Yesterday morning when I checked my right heel, there was no sign of improvement. I wasn't sure whether the small red area bordering one side of the blister was the result of pressure from my ungainly limp, or if it was evidence of infection.
I stayed off my feet most of the day, reading in bed, but I did walk about 400 metres to the local public library for internet access, and another 50 metres later to La Vecchia Taverna for dinner. All told, I didn't walk much more than a kilometre.
This morning I was initially optimistic. The pain had diminished overnight, and I had hopes of setting off for Vercelli by Thursday. Then I gingerly removed my sock and saw that both the blister and the area of red swollen skin had expanded overnight.
I had breakfast and then called my travel insurance company. The connection was patchy at times, but I was given a claim number and told to go ahead and seek medical treatment. The Ospedale San Salvatore in Santhià doesn't have an emergency department, but they referred me to the hospital in Vercelli. The train station was just a five minute limp away and the ticket only €2.70 for a 13 minute trip. The two minute cab fare from the train station to the hospital cost more.
Since infected blisters would normally be attended to by a family doctor, I was the lowest priority patient. I'd been there for about three and a half hours when, to my surprise and delight, I recognized my name being called. After 21 minutes with the doctor, I'd been given a spray-on local anaesthetic, my blisters had been drained and then trimmed off, and I'd received a tetanus shot. As I was leaving, it occurred to me that they hadn't asked for proof of medical insurance or any type of payment. I went back in, found the English-speaking nurse, and asked about it. She looked at my papers and said that everything was in order.
I caught a taxi back to the train station, hopped the train back to Santhià, had an adequate "menu pellegrino" at a different restaurant from last night, and then limped carefully back to the hostel. At that point, I swapped out my dead battery with the spare and started it charging, and proceeded with this update.
Tomorrow morning, I'm to go to the local hospital (all of 300 metres from the hostel) to receive my first dose of antibiotics. The doctor in Vercelli told me I'd need to stay off my feet for two to three weeks, and have periodic check-ups and a full course of meds.
I probably should have done all this yesterday when I first noticed the blisters were not healing up normally, but at least I didn't try walking the 21 km to Vercelli to prove I'm a tough guy. I'll spare you the gruesome "Before" photo, but here's what the fine professionals at St Andrew's Hospital in Vercelli left me with. Think of freshly-fallen snow, cool, clean, pure, refreshing. (At least that's how it feels now. I may have a different perspective once the anaesthetic wears off.)
So, I will be doing lots of reading over the next few weeks, practicing my Italian, and getting fat(ter) and lazy in the warm Italian sun. And since the local library has internet access, I may even upload some more photos, and properly organise what I've already shared so far. I can't think of a better place for a pilgrim to spend recuperating than Santhià!