Of course it was going to happen and of course it would happen with suitably ironic timing: no sooner had I reflected on the children’s independence than my own words were put to the test. After a morning at the beach, Tom was preparing dinner while I got on with some work. H. and la Principessa were playing outside on the patio. P., naturally, was fully immersed in tinkering with Lego – creating a new construction borne of his imagination.
Incidentally I should probably be paying Lego childcare costs: never has a toy engaged two children for such prolonged lengths. The actual Lego sets (so coveted when P. pores over the little booklets) are but shadows of their former selves; my type A personality struggles with this and I harbour secret hopes that in autumn we will have terrible storms necessitating several ‘home days’ during which I can organise properly the kaleidoscopic shambles which are our Lego sets. But I digress.
So, I only vaguely noticed H. come inside to look for some scissors. It was only when I heard the screams that I realised that la Principessa was still outside, sitting on the stone bench. Above the stone patio. Or rather, had been sitting on the stone bench. And was now face down on the stone patio. I scooped the fallen Principessa up and, quite frankly, I probably would have been happier if I had seen some blood, which would at least have given some indication as to the injury. She had clearly blanched with the shock and would not stop crying. We tried all the usual tests: a biscuit? No. Some milk? No. (And this even when proffered in a bottle rather than a cup.) Chocolate? No. When even chocolate would not abate the crying, we decided that we were about to embark on our first Italian hospital experience. We set off, prepared for the long haul in mind but certainly not in body: not only were we all still in beach clothes but we were all – including the now poor Principessa – still adorned with the thin, slightly clammy layer of sand with which one returns from a day by the sea.
Our local town has a small hospital with a ‘pronto soccorso’ unit and it was there we headed. Where in England we would have had to register and outline the incident before being allowed even to wait for a triage nurse, here, in a quasi inversion of Italian bureaucracy, we virtually picked up our nurse as we went through to the triage room. I was intrigued that there was also none of the extreme cross examining we have in the UK, of particular relief to me as I’m not sure my Italian would have withstood it. I managed ‘ha caduta’ (she fell) and communicated the nature of the stone ground. With much gesticulation, an array of facial expressions and a stammering of Italian I managed to communicate to the gentle nurse what had happened. P. and H. meanwhile, were happy to chatter incessantly (they have yet to understand how much I concentrate when trying to speak Italian, let alone then translate the high speed volley I hear in response), as the nurse blew up latex gloves and drew faces on them. Initially sceptical of this apparent entertainment show for all three children, I realised that, of course, Nurse K. was establishing whether the whimpering Principessa would be tempted to engage at all with her brother and sister. She did so, gradually, and Nurse K. drifted off, leaving us slightly bemused and confused. However, shortly afterwards, we were taken through to the doctor’s room, from which we were referred on to the larger hospital, 40 minutes away, and, amusingly, very close to the beach we had left only a few hours earlier.
Naturally, P. was absolutely delighted to be in the ‘ospedale’, a position which afforded him a close up view of three ambulances; in fact, his delight in this proximity to a second emergency service, (hot on the heels of our interaction with the local Polizia) far exceeded any concern for the state of his younger sister’s head and he was positively overjoyed to be sent onto the larger hospital: ‘Another hospital? Are we going in an ambulance’. He was disappointed, to say the least, to hear that the blow to the head was by no means serious enough to warrant our transportation in an emergency vehicle.
Bearing papers documenting the incident, stamped and signed several times to satisfy adequately bureaucratic standards, we set off for the main hospital. I assumed that here we would meet our lengthy wait, A and E visits in the UK never taking fewer than eight hours, in my experience. So when Tom deposited us at the door and went to find food with the older two children, I was confident that he would return to find us sitting in some queue. Credit where due, however: they were expecting us – ‘si, si, la bambina piccola ha caduta della panchina’ – and we were ushered immediately in to see the paediatrician.
Suffice to say, a look in la Principessa’s ear (of which I feel sure the doctor in our local hospital would have been capable) clarified that this is where she had knocked herself, it being quite red and enflamed. We were sent home with instructions to keep a close eye on her for 72 hours and a list of signs of concussion to look for.
A mere 20 minutes after I had entered the hospital, (much of which time had been spent with the nurses blowing bubbles to distract la Principessa while the paediatrician observed her), I carried la piccolina out of the hospital. Wandering towards the main road, my beach dress looked thoroughly incongruous with dusk setting, the wind whipping up and the temperature dropping. With tear stained face, bare feet and clutching her bedraggled monkey la Principessa was every inch a pathetic waif, a forlorn princess. At this point I realised that Tom did not have his phone and I knew neither where he had parked nor where he had gone to find food for the older children. In fact, I realised that in this, our nearest city, I know only two roads: into and out of the station. It was a reminder of our over-reliance on technology. Ordinarily our mobile devices are extensions of our arms (in Tom’s case, literally, as his frequent flyer status has necessitated trialling a new Apple watch…), but on this particular evening we were under equipped in every way: insufficient clothing; insufficient food supplies and insufficient means of communication.*
*As will be apparent from the writing of this post after the date, we found each other on the streets in Grosseto – per fortuna, relatively quickly and la Principessa, though wobbly on her feet for a few days, is fine and back in full principessa mode – making demands in a manner too adorable for anyone to say no to her and ‘ciao’-ing her way through the day.