Sicily has all kinds of medical conditions that don’t exist anywhere else. Here’s a comprehensive list, just in case you get one of them on holiday. Your doctor at home will know nothing about them.
1. Cervicale, caused by getting hit by the air (colpo d’aria)
The dreaded cervicale is a pain in the neck, and head, caused by getting hit by the air (colpo d’aria). It is the exclusive preserve of middle-aged ladies, who suffer terribly if anyone opens a car window or sets the air-con too strong.
If left untreated (you usually need painful injections) it goes on for days and prevents you phoning any of your friends.
After ten years in Sicily I get cervicale myself so, whilst you may think the following ailments are imaginary, beware! You just may find out TOO LATE that they’re all real.
2. Getting a chill on your kidneys (freddo ai reni)
In Italy this can be a medical emergency. Another term for this is kidney-ache (mal di reni). My hubby sometimes gets this painful, rather masculine ailment from riding his motorbike in winter or realising I have pulled all the covers off him during the night.
It is treated with a reassuring phone chat with the doctor or, in persistent cases, an appointment with a masseur.
A mole on internal organs, called a neo in Italian, is revealed unexpectedly by an ultrasound for something else entirely. It causes lifelong problems, once people know it is there. The only way to avoid this suffering is to never have a scan.
4. Hands in Cold Water Syndrome (mani in acqua fredda)
A serious complication of the common cold, this is experienced by Sicilian housewives who spend many hours a day scouring pots and scrubbing underpants by hand. The water activates the common cold virus into a more virulent form, which results in a voice so hoarse you can hardly speak when answering the phone, though this symptom is alleviated immediately if it’s someone you really want to talk to.
My mother-in-law is terribly vulnerable to this complaint.
It can only be cured by your husband doing all the housework for several days, whilst you convalesce by watching Latin American soap operas with names like “Valeriana, woman of a thousand tears” whose heroine pole-dances in a bustier to pay the ramson for her brother who has been kidnapped by bandits. She weeps heart-rendingly in every episode so have your tissues handy, as weeping along with her is great for draining your sinuses. By the time her oily-chested fiance, Xerxes, has had both his big toes cut off by the bandits so he will never be able to wear flip-flop sandals again, you’ll feel fully well enough to resume your regular sock-washing duties.
Getting hit by coldness (colpo di freddo) leads to a non-viral cold. Symptoms are identical to those of the common cold virus, except the sufferer just “knows” they don’t have a virus.
They got ill by going outside without a warm enough jacket; walking around without slippers on; not drying their hair properly; or being sweaty and removing the garment making them hot – once you sweat, you must keep your fleece on even if it’s 30 degrees centigrade.
Since it’s not contagious, they can cough and sneeze all over you, your baby and your immuno-compromised granny. It is remarkable how many of these people end up coincidentally getting hit by coldness themselves, and developing the same illness, shortly afterwards.
6. Lip blisters or vesciche
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this complaint is anything to do with the herpes virus, or that sufferers should not kiss your baby with their scabby mouths! Vesciche may look identical to cold sores but they’re not contagious at all.
It’s a pity almost everyone in Sicily suffers from them. Why they are so common remains an unexplained medical mystery.
7. Cambio di stagione or “change of season”
Imagine my horror when the school psychologist diagnosed this in my son!
Symptoms include tirednes, laziness, not wanting to go to school, being fed up of everything, and really, really wanting it to be warm enough to go to the beach. It always clears up when summer begins.
Nobody knows the cause of this, but it is sometimes attributed to eating too much tomato, fried food or various vegetables which the eater doesn’t really like. The most commonly prescribed medical treatment for this is to refuse to eat any food item unless it is white (mangiare in bianco) till your friends are so fed up they stop inviting you to their houses.
9. Lazy Intestine (intestino pigro)
This is such a widespread condition throughout Italy that you could consider it Italy’s official national disease. It’s nothing do to with eating pasta every single day of your life. Absolutely not.
I am sure you’ll be astonished to learn Sicilians never, ever get…..
There isn’t even a word for hangover in Italian and Sicilians never feel ill as a result of drinking alcohol. They do often have a headache and feel sick the day after a big party, but it’s because they ate something which gave them liver-ache, then got hit by the air on their way home, and ended up with a chill on their kidneys.
So there you have it: a special Italian Appendix (pardon the double entendre!) which should be added to your medical practitioner’s handbook.
Veronica Di Grigoli is an author and translator and blogs about Sicily at The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife. Her new comedy novel of the same name is now available on Amazon.