CHIAVARI, Italy – Talked to my cousin Ginny the other day. We haven’t talked in a while and just hearing her voice made me realize how much I miss her. We’ve had some good times together, traveling around, getting into trouble, getting out of trouble and laughing all the way. What I’ve posted today is a true tale of just one adventure in my travels with Ginny. I hope you enjoy it.
TRAVELS WITH GINNY - THE FOOT
The date 16 August,1999 is burned on my brain. It is the day my cousin Ginny and I were crossing rue Hotel du Poste in Nice, France when I fell and twisted my ankle. As even in tragedies there are bits of fortune, mine is that we were not far from the Lady of the Rocks Hospital, which is where I ended up.
I had never been in an emergency room anywhere and so my experience with such things is limited to watching ER on television. Needless to say reality is quite different from the fictionalized version. No George Clooney for one. Yes there are doctors walking around, pouty French film types, but in my opinion the entire ER department needs to have its blood pressure checked. If things moved any slower we would have been at STOP. I want sirens to go off, or at the very least a few bells and whistles, some signal that emergencies are coming in and need to be treated, but the aura of calm is overwhelming.
Most of the emergencies appear to be motor scooter accidents. One young man they roll in is covered with twigs and branches, his face is scratched and bleeding and his jacket is a mess. He looks as if he has been launched head first into a very large bush. Then there were the old people who had apparently wandered away from where they were, forgot where they were going, and now can't remember where they came from. The woman on the gurney next to me is clutching three purses: a gold lamè evening bag, a large cloth bag with a zippered closing, and a beige pleather bag with a long strap. She also has a jacket with her even though it is in the mid 90’s and the humidity is high. She is obviously a woman who prepares for every occasion.
They wheel me into a hallway and leave me there. After a while, two hours to be exact, a doctor stopped by, wiggles my foot and sends me to x-ray. The bad news is that I have indeed broken a very, very small bone in my foot. A teeny tiny bone. A bone so insignificant there isn't even a name for it.
Nonetheless I am whisked off to the cast department.
"Ooo la la, vat 'ave vee 'ere?" asks the round and jolly cast person. Put your foot up like dees, ho kay? First we put this beige sock with no toes, then this bright green bandage, ho kay? Hold eet,” she says as she goes round and round with the bright green bandage, right up to my knee.
“It’s too tight”, I wail.
“No, no, it's not too tight, it is just right."
As the green bandage hardens into stone, my toes begin to puff up like blue Christmas tree ornaments.
"Now, we wrap eet all up with this beige and blue stripe bandage, and voila! a little tape to finish the package and eet is done!"
I hate it. It is hot. It is heavy. I feel as if a God in some far off place in the universe wants to know more about the migratory patterns of ex-pats in Italy and had me grabbed and tagged. Get this thing off my leg.
“We have to go home,” I say to Ginny.
The next day with the vile green cast on my leg and shiny new crutches tucked under my arm, we take a taxi to the Nice train station.
"Go to the Tourist Information Desk and ask them were we can get a wheel chair,” I say to her. “There's no way I can hop up and down the stairs to the tracks on crutches." So she does.
The Tourist Information people send her to the Accuiel (Welcome) desk. The Accuiel desk sends her to another Accuiel desk. The second Accuiel desk sends her to yet another Accuiel desk, and when she finds herself in front of the Accuiel desk she started from she throws up her hands in true Italian fashion and says Basta. Enough.
In the meantime I am holding court with a family from Montana who had never been to Europe before and were wondering how come there are no bugs or flies here. Ginny finally comes back with a strapping young Frenchman and a wheelchair. Ahhhh. Success. Off we go, he pushing me in the wheelchair and poor cousin Ginny toting all the baggage like a foot weary train station bell cap in an old Hollywood movie.
"You go down the stairs," the Frenchman says to Ginny "and I'll meet you on the other side of the track and help you put the luggage on the train."
Ginny takes one look at the stairs, one look at the luggage, and opts to go with us thinking he must be heading for an elevator. But no, instead we head for the very end of the train platform where the Frenchman proceeds to push me across the tracks, clutching my crutches in my arms like a shield. Just the thing to fend off a high speed TVG train that I'm convinced is going to come whizzing around the corner at any second.
"Stop" I yell, "Help", as images flash through my mind of my much loved and carefully cared for body parts splattering from one end of the station to the other. Then I look over and see poor Ginny, loaded down like an Mongolian packer crossing the Himalayas following the best she can, bent over under the load of bags and suitcases that are swaying to and fro and I shut up.
Finally settled on the train I ask the Italian conductor to arrange for a wheel chair when we get to Milan. "No problem," he says, "I'm getting off in Genoa so when the next conductor comes on, just remind him."
When we arrive in Genoa and the new conductor comes on, I do just that.
"Signora, Signora, Signora," he clucks. "It is all taken care of."
Fifteen minutes later he’s back. "My colleagues in Milan want to know your name."
"My name? Are they afraid they won't recognize the person with the bright green cast on her leg carrying crutches as the one who needs a wheel chair?"
"Don't ask," he says.
I give him my Italian Identity Card and he reads my name into his cell phone. “Thank goodness you have an Italian name,” he says, “if you were German or Swedish they would have hung up on me.”
Once home, I'm stir crazy before the door even closes. Ginny is leaving soon to go back to the States so she spends the next couple of days running back and forth to the grocery store stocking my cupboard with stuff like tuna fish, pasta, frozen veggies and water.
"That's what Nonna did during the War,” I tell her. "Stock up on stuff”.
Banal conversation. What I really want to know is if the current lust of my life, the dairy department stocker at the GS grocery store, stares at her like he stares at me when I shop there. I finally get up the nerve to ask.
"I don't think so," she says. "No one stared at me."
I’m not convinced.
On my own after Ginny leaves, I rent a wheel chair. The elevator in my apartment building is a tiny thing, so I have to shoehorn the wheel chair into it, then squeeze myself in as well. But that turns out to be the least of my problems. Once on the street I can't get the chair to go straight. It wants to veer to the right. And while my street has wheel chair access, they are used by motorists as access driveways to park on the sidewalk so they are crumbled and broken up. What that means is once I get the chair down into the street, I can't get back up to the sidewalk. It is a nightmare.
The cast is making me crazy. I hate it with all my heart. I am afraid to go to sleep at night for fear it is cutting off my circulation and a blood clot is forming and speeding straight for my brain and I am convinced I am going to wake up dead. I decide to call Francesco, an orthopedic surgeon I know, and ask if he would please come over and take a look at the x-rays and take the cast off, for surely it is not an absolute necessity.
He comes over that same night. The cast has to stay.
How long, I want to know.
Six weeks! No relief from this hot itchy thing until October? It’s inhumane. It’s excessive cruelty. It’s against every international law on the books, it’s even against the Geneva Convention rules on torture I whine.
"Phyllis, Phyllis, Phyllis, you are the worst patient I have ever met," he says shaking his head as he walks out the door.
In spite of the trials and tribulations of that long hot summer, I survived. Since then Ginny and I have gone on to many other adventures, like the time we almost got washed overboard on a boat trip to the Cinque Terre. But never mind, that's another story for another day. Besides, from the conversation we had yesterday, I have a feeling there are more adventures in our future, and I for one can't wait.