Friday, February 20, 2015


Three years after the Torcello gondola mixup, we returned to Carnevale and Venezia for the last time with our good friends Deb and Joan. Dennis insisted we take a gondola ride on the first Saturday. It was a wonderful ride with a gondolier named Angelo. Afterwards we had hot chocolate at Café Florian. But Dennis became very sick, so we decided to change our plans and forego our planned trip to Rome and stay a few extra days in Venice.

Monday 20 February, was supposed to have been our travel day to Rome. Since it was now an extra day, I thought it would be fun and relaxing to take several boat trips to the other islands. That would minimize walking. And I wanted another chance to have a decent visit to Torcello. Before taking the large boat for the connection to Torcello, we came across the painter Picchio Santangelo, who had painted Dennis’ first picture of Venezia back in 2003. (We had had to have it framed twice to look its best in Dennis’ Venetian guest bedroom.)

When we got to Burano, our connection was all set to leave. It seemed perfect. We could visit the Byzantine church and 7th Century cathedral in Torcello, then return to Burano for lunch. (Three years before, my apparent mistake had been to have lunch in Burano before going to Torcello, and that had thrown off our schedule, which contributed to the gondola mix-up. This year it really didn’t matter since we had no plans for that night.)

When we arrived on Torcello, we discovered that several new restaurants had been built since our last visit. Dennis, Deb and I looked at the various posted menus, and considered changing our plans to have lunch on Torcello. Joan had some mobility issues and walked a little behind us. At least the island was completely flat, and there was only one bridge to cross before reaching the church and cathedral. Deb and I crossed briskly to check out the menu at the Cipriani Inn just before the Byzantine church.

We heard Dennis bellow. “Don’t waste your time. They’re closed. It’s open only in the summer!”

From behind, Joan saw Dennis raise and shake his walking stick at us.

Deb and I turned around….and saw Dennis lying flat on his face on the ground. He had tripped on the very last step. He didn’t make a sound. We rushed over. Blood was gushing from his face!!

Immediately, five or six waiters came out from the “closed” Cipriani Inn. A young woman from one of only two concession stands asked if we wanted to call the ambulance boat. I hesitated for a moment, wanting to evaluate the situation first. An older woman from the other concession rushed up with hand embroidered napkins and handkerchiefs and wiped the blood from Dennis’ face— and she wouldn’t accept any payment!!

The waiters helped us take Dennis into the lobby of the restaurant and brought a bucket of ice. Meanwhile the young woman had gone ahead and called for the ambulance boat with the emergency number on her telefono.

While we waited, Dennis wanted to have some lunch. After some delays, we were seated in the very stylish restaurant. I think we were the only ones there. Dennis insisted on fish soup. I had an expensive Mozzarella Caprese salad, which was absolutely superb. Just as we were served, the ambulance arrived with three hunky Italians. Dennis had only a few bites of his fish soup.

The ride back to Venice was very quick, and before we knew it we had landed at the back entrance to the municipal hospital. We were taken to the emergency room, where he registered, and then sat….. and waited.

The four of us – Joan, Deb, Dennis and I – sat and talked and tried to amuse ourselves. Of course, we were all very concerned.

Smoking wasn’t allowed. Eventually Dennis got extremely agitated. After several hours, he said he wanted to get up and leave. He was sitting in a wheel-chair and his head had been bandaged by the emergency crew.

I don’t think Dennis felt how badly he had been hurt. He seemed to be loosing surface sensitivity. Of course, that may have contributed to his fall.

Debbie didn’t speak Italian, but she’s quite fluent in Spanish. She noticed the poster on the wall behind Dennis’ wheelchair. It listed sequential priorities for triage. We had waited so long because other patients came after us who were higher up the pyramid.

Debbie firmly informed Dennis, that we hadn’t waited all that time for him just to get up and leave – and that if he tried, she’d take physical action – and slug him— to guarantee that he got to a higher level on the triage pyramid.

That kept him quiet – and in his wheelchair. Eventually a hospital aide came for Dennis. I accompanied him through several corridors, outside in a drizzle, and upstairs to another area of the hospital, where Dennis had some x-rays, and then another, shorter wait.

