Sunday, December 12, 2010

Flea or Flee?
We are sitting at the end of exhaustion, not even sure where to start telling the story of all that has happened in the past two weeks. First, T had a cold/bronchitis/quasi-asthma that knocked her out of school for a week, but she's 99% better now. Second, the cats have pulci(fleas). The whole story though is a doozy. The roots (quite literally) go back to the summer when we first arrived and were decorating the apartment. Two stalks of bamboo seemed like the perfect thing to accent the wall between the giant painted Buddha and the kitchen. Planted in an old terracotta pot in soil from the Esselunga supermarket, the bamboo just sat there, biding its time...

After the sofa debacle--short version: cat scratching post, three different slip-covers, move into the office--the bamboo moved by the front door next to the big radiator. Then on November 1st when you are allowed by law to turn on the heat in Tuscany (because we would never cheat and turn it on a week early), we started to have a problem with little flying black bugs. And then K had the strange little itchy hives that first seemed like bug bites, but then were deemed by the Doctor here to be signs of her thyroid issues. The cats kept going over to the pot and trying to eat the bamboo shoots. After the millionth time of shooing them away, K realized that all of the bugs were living in the plant pot and F threw it out. The empty urn stayed on the upstairs landing by our front door. Problem solved . . . or so we thought.

But then after getting through the birthday--which was great--and an all English-speaking sleepover--so very great--and a chocolate fair in the Piazza around the corner which included a late rainy night appearance alone with Alexandrina where both girls walked away with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory type golden wrapped bricks of chocolate that were given to them by the elderly raffle winner who had just unexpectedly come away with his 70 kilo weight in the heavenly stuff--beyond great--T got felled by an awful horrible chest cold which made her sound like a broken down accordion. (Or more precisely like a whistle blowing on a train that is running over an accordion...) She usually can just power through a cold and go to school, but each day her chest seemed to get more constricted and her wheeze sounded more ominous. Finally we schlepped to our doctor where T was the only kid patient. Despite the fact that she never had a fever, he prescribed her an antibiotic and an inhaler which was very kid unfriendly to use.

One of the problems with going to our doctor, who was recommended to us by one of our many real estate agents, is that he is affiliated with the pharmacy across the street from the pharmacy where K's friend Amelia works with her parents Elvira and Federico. The night of T's birthday party all three had joined us for leftover cake in our dining room and we had a very nice time discussing everything from politics to pie. The intimidating Mary Poppins-like pharmacist with the perfectly coiffed long black curls at the enemy pharmacy is affiliated with our doctor, and he always comes up with a reason why we have to go to the enemy pharmacy above any other, including the fact that they book all of the referrals from him to other specialists through their computer system. After two more days of suffering, our dear, sweet, at times disheveled, red nosed, and sleep deprived, angelic pharmacist Amelia made a house call and looked at everything T was prescribed and realized that she didn't have anything that would actually cure her. She sorted us out with a nebulizer and medicines to go in it. Within a day T was breathing much better, though in a horrible mood because the meds destroyed her appetite.

At one point when T was fairly hysterical from low blood sugar and stress and refusing to eat, Jim Sparandeo (see below) told K that he was sorry that it was a Saturday night in Lucca when he knew it would be impossible for us to find a pharmacy or herb store open that would sell us the one cure that would definitely help T--belladonna. Jim almost never recommends us to use homeopathic remedies, and usually gives us teas and recipes and raw ingredients to gather instead. Strangely enough Maria Pia, the erborista had given K some drops that featured belladonna some weeks before that really had not helped her at all, but which she had never gotten around to throwing away. With literally three tear-size drops under T's tongue and a heartfelt message from Jim, T was better within seconds and asking for something to end her upsetting hunger strike. It was the most intense transformation we had ever seen in a person in that little amount of time.

Despite the cool reception from most parents at the beginning of the school year, we now have parental chat buddies in the parking lot area where the kids exit the school gate. Fabio, one of the dads called to see how T was doing and then came by with a great invention that is a tube which helps kids to make the inhaler work. Paola recommended that in Lucca, it is better for kids to have pediatricians because they know what is going around and how much school will be missed and have subs and emergency hours. We had thought it better to avoid the germy kid waiting rooms and long lines at the pediatrician, but when in Rome.

