Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Medical Experiences in France

I'm about to write a post that makes me a little uncomfortable -- one because it reveals some private information and two because it includes nudity.
Then why am I writing it?
I think back to myself, living in the U.S. and reading all the blogs I could about life in France so I would be prepared.
I learned all kinds of things on those blogs, like the fact that I would need to exchange my driver's license the first year I was in France or else I would have to attend driving school and spend thousands of dollars to get a French driver's license.
I heard the horrors of going to French doctors and being told to strip down without a gown in sight.
I gleaned a lot of knowledge that I now get to apply while living in France.

When I walked out of the hospital this afternoon into a gloriously sunny afternoon, I knew I would need to write about my experience so that others could learn from it.
The walk from the hospital down to home include a view of some poppies
During my sojourn in the States, I began to feel an uncomfortable tugging along my right ribs, under my breast.
I'd had a mammogram in September, so I didn't worry about it too much, but the feeling continued.
We don't have health insurance in the U.S. this year, so going to the doctor wasn't an option for me. I figured I would have it checked when I returned to France.
But I hadn't been in France long before Covid-19 hit and we went into lockdown. The pharmacy would give us meds without a prescription as long as we didn't bother the doctors who were busy fighting on the front lines of Coronavirus. Even in our small town, dozens of people had it.
Luckily, none of us showed symptoms of the virus so we had no need to call the doctor and bother her.
As things have loosened up, I called the doctor last week and made an appointment for two days later.
Our doctor, unlike the ones I have read about who ask patient to disrobe, rarely even touches us to look in our throats, listen to our hearts. She frequently writes out a prescription and sends us on our way.
This time, of course, she did tell me to remove my shirt (and bra, if I was wearing one, but I wasn't).
I sat on the examining table. It is an upright chair instead of a table. So she pulled her stool up and checked my breasts and honed in on the place under my breasts where the soreness persisted.
She assured me she thought it was nothing, just that I had perhaps injured myself and the nerves were continue to react.
She gave me a prescription for Vitamin B and for a chest x-ray just to be sure.
What a relief, I congratulated myself as I returned home from the doctor and prepared to forget about the uncomfortable tugging sensation under my ribs.
But after a week, I decided to call the hospital to make an appointment for an x-ray. Calling is always a challenge because I have to speak French. I always preface every conversation by apologizing for my French. English speaks will always say I speak good French, but that's only because I know more than many of them do. It sounds impressive if you don't understand it.
The woman set up an appointment the next day at 16h 30. That's 4:30 in American time. I repeat the time over and over to make sure I get it right. At the end of the phone call, the woman said: "Come .. and wear a mask."
What? I asked. I wanted her to repeat that part that I hadn't understood. It sounded like cellar.
She repeated all, of course, and the word that I had to pick out was "seule" -- alone.
"Come alone and wear a mask."
It sounded much more exciting than it would be.
My homemade mask and my x-rays
Grace and I went for a walk that afternoon (part of our allowed hour of exercise everyday) and we walked up by the hospital so I would know where to go the next day.
I'd never been to the hospital in our town, but I'd seen the sign so I knew the direction.
Then today, I walked the road again -- seule. It's only a few kilometers each direction.
I followed the signs to "radiologie." I walked into the waiting room and murmured "Bonjour" to the other waiting patients, who responded in kind. Just because we have to wear masks doesn't mean we've thrown out all the French niceties.
I waited several minutes for a receptionist to come from the back office to take my x-ray order. She asked for my carte vitale, the card that shows French health insurance, and I told her I would pay for it myself because I don't yet have a carte vitale.
I'm sure everyone in the room was scandalized. To them, the cost of medical procedures are outrageous, but they haven't lived in the States.
To visit the doctor in France without insurance, it costs me 25 Euro. I didn't know what the x-ray would cost, but I had a friend who paid 35 Euros for an MRI. A quick web search tells me that an x-ray in the States, without insurance, costs $100-$1000.
As I sat reading a book on my Kindle, in spite of the "No cell phone" rule in the salle d'attente (waiting room) I noticed that the other patients would be called out then come back. In a few minutes, the receptionist would come forward and hand them an envelope before they left.
That's right, the next step was for them to give patients the x-rays and patients are responsible for taking them to the doctor, or holding onto them for future medical needs. There's no such thing as a permanent medical chart where all of my information is collected. As a matter of fact, when I was at the doctor and I asked her to refill my prescription, she asked me what it was because they had changed systems on their computers and she didn't have my information anymore.
I was the last person in the room when the x-ray technician called my name, and I followed the bald man in green scrubs into the x-ray room.
He motioned to a side room and indicated that I should strip from the waist up. The word I recognized "nue." I walked into the room, smaller than most closets and saw two round knobs where clothes could be hung. I reached to close the door behind me and realized there was no door knobs. Apparently, I would not be closing the door to disrobe.
I shrugged off my sweater and then pulled my dress over my head.
Nude from the waist up, I walked back into the room.
The tech indicated that I should step onto a platform, facing a wall and push my chest against it. He indicated I should put my hands on my hips. Then he told me to hold still and moved cameras around. The platform shook causing me to rock back and forth and wondering how he would get a clear picture. Then when everything had come to a standstill, he told me not to breathe.
He had me turn several different ways, lifting my hands in the air. He told me to blow the air out of my lungs "soufflez," yes, like a cheese souffle.
And then, he said we were finished and I returned to the open-door closet to put my clothes on.
I went back to the waiting room and in a very short time, my name was called.
Too personal? A view as I lean forward against a wall and get an xray taken. 
I received my envelope with the x-rays. I paid 52 euros with my credit card, the full price for an x-ray.
I asked the woman what to do with the x-rays. She said I should make an appointment with the doctor and take them with me.
Are you kidding? That will be another 25 euros! That will bring the total of my medical misadventure to just over 100 euros.
When I looked at the x-rays and the results, I noticed that someone had read the x-rays and written at the bottom "Absence de..." several times. They didn't find anything on my x-rays. Which is fine.
It's good to know that if I have a medical problem I can get it checked out without fear of bankruptcy.
But don't worry, Earl and I are in the process of sending in our information so we can get our carte vitale. The cost for that will be about 8% of our yearly income, not counting retirement income.
What a relief it will be to know that we have low prices and insurance.


