All we could hear was the sound of water lapping against stone, and our own footsteps echoing through the streets. It was well after midnight and we were desperately searching for someone, anyone, to help us. It was our first night in a new place and we didn’t speak the language. The waterways and labyrinthine stone streets of Venice were empty.
I had never before asked to be taken to a hospital, but a mild pressure in my chest had turned into an excruciating pain in the night. I couldn’t swallow and I could barely breathe. I made my way through our dark, rented apartment and woke up my friend, telling her we needed to find a doctor. We tried calling a water taxi, but they wouldn’t take us to the hospital if I was unwell, and told us to take an ambulance. The ambulance told us they wouldn’t come unless I was dying, and to take a taxi. We ran though the streets searching for someone with a boat, half thinking we could just set out and find our way to the hospital on foot. We finally woke up our landlady, who called a night doctor. I tried to communicate my symptoms in English to my landlady, who translated them to Italian. Clearly something was lost in the translations, because the doctor told me I was only having a panic attack.
The next morning we took a water taxi to the hospital. After waiting for hours I was taken to the only doctor who spoke English. I was led through the lofty spaces of an old building with flimsy partitions offering the only privacy to patients. I tried to explain my symptoms again. She told me it was a heart problem, even though the pain was the centre of my chest, closer to my throat. When they tried to take blood with a terrifyingly dirty device, I refused. The doctor, in turn, refused to treat me if I wouldn’t comply. I got up off the examination table and left the hospital without looking back.
My symptoms gradually dissipated over the next week, although I was never able to confirm exactly what had gone wrong. It was not a promising beginning to my two-month sojourn in the city, but in spite of the cause I’m happy to have the recollection of the city empty at night, with its haunting sound of water over stone.