October 17, 2012

Med Time in Italy

I have asthma. I've had it forever. It hardly ever gives me any trouble, but I do need medication. So of course one of my 'things to do' at my landing here in Italy was to figure out how to get some asthma meds. When I came here to the curia, I saw that on the occasionally posted notices of upcoming community events it often said, dovrebbe venire il dottore. "The doctor should come." So, I said to myself, when he comes I'll talk to him. I'm not being chauvinist, presuming that the doctor was a man. In Italian, a doctor who is a lady is a dottoressa.

So I marked the day on my calendar. When it arrived, I asked the guardian at breakfast if the doctor was coming. He told me that he was already here and that I had better hurry or I would miss him. I was taken down a hall to a room and told to wait outside. Someone was in there, I was told. When the other brother emerged, I went in. The doctor was all business; not quite gruff but certainly without any pleasantries. I explained to him that I was new, that I was an American, that I had asthma, and that I needed medicine. I gave him empty packages of American Symbicort and generic albuterol.

"Symbicort. We have that here," he said, and filled out a prescription form. The word in Italian for 'prescription' is ricetta, which is also 'recipe.' That says a lot, believe me.

The albuterol, however, seemed to stump him a little. He took out an Italian drug reference handbook and gave it to me, saying the writing was too small for him to read.

"See if you can find it. It's probably 'albuterolo.'" Italian is funny that way.

It wasn't there. But he wrote the prescription anyway.

"Take this to the pharmacy. Maybe they know what it is, or what it's called here, or something else that's like it." O.k., sounds like a good plan, I guess. Here, try this drug, see what happens.

Then, with my two prescription forms, the doctor dismissed me.

When I next saw the guardian, I asked him if we had a pharmacy that we used. He explained to me where it was, and told me to ask someone to take me in the car when I wanted to go. But because I'm independent and enjoy these little solitary adventures (light side) and have a hard time asking for help (dark side) I decided to walk. On Google Maps it looked like it couldn't be more than three miles, and besides, I would certainly encounter some place where I could but a bus ticket if I wanted to come home that way. Plus, I would get to know the neighborhood a little bit.

The walk turned out to be a disappointment. The occasionally impassible sidewalk forced me to risk life and limb in the street. Then there was the awkward moment of passing the weary-looking prostitute sitting on her little chair by the side of the road. I should greet her, I thought, to recognize her humanity is a work of love and chastity. But what to say? Buongiorno? Seems wrong somehow. Ciao? No, no. Salve? No, no, too stilted. I couldn't decide. I just smiled a little.

After an hour's walk through almost nothing interesting, I arrived at the pharmacy. I was a little concerned when I looked inside. A lot of the customers were in there with their dogs. And I saw what looked like veterinary products. But I also saw toothbrushes and skin lotions. Could the dog pharmacy also be a people pharmacy? I was going to find out. So I took a number. In Italy you always take a number.

The pharmacist I got was very nice. Just like the doctor said, he gave me something else that he said should be the sort of thing that albuterol is. I haven't studied it well enough yet to make my own conclusion. Apparently, or so I'm guessing, the other prescription said that I was supposed to get two canisters of Symbicort, but the pharmacy only had one. So the pharmacist made me pay for two and told me to come back tomorrow for the other one. Big deal. Three or four euro for a month of medication? This is when socialized medicine feels good. But now I have to wonder what 'tomorrow' means in Italian. It probably doesn't mean the actual day after today. So now I have to decide when to back to try to get my other Symbicort.

Not wanting to repeat the bleak walk, I took the bus back. On the way back the chair where the prostitute had been was empty.


-Lou (Louis) said...


You probably got levalbuterol (Xopenex here).

If you don't like it, ask for the brand names of albuterol (I admit to being a tad shocked that the doc wouldn't know that name, even if only to say "ahhh, probably a version of levalbuterol"): Ventolin, Proair or Proventil.


PS I'm a pharmacist, BTW ;)

-Lou (Louis) said...


I feel a tad better about the pharmacists and docs over there :P

Apparently, the generic name for albuterol over there is salbutamol.

Try that :)


Sinder Ella said...

Think I'll stick with English speaking countries.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks, Lou!

-Lou (Louis) said...

Ma figurati, Don Carlo..un piacere. :)