In Sickness and in Health


I am as sick as a dog today, I really want to be left alone to lie in my bed and sulk, I don’t want lots of hugs and sympathy from Mrs Sensible, and I don’t want strange Italian medicines or to visit the doctors to make sure it is not terminal. It is not necessary to take blood, urine or any other sample to establish that I have a bad case of man flu.

When Mrs Sensible is ill she requires 24 hour around the clock loving and affection, someone to fetch, carry and generally be there to hold her hand. It is a huge and basic difference between us and more importantly how our mothers dealt with illness. Her Sicilian mother (who is just wonderful and has adopted me) would sit with my wife and make her sweet honey tea, feed her little bits of food to keep up her strength and generally love her better. On the other hand my mum would banish me to my bedroom with a bottle of lucozade and an aspirin. And as soon as I was well enough to sit downstairs in front of the telly, I was well enough to go back to school.

I don’t think the way Mrs Sensible and I deal with illness is just conditioned by our mothers but because she is Italian and I am English. Before I moved to Italy I had never heard of the many illnesses that befall Italians. The Italian illness that immediately springs to mind is cervicale (stiff neck), the slightest wind even in high summer can trigger it. Leaving the house with damp hair will not only get you into trouble with mama and nona but you will certainly contract cervicale. Prevention is the best cure hence all Italians wear scarves even in the summer.

During July a small spider bit my leg and I think I developed a small allergic reaction to the bite, similar to the reaction I develop to tiger mosquito bites. My leg swelled and a little boil appeared. The boil kept popping and growing a little bit. Mrs Sensible told me I needed to go to the hospital emergency department. I laughed and declined, I explained that you only go to the emergency department if a paramedic has just cut you out of a car crash or if you sever a tendon in your hand while cutting gollywog tokens from Robinsons jam jars, something my dad did in 1984.c

Later that week a colleague at work noticed I was limping a little, and after looking at my leg and tutting she told me to andare a pronto soccorso ospedale.  So I went and the doctor and nurse who saw me did not mutter about time-wasting but quickly and efficiently cleaned my leg they then took numerous blood samples, gave me a course of antibiotics and told me to return to the emergency department the following day!!!

On my return to the hospital I received my blood results and once again my leg was cleaned disinfected and re bandaged. The doctor gave me a copy of the blood results and an invoice for 25 euros. Not bad really. It seems Italians will have a blood test every three to five years whether they need one or not, very much like the English renewing their tetanus jab.

Every summer we go to Sicily to stay with the family, which is just great because they just love me to bits. My new-found family will take my side in an argument and will scold my wife even though they haven’t a clue what we are arguing about. The slight downside with staying with the family in Sicily is although the temperatures reaches above 40°C Mrs Sensibles mum and dad will still try to persuade me to wear a vest under my tee-shirt and to always wear slippers in the house. Wearing a vest I am told will protect me from colpo d’aria or roughly translated a puff of air. It seems even if the air is hot colpo d’aria will bring on a bad case of cervicale the ailment most Italians suffer from.

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26 thoughts on “In Sickness and in Health

  1. My dear friend, it is so true! I loved reading your post it made me laugh so hard. It is all so true, my wife is the same way and don’t you love when they start dressing with warmer clothes just because it is September? My kids hate it when September comes, the mom always forces them to wear slippers and they can’t walk barefoot anymore, because they’ll catch a cold even when it’s still 30 degrees out! Hahaha. Great job man! Loved it!

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    • You are right it is defiantly in the air. In the UK we blame the water for sickness but here… it is the air

      A friend said she thinks she has an ear infection, at least she hopes it is and it isn’t cervicale.

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    • Oh no…. I though we had only exported fine wine and pizza to the USA. You really need to start wearing a scarf, Italians were a scarf not as a fashion statement but to protect them from cervicale. Even in the summer. And slippers please remember piedi nudi is so bad for your health even on the beach.

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    • Stop struggling just give up. The easiest way to gain a bit of sympathy from Mrs Sensible is to claim to have a bit of cervicale and her eyes light up. But after 0 mins (when the sympathy has worn off and I have my cup of tea in my hands) I say “oh it’s ok it is just a little headache. no Englishman can admit to the Italian disease of CERVICALE

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  2. I loved this, thanks to “Our adventure in Croatia” for pointing me this way! THe situation is similar here in France (I just posted about this and exploding cats on my blog). I was brought up the same way as you, except I didn’t get the Lucozade. My husband was brought up the French way, which involves all bar organizing the funeral on the slightest sign of a sniffle. I’ll be back to read more!

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    • So it is not just the Italians that think they have some strange illness as soon as they sneeze? It also affects the French. It is either something in the water, or it is something the Romans taught them when they did their stop around Europe.

      Thanks for reading and I am on my way over to have a butchers at your posts…:)

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      • I think maybe it’s because these countries don’t have much biology on the school syllabus. I do remember learning a lot about the human body at school in England, whereas Italians repeatedly make assertions that fly in the face of what’s biochemically possible.
        My latest favourite was from my cleaning lady, who insists that taking vitamin pills makes you fat, like, really vast, you blow up and become morbidly obese in a matter of weeks, apparently. Loads of bystanders joined in backing her up.
        Also, my mother in law insists that the only way to lose weight is to give up eating salt. Eliminating sugar or fat makes no difference either way, it’s all about salt. She’s been dieting unsuccessfully for twenty years. You’d think she might have started to cast doubt on the reliability of her sources by now, wouldn’t you? But there are so many other fat people who agree with her, she’s not backing down.

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        • I find a careful diet of Grappa, limoncello and crisps is all I need. As for salt, I only like it around the edge of my Martini glass. I find it best not to disagree with my Mother in Law. Sometimes it is easier to pretend that I no longer understand Italian.

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          • That sounds like very sound medical advice and an ideal diet. Grappa and limon cello are well known to destroy vitamins, which is no doubt why it keeps your weight down.
            I must try the amnesia strategy with my own mother in law. With anyone who gets on my nerves, actually. It’s a fabulous idea. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that myself. 🙂

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  3. You need to try it, It works for me. The Italian phrases I learnt early on were.
    cosi cosi
    I am amazed at how many times I could get away with just using this word. How are you? How is the wine, Do you like……. Do you understand Italian? always cosi cosi.

    Scusa non capisco,
    Usually used when Mrs Sensible tries to send me shopping, or tries to get me out of bed on a Sunday Morning.

    Ho bisogno una grappa..
    Another everyday phrase.

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  4. Pingback: I have quit the booze… | Englishman in Italy

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