The medications I received from the pharmacy last week helped to improve my symptoms somewhat. I have to say, I love those fizzy aspirin tablets. They work like nothing you can buy over-the-counter in the U.S. However, as my headaches, sore throat and congestion are subsiding, I am still left with a very uncharacteristic weakness and fatigue which are preventing me from doing anything. So far I have spent most of my time here in France sleeping while Norman has been busy taking care of me and the daily chores.
On Friday, we decided it was time for the next step — a trip to see a doctor. Unfortunately, our French has not improved to the degree that we feel we can really explain health conditions well. Not to worry — our hosts had assured us in their introductory material that there was an English-speaking doctor in the area and we had her name and number. As with anything you set out to do here, it’s just not that simple. Thankfully, in our house there is a phone available for local calls. I called the number for the doctor and was instead connected to the Pompiers (the fire department). Our short French exchange revealed the fact that the doctor no longer practiced here and they did not know of one who spoke English. We began to look up local doctors online only to find very little information eventually learning that doctors in France are not allowed to advertise nor post much information about themselves except for an address and phone number. Finally, we realized there was a phone book we could reference. With the predominance of cell phones, we haven’t had a landline at home for over 10 years and never use a phone book so this simple solution didn’t occur to us at first. After several phone calls, Norman found one doctor who spoke English but was told he wouldn’t be in until Monday. I always tell my Spanish students that the most difficult thing to do is speak on the phone in your new language and, believe me, it is!
This morning we had our first official experience going to a doctor in France. I had read a couple of articles expats had written about their experiences so we were fairly well-prepared, but it was definitely different. We entered the office without an appointment and spoke to the receptionist. Based on very little information (no papers to fill out or forms to sign), she directed us to the waiting room where there were only two patients ahead of us. We had read that it was polite to greet everyone in the waiting room with a simple “Bonjour” and so we did. Generally, it is unheard of to acknowledge other patients in a waiting room in the U.S. After about 45 minutes, the doctor himself came out to greet us and usher us into his office.
As it turned out, the doctor’s English was about as good as our French. Nevertheless, between the three of us and some key phrases I had noted on my phone, we were able to make ourselves understood. I had also brought along a copy of my medical record I was able to download and print thanks to the computer and printer available here in our house.
In France, the doctor’s office and exam room are one and the same in this case slightly divided by a partial wall. I proceeded to the the exam table where the doctor took some vitals and checked a few other things. Then we returned to his desk where he scribbled out some illegible instructions. He handed me the paper, told me to take it to the lab to tomorrow for some blood tests, get the results, and come back to see him afterwards. He sketched a rough diagram on the back of his tablet saying that the lab would be easy to find — no name or address, just some significant landmarks. We decided to hunt it down today rather than be baffled trying to find it tomorrow. Lastly, the doctor wrote us a quick bill for €23 ($25) which we paid him directly in cash receiving change as necessary, and with a few “Merci’s” and “Au Revoir’s”, we were on our way. In the end, the doctor had spent about 30 minutes with us and was in no rush to get on to his next patient. It was all so amazingly straightforward and simple, and best of all, inexpensive.
Stay tuned for the next installment in the continuing saga of getting medical care in France.