The problem was that the day of the Immaculate Conception holiday was also the day that our tessere sanitaria health cards were due to expire. Therefore, after a night of lying awake listening to T cough and kick the floor and struggle for breath, K had to get up extra early and go to the medical office in the rain where she found out that the new cards get automatically sent to your house (although you do have to go back to the medical office to activate them) and that T's card was still going to the wrong address where our friends in the vineyards live. Then she got us a new doctor that is affiliated with Amelia's pharmacy. We haven't met him yet, but his name is Di Dio, literally "of God," as if we needed a higher recommendation, and he is better than a brava persona, and a widower who raised his children in the most loving of manners etc., etc. We also chose a pediatrician who is in the group that most of T's class get treated by. Then we took T by taxi, the phone number of which was gotten by an expat parent who had the cell of a driver who was off duty but took pity and referred us to another driver, to the new pediatrician's sub who said she was clear to go back to school the next day if we stuck to the meds. The pediatrician then gave us a certificato for the school that stated that she was clear to re-enter school and to stay out of gym.

It was the morning T finally returned with much trepidation back to school after having missed a full week of her subjects and all of the make up tests that would entail, that we realized that the itchy whiny cats were actually swarming, but swarming, with fleas. Paola was the one who told us about Frontline which we got without a prescription from Amelia with warnings that in the end we would need a gas bomboletta anyway. How were we to know until days later that the degree of flea infestation was such in Lucca that all these hearty fellows laughed their resistant fuzzy tushys off in the face of Frontline. Then was the tearful call to Maria Pia which resulted in her daughter and her doing an oddly professional demonstration of a hepa filter vacuum cleaner that they were going to lend us--known in these parts, and all parts, as the folletto. Well they showed us how they could rub our tiles with white paper and all these black dots of fuzzy flea tushy debris would show up and then they would use the scrubby brush bottomed folletto and then another swipe of the paper would show up all white as snow -- gasp, gasp. After tons of vacuuming we had the cleanest, flea-infested house on the block.

(No, it's not Lorenzo)
On Sunday Paola was supposed to come over with her daughter along with T's friend Alexandrina to help us make the dozens of potpourri bags with herbs and christmas decorations from Maria Pia's erboristeria. Earlier in the day Maria Pia came by with another attachment for the folletto (this one for upholstery!) and her daughter came over to get a massage from K for her stiff neck. They brought a surprise guest, the daughter's boyfriend Lorenzo, who seemed very concerned for T since he too suffered from asthma as a youth. Well T doesn't suffer from asthma it was just this one week but anyway. . . He said I should really get some hepa filter thing which turned out to be the folletto which in turn turned out to be his family business. K asked what the price was straight up. I mean we are from NY and not completely naive. He said they ranged from 500 to 2000 euro. Before F could translate it all into English, K said maybe they could do an installment plan for the €500, but that was the most. Lorenzo insisted on coming back to do a demonstration.

Of course Lorenzo showed up in the middle of the Xmas present making/playdate with a giant suitcase filled with folletto attachments. His two hour rapid-fire demonstration led to the big sales pitch that just for us for this one day only see page four of the manual he could let us have this two thousand euro beauty for €1485 if we bought the sample one and acted in the next 24 hours. One hour after he left, K left him a message on his voice mail that said um, NO. Later in bed I thought two very different thoughts. One was that I should have said that if that vacuum wasn't capable of doing things to me that shouldn't be said in polite company, I wasn't f-ing paying one thousand euro for it. The second was that seeing as I have to do energy treatments on both Maria Pia and her daughter on Monday maybe it is yet another way of me having to ask God how she wants to use me best to overcome my ego and serve. Me being me, I'm torn.

Oh and by the way, at this point, we're still swarming with bugs and we have painful blistery bites all over our lower legs and various other places.

Then we remembered that our downstairs neighbor Barbara was in a pet related business, I still don't know what it was because she speaks so darn fast, before she entered real estate. She gave us the number of a cat Toilette, which is a cat grooming place for those of us in Europe, and the lady there refused to help us. F headed out to the vet, and then K called the vet who said please don't go there and just get some pills for cats called Capstar. F came back and Amelia gave him Capstar and the gas bomboletta which she promised was a 4 hour deal that would not kill the cats or T and allow us to re enter the house that same night.

Due bombolette later, we are combing the cats and stabbing evil little fleas, wearing those long pink rubber gloves and using every possible combination of Italian curses. After two more days of hyper-vigilance, itching, and horrible dreams that makes Hitchcock's The Birds look like a gentle fairy tale for children, today we finally woke up to clean combs, and astonishingly shiny floors.

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