It was one of those strange weeks where God decided to remind me: I am not in control of this rodeo, and I need to learn to expect the unexpected.
And so, at 32 weeks pregnant, while Diego and I were picking out the flowers for our baby shower, I started to bleed (you know from where the sun doesn’t shine). I called my doctor, who told me to head to the hospital ASAP, which is where I spent the next seven days.
Fortunately, the little one and I am now back home and doing a lot better. Praise the Lord!
In my attempt to be a forever optimist and see the glass half full, I’m going to call my experience a dry run of giving birth in Italy and of the Italian Public Healthcare System. For better and for worse, it’s a lot different from the American system. (In my eyes there is a lot more better than worse).
Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll be posting tips about being pregnant in Italy and the Italian Healthcare System that I hope will be useful to you all in hopes, of course, you never need the information (unless, of course, you decide to deliver in Italy as well). So let me know if you have any specific questions.
For now, let’s start with a general description of my experience at the Mangiagalli hospital maternity ward in Milan.
Mangiagalli is one of the hospitals with the most births in all of Italy with about 6,000 a year (#1 in the Lombardy region and #2 in all of Italy). So it makes sense that it has a dedicated maternity emergency room. My husband pulled up in front and went in ahead of me to explain what was wrong. Once I was given the clear, I wobbled into the hospital.
There is a “guard” outside the entrance of the maternal emergency room. No, she isn’t really a guard, but she is a nurse on duty and your first point of contact. She monitors whether your emergency is actually an emergency. If so, once her colleagues gives the okay, she’ll let you into the other side of the sliding doors. They let me in immediately. My husband Diego was not allowed to go past the sliding doors and was forced to stay in the waiting area outside.
Once inside the emergency room, an obstetrician collected my personal and medical information. Then they moved me into a secondary waiting room where there was about another eight expecting mothers. About five minutes later, I was called to be seen by a doctor. They performed an ultrasound about 2 minutes after and decided I needed to be admitted right away.
Keep in mind, although I speak fluent Italian, in situations like these information doesn’t really sink in. I asked if my (Italian) husband could enter to hear what was going on. He came, they explained everything to us, and then they kicked him back out. Then they put me in a wheelchair and gave me one of those hospital wrist tags. Diego meet me again as I was pushed past the sliding doors out into the non-patient emergency room waiting area.
As we were going up the elevator, the nurse looked at me and said, “Darling, you still haven’t realized you’re being admitted have you? You’re going to be here for at least a few days.” It was then that I started to cry.
Up until that point it honestly hadn’t hit me. I was expecting them to wheel me into some corner of the hospital and like check my vitals for a few hours and then let me go home a few hours later. Instead, I stayed the next seven days and six nights.
I spent the first two days in the delivery ward. These were pregnant moms on the brink of popping out their little ones. Some paced the hallways, and some lay in bed, some were being rolled into the post-partum observation room. About every two hours there was the wail of a new baby. As you can imagine, sleeping was almost impossible, but it was perhaps the most joyous and glorious sleepless days/night of my life: literally surrounded by new life.
What were the rooms like in the delivery ward at Mangiagalli Hospital?
There were two patients per room. (I had three different moms-to-be during the period I was there.) Each room had its own individual air-conditioning, but it was controlled from a separate room by nursing staff (yep, you could ask them to adjust it). We had a bathroom in our room that only the patients were allowed to used. It was stocked with paper towels and toilet paper in the bathroom (lots of websites say that you have to bring your own toilet paper to Italian hospitals, but here at least that was not the case). There was even this hand wash that left my hands feeling incredibly soft. Everything was spotless. The cleaning ladies came by at least twice a day and thoroughly cleaned and wiped down all the surfaces.
Expecting mothers are only allowed one guest at a time in the delivery rooms, but they could stay with us 24/7 if so desired. There is also a waiting area directly outside the delivery ward where the rest of the family could wait.
At first, they wouldn’t let me eat. I believe they were waiting for my test results to determine if I was going to need an emergency c-section (in which case they want you to have an empty stomach). I was hooked up to an IV and waited. Sometime around 7 pm, they brought me food, about 10 hours since my last meal.
What were the personnel like?
The doctors made two rounds per day. The obstetricians came by on numerous occasions and were available on demand by ringing a bell. Almost everyone I encountered including the nursing and cleaning staff was incredibly friendly.