Jeanie said...

THis is fascinating, Paulita. I'm not sure you could get into a hospital now to get an XR -- maybe a redi-clinic. I'm always interested in the medical practices of other countries as our system is rather frustrating and so expensive. Thanks for this. I'm glad there is absence. I hope it stays that way!

Just Me said...

Fascinating for sure and shocking how less expensive. Cheers on the good report.

Mary said...

My husband became ill while we were visiting France. We took him to the emergency room in Sarlat, where they did all the usual ER things. Then upstairs to have a sonagram (in the same room with a new MRI machine that our local California hospital was advertising it would have in a few months). He was admitted to the hospital, given lots of fluids and finally diagnosed with a kidney stone. They allowed us to leave in the early evening. Since the hospital business office was closed for the day, we were told to return the next morning to pay the bill. The total cost: $320. That's right, the total was less than what having the xrays would have costs in the US. I've been pushing for Universal Care in the US ever since. Glad your outcome was positive. Healing nerves is a very long term process.

Linda said...

I'm glad your X-ray was clear. I remember my first x-ray in Paris and my horror when I discovered that I wouldn't be given a gown. I was told they had to be able to find landmarks to do the X-ray to which I crabbily said, they can find that in America with a gown on! I was also surprised to find OB doctors didn't have nurses in the room for gyn physicals and, I was to find, most doctors didn't have nurses at all as they don't get paid as well as American doctors. Anyway, it all seems to work once the shock is over. I have a closet packed with X-rays and MRIs that I occasionally weed through and throw out really old ones.

Elizabeth at Eiffel Tells said...

Wonderful news that your worst fears have been laid to rest.
As we have a holiday house in rural France we have also sampled the French health system. In 2012 I was in a hospital emergency department on 2 occassions - one experience was positive and one was horrific. During the past 2 years both my husband and I, on separate occasions, have been very ill in France. We were pleasantly surprised by the medical costs and faithfully took our prescribed medicines. However, neither of us showed any improvement over a 2 month period. My husband was able to get onto a plane to fly home to be seen by a doctor who was able quickly diagnose and treat his problem, after which he made a rapid recovery. However, I was too sick to get out of bed so I had consultations with a medical specialist at home via FaceTime and was soon well enough to travel. Both my husband and I were misdiagnosed by French doctors and prescribed inappropriate medications so our illnesses, which were unrelated, were prolonged while we were in France. We may have paid slightly more for the medical consultation at home, after the government medical rebate, but it was money well spent.

Zumi said...

This is a worth reading blog and your insights are impressive. Keep posting article like this.


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