We’d just finished a week of exuberance on one of my wine tours from Piedmont to Verona across north Italy. Housing in 5 star ancient castles, visits to 10 of the best wineries in the world, truffle hunting, Michelin starred restaurants, visits to medieval villages and castles hundreds of years in age. My old friend Matt Krawczyk who I’ve known since he was my busboy when we worked together in Hawaii had thrown dust to the wind and joined the group. I hadn’t seen him in 20 years, so it was a pleasure to spend the week with him in tow. After I dropped the group in Venice, Matt had decided to live a dream and rent a Vespa in Florence and set out on the open road. He was on his own and felt good about it as he owns his own Vespa in Minneapolis.
“What kind of MORON wrecks a Vespa?” I yell into my phone as I walk outside. “He’s in the emergency room in Florence” my wife continued. “Well what the hell does that have to do with me?” I ask as I wonder out of the pub, Negroni in hand trying to find better reception. “The trips over, I’ve already checked into my hotel and I’m on a flight home at 6AM tomorrow. Besides, I’m in Milan.” “Well he’s alone with 2 broken bones in his leg and they won’t operate until he gives them $25,000 euros. So get to work Jack Ass!” And with that my wife (Cristi) hung up on me.
I'd stuck around north Italy for a few days to research for future trips. Matt headed south and signed up for a Vespa tour. Two dudes (tour guide and Matt), 2 Vespa’s and the wind in their hair. What could possibly go wrong? 10 minutes into the ride the guide slammed on his breaks to avoid a gelato cart and Matt ran directly into him. That’s right, broken fibula and tibia and not even a scoop of Pistachio to show for it. The guide was “kind enough” to call an ambulance before telling Matt that he owed the company $3k for the Vespa as he scurried off leaving him in the street.
After canceling flights, two train rides, a bus ride and a long walk I arrived at the Florence ospedale, luggage, sweat and bitchy attitude in hand. I will say I’ve never seen a grown man so happy to see me in my life. Matt had been in the hospital 3 days by the time I arrived and had made buddies with his roomie Matthias from Albania. Just when I though Matt had it bad Matthias (who was 17) was hit by a car on his family vacation breaking both legs. Rough week on the Matt’s I’d say. With the leg double wrapped and a really weak dosage of pain pills Matt was making the best of it. The doctor was semi empathetic, and the nursing staff kind. But speaking no Italian in a hospital by yourself and in severe pain is not a great place to be. After the initial promise of a quick surgery and return to the states all treatments had come to a screeching halt. Matt spoke with everyone at the hospital and his insurance company for 5 days straight. But the hospital decided until they received $25k from Matt no surgery was taking place. Or as they so kindly put it “Aceptamos Visa, Mastercard, transferencias o efectivo!” (We accept Visa, MasterCard, transfers or cash). It sounded so much kinder in Italian.
In the meantime I was only allowed to visit twice a day and at really weird times. 12:30 til 2pm and then again at 7:30 til 8:30pm. I did everything possible to help Matt feel better bringing him pizza, pasta, cookies, and beer. But because of the pain, lack of movement and bedpan he really didn’t care to eat or drink much causing more pain. Finally after a few days we both realized that nothing was going to happen without the cash. Thoughts and conversations had been shuttered and the doctor was not even communicating with us. The weekend loomed. It would be at least 4 days before Matt could get the procedure if the insurance came through. So the decision was made. We would break Matt out to get him home. I spoke with the head nurse who was benevolent and had studied in the states. Explaining our situation she warned us against leaving, but as I pleaded with her she said she would speak with the doctor to get the release and pain killers for the flight. The doctor had gone for the day not return til Monday. The nurse called and begged that he assist her. He agreed to come back to the hospital Saturday morning as we needed to be at the airport at 10am. Knowing this was highly unlikely I persuaded the nurse to at least find a prescription to get Matt home without pain.
Morning came quickly and I hurried back to grab Matt for our “jail break”. The doctor was nowhere to be found but the nurse did have a prescription. With Matt and suitcases loaded onto the wheel chair we called for a large taxi. Most taxis are too small for the patient with the broken leg extended, much less the baggage and me. Matt grimaced in pain, I was covered in sweat from lifting him and running late. With a cigarette dangling from his lip the cabbie gruffly mumbled “El medidor está funcionando y hay cargos adicionales por el taxi grande y las maletas”, the meter is running and there are extra charges for the large taxi, bags and gimp!
Getting Matt to an airline agent he was whisked through customs and security. Having separate destinations I checked the bags and went to find our pharmacy, which my nurse friend said was at the airport. After scouring the entirety of Aeroporto di Firenze it was apparent there was no farmacia. Gate side Matt was happy to go, but deep in pain as all pain killers had left his frame. Staring down a 12 hour flight with no relief was not an option. And because he couldn’t move even alcohol couldn’t help his bones as he couldn’t proceed to the restroom. I hustled back to the entrance in need of anyone who could help. As I found a volunteer who spoke broken English and tasked her with our quandary an older lady with the most perfect Jersey accent said “I’ve got some real Tylenol, the good kind if you don’t mind my fingers touching it.” Grabbing the pills I yelled “Lady I’d take it from your mouth at this point! Grazie Mille”!
And then the light bulb went off! Right when I hit the stairs I thought who travels to Tuscany? What’s the demographic, who’s gonna be on that plane with Matt? That’s right middle aged or older Americans with bad backs, knees, aches and pains, etc…..
As I got to his side and the plane was about to board I said in my best “outdoor voice," “Well dude, I’m so sorry that the doctor didn’t give you any pain pills for your 2 broken bones and flight back to Minnesota." Like Elvis in Vegas pain pills fell from the sky. Within 30 seconds no less than 15 people surrounded Matt with pill cases, baggies and more, full of pain pills. One dude even pulled out 2 separate bottles, removed half of one to add to the other and in his best undercover voice said “This is the good shit kid, no more than 2 per hour or you might not wanna leave the plane!” Immersed in generosity the flight attendant witnessed the whole thing, prompting her to load Matt onto the plane first and in first class to boot.
As I watched Matt’s flight head West I felt like a proud papa who had just seen his child learn to ride a bike. As I relished in a cold beer I remembered my dad always telling me “no good deed goes unpunished” as I looked up to realize I had just missed my flight.