Eleven hours have passed since falling off my bike and I’m still lying on a plastic board in a neck brace waiting to see the emergency room doctor. The flashing image of oily black cobblestones speeding up at my face continues to play while I stare at the blazing white ceiling. Ambulances bring in the sick and wounded from the surrounds of St. Peter’s Basilica Rome. They arrange the trolley beds like a tetris puzzle in the waiting room.
Minutes after admiring the grandness of St. Peter’s Church at the Vatican, Simon and I were pedalling off on our e-bikes to find the Via di Boccea, the planned route of a five day bike ride on the flanks of the sleepy volcano Bracciano. We were fully packed with enough respectable globber to allow us accommodation at nice spa hotels.
It was at that moment of anticipatory speeding that my front wheel hooked into a tram track, and my body sailed off in another direction altogether. A loud clattering of bike and helmet hitting the stones brought attention to my plight, not to mention the animal groans as my skeleton flew into pieces…or so it felt.
Kindly people looked down at me from the sky as I tried to unkink my neck and catch some regular breaths. When I failed to regain composure the two nice Carabinieri quickly summoned an ambulance but I managed to persuade them to cancel the call. There was no chance of me going to hospital thank you!
However, after an unclear amount of nodding off while recuperating at a nearby pizzeria it became disappointingly clear that this body of mine was not going anywhere by itself.
A kind young waiter called 112 at 12.45. An hour later I was picked up, strapped in, needled, and taken to Santo Spirito hospital. No matter the level of urgency a covid test must be performed. While waiting for the results at the entrance, a medic prodded me to see if there was anything severely damaged. Since everything was sore anyway I just mumbled. Apparently one should scream, so to get a better position in the queue. (My position was so bad it took six hours to get a sip of water).
Considering that we had already ridden 40 kms down the Appia Antica and were aiming for a nice lunch, the timing was perfect for maximum discomfort.
As the hours ticked by the trolleys shifted around the room, each carrying a distressed individual, some beyond help. Someone wailed for his mother, another for water. People were bloody or unconscious, some in neck braces. The staff do not run alongside your trolley holding up drips like they do in the movies. Everyone was assessed and added to the queue with a colour code. Mine was blue. A large blue man was taken away to be wrapped up in a white sheet.
The woman next to me had red hives and said she couldn’t breathe so she was given a red status. She spent the afternoon having a loud, language rich, argument with someone on the phone who evidently accused her of faking it. She showed me some pinkish rash on her feet. There was nothing much I could do but listen as my compacted rib cage made commiserating difficult.
Roll call was taken every couple of hours to make sure we were all there, one way or another. The day dragged into evening.
Simon has ridden his bike back to Marino lugging a huge disappointment. He called to say he was coming to fetch me. First he would pick up my bike from the pizzeria where the kind waiter had stashed it behind the scenes.
Naturally he had found himself a little restaurant around the corner called Da Roberto Al Passetto di Borgo where he was amazed by a bunch of young catholic priests making the most of the wine. Curfew time 23:00. Before closing up the waiter kindly made a sandwich of dry bread and salami wrapped in a serviette for ‘la moglie’ the wife.
23:30 My name is called and the wheeling begins. Finally in the actual emergency room a doctor examines me and asks questions in Italian I can’t quite follow. Blood samples are taken.
A old man wanders confused and naked from behind the curtain. A confused woman refuses to sit on her bed. Old ladies are patched up after breaking bones. Time passes. I’m wheeled into a lift and taken upstairs to the radiology lab. Once there I’m wheeled back into the lift and taken down again and left in a passage. An orange plastic hard board is brought and I’m shifted onto it. The neck is squeezed into a torturous neck brace. The nurse tells me the doctor is angry because that should have been done by the ambulance staff.
Eventually I’m wheeled back up and put into a mri machine. Then taken into another room for an Xray where a nice girl contorts me sideways to get a picture of my knee. After that I’m wheeled to the ecografia to take a look at my internal organs, then restored to the waiting room where I’m abandoned in extreme discomfit. By now midnight has probably come and gone. Simon is sitting in the car.
That’s when I release my distorted neck from the velcro foamy thing, sit up and grumble for help. The receptionist is not at all pleased. Luckily the doctor walks passed and I announce my intention of leaving. He kindly fills out my forms and declares my only serious injury is a twisted neck. The final line on the paper: “The person feels well and has no symptoms, she refuses clinical observation and the attendance and evaluation of an orthopedic surgeon, against the advice of the doctor”.
Simon drives up to the emergency room door and folds me into the car. In proper stoic style I don’t complain when he turns the corner for Via di Boccea and we bump into the night. The sandwich couldn’t have been less appetizing but I appreciated the thought behind it.
We arrive at our hotel very late but the receptionist is waiting up. He makes no comments about my tattered shirt and smeary shoulder, or of the slow climb up five flights of challenging stairs to our lovely room with a view of the dark forest. Nightingales sing under the stars and I feel a great wave of relief to be back in heaven.
I am grateful for the Italian medical emergency system, which is totally free. Thanks to the doctors and nurses who work long shifts in horrible conditions dealing with all kinds of traumatized people.