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This report is taken from PN Review 173, Volume 33 Number 3, January - February 2007.

The Isola Tiberina Jane Stevenson

Up to a point, it is reassuring to visit a hospital which has been there in one form or another since the third century BC. But with a degree or two of fever, and time dragging by in 'Pronto Soccorso' (First Aid), it was also easy to be visited by fantastic forebodings. What would appear when the door finally opened? The sacred serpents of the shrine of Aesculepius? A medicus trained in the theories of Hippocrates and Galen? A monk bearing a relic of St Bartholomew?

It had been a long, hot walk across Rome, especially with a septic blister, the result of a long, footsore day in the Vatican museums. In the course of the couple of days that fol lowed this rash overindulgence in aesthetics, it turned nasty. I started to become lightly feverish, and red streaks started wandering up my leg; in pre-antibiotics days, the dreaded first symptom of blood poisoning, prompting the discouraging thought that people used to die of that sort of thing in Rome all the time. It was Sunday by then, and in any case, only a small number of duty pharmacists are open in Rome between one and four, and none of them were in streets which featured on my map. When I did finally locate a pharmacist, peering suspiciously from behind a metal grille and stood on one leg to display my shin, she said firmly that I must go all'ospedale, and pointed ...


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