3 December 2014

On Sunday there was a dead boar lying in our field when we came back from the hospital. Now. Where do I begin unwinding that sentence?

The boar had been shot. There was a man with a gun standing over it. It lay there for quite a while, then suddenly, after I had been inside doing something for a few minutes, it wasn’t there any more. But what was there – or rather here, because he was standing outside the kitchen – was Marcello, a gruffly charming type who works with a contractor I sometimes use on projects.

Marcello had in the past broached the subject of how I would feel about letting his hunting buddies drive their 4WDs over our land to pick up slaughtered animals. I had let him have my feelings about hunters in general with both barrels. But he is, as he reminded me on Sunday, a sensitive hunter who cares how people feel about it all. So the dead animal – dumped there while the house had been shut up and us obviously absent – had been ‘disappeared’ as soon as it was clear that we were back home again. And Marcello denied its very existence.

A dead beast of more or less the same dimensions was, however, lying in the lane up by Mario’s house when I went up later. It was lying in a storm drain, a plastic bag shoved into the gunshot hole to staunch the blood. The offending carcass had been removed from where it wasn’t wanted, but not too far.

This morning I bumped into Marcello in the post office. After he had spoken to us on Sunday, he’d shot another boar down in our valley he said. So I told him about the boars that made (and make) their bed each night in the pile of old mown grass by the BBQ area; and about the one that, for a while at least, was sleeping on the front door mat and and stretching with very loud wake-up grunts early each morning for a while at the end of summer. “They feel safe there,” he said. I just hope he won’t now plan night time raids on our trusting boar.

We were away when the hunters arrived on Sunday because L flew off his bike going round a sharp bend on the hill down to Ponticelli. Straight to CdP’s A&E, where he was being x-rayed less than half an hour after his crash. They thought he might have dislocated his shoulder. But there’s no orthopaedic specialist in CdP on a Sunday. So off we went to the Silvestrini hospital in Perugia, where we walked straight in to the orthopaedic A&E ward and ten minutes later he was despatched, his arm in a sling and a diagnosis of bad bruising and some thoroughly bashed ligaments.

This hospital round came after a couple of weeks getting thoroughly familiar with our little local hospital. My friend PH is another charmer. He may be 92 but he’s sharp as a tack, with an eye for the girls – in the most avuncular way, from quite another era. He’s not well, though, and his blood won’t stay thick. He has been in and out of the room that has become ‘la stanza del signor Peter’ a couple of times recently.

Our hospital is tiny – larger than a cottage, smaller than anything at all economically justifiable its critics say – and the only thing that’s keeping it from being closed is lack of funds to build a large hospital in a spot accessible for the whole area around. (The location touted for this pie-in-the-sky project is in the middle of a flood plain, intelligently.) Of course, accessible to all means further from anyone in particular, and I know one person who would probably be dead now, through anaphylactic shock, were our nearest hospital way down in the valley. But that’s by-the-by.

What we have here is a hospital in miniature, clean, shiny, well maintained and trotting along nicely on a minimum of equipment and facilities, with a roster of nurses and doctors who seem to range from competent to excellent. What can’t be dealt with here is sent to Perugia, where the hospital is vast. The in-patient wards here are few, and rooms are small – two beds to each – and there’s a very lax attitude towards visitors. In the bed next to P now is a carabiniere. Each time I pop in he has a wife and various siblings and a smiley teenage daughter busy with her homework in the room. No one objects to P’s housekeeper Reka taking him in three meals a day (the stuff produced by the hospital is not the best).

It’s a convivial place. And patients get the same treatment whatever age they are. There’s no geriatric ward. There’s no parking people in corners, or worse. I was talking about this yesterday evening with one of the doctors.

“Where’s his family?” she wanted to know. In England I told her; someone will come over whenever I tell them it’s necessary, but they have jobs and lives and it’s not easy to get away. “Why don’t they take him back to England?” she asked. I told her that in the UK a 92 year old would not be helping a smiley teenager with her English homework; he’d likely be in a scene of senility and desperation; that however highly English hospitals scored in infrastructure they would never rank as highly as Italian ones in humanity, especially where the elderly and frail were concerned.

It’s a reflection of Italian society. In big cities, things are changing, inevitably. But out here in the country the elderly are assigned roles – child-minding, vegetable garden-tending, drivers (heaven help us) for the school run – that mean they have a place and an importance in the smooth running of society. They are seen to have a purpose, and made to feel they have a purpose: without that, what’s the point of going on?

Even in the city, where this purpose is not quite so clear-cut any more, they have maintained their visibility – another vital attribute. I always remember my London sister, walking through the little park beneath our flat in Rome. “Where do we keep all our old people?” she asked, looking about in wonder. “I mean, there are so many of them here.”

I told the doctor that they won hands down for humanity and she looked content; so she should. I have little but praise for what they’re doing.

My only qualms? Perhaps they’re trying too hard to keep P going (part, maybe, of a Catholic culture). And a lack of forethought and communication which chimes very nicely with this year’s BBC Reith Lectures which I am listening to avidly, nodding in recognition and agreement with everything this doctor says. In essence, he’s arguing (or at least this is my interpretation) that we have passed through the age of ignorance in medicine and into the age of ineptitude. I like that word. We have so much knowledge, yet we can’t put it all together in a way that it works properly. The elements are there, the systems aren’t.

All right, in our little CdP hospital we may not have all the whizz-bang infrastructure this surgeon-lecturer is talking about either. But each day, another of these good doctors gives me a totally different prognosis or treatment schedule for dear P. Which suggests that they haven’t ever talked to each other. They all have the same test results and thermometer readings yet there’s no attempt to reach a consensus on what they imply. There’s lack of communication to the patient too, which sours hospital-public relations. Yesterday, P was brought back in from home for an MRI scan but no one mentioned to him that this would involve hours of sitting about in nil-by-mouth anticipation. He was left to get stiff with boredom, fretting that he’d been forgotten, rather than knowing to bring his Kindle and spend this time reading.

This, though, is not a criticism of our hospital in particular. It’s a criticism that could be applied to so many things – even, perhaps, hunters.

I mean, sometimes – usually at moments where I’m surveying bits of devastated vegetable garden or immense ruts in churned-up grass in utter dismay – I have to admit that I succumb to an extremely guilty wish to see our local boar population blown to smithereens. It’s a fleeting thing: I return to my loathing of the whole ritual almost immediately. But I almost feel that were our local hunters to catch me in a moment of weakness and explain that they kill what they need, that they distribute the meat to people who couldn’t otherwise afford it, that they respect the environment and love their dogs (highly unlikely I know, but hey) then I might begin to feel slightly less antagonistic. Luckily, that’s not going to happen: I can maintain my prejudices intact.

For the moment I shall continue enjoying just one thing about our local hunters: that over their gung-ho, man-of-the-mountains, guerrilla warfare camouflage gear they’re now obliged to wear hi-vis jackets. Does this, I wonder, give our poor benighted boar a better chance of escape?

About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden designer, working throughout central Italy. I have lived in Italy for over 30 years – for many years in Rome but now in the wilds of Umbria where I have fixed up one wreck of a house, am working on another, and tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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2 Responses to 3 December 2014

  1. Pingback: 7 January 2015 | La Verzura

  2. Lesley Doyal says:

    Great vignettes. I almost feel I am there…I am so sorry to hear about Lee but glad it wasn’t anything serious. Of course I am listening to the Reith lectures too. He has been one of my heroes for quite some time and his books are a really good read. By the way have you read Joseph Luzzi’s book ‘My two Italies’ ? I really enjoyed it a lot. Lxx

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