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Dottoré! is a weekly column by Mariateresa Fichele, a psychiatrist and writer based in Naples, Italy. Fichele works in a public health facility in the bustling southern city of three million famously teeming with humor and heartache — not to mention unspeakably delicious food. Indeed, Naples has long been the setting for art, cinema and literature, including the celebrated series of novels by the pseudonymous author Elena Ferrante.

Fichele’s work, which she initially shared on Facebook in a mix of Italian and Neapolitan dialect, has the urgency of a professional notebook and the timelessness of city folk tales. Whether listening to patients or talking with neighbors, soaking up her crazy city or aching for her troubled country, hers is a certain truth in a particular place of the world we all now share.

A note on the name of the series

Dottoré! [doh-toh-RAY] comes from the shortened Neapolitan form of the Italian word dottoressa, or female doctor, with both patients and acquaintances often addressing Fichele as dottoré.

Worldcrunch publishes her writings each week in English (with an occasional sprinkling of napulitano), with the help of our own trusted Neapolitan-born translator and journalist Irene Caselli. Illustrations by another talented napulitana, Giulia d’Anna Lupo.

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Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

A Newborn Dies, A Mother's Blame

Our Neapolitan psychiatrist reacts to the public blame directed at an exhausted Italian mother, after she fell asleep while breastfeeding her newborn son at a Rome hospital .

They say that childbirth is, and must necessarily be, the most beautiful thing in the world.

So beautiful that it justifies all the hardships a mother must endure, without complaining or expecting relief from the pain. So beautiful that after it has happened, you are not even allowed to rest because you have to keep the baby with you to breastfeed.

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Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

Freedom Or Insanity? In The Eye Of The Beholder

Two patients walk with our Naples-based psychiatrist on that fine line between freedom and insanity.

"Dottoré, you are free, you know no limits!"

That is what two patients told me, as we were having breakfast together at a café.

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Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

Crazy Traffic: An Impatient Patient's Self-Diagnosis

"And then they say that there's no crisis?"

“Dottoré, at 8 in the morning people go to work, to school, and it's normal that there's traffic.

But at 10 for example, why is everything blocked? Or at 5 pm, at 2 am? All the time!

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Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

On The Couch And On The Lam

Our Dottoré looks back on an entertaining session with a witty runaway convict.

- Do you have a job?

- No. I am incarcerated.

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Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

A Christmas Invitation Lost In Translation

Trasite!

La signora Ernestina is a lovely old lady who lives in a basso near my house. Just outside that tiny street-level studio, she keeps a small altar with the photos of her deceased loved ones, and of those of almost all the neighborhood. When Christmas comes, she adorns it with a thousand lights, baubles and ornaments — enough to compete with any Chinese wholesaler.

The effect is quite picturesque, and in fact yesterday a couple of tourists were standing outside her house to admire the lights.

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Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

No Kindness Under The Christmas Tree

T'is the season for depression ...

"Gennaro, I can't believe it! You always fall into this state of depression around Christmas. There has to be a nice memory that makes you happy again. Think, for example, of back when you were a child. The presents. The whole family gathered together. Tell me, what do you see?"

"I see monsters!"

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Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

A Deaf Child's Struggle, A Taste For Simple Things

"It’s just that all the hardships he has faced have made him more appreciative of the simple things — he’s happier than us."

When Pasquale was told that his newborn son was deaf, his world fell apart.

He held that long-awaited and longed-for baby in his arms and cried, not even daring to look him in the eye.

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Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

A Very Neapolitan Kind Of Halloween

Instead of going trick-or-treating, our Naples-based psychiatrist asks herself a dialectal question.

When someone wishes you “Happy Halloween," how should you respond?

“Same to you, andkitammuort!?”

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Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

Quantifying The Effects Of The Pandemic On Nonna's Cooking

"Dottoré, if today is to be my last lunch ..."

Back in the early days of the pandemic, a study was carried out on a sample of about 100 women in their seventies. It showed that the day after they got their first shot against COVID-19:

• 80% of the respondents woke up early to start making ragù, the meat sauce. Of these, the majority made it with pork ribs (tracchiolelle), a minority with ground beef.

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Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

Fear Of Death — And Not Being Dressed Accordingly

"Antonietta, I'm completely fine. Don’t you even think of bringing me a nightgown.”

Antonietta has two obsessions: fine nightclothes, and death. Other people's death, that is.

Inside her psychosis-driven head, these two elements are linked as such: As soon as she hears that someone is ill, she shows up at their home, with a gift of silk nightgown or pajamas — worthy garments, she thinks, for someone who may be about to depart.

Today she came for a session and, unfortunately, I had a big headache.

"Dottoré, you don’t look well. Are you feeling ok?"

"Antonietta, I'm completely fine. Don’t you even think of bringing me a nightgown.”

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Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

Delusions Of Grandfather

"And where is your grandson?" — "Who knows. He must be old by now."

“Dottorè, do you know that I am a grandpa?”

When Gennaro told me this, at first I thought he was being delusional. But then I looked into his eyes: They were lucid — not because of the drugs his psychiatric treatment required, but from some strong emotion, something real that had at last lit up in his gaze.

Gennaro had to have a grandchild somewhere, and therefore also a child.

Yet, he had spent his life in a psychiatric hospital until 1994, and when he left the hospital, there was no trace of his previous life.

"And where is your grandson?"

"Who knows. He must be old by now. Maybe he's a grandfather himself. I've only seen him once: My son brought him to meet me outside the Leonardo Bianchi psychiatric hospital, when it was still open. He was ashamed to bring the baby there, it was the first and last time he came to see me.

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Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

Sowing The Seeds Of Paranoia

"They must be dumping garbage — good, it makes for good fertilizer!"

"Dottoré, I know a lot of flags, and let me tell you why. I grew up in the province of Caserta, and — like everybody in those days — my parents owned a piece of land, and they would take me with them to farm it.

I remember there were other kids in the fields around us. But then, slowly, we were the only ones left because everybody was selling the land, making a lot of money off of it too.

Papà wouldn't listen to reason and he kept the land. But in the meantime, instead of farmers, trucks began to arrive. Many many trucks, unloading thousands of barrels and burying them into the ground.

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