Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Rick's Roadshow: Venice, Italy Part II: The Ventian Scare!
When we first arrived in Venice, I wondered what wonderful adventures this legendary city would bring. My last day brought all kinds of fun and excitement. My last night however, was an evening that will be etched in my memory for sometime, for very different reasons.
The day started on the water, taking a ride on the public transit boats, to see what it was all about. They are quite convenient, and allowed us to get around the city, hopping on and off here and there. We visited a number of stops along the routes, including some areas decidedly void of tourists, which was a refreshing change from the hoards of crowds roaming everywhere else. It was nice to see Venice through the eyes of locals. Little did I know that hours later I would have an even more authentic Venetian experience.
After lunch we did some shopping and meandered anywhere I found a store calling my name. While walking we stumbled on a cute restaurant on a side street that had an unusual menu, so I picked up their business card with phone number and address. Back at our hotel, we consulted the Internet for any information on the restaurant. We were thrilled to read all sorts of very positive reviews, details on the menu and accolades for the establishment. Buoyed by my choice, the concierge called and made reservations for dinner at 8pm. As it was our last night in Venice, I decided to dress up a bit and make a night of it. So in my Brooks Brother’s finest, and donning a new ascot I purchased earlier in the day, we headed to the lounge for a pre-dinner glass of wine. We didn’t realize how close the restaurant was to our hotel, having lost track during our walk back earlier in the day. We arrived early, but they were able to seat us right away. The dinner menu was not the same as the lunch menu we had seen earlier in the day. Most if it was seafood dishes, which is not my preference. I was able to order a pasta dish without the fish, followed by Lamb for a second course. The fresh crusty bread and wine arrived, which is practically all you need in Italy. Then, to our delight, the waiter arrived with a special treat from the chef. A tiny appetizer plate with a single shrimp, on a dollop of pea puree. Normally I don’t eat much shellfish, but not for any reason in particular. And besides, it was grilled, not raw, and it tasted so good. In just two bites it was gone, so tiny in size. As we sat enjoying the delicious wine, I felt the strangest sensation that I couldn’t quite describe, but I was lost in idle conversation I didn’t yet realize what was happening.
Suddenly my first course arrived, it was the delicious home made pasta with a veal sauce they made especially for me instead of the seafood sauce. It smelled so good I could hardly wait to dig in. I swirled the past on my fork, managing to balance the strands into a manageable bite. As my mouth closed on the modest forkful of pasta I realized what was wrong. There was nowhere for the pasta to go. I couldn’t swallow the bite I had just taken because my throat had been slowly closing. I began to perspire rapidly, so I excused myself and went to the men’s room, where I removed the pasta from my mouth and tried to look down my throat. I looked ok, maybe I just needed water, I thought. I returned to the table and told John I didn’t feel right. I attempted to drink some water but had great difficulty swallowing even a very small amount of water. I was getting nervous and played with my food and realized there was no way I was going to be eating any of my dinner. I began to consider my options. Should I let John eat and wait for this to pass? I told myself it was just something minor. But in the next minute it seemed to be worsening and I made the decision to call an ambulance. I got up, and spoke to the Maitre’D and ever-so-politely explained in very broken Italian that while the food was delicious my throat was closing and I needed an ambulance. His eyes popped out of his head and he ran to the telephone.
Suddenly it hit me. I was in a foreign country, with my throat closing and was heading to the hospital. What made me most nervous was that my passport was back at my hotel and John does not speak any Italian. While we waited for the ambulance to arrive, I felt my adrenaline rush from nerves, causing me to perspire heavily. I realized I needed to take some quick action, not knowing what the next hour would bring. I found some paper and a pen and scrawled out my information in Italian as best I could manage. I included the phone number of my brother back in Rhode Island, who speaks fluent Italian, in case they needed to speak with someone. I managed to dial my brother, (who was six hours behind the time in Italy), so it was around 1 pm or so for him. I started by saying: “Listen to me very carefully. I am at a restaurant in Venice where I ate some shrimp and my throat is closing up. I’m on my way to the hospital now. John is with me. I’m leaving your phone number if something happens”. I gave him the name and number of the restaurant and hung up.
The ambulance EMT crew arrived and none of them spoke any English. It was getting more difficult to speak, but I managed to communicate in some Italian and using my hands to describe my condition. I explained that I had no food allergies. After taking my vitals, they gave me a series of different shots. I kept asking “Che Cosa Questa?” (What is this?). I would interpret for John so he would know what they were doing. I didn’t think it was life-threatening, but I wasn’t sure if they were going to give me something that would knock me out. I was texting my brother back home to explain my condition. They whisked me off to the hospital-wheeling me down through a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets, up and over bridges where we reached the canal side, where the ambulance boat was waiting. My legs were like jelly, all wobbly and weak. The orange lights were flashing as they lowered me into the boat. It was surreal as I looked down and realized I was holding an IV bag that was flowing into my veins.The ambulance boat took off at high speed through the canals and out into the open water. I felt cold. I had been perspiring and then cool night breeze was blowing on me from the high speed boat skipping along the surface of the water.
I was admitted into the hospital where fortunately one of the doctors spoke some English and was able to communicate with me. They administered a few more shots to control the allergic reaction, and after a further exam sent me to a waiting room where I sat for several hours waiting for three separate IV drips made their way into my bloodstream. It was not until the third IV drip had finished that I started to feel better. Sometime around eleven, I was wheeled up to another floor to be examined by a specialist who spoke barely any English but we muddled through my very limited Italian vocabulary. After all sorts of exams, he gave me some medicine and send me back down to the waiting room to take the last IV drip. By midnight I was feeling much better and was finally discharged. John had figured out where we were, and we made our way back to the hotel, feeling lucky to be out walking the streets of Venice once again.
Although I’ve never been much of a fan of shellfish, I’ve never had an allergic reaction to shrimp. Needless to say, I have now sworn off all shellfish of any kind. My last night in Venice was not what I had planned, but I was grateful to face another day when the blog would need an update. Some story huh? WHEW.
And now, for some final views of Venice:
Thanks for following along and joining me once again for Rick's Roadshow. It has been one heck of a trip.
-Signore Ricardo Rockhill
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