“Take the coast road. It’s in way better condition and much nicer to drive.”
This was the e-mail advice I received from the nice woman at the hotel in Amalfi, Italy, in response to my query as to the best method of arrival by car. After spending a week in Tuscany and then another 10 days on a bike tour across Italy, the Amalfi coast seemed like a perfect ending to a fairytale trip. So on a beautiful Monday morning we headed out on our 5-hour drive from southern Tuscany. Apart from the numerous tolls and high-performance vehicles traveling around 200 km/hr on the autostrade, the trip was uneventful until I piloted my little Fiat 500 onto road SS163. Two Fiat 500s might be able to pass one another on this ever-twisting, walled avenue of death but not the collection of buses, trucks, vans, people, and bikes we encountered. However, none of the local drivers seemed to be aware of the physical principles of space and time, and drove as if God himself had blessed them with a protective bubble. The icing on the cake was when I looked to my left to see an even smaller Fiat honking and weaving as it passed each vehicle in a long line behind some poor scared tourist a few cars ahead. There was even a grandma in the passenger seat gesturing as only an Italian can. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t mouthing “Welcome to the coast.”
As you can deduce from the fact that I penned this editorial after my encounters, Grandma didn’t cause my death, and I sincerely hope her heavenly bubble wasn’t burst by a large, cornering, two-wheeling tour bus (prior to my trip I wasn’t aware such a thing was even possible). I did notice that the walls that lined “S-cared S-… less 163” have numerous gouges. I also noticed that the typical Amalfi vehicle has dents on all four sides.
This got me thinking about how we all develop scratches along the way. In my 50s I have to admit that, like the Amalfi car, I now have numerous scars, most of them from crashing my bicycle. I remember one patient stating the obvious: “Dr Richardson, have you ever considered that maybe you aren’t very good at this bike riding thing?” This is probably why I’ve never had the urge to get a tattoo—I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that on my own. And physical scars are one thing, but emotional scars run deeper. As physicians, we often deal with our patients’ mental dents. A privilege of general practice is that as the physician-patient relationship grows through the years patients let down their guard and share their stories. We are trusted with tales of childhood trauma, relationship failure, addiction, loss, and more. It is in these moments that heartfelt words of support can mean so much to those we care for. Therefore, I have made a commitment to acknowledge at least one patient’s emotional dent each day and, if possible, to apply a little healing paint.
I wonder how much Limoncello and gelato I would have had to consume to calm my nerves had I driven the much more dangerous mountain road.
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