A Broken Leg in Italy

Hospital corridor

So, you’re on an Italian holiday, with a broken leg… That, at any rate, would be a worst case scenario. Thankfully, when I broke my ankle (last year) I wasn’t on holiday, but lived here! 

How to navigate the Italian medical system.

But what should you expect, if by chance it should happen? Well, recently helping an American friend navigate an Italian hospital (and he was on holiday), he helped me see how differently it all works here. When it happened to me I wish I’d been more prepared. But I figured that I can at least give you an idea of what to expect!

First of all, should you break your leg in Italy, rest assured some things are the same. The excruciating pain. The emergency room. The x-rays. Isn’t it reassuring in this unstable world that some things are pretty much the same everywhere? 😉 But as I learned, you’ll probably find many things different.

The emergency room takes a long time.
  • Depending on how busy they are, and how many wards they trundle you to, seated with your foot dangling down. (Great for the pain and swelling!)
  • First you see the doctor, who sends you for x-rays, without looking at your foot.
  • You take the x-rays back, so they can send you to an orthopedic, still never looking at the foot, or the x-rays!
  • But at least that doctor examines the foot. Squeezing and probing, making sure it’s good and broken! Don’t want to put a cast on a healthy foot, after all! (I guess he couldn’t tell from the x-rays!)
They’ll probably insist on a heavy plaster cast, not a lightweight walking cast.

It must be due to Italy’s long-standing love affair with plaster. Plastered walls, plaster statues all over. Must seem more durable. Lord knows it certainly is hard and heavy!

We’d been forewarned to ask for the walking cast instead.

“A waste of money,” the doctor scoffed. “Over €100, and the bones don’t heal as well.” In all fairness, we could have insisted on a brace. But their negativity confused us. And €100 did seem like a lot to spend for only 20 days! So, you get stuck dragging a bowling ball around.

And all this time with no pain or anti-inflammatory medications. Best take those before you leave home.

But in recompense, you will get shots. In the stomach! “What is this, the Dark Ages? Shots in the stomach?” our friend asked. “Whatever for?” Yes, I’d been wondering that too… But it seems they don’t do blood thinners in pill form. Or perhaps they think the jabs help the patient see the seriousness of the situation!

About this time, you start feeling like you’re in the Pit of Despair, from The Princess Bride. It almost does seem that medieval. But you’re still not done!

Then you’ll need crutches, of course…

And a protective shoe for the cast. So head to the pharmacy to buy them, or to at least rent the crutches.

And then off to the family doctor for paperwork.”

You’ll need a special red and white form (like the one  below), for each hospital or specialist visit, and one for every medication you’ll take.


[Image  via Wikimedia CommonsPubblico dominio]

Not that the forms will get you in to see the specialist!

First you go back to the hospital, where you make and pay for the appointments. Then back to the pharmacy for meds. But at least you’re now ready for the remaining future appointments! By which time you’re exhausted and glad to get home and rest!

All I can say is “Thank the Lord our medical costs are lower here than in many places.”

In the end, all this should only cost between $60-70. Not including the crutches and shoe, but our generous pharmacist didn’t charge us for those!

So if you ever have a broken leg in Italy, take medication before going to the hospital and insist on a brace. And don’t let anyone wish you a nice trip telling you to Break a Leg!

PLEASE don’t break your leg in Italy, or anywhere!

[Image of hospital ©SimplySheila]

18 thoughts on “A Broken Leg in Italy

  1. I’m so sorry about your leg. I do hope it heals well and that you are soon “on the road again”. It doesn’t seem very inexpensive in Italy. The emergency visit alone in Oklahoma would cost over $1,000 dollars if they did nothing. I imagine cast and all it would cost over $3,000 dollars. Sounds like a real deal to me. Lord bless you, Sheila.

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    1. Wow, over $3000!! I’m in a state of shock! Yes, as far as noticeable out-of-pocket costs, our services here do cost little. The sad thing is that total taxes here in Italy take over 40% of income. Over 40%! The amount taken out monthly for health care is high. It’s just that we tend to not notice it, since we never actually see it. For the over-all amounts we pay, our services should be better, more professional, and with a lot less and easier paperwork. And at least medical care does improve as one goes further north. The further south, the worse it gets. Our hospital here is known as a place to not go to, unless you have no choice! But all in all, it went well. And I’m grateful I’ve had remarkably little pain!! God is good!

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  2. Excellent account of health care in Italy. I had to have a hysterectomy back when I only knew a handful of phrases in Italian. There was a lot of pain, inexplicable medical stuff, and several embarrassing naked stories that seem to only happen to you here. Thanks for this!

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    1. Thanks for your reply! I had a hysterectomy here too, but fortunately at that point my Italian was pretty good. And it was in the north–which is another thing entirely! But I do know that during the whole time I was never given pain medication, just anti-inflammatory. For major surgery!! I’ve since learned that we have the right to insist on it. But this time no, because of the blood thinner. Thankfully, I’m not in a lot of pain. And yes, they leave a lot up to you to figure out. It’s sort of like self-care. Many times, I’ve researched, learned what’s wrong, gone to told the Dr. and they treated me for that! Only in Italy–but we do love it here! Thanks for follow, so glad to have found you!

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  3. What an ordeal, Sheila! Sounds like torture. That’s a lot to endure for mediocre medical care. I guess if you’re generally healthy, the low out of pocket expense is worth the occasional experience. I feel for those with serious conditions who often receive the same quality treatment. My brother lives in England, born and raised. What he’s gone through for care is ridiculous. Any way, it takes all sorts and nothing’s perfect. I’m thankful for the system we have here and that you’re pleased with yours in Italy. May your recovery be swift and complete!

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    1. Thanks Vanessa, but I think I’m as recovered as I ever will be. Guess older bones don’t heal too well. But you know, all in all, our medical care here really is good. The little hospital in our area just isn’t the greatest. I had 2 surgeries in northern Italy, and the care and hospitals were excellent. And best of all is that it’s low cost. Regular doctor visits, most medicines, and hospital stays are free. We pay for tests, exams & specialists, but they’re reasonable. So all in all, it’s not bad. But no matter where, broken bones are NO fun!

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  4. My goodness! The cost is awesome, but I could not stand the shots in the stomach! Like you said, whatever for? The ER room wait is pretty standard and can be expected. What an ordeal!

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    1. Yes, it was an ordeal. And especially because I’m particular about my feet. They’re very sensitive and can’t stand being cramped. That cast nearly made me go crazy! And then topped off with shots in the stomach… I’m just glad it’s all over. And I hope to never again break anything! Thanks for your sympathy!

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      1. Thanks, but that’s just it. I did NOT have courage. I was panicking after I got home with that cast. First and (I hope) last panic attacks in my life! I had to pray a lot to calm myself down. But hey, I survived! Thanks for all your well wishes!

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    1. Thanks for your well wishes! It’s coming along. It’s been about a month since my fall, and it’s still quite bruised, a bit swollen and sore. But I’m getting to where I can take a few steps without crutches! I feel like a toddler learning to walk again, LOL!

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