In the meantime, Deb and Joan decided it was safe to return to the Zatterre. It was after nine o’clock.

Although we had been up front with everybody—from the Cipriani waiters, to the emergency crew, and the registry desk at the hospital – the young woman physician, who later examined Dennis without wearing rubber gloves, became quite upset when we told her again that Dennis was HIV+. She disappeared for a while, then had Dennis undergo more blood tests. It should have been standard procedure for any doctor to use rubber gloves, particularly with a patient who had bled so badly.

Another doctor saw us and gave Dennis a prescription, and told us to return to the hospital in the morning. We got back to the Don Orione Artigianelli about midnight.

Poor Dennis looked as though he had been mugged. By morning both eyes were black and blue, and he had banged up his nose. It was so fortunate his lenses were plastic. Otherwise he might have been blinded by the fall. I still have his glasses with severe scratches.

We took the vaporetto to the back entrance of the hospital again. This time he was pushed in his wheel chair to the pharmacia, which was part of the older section of the hospital, formerly the Scuola San Marco. We passed right by the doors which led to the second floor library we had visited three years before. Karen Marshall had recommended seeing its extraordinary ceiling in her suggested list of favorite sites. This time we just passed by.

At the pharmacia Dennis picked up some pain pills and antibiotics. The bill was about six euros. That turned out to be the total bill for the entire episode. There was no charge for the ambulance boat, the emergency room or the doctors’ visits! It was all covered by Italian national health care. We have so much to learn from the Europeans!

Afterwards we took a mahogany water taxi back to the Zatterre. It was the only time we had ridden in one of those beautiful boats which reminded me of the Thousand Islands and Zavikon.

Dennis was apprehensive about taking the antibiotics. His stomach was upset enough, and he was worried it would incapacitate him for the rest of the trip. He had me call one of the nurses at the Kaiser Research Group back in San Francisco. Brooke said he didn’t need to take the antibiotics. (At that point it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference.)

For the rest of the time in Venezia, Dennis wore his cape and plumed hat. Since it was Carnevale, his black and blue face didn’t stand out as anything unusual. It looked like makeup and part of his costume.

After three days in Firenze, where Dennis and Joan purchased gold jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio (Dennis bought earrings for all the women in his life including my sisters and nieces) we returned to Venezia for the nighttime gondola ride and dinner. It really wasn’t much of a gondola ride. (The earlier one we had missed in 2003 was a lot longer). And it was very cold. I’m so glad we took the extended gondola trip the Saturday before Dennis’ accident.

I returned to Torcello on Thursday August 30th, 2007 with Debbie and Alison. That fulfilled one of my major objectives of the entire memorial trip. We took the larger vaporetto to the Lido and made our connection to Punta Sabbioni. From there we arrived on Burano and took the smaller vaporetto to Torcello. It was a relatively short and flat stroll on the new brick sidewalk and dirt detour to Dennis’ bridge just before the Cipriani hotel and restaurant. We were about the first guests for lunch in the covered patio near the garden. I found a beautiful red rose bush, where I scattered a handful of Dennis. He would have loved to have seen that garden in full bloom.

After a superb luncheon, we stopped by the concession stands, which had opened while we were eating. I found the young woman who had called for the water ambulance after Dennis’ fall. She wouldn’t accept any payment, but I bought a number of items from her stand. The older woman, who had wiped Dennis’ face with her hand embroidered napkins wasn’t there, but by chance, her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson stopped by, so we were able to thank them. (For some reason, I neglected to find out their names. Our first night in Firenze, at dinner, we met an American from Queens or Brooklyn, who had lived in Florence for forty years and was a professor of English at the University. Her questions made me recognize my omission. So on my last full day of the holiday on September 11, 2007, I returned to Torcello and learned that the young woman was Marika and the older woman, Anna. Anna was still away in Napoli, but I gave silk scarves from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul to Marika for her and for Anna, and this time she graciously accepted.)

Earlier we had visited the wonderful Greek Orthodox church and splendid cathedral, where Dennis and I had sung a plainsong Salve Regina in 1997.

1 comment:

John Guilford said...

Rob, such a wonderful story!
Thanks for sharing once again.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)