It was a sunny and crisp winter day in Milan. There was so much to do and so much to think about in this city. The most international Italian city, they called it, and now I understood why. I’d been living there for just a month, but it felt like home nonetheless. A bustling, dazzling place that had completely bewitched this Sicilian girl. The streetcar, from my basement room that cost as much as an entire house in my hometown, had brought me everywhere. I’d got my dream job (well, it was unpaid, but the rest was dreamy) in the most fashionable office of the most fashionable part of the city. I had come and gone from the office. I had visited the Duomo time and time again. I had walked through the Christmas market and around the Castle. I had been to fashion shows and wine tastings and galleries and too-long shopping sessions. Now the streetcar was taking me elsewhere. I was going to the hospital.
I felt weirdly calm in my window seat. I knew what was going to happen. This is the most international city in Italy, after all. I’d finally get my diagnosis. I was 23 years old and I had been sick since forever. I couldn’t remember a single day of my life without a headache or a little fever, a stomachache or a piercing pain in my back, a weird sensation of confusion or an intolerable pain in my hands. I didn’t know what being healthy meant, but maybe I didn’t know what feeling ill meant either. This had always been my body and it had always been like this. Uncomfortable. Painful.
The trip to the hospital was nearly an hour long and I had lots of time to remember what had been like. Feeling weird, strange, different, but never having a name for my condition. “The girl is just anxious, she will be better once she finishes school.” “Your child is an attention-seeker: she’ll grow out of it.” “There is nothing wrong with Giovanna. Don’t think about it and it will pass.” These are just some of the answers I got from doctors in 23 years of exams and analysis and check-ups. Everything was ok. Except, it wasn’t. In the end I was so tired of explaining my symptoms and being told I was crazy that I stopped talking about it.
Until I reached Milan. The greatest city, the one and only Italian metropolis. Someone would be able to help me here. I did my research and got an appointment at the hospital. A great medical center, with good doctors and incredibly advanced technologies to understand my pains. Sitting in my streetcar, I was confident. I would get out with a diagnosis in my hands. A label, a path to follow in order to get better. This is your illness; this is your cure; go on and have a happy life, I could hear the faceless doctor say. I would start over. I would be cured.
When I got to the hospital, I lost all my confidence. An immense number of buildings opened up in front of me and I really coudn’t understand where to go. A number of embarassing questions later, I was at the door of an old building. I have thought the great hospital would be more modern, but it looked like the crumbling Sicilian hospitals I had visited without results. Even then, I chose to be optimistic. Maybe it will be better on the inside. It was freezing, the sun was going down and I had to enter anyway.
In that gray, old stairwell, my self-confidence wavered once again, but I went up. There was nowhere else to go, after all. A middle-aged doctor received me in a cold room. He looked as gray as the building, but I didn’t give up on hope. This man is going to change your life, I thought. He listened to me carefully, looked at the exam result I brought, touched my painful body here and there. What you have is called Fibromyalgia, he said. I had read that word on websites, but I preferred to look ignorant. I wanted the gray doctor to talk. I wanted him to tell me this is your cure, get back on the yellow streetcar and be healthy. But he didn’t. There is no cure, you have to understand that. There is no cause that we know of, therefore we have no way to make it go away.
The gray doctor was still talking, but I have stopped listening. I don’t know how I reached the stairs, how I got down, how I walked to the main entrance of the hospital. I found myself on the yellow streetcar without knowing what to do. A crinkled piece of paper was in my hands. Crushed sentences talked about medications and supplements, maybe some therapy to help me deal with the diagnosis. What diagnosis? I had a new name for my symptoms, but no cure, no reason, no real solution. I just knew I was sick and I would be for the rest of my life.
The yellow streetcar cut the darkness of Milan’s suburbs in its route. We got to the city center. Warm Christmas lights were lit all around, shop windows were decorated, a Gospel chorus was singing in front of the Duomo. But I hopped down from the streetcar feeling empty. That warm and fuzzy sensation of getting to know my destiny was gone. There was just a crinkled piece of paper with the word “Fibromyalgia” typed in a little font. A word. My yellow streetcar had promised me a new world and had led me to a single word. What a wicked streetcar.