Pain in the Neck or Cultural Whiplash? How to Get X-Rays in Italy

“Can I come with her? To help with Italian comprehension?” Alberto asks the X-ray technician. He nods, gestures through the door, and we walk down a hallway to another room.

“Is your wife pregnant?”


“Ok, get out. There’s radiation in this room. Your language services are no longer needed.”

As you may remember from this health care in Italy post, I approached my new doctor earlier this summer about neck/back pain. Maybe these Italians have got some sort of secret sauce that does wonders for the spine, just like their pesto does for the belly, I thought. Another consideration: Maybe treatment is cheaper here. Soak up dat public health care, baby.

Tina Fey as Liz Lemon on 30 Rock dances under falling money

I’ve had various back injuries/issues over the years, mostly in my teenage days as a dancer (humans aren’t supposed to bend that way), then later when I started working full-time at a desk job (humans aren’t designed to be sedentary at a computer for eight hours). I’ve dabbled with physical therapy, massage, stretching, yoga, etc. I thought after leaving my full-time job in the U.S., the pain would get better, but alas, here we are.

And where are we? We’re at a hospital where I’m almost certain they are filming an episode of Candid Camera or a Seinfeld reboot.

“Sir, you must follow procedure,” the woman behind the glass scolds Alberto. “Go take a ticket.”

Camera pans to 30 unoccupied blue chairs and then zooms in on an American woman trying not to let her eyes roll into the back of her skull. We walk 10 feet back to the entrance and take a number from the machine. Fifteen seconds later: DING! Who’da thunk it? It’s our turn.

Tina Fey as Liz Lemon rolls her eyes on 30 Rock

We walk back up to the desk. Long time no see, signora. She reluctantly allows up to pay for the X-ray I’m about to get — 23 euros — and then directs us to the aforementioned X-man on another floor.

So, after establishing that I am not with child, Alberto exits the exam room and the tech or whoever he is — I don’t believe he introduced himself; let’s call him Ignazio — starts to verbally order and gesture me into various poses.

“Ok, fatto.” Done. Up to this point, nobody has asked me about my medical history or my current complaints. The employees at this facility merely know that my primary doctor has written on a piece of paper that he wants a spine X-ray (because his patient didn’t like his initial diagnosis of “Why don’t you take painkillers?”). Ignazio ushers me back to the waiting room and tells me to stay there.

About thirty seconds later, Ignazio returns with what I interpret to be a disturbed look on his face. He turns to Alberto and asks, “Has she ever had any traumatic injuries?”

Alberto looks at me and all I’m thinking is “What, what, why is he asking that, what did he see on the film, WTF Iggy?” Also, this impromptu verbal exam is taking place in the waiting room, in full view and earshot of the other patients — so much for Italians being obsessed with privacy. Why didn’t he ask me before? Did he see some crushed vertebrae on the film?

“I had some dance injuries but trauma…I don’t think so,” I mumble.

“She didn’t fall from a great height?” ‘Nazio probes further.

I respond no, but then silently begin thinking about 1997 when I fell off a playground ladder in Germany, on the school nurse’s day off. Mild concussion doesn’t count, right? But eff this, Ignoxious — are you going to spit it out that my spine is broken or what?

Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation: "Everything hurts and I'm dying."

“What about tingling in her hands? Does she have tingling?”


“Ok, you can go.”

[Ignazio exits stage right]

If there’s elevator footage of our exit, it will show me cursing the bedside manner in this city and cackling hysterically.

Melissa McCarthy on Gilmore Girls: "Am I crying or laughing?"

A week later, we come back to pick up the results. We assume, silly us, that we should go to the same ticket counter; this time, the procural of a ticket is actually warranted as there are others waiting.

After a bit, a staff member pops her head in to ask what each of us is waiting for. “What? No, no,” she says to us in disbelief. “You have to go to another desk for that.”

Woman gives up and collapses on floor

We get the results envelope at another desk where good ol’ Giuseppe is twiddling his thumbs as if he’s been waiting for us. Thanks, Peppe.

In case you need to find that counter yourself one day, here’s the hospital navigation map in the parking lot:

Hospital navigation board

The next day — I promise this is the last day in this saga, for now — I bring the results to Dr. Tribbiani for his analysis slash medical gatekeeping powers.

“Good evening, doctor,” I say as he opens the door. “My husband can’t join us this time; let’s see what I comprehend, and we’ll put him on speaker phone later if need be.”

“Va bene. What’s your name?” Christina…

To this day, no medical professional has physically touched this neck of mine or asked me any questions, and today won’t be the first time. I find this strange, like maybe someone should feel around in there? Or have me move my head and yelp when it hurts? No? What do I know? I’m just a liberal arts grad. Maybe that comes later in the diagnostic process…

I sit in a chair across from his desk; my ears are at the ready, like I’m about to do a listening comprehension test at school. Except instead of misunderstanding tavolo for cavolo, I run the risk of mistaking muscle tension for West Nile virus. Dr. Tribbiani unfolds the written X-ray report.

Cat moves ears to listen

“Niente di grave,” he begins, pausing to look at me intently. Nothing serious. He either senses my anxiety or he doesn’t trust my language skills. Probably both.

“But, you have arthritis of the neck. I can write you a prescription for painkillers, but therapy is your best option. Call Numero Verde and make an appointment for a prima visita fisiatrica, do it ASAP, there may be a long waiting period, and then come back to me with something something and do something and then something.”

“Ok. Wait, what?” said the old woman with arthritis and possible hearing loss.

“After you call, do this because if you don’t do this then that. Va bene?”


“Your husband has my phone number.”

And then I went home and cried in the shower and jumped to conclusions like, if we ever have a baby and it’s fat (I was nine pounds at birth), I won’t be able to lift it because my spine will crumble, just like the Roman ruins down the street.

You know, healthy, rational thoughts like that.

Leslie Knope, Amy Poehler: "I am super chill all the time!" Parks and Recreation

Then I started googling (highly recommended course of action for anyone in the midst of panicking about their health), and I learned that anxiety can be a contributing factor to neck arthritis, so that made me more anxious. And also, there are 846 yoga poses I should no longer do. And also, maybe I’ll have to give up hair flipping in Zumba, and sassy spins in salsa, and everything in life that’s good.

Also, why do all the articles only talk about the middle-aged and the elderly — am I the only millennial with neck arthritis?

Could it be that I’m being overly dramatic about a minor issue — an indication that I am becoming a true Italian? Surely my passaporto is in the mail.

Cat carries kitten in mouth: "That's enough internet for today."

4 thoughts on “Pain in the Neck or Cultural Whiplash? How to Get X-Rays in Italy

  1. I am with your mom- how about doctor appt when you get home? Have someone actually ask about your neck – back? X-ray?
    Great blog but makes me worried Kiki

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So sorry to hear you have neck arthritis 😦 Hopefully having a diagnosis and therapy for it will help you find some relief. Just don’t ever give up your sassy hair flips; arthritis be damned. I love you, Bella.

    Liked by 1 person

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