I recently retired from a lifelong career as a critical-care nurse and I have always been curious about hospitals in foreign countries. Often I have been tempted to walk inside and have a look around. Usually there isn’t enough time, but on his particular day in Venice I had no agenda and had plenty of time. When I realized I was walking alongside the hospital in Venice, I decided that today I would satisfy my curiosity.
As I entered the doors of Ospedale SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Castello I was surprised to find a sprawling labyrinth of walkways and halls.
I didn’t realize that this building occupied a former fifteenth-century monastery, known today as Scuola Grande di San Marco. You’d never know from this elaborate facade that inside its walls is a hospital.
Known to the locals as Ospedale Civile, this is the main hospital in Venice.
I wandered around without any signs of security or anyone questioning me.
Soon I passed the psychiatric department but couldn’t see anything other than this sign.
Eventually I came across the Emergency Room or Pronto Soccorso Traumatologico. From what I could see everything looked very clean and modern. I was already impressed.
I decided that possibly I might be able to visit the ICU which was upstairs by way of the elevator. At the information desk I was pleased to find a friendly young Italian gentleman who spoke perfect English. I inquired if I might be able to have a tour of the ICU, since I was a critical-care nurse visiting from the USA. I expected to be turned down, but to my surprise, he was happy to oblige. “Let me call upstairs and see if this is possible. Please wait here,” he said.
Within a few minutes he informed me that he would escort me to the floor where the ICU was located. I could not believe my good luck. When we got off the elevator a sign directed us to an area called CICU (Cardiological Intensive Care Unit). “Please wait here while I speak to the nurse in charge,” he said. After about two minutes a woman wearing blue scrubs and a name tag approached me and spoke in Italian. Obviously the charge nurse, she indicted that she needed to obtain permission from the director. She instructed me to put on some paper booties, like the ones typically worn in the operating room.
The gentleman from the Information Desk waited with me until she returned and motioned for me to follow her. He then said goodbye and went back to his duties, while she escorted me inside the unit. I knew that I wouldn’t be allowed to take any photos here, and I also was aware that she was busy and I was grateful for the opportunity to tour her ICU.
Once inside I observed a center desk and console of state-of-the-art cardiac monitors. No one was sitting at the desk. She explained in Italian that the unit had seven beds and an extra room for emergencies. She brought me into that emergency room, where they treat patients who have coded. I was surprised to see two balloon pumps sitting there. Standard equipment in most busy critical-care areas, I didn’t expect a small unit in Italy to have such high-tech equipment. Now I was doubly impressed. We walked past a room where a patient was on a ventilator, and she told me that she could not take me in there, for patient privacy reasons, naturally.
I asked her if they stay busy and she said yes, informing me that only two nurses care for all these patients, and that the nurse-patient ratio is the same for both day shift and night shift. She shrugged her shoulders to express her frustration with the short-staffing issues, which seem to be the same as in the States.
I thanked her and said good-bye, letting her get back to work. I never saw another nurse.
So I left the hospital feeling good, my curiosity satisfied. I also know that if I am in Venice and would need the services of a hospital, this would be the place to go.
Outside the hospital were the water ambulances. (Yes of course the ambulance is a boat.) If you look across the lagoon in this photo you’ll see Isola di San Michele, Venice’s cemetery, conveniently located.
This was not your typical touristy day but a satisfying one for me to be sure.
Have you had to seek medical care in Italy? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Please leave a comment.
Grazie and ciao.
If you haven’t been to my Author page, Books by Margie Miklas yet, you can check out my books for more personal stories about Italy.
I was recently taken by water ambulance on July 17, 2022 from our hotel (Maison Venezia)for bleeding from the bladder. I have to say the hotel was extremely helpful they called a doctor immediately for instructions on what to do to help as I was traveling with my daughters and granddaughters and they did not know what to do! I was taken into the emergency room immediately and given a pelvic ultra sound because they thought it could be my kidneys as I had a bad fall the previous day! They found nothing so I was taken to see a gynecologist who determined after another ultrasound that it could be a UTI so I was given an antibiotic drip and antibiotics to take for 6 days. I found everyone to be very respectful and caring of my situation and very professional including the EMTs who took me by water taxi. When I got the bill $287 I was in shock and very appreciative because I thought with everything they did it was going to wipe me out for the rest of my vacation! As with a previous comment, the machines to pay were also not working and I am still figuring out how to pay them for their services. I think I will write them a check and mail it to the address listed on google. I was very impressed with their professionalism and compassion and I was able to continue with our trip with no further issues. I will forever be grateful to them for treating me as one if their own citizens!
