Not All Doctors Are Italian, but All Italians Are Doctors

I just came back from a recent trip in Europe. I have spent two weeks in the Netherlands amongst friends and a little more than a week in Italy with my family. Coming from the warmth of the tropics it was to be expected that I would catch a cold once I set foot in a temperate climate in full winter mode. What I did not expect was that I would be sick for the entire time.

First I had a sore throat and a small fever. Than came the hopeless cough, especially at night. Finally, a cold that made me ‘tasteproof’, right when I needed my taste the most (i.e. in Italy if any of you were wondering). Although I admit I take pleasure in talking about my sickness, I suspect you might find it more interesting to know how I came to the conclusion that all Italians are doctors.

First of all, you should know that the Italian peninsula is afflicted by diseases and aches that are national in nature. In fact, they have never been reported outside Italian borders. People of other nationalities living steadily in Italy might suffer of these diseases, but once the Alps are crossed only Italian emigrants can still catch them. For this reason Dany Mitzman, a freelancer journalist living in Bologna and working for the BBC, wrote an extremely enlightening article on “how to avoid getting ‘hit by the air’ in Italy”. Yes, if you were thinking of going to Italy and simply enjoy its mild and cuddling weather, think twice. The wind in Italy is famously known to hit people in the most random situations and make them sick. The so-called colpo d’aria (hit of air) is a very painful reality responsible of bothering the health of many Italians every year. If you are not properly covering  your neck, if you walk from a warm environment into a cold one, or if you sweat you are most likely to be hit by the air and develop, by consequence, a cold, a cough, a sore throat, a fever, a stiff neck or a combination of these. Italians mothers know best. That is why they relentlessly remind their children to cover themselves, to pay attention when going outside and most of all to not sweat while playing (!?)

I got sick in the Netherlands. The name or the cause of my illness was quite irrelevant for my friends there, but they all advise me to rest and take a few paracetamol. I was still sick when I arrived in Italy. Here, however, everyone seemed to have a very strong opinion about what I had and how to treat it. There was no doubt that I had been hit by the air. My mother was certain. Friends and relatives agreed. It was obvious. It was a unanimous diagnosis. But not all of them agreed on the cure. And here the crucial argument for my theory unfolds.

My sister-in-law prescribed aerosol with cortisone combined with a syrup. My father though that injections might be required. My mother told to me that the colpo d’aria made me develop a bronchitis and that I must have gone to a doctor. But don’t be foolish! I shouldn’t have gone to a doctor for his/her opinion. I should have gone to a doctor to get a prescription for an antibiotic. My mother had raised three children and specialized in colpi d’aria and cervicale (see the article by Mitzman for the latter) so she had already figured it all out. Finally, my grandmother agreed with her. With great disappointment of all – and unlimited reminders of my mother diagnosis at my every cough – I settled for a common syrup by the pharmacy. Did it help? I guess. A little. Would have any of the above mentioned treatments worked better? I will never know. What however became painfully clear is that the eight years I spent in the Netherlands have stripped me of my Italian medical degree.

Now I’m back to Sint Maarten and I’m feeling much better. I no longer fear to be hit by the air, but as an Italian myself – doctor or not – I know I should never let my guard down.


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