Thursday, October 16, 2003

Rear-Ended in Umbria

It didn’t take long for us to experience our first “incidente” in Italy. Here just under three weeks, and we are waking up stiff and sore this morning. Luckily, our injuries are minor, but we were VERY lucky. Here are the details. (CAUTION!! Contains profanity!)

We were on our way to meet our friend Wendy in Deruta. She had printed out some instruction manuals in English for us. We decided to stop and get gas first, and were waiting to turn left into the gas station. Art had pulled close to the center line, to allow cars to pass us on the right…there was just enough shoulder on the road. We had our lights on, as is now required by Italian law, and also our left turn signal. And of course, the brake light would have been on also. One car passed us on the right, but the van behind it just didn’t see us, due to the fact that he was A) Driving too fast, and B) following too close. These are apparently the things they teach you when you learn to drive in Italy, because this is how everyone drives.

All of a sudden…..WHAM!!!!!! What happened? Oh my God, someone hit us! We are rolling, rolling rolling. Art’s seat has gone back, and he is just slumped over. I know there is no way I can release my seatbelt and put my foot on the brake, so we keep rolling until we go off the road, down a very slight incline, and come to rest in a ditch at the edge of a field. I immediately jump out of the car. People are already coming our way. I start yelling “Doctorre! Doctorre!” and “Polizia!” People are already calling on their cell phones. I rush to Art’s side of the car, and he is starting to respond. He tries to get out of the car, but I urge him to stay sitting down. People are everywhere now, and I see the man who has hit us. I ask him, in a combination of broken Italian and pointing, “didn’t you see us?’ and he says “No”. Great. Now they’re not only driving too fast and too close, they’re blind too!

And of course everyone is telling me to calm down. Right. We have just been rear-ended, our car is totaled, and I don’t know what has happened to my husband…YOU try to calm down under these circumstances! I am just no good in emergency situations, I run, I scream and I cuss like a sailor. This is just how I handle stress. So I am getting the license plate number of the van that hit us, all the while screaming “You rotten mother freaking son of a witch! Where is the freaking world did you learn to drive!” And so on. I realize that I have MY cell phone, and get out the car documents. There are some forms to complete if you have an accident, and one of the things I read says to remain calm if you have an accident, AutoEurope is there to help. Well, AutoEurope may have the best of intentions, but they should make their phone number a little larger and a little more prominent. Finally one of the bystanders offers to help. He tries different numbers, but never seems to be able to get to talk to anyone. I’m not sure what the problem is. I find the number for the office in Perugia, and it is busy!!! I am on the verge of a MAJOR breakdown! I call Wendy and tell her that we have been in an accident. She says she will be there in five minutes. At least she will be able to help us talk to the police and ambulance people.

Another bystander has gone across the street and bought a bottle of water. He must be able to tell that we are Americans, because he buys water with no gas. I am able to offer Art something to drink, but am having a hard time keeping him quiet and sitting down. Of course he says he is fine, but I can’t get the image of him slumped over in his seat out of my head.

About this time, the ambulance FINALLY arrives. They look at Art first, and put him on a stretcher inside the ambulance. They check his blood pressure and ask him where he hurts. The back of his head is raw. We think it must just be a friction burn from the cloth headrest, but it is very tender. Then the paramedic comes to me and asks me how I feel. “Pissed off! Mad as hell!” is what I tell her. No, how do you FEEL? I feel okay. The back of my left ankle is a little sore…I think the bar that moves the seat has hit me there, but it’s no big deal.

About this time Wendy pulls up with her boss, Corrado. She is working, and was just meeting us at the same time and place she was meeting a client. She takes charge, talks to the paramedics, and tells me to get in the ambulance and that she will deal with the police and meet us at the hospital. She asks me who was driving the other car, and I point the man out to her. We then leave for the hospital.

The drive can’t take more than five minutes, and during this time Art tells the paramedic about 30 times that he feels okay except for the back of his head. He asks me several times what happened, what we were doing. I explain patiently every time that we were waiting to turn left into the gas station, and that we were on our way to meet Wendy. Every time he says, “oh yeah”, then asks the question again. I am starting to get worried, but he still remembers enough Italian to carry on a conversation with the paramedic. Maybe he is okay after all.