Thanks so much, Maggie, for taking time to share your experience. I’m happy to hear it was a good one and glad you are okay. I hope you can return to Venice another time when you don’t have to deal with health emergencies. Ciao
Hello Margie I found your site when I was trying to figure out how to pay my bill for a recent trip to this hospital as the payment center was not working the evening I was there. I am a RN with Critical Care and Management background in Ohio. I must say I was taken back by the long hallways and trip through a garden then through more hall ways. I entered through the door you have in the first photo as a patient I had bronchitis and exacerbation of asthma and needed back to back aerosols and steroids so my view is a little different than yours. I felt they were behind the times quite a bit , After taking my history , passport and ID info I was placed in a wheelchair and sat in a patient solarium or waiting room along with other patients on carts and wheelchairs no privacy. They came and and took me to the exam ward I am calling it that as there was 3 carts with patients with a curtain between me and another patient and then a room divider between another patient and the doctors desk. After the doctor examined me I was given iv cortisol and then taken back out to get an xray, then back to the patient waiting room where they gave me aerosol treatments mind you this was just an open room no curtains nothing with at least 5 other people in and I was coughing a lot! All I could think was how did these people survive Covid at all, After 3 rounds of aerosols a nurse came out to listen to my breath sounds then the tech gave me 2 more aerosols. I finally felt better which was good as the woman next to me was trying to climb off her cart so I got up so she wouldn’t get hurt there was no one that I could see watching what was going on ( they must of had cameras} because then a nurse came out and assisted her. So I then told her I was much better and she had the doc check me and then I was discharged. All in all the actual medical treatment was par for what I had going on but honestly I am glad I wasn’t any sicker than I was at the time. From this experience I appreciate the health care system here in the US so- so- so much more.
Hi Dee… So sorry it has taken me this long to reply. Nice to connect. What a small world, since I also worked as a critical care nurse at St E’s in Youngstown in the early part of my nursing career. Thank you for sharing your perspective as a patient in this Venice hospital. It definitely makes one appreciate the challenges of getting sick ina foreign country. Than you again for taking the time.
How very interesting. I had not considered the ambulances in Venice would be boats, never thought about it until reading this very interesting article, Margie. … right up to the cemetery across the lagoon .(ghad)! Beautiful photos!
Thank you so much, Jill…Yes things certainly are different in Venice, an island without cars. Interesting beyond imagination, and I love it.
We wandered along the coast from our accommodation and saw the ambulance launches, and then the hospital. And then the big church adjacent to the hospital, one of the five most significant of Venice. Well, of course, for the first 3 or 4 centuries (!) the hospital would have been staffed by clerics – monks or nuns – who would have attended 5 services a day …
My sister is in this hospital due to a serious fall and will be having surgery on Friday. I was relieved to read your article as I have no idea the type of healthcare she will be receiving. Thank you So much!!!
I don’t know how I came across your page, but your photos brought back memories of the time I was in Venice last year with my family. We’re from Southern California. My 6 year old fell off a bunk bed, which was an approximate 2.5 meter fall. Surprisingly, the only injuries she sustained was a broken tooth that was already loose and bruising to her face and hip. Still haunts me today. My husband is a first responder, so he didn’t see the need to rush our baby to the hospital in the middle of the night, so we went to sleep right after the crying was over.
The next morning, our little one wasn’t behaving like herself and seemed too tired or lethargic to even walk, so we ran all over Venice looking for the hospital and when we saw the signs, we followed them.
We got to the hospital and the front desk directed us to the emergency area. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait and the staff collected our passports and identification documents, made copies and handed them back. They were the most kindest, most nurturing medical staff I have ever come in contact with. It seems like there aren’t a lot of kids in Venice, so they treated our daughter like she was the last child on earth. I can’t begin to express how wonderful they were. They checked each and every single part of her body.
