A different shade of red (tape)

Alex was 3 months old yesterday and we took him for a routine test that the hospital recommends for all infants between 2-3 months of life. The results were fine, but the interesting part is how long it took us to get this appointment. When I left the hospital in February, the staff said to call for an appointment on March 20, and only between the hours of 11 am-1 pm. There is only one day a month when these types of appointments are scheduled. That’s it. So, Michael called and was told that since Alex was born on February 21, he was less than 1 month old and we had to wait another month to schedule an appointment. The reason being that he needed to be between 2-3 months old for this exam. March 20 was just an arbitrary day the office chose to schedule these appointments and it was just our luck that we were one day off. Had they randomly decided that the 21st of each month was the magic day to reserve this particular appointment, we wouldn’t have had a problem.

So, we waited and called again in April. Or, tried to call. Michael called 15-20 times in the allotted two hours and the line was always busy—until 12:55 p.m. when it finally started ringing. After 20-30 rings, no one answered so he hung up. Then, the lines were closed. We’d missed our window. The next day, Michael called again and was told that all the appointments were booked up for the month and he should have called yesterday. Now, we had to wait another month to call for a June appointment—which would be too late for Alex to take the test. Michael argued with the appointment scheduler and even talked to customer service, but to no avail. They kept saying there was nothing they could do because they only scheduled these appointments once a month. They also swore they were working at 12:55 p.m. True bureaucracy at work. Anyway, we saw the pediatrician a couple of weeks later and she was able to recommend a radiologist and we scheduled an appointment without a problem.  The appointment was a breeze; we were in and out of there in 20 minutes and didn’t have to fill out any paperwork. In fact, I didn’t have to fill out any paperwork when Alex was born, but that’s for another post. As with other specialty medical visits in this socialized medical system, all you need is a ricetta (prescription) from your primary doctor, and your visit is at least partially covered by the state. This particular visit was free, because it was mandatory.

This experience made us reflect on the absurdities of bureaucracies, but we also realized that the reason it stuck out to us is precisely because we were foreigners. It’s not that this type of bureaucracy doesn’t happen in America—of course it does. Just in different forms. Since we’re living abroad, everything is new and foreign, and the system is foreign too. We expect certain types of bureaucracy at home, almost to the point of not realizing it, but we didn’t know exactly what kind of bureaucracy to expect in Italy. As outsiders, the red tape is much more apparent to us.

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