Fountain Challenge #21: Holy fountain at San Rafaele Hospital, Milan and some thoughts on the Italian Healthcare System

san rafaele


Friday again and I am spoiled for choice – above is a photo of a fountain taken at San Rafaele hospital in Milan. After an exchange with  Jude on the meaning of the fountain I went back and enlarged the photo to read the text, which reads: San Raffaele tempio della medicina et della sofferenza or translated:

San Raffaele: Temple of Medicine and suffering

Not necessarily a modern marketing statement...Even if it is honest. Nowadays if the patient is not in the statement, there is something wrong.  And suffering doesn't figure anywhere (seen any advertisements lately?)

Google leads me to this website on Catholic Saints with the following text on St Raphael: “St. Raphael is the patron saint of travellers, the blind, bodily ills, happy meetings, nurses, physicians and medical workers. He is often pictured holding a staff and either holding or standing on a fish”

More on fountains below the text at the bottom, more on San Rafaele hospital and the Italian health-care system below. 

I recently spent a day here with Nonna. It was a lesson in patience and patients!  Even now, months later, the serenity with which Italians accept the workings of their health care system still does not cease to amaze me. Time from initial visit to communication of diagnosis is 3 months, you get your diagnosis about 1 month after being operated on. Before then, not a whisper of a differential diagnosis list is discussed with you. By far the biggest difference to the Swiss healthcare system, this approach. It’s not of course that the doctors don’t know within 1 week or 2  of the first biopsy, what your situation is, but until the patient is informed of what is happening, that takes ages. As a doctor and a relative I kept trying to speed this along, until I realised, that the patient herself and everyone else was totally happy with the patriarchal approach. It’s what you know I guess.

San Rafaele hospital is huge, 1350 beds, an enormous campus, super well organised. When you leave the underground parking lot you reach a corridor with this information panel, English and Italian, and coloured stripes on the floor lead you where you need to go, very impressive indeed. Because it is so big and busy,  it’s a lot like being at an airport very loud and quite disorienting. And I’m healthy, I shudder to think how the place makes you feel when you are sick.

San Rafaele


Although  Hospidale San Rafaele is up in Milan, many patients travel from the South of Italy to be treated here. The Italian healthcare system was rated as being #2 in the world by the WHO, in 2000, after France. Things have likely changed since then. But I am quoting that number just to show you it is good.

There are some great aspects to the Italian health-system.  Apart from a minimal copay everything is covered by the state. That means, you don’t need to sell your house if you are diagnosed with a terrifyingly expensive illness. Furthermore, the system offers flexibility. E.g. if you live in the South but want to be operated in a hospital in Milan, you can chose to do this. The region you come from will foot the bill and reimburse the hospitals in Milan. They don’t force you to be operated down South…And,  while you are allocated your treating physician locally by your postcode, you can change him or her if you don’t get on.

Also if you don’t trust the system, you can elect to get to have additional opinions  privately for a relatively humane amount (150 Euros), that said the average salary in Italy is not high.

Some aspects that were different were, that the patient is a relatively passive part of the process. You go through the system, you get treated, but you don’t really get told what is going on and nobody discusses treatment options with you in any depth. This translates to ” we will operate on you and then tell you what treatment you will be getting” . That said,  although you don’t get informed about what is happening, the system works very fast. From first biopsy to operation a mere 6 weeks or so, which is  pretty amazing.  An another interesting discovery is that you may have an appointment, you sit and wait outside the doctor’s room for ages, and when it is your turn the other patient comes out, and the doctor shouts your name from behind the door. The doctor doesn’t come to the door and ask the next patient in.

Obviously a country where a doctor still has a very high status (they also still get  presents at Xmas and Easter etc. I am assured (even if they misdiagnose you..)).

No litigation here, it appears. Which overall is a good thing, I think. 


Jude shares another classic, Swiss trough fountain with an Easter bonnet of begonias she discovered in Montreux (lovely place Montreux, try to get there for the Jazz festival). And the week before it was a fountain with flowers from Geneva, very picturesque. Another day in paradise shares the fountain of Cybele from Madrid.

