Thursday, October 10, 2013

Help for moms whose fantasy life needs a makeover

Last night, I started reading Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. I've had it lying around for years, and finally picked it up. It's a memoir of the travel writer's renovation of a villa she purchased in the Tuscan countryside.

I've held off reading the book because I knew it would give me a severe case of wanderlust. Sure enough, after a couple of chapters I put it down and stared into space, dreaming about renting out a villa in Tuscany next summer.

My travel fantasies boil down to three types: Actually possible, fantastical yet possible and purely fantastical. Taking the kids to La Jolla, one of my favorite cities: actually possible. Taking the kids to The Great Barrier Reef: purely fantastical. A Tuscan villa falls squarely in the middle. We could find a gorgeous one at a reasonable price (hey, this is a fantasy), take off two weeks, explore nearby towns and vineyards, cook with local ingredients, eat lots and lots of fresh pasta, take afternoon naps in hammocks, find a Prada outlet store (I know, that would particularly thrill the kids).

And then, bringing my fantasy to a grinding halt: What if Max had a seizure? What if we needed to rush him to a hospital? How many good hospitals are there in the region? Would they even know what to do?

I'd studied in Florence when I was a junior in college, and learned Italian while I was there, but I wouldn't be able to count on my rusty Italian to get by in an emergency. This is when I picked up the phone and called the neuro's office, because I suddenly realized I didn't have an updated letter on how a hospital should treat Max if he ever had a seizure; I always carry a letter like that around, just in case.

The last time Max had a major seizure, a grand mal, he was just one and a half and the ambulance workers couldn't stop it. It took the doctors in the ER what seemed like forever to get him under control. It lasted about 40 minutes, and Dave and I were terrified Max had gotten more brain damage. But, no. He was OK. Max had just learned how to high-five and I still remember him lying groggily in the hospital bed, his little pudgy hand lifting to give us a high-five, maybe the best high-five ever in the history of high-fives.

I remain traumatized, most of all, by the sight of Max lying on the couch in our living room, seizing uncontrollably. I thought he was dying. He's never had a seizure like that since,  but I will never be able to get that out of my head. It's definitely post traumatic stress disorder I haven't dealt with.

Back to my non-fantasy: I figured I could always get an emergency-instructions letter translated into Italian before we went on a trip, and of course I could look up info on Tuscany hospitals and then surely, through social media, someone would know someone who had family in Italy and I could get more medical scoop that way.

Yep, this is how my daydreams go these days. I've come a long way from the carefree travels of my pre-parent life when I hiked in Patagonia, Chile; road-tripped around Ireland, Costa Rica and Spain; and sailed Alaska's Glacier Bay. Once, I flew as a courier to Milan to a friend who was studying there. Air courier companies basically pay your plane ticket (or they used to, it's been awhile) so they can use your luggage allocation to transport packages. My dad was convinced I was acting as a drug mule, and that he'd never see me again. Everything went fine except at the end, when a guy at the airport handed me my plane ticket to go home. After he left, I realized he'd given me a ticket receipt instead of the actual ticket. I stood there freaking out until I happened to spot him going down an escalator, and he got me the real ticket.

Settling into a villa in Tuscany seems like a relatively tame thing to do. I just need to get past my concerns about foreign travel with Max and the PTSD although the lure of pasta, vino and afternoon naps might do it.

Image: Flickr/Mercea2011


  1. What if Sabrina trips over an olive tree root and fractures a bone? What if Dave chomps down on an errant olive pit and breaks a tooth? What if you have an allergic reaction to the local sausage? Hey, we're all at risk all the time. You've got a healthy kid who doesn't need constant medical monitoring. Take some reasonable precautions, be reasonably prepared, and then go for it!

  2. So true to the other comment. Plus, now with the internet, you can plan and know what's around. Nothing is totally safe. What if you go to LA Jolla and there is an earthquake?

  3. Yeah I agree with 1st Anon. The time you were in my state Utah- there could have been a earthquake as Utah is earthquake country. Anyway what I'm trying to say is do it as you only live once. If you are worried, use the Internet to find out about Italy.


  4. I imagine his seizure was terrifying, but if it's been so many years since he's had a big one one, it's less and less likely that he'll have another. (I have a kid with epilepsy myself).

  5. Anything can go wrong anywhere, even in your own home. There's no avoiding it, so go for it!

  6. So much changes with kids, doesn't it? And even more with our kids with special powers.

  7. My brother specialized in that kind of extreme seizure. He often seized for upwards for 3 hours, hitting the 5+ hour mark an average of once a year. This was with extensive medical intervention. (I still remember mom getting shipments of entire boxes of bottles of liquid Valium to help control in progress seizures.) But we managed to travel some with Dew, even ending up in a few random hospitals along the way. First off, seizures are a fairly universal issue- they can be caused by so many diseases, as well as accidents, that ERs all over the world are equipped to get one to stop. I imagine if all the other stars were to align for such an awesome trip, you'd be able to find a villa near a good hospital. The Internet makes so much research doable these days. I also bet if you asked them the Make A Wish foundation might be ale to help you find info on foreign hospital ratings. They do, after all, send families all over the world to grant kids wishes. :D You'd make it happen, and you guys would have a great time, and you'd have even more amazing memories of your family.

  8. Great fantasy. Can I come when you guys go?

  9. Hi Ellen,
    I'm writing from Italy and have been following your blog for almost two years. I just love it. I adore Max (and you) and have learnt an awful lot about special needs and CP. Your blog is also wonderfully written, a pretty rare quality on the net these days.

    Just to reassure you - if I may - on the level of health services in my country, here's an article published in La Repubblica just a few days ago:

    I'm sure your Italian's good enough to skim through it, and I will spare you the boring details, but basically it reports two different surveys carried out recently on the Italian National Health system, according to which if the North, and the city of Milan in particular, still ranks as the top region for excellence hospitals and medical research, Tuscany actually comes up as the best region for health services spread all over the territory.
    With the ever-growing number of farmhouses that open their doors to tourism in Tuscany, It shouldn't be too difficult for you to find somewhere suitable for your family near a town like Florence, Siena, Arezzo, or Pisa, which are all equipped with top state hospitals well catered for treating seizures.

    Also, should you need to translate a letter with instructions from your hospital into Italian, I would be very happy to do it for you (for free, of course) and having it cjecked by a doctor for medical accuracy. I am a professional English translator as well as a book editor and that's the least I could do to repay you for endless hours of reading your amazing blog and learning so much through it. I live in dreary Milan (I'm 48 and freelancing), and I have been on Tuscan farmhouse holidays myself in the past, and always loved it.

    I would love you to come to Italy again and enjoy the beauty and pleasures of Tuscany. Do come over! Do bring Max and Sabrina (and Dave!) :)
    Italy's waiting for you.



    ps: I will provide my email privately, in case you need any kind of info.

  10. *cjecked = checked, of course! :D



Thanks for sharing!

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