Coup de Main
There’s nothing worse than getting sick or becoming ill when you are away from home. Additionally, if you happen to be in another country, especially one where you have a limited command of the language, it’s all the more difficult. You begin to feel very isolated and even a little homesick perhaps. Suddenly, nothing you had planned for your visit even matters and you just want to go home.
Unfortunately, our first three weeks in France have definitely not turned out as planned. Although I didn’t know it at the time, only a few days after our arrival, my health was starting to deteriorate. So we decided to try to find a “local” English-speaking doctor we could see as soon as possible.The day following my initial doctor visit, I went to a local lab as directed for a full battery of blood tests. I was supposed to get the results and return to the doctor with them on the same day. Everyone at the lab was more than courteous as we struggled through with our French. When we returned to pick up the paperwork, one of the lab workers whose sister lives in Florida struck up quite the conversation with us about his experience traveling to San Francisco for a conference of biologists, expressing how much he enjoyed himself.
Because of the results of my blood tests, our local doctor made an appointment for a abdominal procedure to check my condition further. It would be three weeks, however, before that could be done. So he directed us to the main hospital in Périgueux for what was supposed to be a simple and quick procedure. He provided us with a letter which we presumed was an explanation of my condition. With letter in hand and anticipating a quick visit, we headed out to the hospital the next morning. We were impressed by how quickly one could see a doctor. We were able to see our local doctor on the same day without an appointment and we were expecting the same quick response at the hospital. Upon arrival, the hospital admissions told us that we had to go to emergency care in another part of the hospital. So off we went, explaining ourselves and providing the necessary information to the emergency room admissions staff whose command of English was naturally very limited. At this point, we had no idea if our healthcare coverage in the U.S. would cover our expenses so it was quite tense. Nevertheless, everyone was very accommodating and we managed to complete the required paperwork.
The letter we presented from the local doctor requesting the procedure seemed to put us at the head of the line. We felt fortunate in that so many other people had obviously been waiting for a while. I was immediately whisked into the emergency care area where I awaited the expected abdominal exam. All of the healthcare workers I encountered were more than pleasant. Once they realized I didn’t speak French well, they were happy to slow down, explain carefully, and have a little fun practicing their English even making jokes when possible. Fortunately, the resident doctor who attended me throughout the day spoke rather good English so I was able to understand what was going on fairly well. As it turned out, my ”short and simple” exam evolved into a long 10-hour day culminating in a transfer to the main hospital.
Eventually, I found myself in a hospital room preparing for an overnight stay. At this point, I had been wheeled back and forth for various tests but still had not had the recommended procedure. As you might imagine, I was getting more than a little frustrated. However, the friendly and positive attitude of the nurses and aides I dealt with helped me come to accept my fate. I just had to wait for tomorrow. Meanwhile, my French was improving rapidly under these circumstances. While stressful, it was probably the best immersion program ever.
The next day, a different procedure superseded the original one. Due to the fact that no anesthesia was used, I couldn’t tolerate it — and so I was returned to my hospital room. We were becoming increasingly concerned about my health. We felt it best for me if we returned to the U.S. where I could continue treatment with my own doctor, and if need be, stay in our own hospital in familiar surroundings where all the costs for my treatment would be covered under our insurance plan. We insisted I be released that day which did not go over well with the presiding doctor but our wishes prevailed. Back at our rental home, it was time to regroup and figure out the next move. This involved making a lot of phone calls both in English and French. My husband took care of most of this and though it was very taxing, by the end of the day, the cooperation and goodwill of others were almost overwhelming. Our healthcare plan would cover all of our expenses. The American Embassy in Paris would provide translators as necessary. The hospital agreed to re-admit me the following week for further tests and to complete the required procedure — this time with anesthesia. Kindly, our British acquaintances from previous trips pitched in as well. The wife of one couple, a former nurse who speaks French, even made calls to secure some facts and make sure we understood everything. Just before going to bed, we received a call from the gentleman in charge of care for our rental house who offered the name and number of an American woman who could translate for us as well. As the day came to a close, we were heartened by the realization that so many people reached out to help us in such a difficult time even when we were so far from home.