Once we arrive at the hospital, they take us both into an examining room, but they don’t really do anything. They sit me down in a wheel chair and transfer Art to the examining table. They ask once again where it hurts. When we were born. That’s it. The fact that we are Americans presents a challenge. The paramedic speaks a little English, and combined with my tiny bit of Italian, we manage. They take us both for X-rays, which takes about five minutes each. When was the last time you were in and out of X-ray in the US in five minutes? Especially in the emergency room. Of course we are lucky that no one else is there.

When we get out of X-ray, we are taken back to the examining room, and Donatella from Tecnocasa is there, along with her secretary and the secretary’s sister. Wendy has called her, knowing that the Tecnocasa office is just around the corner from the hospital in Marsciano. I jokingly ask Donatella if she thinks Marco might send us over some pizza. She tells me that she ran into Marco on the way to the hospital and she had told him about our accident. It is reassuring to know that we have been in Italy less than three weeks, yet there are already people who know us and are concerned.

The paramedic then begins to wrap my ankle, first applying a gel that is icy cold. She tells me that I must leave the ankle wrapped for ten days, for insurance purposes! Art’s wrist has begun to hurt, so they wrap him up too. His bandage must stay on for TWENTY days! They apply something to his head, and tell us they must give him a tetanus shot. I’m not really sure why. Isn’t that just when you step on a rusty nail? Why would a friction burn warrant a tetanus shot? All the while, Donatella and friends are there, helping to translate, offering comfort and support.

In a few more minutes, they bring us each a release paper to sign, give us our final instructions, and that’s it, we are free to go. They advised Art to take some pain medicine. Arrivederci! Donatella has spoken with Wendy, who is still dealing with the police at the accident scene. Once she leaves there, she must take her boss back to the office, then return to Marsciano. She tells us that the police will be at the hospital in about thirty minutes.

We walk outside with Donatella. She offers to let us sit in her car, and we gladly accept. After about fifteen minutes, we talk with Wendy again, and she tells us that the police will be delayed because they have to investigate another accident. We urge Donatella to leave...she has an appointment scheduled, and we really don’t need for her to sit and wait with us.

The police show up about fifteen minutes later. The officer was very nice. He asked for our documents, and for Art’s International Drivers License. That is the one document that we have left with Wendy, along with the car rental documents. He is very understanding…he has been talking with Wendy, and says that we should fax the IDL to his office in the morning. He copies the information form Art’s Kentucky driver’s license, my passport numbers, and leaves.

Wendy arrives about ten minutes later, and we offer to buy her dinner at Ternanna…she has never had Marco’s pizza, and the accident has not stopped Art from wanting dinner. A good sign! We eat a great dinner and Wendy takes us home. What a day! Wendy says she will call in the morning to let us know about getting a replacement car. We are sure that we won’t want to go anywhere, at least for a while.


We don’t feel so bad this morning. Sure, we are bruised and tender, but considering what the car looks like, we think we are very lucky. Wendy calls to say that EuropeCar will have another car for us by noon, and we ride with her to pick it up. Our previous car was a Fiat Punto, with four doors and a hatchback. This new car is an Opel Corsa with two doors and a hatchback. It doesn’t drive as well as the Fiat, so at least we have learned that we don’t want an Opel Corsa when we get ready to buy. Wendy takes us by the lot they have towed the Fiat to and I take a bunch of pictures. It makes me shakey just to see the car. On the way back home we stop at the scene of the accident and take a few pictures of the skid marks. There are spray paint marks where the police noted the length of the skid marks, point of impact, etc. The man at the gas station recognizes us and asks if we are okay. Art seems pretty confident behind the wheel, but I am a nervous wreck.


Boy, are we sore today! I feel as if someone has beat me to a pulp! My back, shoulders and neck are sore and achy, and I just can’t seem to get comfortable. Glad I brought plenty of Tylenol. We begin shopping for our own car. I am insisting that it be a used car, primarily because I know the car will get dinged, banged, scratched and scraped, and I don’t want to have to cringe every time that happens. Hopefully we will never be in another accident quite this serious, but safety will be high on my priority list.


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