TGeriatrix  recently shared the fountain of a bishop in a park, from Italy, and this week shares an impressive fountain crowned by a statue of the God Mercury – very impressive, again. The Dutch appear to approach fountains much like the Germans and the Swiss, you need to know what you are looking at.  The Italians make it easy for you and add flight:  Mercury is flying in Rome, and I would guess a copy of that fountain in Oxford,England. My favourite from the past 2 weeks is Aletta’s the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe fountain ( I make it up as I go along, but it gives me joy..). Chava shares a fountain from NYC, very odd one this, looks like one of those helium party balloons where the shape of a dog was just too difficult for the magician and a beauty from Ecuador. KAZ shares a fountain from Sydney from Hyde Park, Sydney.


I shall post a fountain each Friday within a particular theme which will change each month. You are invited to join in by posting one or more of your own fountains within the month that fit into the theme and either add a link (ping-back) in your post to mine or link to it in a comment on my post.

To make it easier to find everyone’s posts, perhaps you could add the TagFountain Series‘.

You don’t have to post on a Friday.  Any day in the month will do. If you have loads of pictures that fit into a theme, feel free to post several times during the month or create a gallery or whatever works best for you. While I’ve never run a challenge,  I am following Jude’s capable lead and letting myself be inspired by her categories,  so I am feeling hopeful that this will work out:).

Theme for July is:  Stone fountains




20 thoughts on “Fountain Challenge #21: Holy fountain at San Rafaele Hospital, Milan and some thoughts on the Italian Healthcare System

  1. An interesting discourse about the Italian healthcare system Poli. Unlike the people here in the UK who constantly moan about the care we get. Our NHS may not be perfect, but it is a darn sight better than some countries, and still free at source. However, I do wish they’d get more NHS dentists. Finding one of them to treat you is like finding gold at the end of a rainbow!

    And a very interesting fountain. I thought the images might be of healing of some sort, then I enlarged your photo – they all look rather gruesome! Any ideas of what they depict? Ii have moved away from Switzerland for a change, but still in Europe:

    Have a lovely weekend 🙂

    • Hi Jude – thank you agreed, I recently went on a course on the topic, it’s fascinating. As you say, some things are not ideal, but there are a great many countries where the situation is a lot worse. A relative was in an accident in NY the first thing he was asked was – can you afford service? and he was bleeding copiously (the taxi driver involved ran for it to avoid any risk of being sued..) NHS dentists, really, that is terrible. Dentists are so important to oral and overall health. Regarding the fountain, agree, it’s gruesome, I did check the internet for help, but no hope, thought of the good samaritan too (I enlaged initially as well, but not fitting), I will do some “in house” research and see if I can come up with anything! Thanks for the fountain, where might it be (I know it’s not Australia for sure!)

      • Let me enlarge again….maybe that’s the bit with the temple of learning? You need to deconstruct, before you can reconstruct? I will get to the bottom of this, I will, I will!

      • Don’t stress! I just wondered what they represented as the carvings are quite unusual. Biblical stories sound about right and healing of course, being a hospital. 😀

      • Hey Jude, no stress, I’m a bit like a dog with a bone when I get going, but I guess that is evident from the some of the posts. I have been told that my google translation of “temple of medicine and suffering” is not correct, that in fact there is whole Italian concept of suffering that I am missing here, yes, no wonder. So I will learn more about this in the AM and adapt. Surprisingly no Italians have corrected me yet!

      • 🙂 thank you Jude – I did find the annual report of the hospital in Italian with a photo of the fountain on the front, searching in Italian helped, but still no further along….

      • I am going to check with the resident religious expert and get back to you, I suspect it’s a biblical story, or maybe not :). It isn’t the world’s most cheery fountain, that’s for sure! but it does have a lot of stone and water :)!!

      • You do – overall seen from a distance I agree, mainly because the basin is so large. The crucifix on top and the bell are a bit forbidding though? A bit the apocalypse is at hand? It must be me, I have a hankering for playful cheerful fountains at the moment, or peaceful fountains (think your Sezincote fountain) not serious ones. But agree overall it’s all good!

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