No one wants to think about hospitals in Napoli, but when something happens you unfortunately have to think about them.
The wrapping up 2019 turned into an unexpected health scare and surgery. After spending 10 days at a hospital in Napoli, I’m home now and slowly recovering.
If you’re curious about healthcare in Italy and Napoli, read on.
Hospitals in Napoli
I’ve heard lots of scary stories about hospitals in Napoli, about the lack of funding, falling apart buildings, infestation, overcrowding and not enough staff to take care of people. In the book Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson, she describes visiting her mother-in-law at the Fatebenefratelli Hospital in Posillipo. The nurses and doctors were inattentive, spending most of their time smoking on the balcony and ignoring the patients. You needed family members by the bedside of the patients to be vigilant and aggressive to make sure they were getting the care that they needed.
But despite the stories, I thought I didn’t want to have surgery in any other place. I wanted to be in Napoli.
I don’t discredit any of the bad stories about inefficient health care in Napoli, but it didn’t happen to me this time. While I can’t say getting surgery in Napoli was a pleasant experience, it was a good experience. I felt so grateful and lucky to be there, from the first doctor I saw who helped me make an appointment with the head surgeon who then had me admitted into the hospital days later. Knowing how bureaucratic life in Italy is, I could have waited months for an appointment and would have gotten worse.
The hospital building
I went to the Policlinico Nuovo, the hospital part of the University Federico II. It’s a huge complex made up of 21 brutalist architectural buildings; basically, concrete fortresses that don’t look inviting at all. The building was run down and any level of comfort was stripped down. There’s no receptionist, no cafeteria, no florist or gift shop.
If I focused on the building and how run down it looked and compared it to hospitals in the US, I would have gone out of my mind. This was a public hospital, not a private one, but there was something comforting about the place. It didn’t smell like disinfectant and hospital food or had that sterile silence to it. It was full of students, patients and visitors, people talking loudly, others roaming around trying to find out where something was, others milling about sharing a flask of coffee with one another, someone in a corner crying after hearing some troubling news and someone frustrated over the lack of information. It was chaotic and loud and it made me feel like I was in Napoli, like I was home.
The doctors and nurses were excellent, kind and attentive and I trusted them. The nurses work so hard and they did their rounds throughout the day and night to check on us and give us our medicine or to see how we were managing our post-op pain. We could pull a cord and they would come immediately.
But despite the attentiveness of the nurses, patients often have their own caretaker, either a family member or someone that they hire, to stay by their side during the day and night. You need someone extra to help you out of bed and walk you to the bathroom or put on your socks for you or run downstairs to get you a bottle of water from the vending machine.
The hospital room
I shared a room with three other ladies. Back home in the US, if you share a room with someone there are hospital curtains around your bed to give you privacy, but here there were no curtains and there was no privacy. I thrived on this though and loved it. We all became friends and looked out for each other, if we were in too much pain we’d call a nurse, or if we were sad we’d make each other feel better, or if we were bored we’d tell each other jokes and stories. No one slept during the night because the nurses were always coming in and out, so we’d talk throughout the night like it was a slumber party.
I had Marituccio and my cousins come stay with me during the day, but during the night I was alone. However, the daughters of the two ladies would come over and check on me also, or give me a hand to help me out of bed, or just come over to say hi.
One thing I definitely did not like was that there was no shower. This meant that I couldn’t wash my hair for 10 days. There was a sink and a bidet so I could wash myself a little bit, but my hair was disgusting.
In the mornings at 7 am, the janitor would come in to clean the room and he’d sing us songs and tell us jokes. That would also put us in a good mood. One day as our appetites were starting to come back after surgery, one of the ladies asked him if he had some sfogliatelle that he could give us.
He leaned out the door and shouted down the hallway, ‘Gennaro, bring over two sfogliatelle, one fried and one baked’.
Suddenly the ladies in the room became so animated. ‘Sfogliatelle aren’t fried! I’ve never heard such a thing!’
‘O yeah,’ said the janitor, ‘how do you make them?’
And that started a half hour conversation about how to make sfogliatelle, the ingredients, the right temperature of the oven, who makes the best in Napoli, who makes the worst, et cetera et cetera.
By the end of our hospital stay, we had all exchanged numbers and we’re keeping up with each other since we left.
Payment and costs
I am registered in the Italian healthcare system, so I presented my health card and a referral from my primary physician to the hospital. I paid privately for the first visit to the doctor and for an MRI, but the rest was under the national health care plan.
I’m very happy with my experience in Napoli. Obviously, the surgery was painful and it’s going to take awhile to recover, but I feel even more certain now that Napoli is home. Marituccio is from Venice and some of his family members asked me if would consider having surgery in Venice rather than Napoli, but I’m glad I didn’t. Under the pain of the surgery, I’m feeling better and feel incredibly grateful to the doctors who helped me and saved my life. I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness of my family and friends here and those that I met in the hospital. People who helped me in my most helpless moments. Considering the stories, I never would have expected the amount of kindness and solidarity I felt in the hospital. I didn’t expect to make friends or talk so much. I feel my Italian has improved so much.
I hope none of you ever have to go to the hospital in Napoli, but if you do, I hope you have as good of an experience as I did.