Heavenly Hospitals

I realized in the nick of time that I had a medical appointment at Barga hospital. (If you miss one you still have to pay the “ticket” or nominal health charge – a fee which can vary from 5 to 20 plus euros and which, in the “crisi” many Italians are finding increasingly difficult to pay, thus putting their welfare at risk). So far I have no complaints about the Italian National Health service – waiting times have never been excessive and staff are attentive.  One’s GP writes out an “impegnativa” for you to go as an outpatient to a hospital or health centre. You then phone up the CUP (call centre) to book the appointment and then decide what is more important: proximity of centre, or quickness of appointment.  Barga is not that near but it is always pleasant to drop into this town, one of the “più belli Borghi d’Italia”, as its approach signs proclaim.  Outside the hospital a sheet hanging on a wall said “Don’t touch our hospital” reminding me that at least three hospitals in the Serchio valley are threatened with closure if the plan for a super-hospital for the whole area goes ahead – which I sincerely hope not.

Lucca Hospital is in its last months since a super-hospital is nearing completion. There is a rationale for more up-to-date, energy efficient buildings but what is lost is character and tradition. Perhaps in Lucca the new hospital site may be justified – but not  here:  patients and ambulances would have to travel longer distances and  there could be also be administrative problems.

In the hospital gardens there was an interesting marble statue of a couple embracing – I am not sure what further symbolical significance it might have had. Normally, there is also a wonderful view of the Pania Della Croce massif in the Apuan Alps but low cloud cover made the view yesterday seem more like a glowering Scottish highland range.

As a result of my medical visit I found myself strapped up with an electronic blood-pressure-taking apparatus which, three or four times an hour, tightened up my arm and made recordings. At the same time I had to write down in a diary what activity I was doing. This operation would go on for 24 hours and the apparatus was to be returned the following morning. To feel a tightening grip on your arm when you least expect it is somewhat disconcerting, especially when reaching for the top shelf in the local discount!

Business and pleasure are easily mixed in Italy. The hospital of Saint Francis is named after the monastery rebuilt by the blessed Michele Turignoli at the end of the fifteenth century, which is attached to it. I visited the monastery, which has a picturesque cloister, and the church, which holds some of the most beautiful Della Robbia terracottas outside Florence. One of them would make a delightful Christmas card.

I quickly forgot the bloody blood pressure thing gazing at these exquisite objects as too, when getting a cup of PG Tips off a friend whose villa spectacularly overlooks Ponte a Serraglio and beyond….

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