The Earl’s surgery was scheduled for 12 noon. Lady Helen walked over to the hospital, confident that she could go straight up to the ward and spend a few hours keeping her husband company before his ordeal. Well, she managed to slip past the man at reception downstairs but when she got to the ward the trouble began. A man diligently cleaning the floors yelled at her – in Italian of course. She did not need to understand the language to know that he was saying, “Get off my clean floors – you are not allowed in here!”
L.H. was in no mood to be cast out. “Mio marito – medico detto visito”(my husband – doctor says I can visit) Bad grammar – yes – but it was after all it was her third language and she hadn’t reached sentence level yet.
He was having none of it but a nice nurse came to her rescue and allowed her one minute; enough time to give him a hello kiss then she ushered her out and showed her into a sterile waiting room with a statue of Jesus looking down upon her with kindly eyes. Lady Helen was distraught and so was The Earl.
Earlier his room-mate had been given privileged treatment because he was a staff member. His entire family of five had been with him till he was wheeled out for his surgery. Why then were the Inglese being treated differently? With the aid of his ITranslate App he complained about this to the medical mafia.
At the same time Lady Helen went to the duty desk and pretended to cry – Posso coraggio. (I can give him courage) she tried hard to impress upon the nurse. He shook his head and pointed to the waiting room. Obviously he was used to Italian histrionics -and her version was too tame for him.
But then along came another nurse. And she said it would be fine if the Earl joined her in the waiting room. She’d been the one to allow it for the room mate too. So they were left alone with Jesus and Mary presiding until The Earl needed to return to his ward to be prepared for surgery.
Before leaving she asked what time she could see him after the operation but all they did was shrug their shoulders and point to their watches.
It was great to have had that time with The Earl but L.H. felt a little shaky and tearful as she walked back to the hotel to ask about lunch.
“Ho fame – pranzo?” ( I am hungry – Lunch?)
Some other guests were there and they said they were going to the ospedele restaurante and invited her to join them. In Italian of course. The dad was due to be admitted for surgery and his kids were there to support him.
They thought L.H. was American but she put them straight on that – “Sud Africa – Chris Barnard – numera una cuore.” She tapped her heart and transferred her hand to the chest of the son trying to make the young man understand that it was a South African doctor who performed the very first heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in 1967. “Capisci?” He looked at her blankly but very politely said, Si!
But obviously he’d never heard of her Chris.
Lunch was lovely – a salad and acqua for L.H. and then coffee – and the Italians really tried to make her feel welcome.
She showed them photos of The Earl and said, “Mio Marito Cuore operanzione”( My husband – heart operation) which they understood. “Mia figlie preoccupato – papa” (My daughters – worried – dad.) They got that too! And so they continued to communicate with words and gestures. Priceless! It was a comforting interlude but she never saw any of them again.
At 4:15 L.H. headed for the hospital. Dr P had told her that she could be with The Earl when he came round. But the man on duty said, “No, visita alle sei” No, Visiting at 6:30. Lady Helen argued. “Medico detto mi posso visitato Mio Marito”. The doctor said I can visit my husband. He understood. But said No. She began to cry. Genuinely this time. A man who was sitting in the waiting area came up immediately and started to translate for her. She told him that her husband was having surgery and that the doctor had told her she could be there when he woke up. He started to interpret but the receptionist said, “I can understand English.” Then why hadn’t he spoken to her in English!! L.H. was furious and continued speaking to him in poor Italian. “Sono solo in Italia. Voglio mio marito visitare.” I am alone in Italy. I want to visit my husband. Perhaps it was because she continued to try to communicate in Italian or perhaps he genuinely felt ashamed that he had not been more gentle but he picked up the telephone and after speaking a few sentences he turned to her and said in a kind voice. “Your husband is still in surgery. Just wait a little while longer.”
Then a few minutes later he called her to follow him and escorted her to the recovery room. Three doctors whom she had not met previously greeted her at the big red door.
They spoke to her in perfect English and told her that everything had gone very well. One doctor introduced another like this: ‘This is not Dr Barnard – but he is close!’ That reassured her ladyship greatly!
They were extremely kind and allowed LH. to don a sterile robe and slippers. Then they led her to The Earl. He was not conscious. She spoke to him and shed a tear or two and then they gently led her away and said that she could come back the following morning when he would be in High Care. They were so kind and caring and later Lady Helen found out that allowing her in was unheard of. She was clearly only given this special treatment as she was “Solo in Italia” and only seeing her husband in the flesh would reassure her that these Italian “Chris Barnards” had done a good job!