‘Squalls’ – that was exactly what the weather forecast predicted for the week we were due to visit Italy – well they lied! We actually had a practically perfect week during our trip to the Veneto.
Snuggled in a loop of the snaking path of the River Adige, sits the exquisite ancient city of Verona. Designated as a world heritage site because of the value and importance of so many of its beautiful buildings, it is one of my favourite places to be, and I try to get over there as often as work (and the bank manager) permits.
The mostly car free streets and piazzas are lined with pavement cafes and bars punctuated at regular intervals by almost incidental architectural delights. These oases provide the perfect vantage point for a spot of overt people watching while simultaneously enjoying the local apperitivo, ‘un spritz’, a distinctive orange coloured campari based cocktail.
We took the train from Lake Garda in to Verona on one, it has to be said, not particularly ‘squally’ afternoon. While Simon and I left our travelling companions in Piazza delle Erbe, preparing to enjoy a whistle stop tour of some of the wonderful sites of the ancient city, we meandered the short distance to Piazza Bra. There we were met by Enrico, a young volunteer with the SUEM 118 Croce Verde ambulance service. Enrico had kindly agreed to take us for a tour of the local ambulance station and provide the opportunity to take a few photos.
Situated in the far northeast of Italy, the Veneto province has 4.5 million inhabitants and 14 million visitors each year are captivated by its charm and elegance. The Croce Verde respond to all the 118 (emergency calls) in the province. In this sense they do a similar job to our frontline staff here in London. Other private companies deal with all the transfers and appointments. However, the ambulance service is staffed very differently in Italy…
There are no ‘paramedics’ as such, instead the model is one where specialist nurses work alongside doctors and volunteers to provide the service. The ambulance nurses appear to have a much greater restriction on their practise compared to here – but in fairness, it is a difficult comparison to make because nurses do not generally staff ambulances here. Generally the volunteers hold down full-time day jobs as well as fitting in a shift or two a week which include night-shifts. The volunteers operate at roughly the equivalent of our EMT level; I am full of admiration for them.
The ambulance station that we visited is brand spanking new and serves central Verona with its 265,000 inhabitants. The facilities are fantastic. It is incredibly spacious and we were more than a little envious to find that the crews actually have comfy beds to sleep in on quiet nights; my colleagues in London can only dream of the possibility of catching forty-winks in a makeshift bed, so this seems like a real luxury. And here in sunny Italy, the summer uniform consists of a white aertex top and orange hi-visibility trousers – not forgetting the obligatory Gucci sunglasses of course to finish the look off!
We had a nosey look around the ambulances too. Perhaps unsurprisingly most of the kit and medical terms were reassuring familiar to us. I battled to remember my Italian verbs in order to ask questions.
‘Do you have a big problem with alcohol?’ I asked Enrico.
‘No, I don’t drink’ came his polite reply; whoops, I had forgotten to use the plural form; if he was surprised at my question, he hid it well and I quickly rectified the situation before he took offence! He and his colleagues were also very shocked to hear that in London crews wear stab vests and assaults on staff are unfortunately not that uncommon.
Most patients are conveyed to the local ‘policlinico’ at L’ospedale G Rossi di Borgo Roma. On average 1,080 patients pass through their doors each day.
It made me smile when, as we waited for the head nurse to escort us around the department, a disgruntled patient came up to the desk. Even with my poor grasp of the language I could tell he was complaining ‘I have been here for many hours and then you called a woman in before me and she has only just arrived – what is going on?’ he moaned. Miles away from home, I thought, but apparently nothing changes at all!!!