gave me a prescription for an oral antibiotic, and sent me on my way. I never signed a single form and I didn't pay a penny -- that's the nature of the Italian health-care system. And the quality of care was most excellent.

Afterward, I asked the docs and Umberto to pose for a photo.

Umberto and I walked back to the restaurant just as the rest of the group was finishing their second course, so I didn't miss much. I spent the rest of the day fielding offers of Advil, Neosporin, and lava soap (for my pants) from the other passengers, as well as enduring a lot of good-natured ribbing.

Oh yeah, one of the passengers said something later that should have occurred to me at the time: That dog was probably a guard dog for the plant. It probably spends its day caged up, and then is turned loose at night to patrol the grounds. Duh. So when he tried to take a bite out of my hand, hey, he was only doing his job.

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