Maybe it's natural for a nation of hypochondriacs to have one of the world's best health-care systems. Who says Italy is a nation of hypochondriacs? I do. Who says that Italy has one of the world's best health-care systems? The World Health Organization (WHO), that's who (WHO flag in photo, left).My Neapolitan friends —all of whom are delightful hypochondriacs and for whom "dolce" in la dolce vita really means spending hours in the pharmacy looking for new potions and elixirs— all grumble about doctors and general health services here. I mean, you show up at the ER, your body ravaged by the ebola virus (that has cleverly disguised itself as a hangnail), and they will make you wait till they pry what's left of some malingering kid off his motorcycle.
None of them believe me when I quote the World Health Report 2000—Health systems: Improving Performance issued by the World Health Organization in 2001:The World Health Organization has carried out the first ever analysis of the world's health systems. Using five performance indicators to measure health systems in 191 member states, it finds that France provides the best overall health care, followed by Italy...
The criteria include: the overall level of health of the population; health inequalities within the population; how well people of varying economic status find that they are served by the health system; and the distribution of the health system's financial burden within the population. Italy is in second-place in the world.
At the moment, my own particular body is being ravaged by some sort of infection of the upper respiratory tract. The doctor came over to the house and listened, thumped and poked for a while, and then prescribed some medicine. My outrage that I would have to arrange to pick up the pills, myself, was somewhat abated by the bill for the house call cum snake oil: a big, fat, round nothing.
Back to hypochondria. While he was at the house, the doctor got a call on his cell-phone. His side of the conversation was this: "Signora, I'm sure it's not that at all… yes…yes…I know…I read it, too, but there have been no reported cases in Europe." The woman had a cough, and Neapolitan scare headlines are just made for people like that. "Deadly Respiratory Disease Sweeping the World! We're all doomed!" would be one of the calmer headlines for a local newspaper this week. The reference is to the recent outbreak of what is called SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) that has apparently broken out in parts of China.
Because of my unselfish and benevolent sensitivity to the feelings of others, I actually passed on a chance to go and hear some good music at a local jazz club the other night. The club is on Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, just a few feet from the spot where, in 1273, the altar crucifix was heard by three witnesses to speak to Thomas Aquinas after he had completed his treatise on the Eucharist, complimenting him on a job well done. That alone might have encouraged me to go — and I was feeling well enough — but I didn't sound well; I still had that hard cough that sounds as if demons are cracking walnuts in your chest. It gets people's attention. I could see myself enjoying the music and coughing every now and then for the benefit of those around me and watching them head for the door and the nearest all-night pharmacy when I told them that this band wasn't nearly as good as the one I had just heard in Hong Kong.