This summer, I met up with my fiance in Europe for a well-deserved vacation. He had been studying there for a month before I arrived, and sometimes, when a man and a woman love each other very much in a short period of time, soon after comes a very special gift from God, known as a yeast infection.
Awesome. Exactly what you want to have on a vacation, while walking around all day, right? I knew I had to face the problem head on, even though we were in Italy and I don’t speak-a Italiana. But I also saw this as a cultural investigation: Knowing there are all sorts of alternative and natural methods for combating such unspeakable problems, I was curious to see if any different treatments were on the market in Europe.
We were in Lake Como, a resort town in the Northern region for people with more money than us – it’s probably best known to Americans as the area where George Clooney has a villa. Before departing the hotel for my medicinal expedition, I joked with my fiance about what I’d say if they didn’t speak-a the English.
[In heavy Italian accent] “Perdone…uhh…vagina.”
The pharmacy nearest our hotel was the most dignified pharmacy I had ever entered, more like a boutique, with dark wood-paneled walls and a few items placed just so on each built–in, well-lit shelf. The pharmacists were all in crisp white coats. Of course the first one available to help me was male.
“French?” he guessed.
“N-no. Spanish?” I counter-offered.
“English?” he tried again. Oh thank Madonna, he spoke English!
“I need…medicine for…women?” He didn’t catch my drift yet, so I had to specify: “Yeast infection?”
“Yes? Do you have fever?”
“No? Just [gesturing vaguely downwards] discomfort.”
Ah. He nodded confidently that he had just the thing. He walked to the back room, and I felt like I was at an old-fashioned doctor who dispensed the medicine himself. He motioned for me to join him.
“Thees? [he held up some foil packets] Is free—no pay—you wash with thees only. Thees? [he held a box of pills] You put-a up-a?” And here, he made an upward curving gesture for “up the old V-hole” in as tasteful a manner as possible. “One in morning and one at night, and you use-a all up-a.”
I’d always heard the Italian men were known to make suggestive gestures to women on the street, but I never expected it to happen in a fancy pharmacy.
I got out of there as soon as I could. My Italian medicine was as overpriced as it is in the U.S., but I was glad that I’d be ending my discomfort soon.
Back in the room, I set right down to business. The compresse vaginali acidophilus pills were actually more like large, oblong vitamin tablets. There I was in a typical Euro budget hotel bathroom, which is to say on a good day my knees would nearly touch the wall when I was sitting on the toilet. (In the worse ones you have to sit on a diagonal.) Now I had to put this multivitamin up my special area without falling and having to return to the pharma-scene of the crime for painkillers. (Who knew what form those would come in!) Inserting that bone-dry vitamin up-a, I thought, “Yet another one of the indignities unique to being a woman.”
The “no pay” packets of gel that I was to wash with read Detergente Intimo. If only I’d read the ingredients, it contained glycerin, or as they say in Italy, glycerin, aka sugar, aka, an ingredient to be avoided if you’re avoiding yeast infections.
Needless to say, those “vitamin supplements” didn’t help and the Detergente Intimo seemed only to make my situation worse. By the time I got to Rome, I was a wreck.
I had to go to another pharmacy where very little English was spoken. I don’t even have any quotable quotes from this visit. I was too humiliated by the end to write any down. Suffice it to say, it took quite a while to get my point across to the two perplexed pharmacists, and this time, my request did involve lots of vigorous miming.
But at least I walked away with a reassuringly familiar metallic tube of cream, and a box of little vials of a clear (unsweetened!) liquid, to be taken two or three times per day, which for all I knew could have been a psoriasis treatment. The vials reminded me of those little wax candy bottles where you drink the colored sugar water out of them, only with less fun and more urgency. This round of meds, with maybe a little help from a desperate prayer at the Vatican, did the trick.
The moral of the story is, check the Ingredienti, and if there’s any chance you might develop any medical problem abroad, bring plenty of meds from home.