When a child suffers a fall of over 1.5 meters, the hospital considers those cases trauma and the child is required to stay in the hospital for observation for 24 hours. I was freaked about it at first. Wondering how we were going to pay for the services, thinking that my family was going to be stuck in Venice forever. I was just so scared. Luckily, I paid with my credit card, but later received a refund in the mail. It was quite bizarre.
Anyway, my daughter’s treatment was excellent. The hospital ordered every test in the book, with the exception of an x-ray. By keeping our child overnight, it would reveal whether it was in the child’s best interest to expose her to radiation. Can you believe they were even cautious about radiation? They didn’t want to expose our little one to any dangerous treatment unless it was truly necessary.
The staff wheeled our baby girl to every specialist in the hospital, including an Ear, Nose, Throat Specialist, Opthamologist, Dentist, Orthopedic Specialist, and 2 other specialists. The head doctor even took me to get a cup of coffee because I was so scared. It was a good experience for a bad situation and at the end of the trip, I was glad we took our daughter to that hospital. It was by far the best treatment that I know I could never get here in the US. Thanks for posting and allowing me to share my experience. As i sit here in tears, I hadn’t really had the opportunity to express what happened in April 2017.
Diana, I’m just now seeing this…I appreciate your sharing here…I’m glad your little one is OK after that frightening incident on vacation in a foreign country, and am happy you had a good experience, scary as the situation was.
Three years ago my wife fell and broke her wrist and shattered her elbow in Venice. To say the medical treatment was horrid is an understatement. The EMT’s on the ambulance boat were great. The staff in the ER at the hospital were very good and professional. The X-Ray technician was a sadistic ass. He was more concerned that she did not speak Italian than what her injuries were. He berated her for not speaking Italian while jerking her injured arm around. The ER/Orthopedic Doctor could not have cared less. While eating cookies he told her that her elbow was broken and that she should fly home to have it treated. When she insisted that her wrist was broken he argued with her and said it wasn’t in the X-Rays. While wrapping her elbow with an Ace bandage he kept telling her to hold her hand up. She couldn’t do it because of her wrist. After about fifteen minutes he sent her back to the X-ray department, where she was again badgered about her inability to speak Italian. Back to the doctor and he acknowledged that her wrist was also broken. He wrapped her arm in an Ace bandage and made a sling from a gauze roll. I asked about pain medication and he told me that Aspirin would be sufficient. We were ushered out of the ER at 4AM. When I asked how to get back to our hotel I was told to wait for the vaporetto. We caught a flight back home at 11AM. Back home her wrist was pinned together and she received a prosthetic elbow. We met a lot of great people in Italy, but the doctor and X-ray technician overwhelmed the experience.
In response to a letter the hospital suspended them both and conducted an investigation. I have heard similar stories of Italian medical horrors and do not plan to return.
Oh my gosh, that is terrible. What a miserable experience you had. I’m glad you were able to get home and be treated properly. I do not blame you for not returning….Very sad and totally unacceptable.
mary harris (@gracemarylaura)
Some were wondering how you can be treated on a speeding water ambulance. I was treated in a stationary ambulance before being transferred to water ambulance. I just had a monitor on the water ambulance. As a patient I was very impressed with this hospital. Very streamlined, efficient & coordinated.
Thanks so much for commenting, Mary…I’m glad to hear you had a positive experience…Healthcare in Venice is alive and well!
