Italian for Travelers: In Case of an Emergency

Jul 15, 2013

Hospital sign 



Sooner or later most travelers, however healthy and hearty, encounter some emergenza medica (medical emergency). If the problem is minor, do what Italians do and consult the local farmacista. If it’s after hours and not a matter of life or death, the best place to turn is la guardia medica, a sort of walk-in clinic available to anyone in every city after doctors’ offices close in the evening. Many tourist sites, such as popular beaches and ski resorts, have a Guardia medica turistica, available to all (including foreigners) day and night. Patients usually are responsible for a co-payment. 

In caso di vera emergenza (in case of a true emergency), whether an accident (incidente), injury (infortunio), or illness (malattia), you can call 118, the Italian equivalent of 911, or go to a Pronto Soccorso (the emergency department) at a local hospital. Never hesitate to call for help (aiuto) if you think the problem might be a heart attack (infarto), stroke (ictus), appendicitis (appendicite), fracture (frattura), an asthma attack (un attacco d’asma), food poisoning (intossicazione alimentare) or another disturbo grave (serious disorder). 

Most doctors (medici) speak some English, but they may ask you “Dove fa male?” (Where does it hurt?). You can always point and say, “Mi fa male qui” (It hurts here)/ However, it helps to be able to identify the troubling body part in Italian: occhio (eye), orecchio (ear), cuore (heart), petto or torace (chest), gola (throat), collo (neck), gomito (elbow), braccio (arm), spalla (shoulder), gamba (leg), ginocchio (knee), piede (foot), pelle (skin). 

If you have a chronic health problem, learn how to say “I’m a diabetic” (Sono diabetico) or “I have a heart condition (Ho disturbi cardiaci) or “I have high blood pressure” (Ho la pressione alta). Bring any prescriptions (ricette mediche) with you, and learn the generic as well as the brand names of any drugs (droghe) that you take. 

Whenever and wherever you feel under the weather, take it easy. As Italians say, “Il letto è già una medicina.”  Bed, or rest, is already a treatment. 

Words and Expressions 

ammalarsi — fall sick 

uscita d’emergenza — emergency exit 

stato di emergenza — state of emergency 

punti di sutura — stitches 

Dianne Hales is the author of La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.  Click here for more information on joining her for a week of writing, cooking, and savoring Italian pleasures in Capri this fall.  

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