First-Aid Courses in Italy: If you’re going to drop dead, don’t do it here.

A few months ago at work, my boss brought up an opportunity to participate in a primo soccorso or first-aid course here in Florence.  I immediately jumped at the opportunity–apparently I am the only American for miles that has never been CPR certified and actually wants to learn how to mouth breathe on total strangers when they collapse in the middle of the piazza ( I blame my mother and Shonda Rhimes for getting me hooked on Grey’s Anatomy–have you SEEN how smokin’ hot everyone is on that show??).  So after filling out my application form and getting the green light to skip out on work after lunch, I trotted off happily to a nearby language school to attend my first basic life-saving skills course.

Over the next three days, my afternoons melted into a blur of Italian medical vocabulary and complete chaos.  For those of you who have never seen the inside of an Italian classroom, let me give you a little sneak peak at what to expect, also known as Utter Bollocks.*

*This is no way reflects on the teacher of my primo soccorso course, who was unfailingly professional and polite in the face of complete idiocy.

Let’s begin by examining the course itself, shall we? A simple enough concept in which several people come together in the hopes of learning some basic life-saving skills should the need ever arise, taught by a qualified professional such as a doctor or nurse.

Now we had the professoressa, a trained medico who had experience in the field of life-saving as well as in teaching this course.  This was clearly not her first rodeo, since the first thing out of her mouth was the following:

“So the course that you will be completing is registered with the state, and you will receive a certificate upon completing the 12 hours required. I won’t be letting you leave early, either, because you really have to do 12 hours in order to become certified, so don’t even ask.”

Immediately several middle-aged women in the front row of the classroom started protesting in what I’m sure they assumed to be their “indoor voices” a.k.a louder than a garbage incinerator. “But I thought that if we went through it quickly..” “Well my friend took this course and she said they got out early…” “I should probably call home to let them know I won’t be there until late..”

Undeterred, our professoressa continued on with her explanation of the course objectives, telling us that we would all be expected to pass a written test of about 30 questions as well as practicing CPR on a mannequin on the final day.  In the front row, predictably, the hands went up.

“Mi scusi…”

And so went my initiation into the Italian classroom, a place where I rapidly learned the foolishness of my desire to actually learn anything at all.  Instead, I took pictures of the Powerpoint presentation to study later in my spare time and sat back to enjoy the spectacle that is twenty middle-aged Italian women forced to sit in a classroom together for hours on end.  The questions ranged from mildly amusing to completely ridiculous, mostly centered on the one scintillating topic–Whose fault was it if someone died? Below is a favorite exchange of mine:

Woman in class: “Ok, so if I finish this course and I get the certificate, what happens if somebody starts dying in front of me and, you know, I just can’t help them?”

Professoressa: “What do you mean, you can’t do it? I’ve just taught you how to administer basic life saving techniques.”

Woman: “Well yeah, but I am a very emotional person and if I see someone collapse in front of me, I just don’t think I could do it. So if I just can’t do it, then what?”

Professoressa: “Can you use a telephone?”

Woman: “Yes, of course!”

Professoressa: “Then you can call 118 (the emergency number in Italy), which is what I’ve basically been teaching you for the past 12 hours.”

My favorite part of the primo soccorso course was our third and final day, in which everyone was required to practice CPR on the dummy unless they were quick enough with the excuse like one woman who claimed her carpal tunnel syndrome refused to allow her to participate. Luckily for her, the professoressa was so sick of us by that point that she just waved her hand in the air and got on with the rest of the class without making the woman get up and go through the act of pretend breathing into rubber Randy’s mouthpiece.  Watching everyone pound away on Randy’s chest while the others simultaneously shouted instructions at them, called them an idiot for doing it wrong and/or cheered them on was better than any medical drama on late night TV.

In short, I’d strongly advise everyone to get a thorough medical exam and maybe brush up on their physical fitness before visiting our bel paese.  You never know when you might need a competent set of fingers to push the buttons on a telephone.