I found this blog and wanted to reply from a “patient’s” perspective. On the first day of a 12-day vacation in Italy I fell and broke my leg (tibial plateau fracture) while on a boat in Venice. When the boat docked, the captain told our escort (in Italian) that he couldn’t take me to the ER and my husband would have to carry me about 1000 yards to another boat! I was in agony with pain. Finally got to this hospital that you toured and NO ONE spoke English or attempted to. We figured out through our tour guide that my leg was broken and that I needed surgery ASAP. Also that I had to spend THREE weeks here in bed! We had no choice. Took me to a barren 4-bed ward (again no English) with manual beds and no privacy curtains. It took us awhile to realize you have to bring in your own liquids (water, etc)! I was taken for an MRI, etc. then surgery was two days later. My husband said that they had me sign a consent for two pints of blood while I was just out of recovery and not coherent! I was totally at their mercy. The second week there, a patient in the room went into respiratory distress and the entire ER team came in to treat her in front of us! She died! No family is allowed in the room when the doctors do rounds so my husband never got to talk to them! My insurance company sent a rescue nurse (Thank God!) to fly home with us and the hospital would not give her any of my records or X-rays so when I got home my Ortho had nothing to go by. Thankfully he said the surgery looked good. They also left the catheter in for the three weeks I was there so I came home with a terrible UTI. Glad you were impressed but a warning to anyone going there that’s not an Italian citizen….beware!
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You’ve shared a very useful and reassuring insight, Margie. Ben fatto! Grazie!
Found this through the #Mondayblogs hashtag. It’s very interesting to see that the working parts of efficient hospitals in other countries are very much like the ones in my hometown. Since I want to share this in the daytime when people here are online, I will just share through Buffer for a larger photo for Tuesday instead of using the hashtag which is reserved for Monday.
Thanks so much Barbara…not exactly your typical travel blog post.. Glad you found it interesting!!!
Good for you for following up on your curiosity. I’ve never sought medical help in Italy but some friends recently experienced a tragedy there. I won’t go into the details here I’ll only say that if you need to go to a hospital in Italy for anything serious it should be in a large city like Rome, Venice, Florence etc. Where they are used to handling people from all over the world. This does look nice. But only 2 nurses! Wow!
Stacy di Anna
Lovely post! I have not experienced an Italian hospital but had a similar experience when I visited an Italian school (I am a former teacher). Love seeing an aspect of life, so familiar, presented in the Italian way. In fact, wherever I travel, I love visiting local schools. Thank you for the post!
Interesting read, thanks for sharing. I recall walking past that on my tour of Venice and hearing the story of that hospital, great to see some of the pics from the inside. Your experience goes along with that recent survey I read that said Italy has the best health care in Europe! 🙂
Love the ambulance. What a curious experience and fun! 😉
Greg Devlin (@GregDevlin)
I love your stories Margie. They’re so cool. I can be tied up in the middle of a project and then get an email update from you. Immediately upon clicking on it, I’m transported into a really cool Italian journey and in only a few minutes I have traveled to a colorful place in the world, that I may never be at again, only to return to my project anticipating the next adventure update. Thank You! Margie
Un po' di pepe
I guess we nurses are always attracted to hospitals! 🚑🚑🚑 I have always had positive experiences when visiting relatives in hospital in Italia. My little village of 3000 people has a 24 hour medical clinic and an ambulanza on standby. love the ambulanza marina!
Margie, you would enjoy Shirley Hazzard’s book, ANCIENT SHORE (dispatches from Naples). Specifically, the chapter titled “The Incident in Naples” describes her being mugged with purse stolen and her experience in a hospital there.
The anonymous comment above was from me, Pam Carey, author of ELDERLY PARENTS WITH ALL THEIR MARBLES, and annual visitor to Ischia and other regions of beloved Italia.
A PERFECT example how a traveler experiences Italy vs a tourist! To find a common interest, skill or event has all the more meaning when you are experiencing another culture. My visits to the local grocery store or departments store in every locations I travel is a topic scorned by others who enjoy listing the cities they have ‘done’. (I did Florence, Rome etc)
I have only had the flue while in Italy and was sent to the pharmacia to describe my symptoms by very comic gestures and giving tablets that were NOT as good a tamiflu!
Brava for you discovering something totally new!
Thank you Lee. I appreciate that. I have had good experiences at the farmacia but I also travel with my own supply of Sudafed, Vicks and antibiotics! LOL
Love your post Margie, especially as I had cause to test the Emergency department last year when I broke my finger and fainted in the waiting room! And I’m pleased to report that the staff were wonderful – especially the nurses and porter – and looked after me brilliantly as I was there alone. They gave me the most professional check up I think I’ve ever had, fixed me without delay and showed me a great deal of care and attention. They even made sure I got something to eat and was steady on my feet before they would even consider letting me go. I cannot praise them highly enough so I’m glad you’ve brought their great work to public attention! Thanks!
