Jen Kirchhoefer


When in Rome ... you know the rest — do as the Romans do. Do not, however, go to one of their hospitals.

Last week, my parents were just ending their tour of Europe when my mom had a bit of a mishap. Perhaps mishap is not the right word; she broke her back.

It happened the day they were scheduled to fly home. Instead, they ended up in the Pronto Soccorso hospital, which was mislabeled because there is nothing “pronto” about that medical system at all.

After the paramedics nearly break down the door to get through it, they put my broken 76-year-old mom in a type of bullpen with several other patients. After spending some time in excruciating pain waiting in this Pronto hospital, she is finally taken for x-rays. The x-ray room was less than sanitary, with a clear case of mold growing around the edges of the “scrub” sink. They are then taken back to the bullpen where they wait, without food or water, what ends up being another 12 hours. The math isn’t adding up. More people keep coming in, but it’s like the Hotel California; no one is leaving.

They finally give them the diagnosis, in Italian, which they Google translate to mean that she has broken the S-2 bone in her back. They want her to stay in a horizontal position for the next 30 days. She is given a prescription for a powder that is mixed with water for pain. They take them back to their hotel room, carry her in on a stretcher and literally dump her back into her bed.

Four days later, and one logistical nightmare after another, we get them on a special flight back to the states. My sisters and I meet them at the airport, where she is rushed to the emergency room. They take her back immediately where we, ironically, get assigned a nurse who has spent four years living in Italy. She can translate the Pronto print-out. She tells us we were lucky she was seen at all. They get new x-rays, which confirms a shattered sacrum, and check her in as an inpatient in so they can begin treating her.

The very next day, they get her up to start walking. Immediate mobility in something like this type of injury is a major predictor of long-term ability to remain mobile. In other words, if she doesn’t get up immediately, she may not ever get up. This is a direct contradiction to what the staff in Rome had told them; but it’s working. Yesterday she walked from the bed to the bathroom, with a walker, but she walked.

Italy is a far cry from a third world country. They have a medical care system in place. It’s just that we do too, and since we are familiar with ours, we have something to compare it to. There is a substantial and unfeigned difference. It is a difference that matters.

Right now, I am working with some buyers on a home that is being sold by a real estate agent, not a Realtor. There’s a difference. Both are licensed to sell real estate. Both have done all the courses; but only a Realtor is required to adhere to a Realtor Code of Ethics, which primarily holds that a Realtor must put the interests of her clients above her own. Not something that is happening at the not-so-pronto hospital in Rome.

Right before I left the emergency room Sunday night, the nurse who had lived in Italy came in and asked me what goal we wanted to have accomplished from the ER visit. Personally, my goal was to get the h-e-double hockey sticks out of there as soon as possible, but for my mom, her goal was to be admitted so she could get the care she needed and return to vertical again.

I had never been asked that before in that setting. I liked it. As Realtors, our goal is to put our clients’ interests before our own. Not just occasionally, but every single time. It’s the only way to get them home ... wherever that may be.

Jen Kirchhoefer is an associate broker and Realtor. She can be reached at or 801-645-2134.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!