What was the food like at this Italian hospital?
In the maternity ward, the attendant said that I had to eat “leggero” light food. I was given the option of either “pastina” small pasta in a veggie broth or “riso in bianco” white rice. I chose the pastina (pretty tasteless, but edible especially with the addition of a bit of cheese). I was also given stracchino (a type of fresh cheese that I usually don’t love but that somehow I did while in the hospital), boiled spinach, a cooked apple, and a few condiments consisting in extra virgin olive oil, grano padano cheese, salt, and a bottle of water. It was all presented in vacuum packed containers that looked like they had then been microwaved.
Breakfast consisted of tea with "fette biscottate". Fette biscottate is difficult to explain. I’ve never seen them in the States.
They are like super dry mini slices of bread that Italians seem to like to eat for breakfast usually with jam or butter and/or dipped in a liquid like cappuccino, milk, tea. I guess because I was still supposed to be eating “leggero” I didn’t get offered any jam.
I was eventually transferred over to the “Patologia della gravidanza,” which disturbingly translates into “pregnancy diseases/illnesses/pathologies.”
What were the rooms like in the “pregnancy pathologies” ward?
It felt like a horrible downgrade from the delivery ward. The view was really nice, but that was about it. I mean the room wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t particularly pleasant either.
Once again it was two people per room. This time it was central air. About two hours after getting into the room, the air came on and white clouds of dust fell from the duct vents. My roommate discovered that it was the first day they were turning on the central air for the season…
The bedrooms were pretty clean, but the bathroom not so much. There was no soap or paper towels to dry your hands (but there was toilet paper). We found hair in the shower. The shower tiles looked clean enough, but there was a buildup of yellow film around the base of the shower doors. They brought paper towels the following day, but hand soap never arrived. Fortunately, I had my own.
Visiting hours were from noon to 8 pm.
In this department, the doctors came around once a day. The obstetricians came by several times a day; they too were quite nice and very informative. The nursing staff was kind of hit or miss (not mean just not super-duper nice).
I was on strict bed rest, so they brought my food into my room (my roommate was allowed to go eat in the ward’s cafeteria). Check back soon for another post soon all about the hospital food.
What was discharge like?
Odd. On my last day there, the doctor came in as usual and asked me a few questions about how the baby and I were doing. Then she asked me where I lived and what it was like. I didn’t understand why she was asking. After she left, my roommate told me they wanted to know if my living conditions were ideal for me to go home.
An hour later two attendants came in and changed our sheets. About ten minutes after that another attendant came in and asked: “Have you gotten back into bed?” I said no. She replied, "Great because they may be releasing you today." I was pleasantly surprised. She proceeded to cover my bed with an additional sheet/bed cover.
Around noon, they called me to do an ultrasound. Once done, they told me to return to my room and they would come by once they had an opportunity to look it over. About 20 minutes later, the doctor came into my room to let me know that I was going to be released. She said that I should make a follow-up appointment with my ob/gyn in about ten days and she said few other things and started walking out. I called back asking what time are they going to discharge me.
To which she replied, “Don’t worry we’ll let you eat.”
In my mind, I was like what does that mean? Let me eat lunch? Dinner? Is this happening 5 minutes from now or five hours from now? My roommate said I should start preparing my belongings, but I was being released to bed rest, so I didn’t think that meant I should be bending and lifting to put my things away.
Fortunately, one of my friends Nicola came to visit me on his lunch break. The obstetrician came in while he was there. She explained in greater detail the medication I should take, more or less what I could or couldn’t do on bed rest at home, and gave a few sheets of paper to keep and asked me to sign one. I asked if that meant I’d been released. She said, yes, and ideally I should leave the room by 2 pm (it was 1:40 pm), but they would give me an extra hour.
Nicola helped me pack up the things I hadn’t managed (or bothered to do). I waddled into the elevator carrying essentially only the flowers another friend had brought the previous day. Nicola took everything else, and we waited a few minutes in the lobby area. My husband pulled up to get us. It was about 2:20 pm.
Note. I didn't deliver prematurely. I didn't get any strange hospital infections. So I'm going to say it was a great experience.
Have any of you stayed at a hospital in Italy? What was the experience like for you?
Is there anything else you'd like to know?
If so, ask or tell me about it in the comments section below.
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