So glad you had a positive experience when you were a patient in Italy! Thank you for sharing here.
Great story Margie!
I am a retired school teacher and whenever I pass a scuola on my travels in Italy I always have the urge to peek inside.
Have you ever watched the TV series Venice 24/7? It is a seven part series that follows the 3 emergency serices ( police, fire and ambulance) around Venice. Absolutely fascinating to see how those services have to operate in a city such as this!
Paula, Is that by any chance on DVD, in English or subtitled?
I’d like to know too
Yes me too!!
I found copies on eBay. I just ordered mine 🙂
Here is another link where you can buy it or download it: http://www.sbs.com.au/shop/product/category/DVDs/9313/Venice-24-7-DVD-Digital-Download
Thank you Paula,
I can imagine you’d have the same sense of curiosity about schools as I did about hospitals. I have not heard of that TV series but Id love to watch it. Is this on the air in the states?
Thank you for this story. I am a retired Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse, and I would love to visit an NICU in Italy. I am impressed that you got to see the inside of the CICU. I have walked inside that hospital in Venice, and was impressed with the hospital being in this lovely building. I was too timid to venture very far. I will be more adventurous, thanks to you.
Ciao for now, Dolly
Don’t worry Dolly, ICU people are the same all over. They teach out of one side of their mouth while they reassure patients with the other side. You either love them or hate them but they will scoop you up and involve you in the way things work in their shop. Share a little with them but don’t pull out that old standby, “In my hospital we do it THIS WAY,” assuming we do it the only right way lol. You know how we are, a little pat on the head goes a long, long way.
Thank you DOLLY..I didn’t remember that you had been a NICU RN. Yes I’d encourage you to check out a hospital on your next trip to Italy..I would be interested to read about your experience.
Beautiful Margie. When I was young and still traveled, I always took in the local hospitals. My favorite was the sprawling Jackson Memorial Hosptal of Miami, now the Dade County Medical Center or something like that. I trained there! But very, very close was Mass General in Boston. What a class act and patients came first. I saw a nurse ditch a touring doctor group to put a pan under a crying patient. Yes, patients came first. Glad to see this lovely establishment and will add that nurse to my prayer list. Maybe they will get another nurse sometime soon.
Thank you Bonnie and I am glad you enjoyed it. As a nurse yourself, you’d appreciate the inside scoop…
I was really interested to read this post! I knew of this hospital from all of the Donna Leon Brunetti novels. As someone with complex health issues, I was a little concerned when I visited Venice in October and since I plan to return to Venice later this year it is nice to see the inside of the hospital and to hear the perspective of a critical care nurse. On the same trip in October I had to make a visit to a doctor in Rome. I chose the Aventine Medical Group–a favorite of ex-pats. They have a large number of doctors who cover all areas of medicine. I was able to get an appointment within 24 hours of calling and I was very impressed by the care I received. I did not have to wait at all in the waiting room, being called in as soon as I arrived. The doctor was very thorough, kind, and attentive. I didn’t feel rushed at all. He spoke good English and he was very considerate about finding me the right medicine. Since I have a lot of allergies to antibiotics, he prescribed a natural medicine that I was easily able to obtain from a local pharmacy. The whole visit cost me 80 Euro and I was fully reimbursed by my insurance company when I returned home to the States. A very positive experience.
Thank you Deb for sharing your story from Rome. That is wonderful to hear. And also about the low cost. Incredible
I loved how you ended it with the pic of the ambulance and reference to the cemetery location
Thank you…I couldn’t resist
Very interesting Margie! Good to know they have such great facilities. When I saw the Ambulanza on my trip, I couldn’t help but wonder how they are able to treat people on a boat, moving quickly on the many times, rough water. I envisioned it being quite difficult should the need to intubate, or start an IV in transit arise. Great post!!
I’m sure it’s a challenge to treat someone on a speeding boat..Life is certainly different in Italy. Thanks for commenting