Landing in Lucca: My First Emergency Room Visit

There’s nothing quite like the shock of a subconjunctival hemorrhage, aka, broken blood vessel in the eye. To ‘discover’ it at 5:00am on a Sunday morning made it just that much more exciting. I could still feel the lingering effects from the last nights wine. I had no idea where the hospital was and my language skills are in their infancy. Fortunately I know someone with more knowledge than me.

A very tame and enviable sclera hemorrhage. The red really brings out the blue of the iris here, no?

‘Sandy, wake up. Wake up! My eye ‘sploded!’ 

He woke up fast. My husband’s calm methodical nature is greatly appreciated in moments like this and he immediately took out his iPhone and began punching in key words to Google: eye, blood vessel, exploding.

The results were assuring. It looks scary but this common condition is analogous to having a bruise in the eye. The white, or sclera, is filled with blood, and it takes as long as three weeks to resolve. During that time the poor victim, and those who gaze upon them, are treated to an ever changing color palette of red, to brown, which turns to purple, green and yellow until it finally fades. Well, no need for a Halloween costume I conclude. Maybe I should add a pirate patch? 

We decided to keep an eye on it and went out to breakfast. However it was uncomfortable and ultimately felt best if I laid down with my eyes closed. After a nap, my unflappable husband looked at my eye and seemed flapped:

‘We should have this checked. It’s getting worse.’

Confronted by my anxiety of where and how to get to the hospital, compounded by the certainty I’d have to navigate a new health care system in language I can barely speak, versus my ‘sploded eye possibly being something more serious, I answered in the only way I could:


Ospedale San Luca

Lucca’s main hospital is located outside the historic central district where we live. We debated our casualty delivery devices. Walking; takes too long. Biking; are you crazy? Besides we only have one bike. Car; don’t have one. Bus; just no. Taxi; yes please.

The driver dropped us in front of emergency where my hands-on training in the Italian health care system began. We were immediately ushered into a tent where our COVID status was evaluated. Although we had masks, I had not thought to bring my COVID vaccination documentation, a testament to my frame of mind. Fortunately, it was either enough to simply state we were vaccinated or the attendant gave up on our garbled Italian and we were ushered to the ER waiting room. 

Inside many people were already waiting. I handed my paper to the receptionist and my embarrassment over my fledgling Italian took hold. The room was noisy and the exchanges quick as the nurse couldn’t get any info out of me because duh. Then to my surprise I was quickly ushered through a swinging door into the hospital itself, ahead of all those waiting before me. Apparently I underestimated how scary I looked. 

This photo has not been altered in any way.
Am I rockin’ this look or what? 

I suppose it goes without saying that eye trauma is nothing to sneeze at, but this is not my first rodeo. I broke my eye socket when I was 12, a gymnastic injury. My right eye was taken out of my head, a plastic plate carefully placed to repair the hole in my orbital bone, and my eye put back in. To see me then, you probably wanted to look away, but you knew I had been in an accident. Now? I look absolutely ominous. Is this an injury or whaaaaat? Forget the pirate patch. This is too good. 

In the next room two nurses worked to extract important information from me. I managed to mutter ‘non parlo Italiano.’ The administrative nurse asked for my passport but I had already started to hand her my tessera sanitaria (Italian Health Care Card.) She did a startled ‘Surprise!’ gesture which told me the Italian health card was way better than a passport. This lead to the inevitable question, to which the answer is never accepted the first time around:

‘Where do you live?’


The nurses eyebrows popped up. She’s sure I have not understood and I don’t blame her. At this point I can barely speak English let alone pluck out relevant Italian words. She asks the question again to which I reply:

‘Lucca, due mesi (Lucca, two months.)

This makes the eyebrows go down, and I add for effect:

‘stati uniti.’ (United States) 

The conversation continues in Itanglish, a combination of two non-native speakers trying to converse in the other’s language with a dash of hand gestures thrown in for good measure. It is established I have never had a subconjunctival hemorrhage, my blood pressure is miraculously normal, and back out the swinging doors I go with a time to return and see the eye specialist in three hours. 

I didn’t need these, but it was good practice.

With my iPhone battery teetering at 20% and 180 minutes to go, the possibility of using Google Translator to communicate with the doctor begins to dim. It seemed prudent to assume the doctor wouldn’t speak English, so I translated and transcribed onto a piece of paper possible questions the doctor would likely ask.

My efforts were rewarded by a doctor who spoke English. 

The Doctor

Bedside manner can make a challenging situation and the anxiety that goes with a ‘sploded eye easier to manage. Not only did I get an eye specialist, I got one who spoke English, and he was entertaining. 

With my chin resting on the plastic cup of an ophthalmologist exam device and a light beam directed into my left eye, he began to ask questions:

‘What have you been taking . . . medications, aspirin . . ?’

‘Ibuprofen. It crossed my mind it could have contributed to this.’

‘Yes. Why were you taking Ibuprofen?’

‘Because I had a couple of glasses of wine last night and I get a headache if I don’t.’

‘What kind of wine were you drinking? You shouldn’t be getting a headache. It must have been bad wine. Was it from around here? Lucchese? Piemontese? Now there’s great wine, Piemonte. Yes, you have a hematoma here. Do you remember the label? Really, you must drink better wine.’

He turned to look at Sandy while expounding. I thought for sure he was going to ask him why he let me drink bad wine. Sandy piped in:

‘She also had some Prosecco.’

‘Oh. What kind of Prosecco were you drinking? Really, there is some good stuff but you shouldn’t get a headache from it. No. Drink better Prosecco. You must. What kind did you say you were drinking? Do you know the label? Yes, there is nothing special here with your eye. It would be good to know what you were drinking. Where are you from?’

I let Sandy field the location question.

With my education in wine augmented and the assurance that I’m nothing special, we left with a script in hand for a topical ointment to relieve the discomfort, and a deep appreciation for this doctor, the nurses and the Ospedale San Luca. I look crazy, perfect for the upcoming Comic & Game Festival, but I’m fine. 

Moral of the story

I was fortunate. Sandy knew where the hospital was. If you don’t currently know, make a point to find out before a situation arises and plan how to get there. Although COVID seems in the rear view mirror, in the hospital it is not. Wear a mask, bring your COVID vaccine card (just in case), and your passport if you do not have a tessera sanitaria. Make sure whoever is injured has a way to translate into Italian: although Sandy has a much better grasp than I, he was not allowed to go with me into the ER. He was however, with me during the eye exam with the specialist and took notes about the wine recommendations. 

Also, if you drink bad wine and take any kind of pain killer, don’t rub your eyes the next morning. It might not go so well.

Good to know if you live in Lucca

Further information on Ospedale San Luca can be found here

©️Theresa Elliott, all rights reserved

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4 thoughts on “Landing in Lucca: My First Emergency Room Visit

  1. Your experience at the ER is ,ugh more entertaining than mine (Covid in June, resulting in 3-day stay)! Eye treatment AND wine advice, can’t get that in America!

  2. Isn’t affordable universal health care so much better than the US model? I guess you weren’t bankrupted by the experience.

    1. I went back to the hospital to pay the bill. The finance staff person looked it up on the computer and said the cost was exactly €0.00.

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