Monday, April 18, 2011

Five hours at the ER

Don’t think from the title that anything serious happened. Quite the opposite. Totally anti-climactic. So I’ll use my afternoon of staring at hospital ceiling lights as an opportunity to delve a bit into the French medical system.

It started with a headache yesterday that morphed into stomach pains which continued today. An oddity for me, as medical struggles are few and far between (my last actual doctor visit was in Jan 2009 in Kenya). So my wife grabbed the phone and a list of doctors nearby and started calling. One after another responded with “no appointments available.” Some said the offices were close for vacation. Some said the doctors simply weren’t taking new patients today. All told her to send me to the ER. Not for an emergency, but because they knew the ER would be the only way I’d see a doctor today.

So off I went. I took a book. Should have taken two.

I checked in and found a seat in the waiting room. I read my book to pass the time and chuckled as a lady screamed in Italian at the secretary something about the absurd wait and then demanded in French if this was truly an “urgence” (as they’re called here) or simply a place to wait. The staff snapped back at her and she got worked up even more, telling them in a fully-breathed voice that she couldn’t breathe and may not live through the wait. Finally she was told that the wait was 2 hours and that’s just all there was to it. An hour later she was called back and suddenly forgot how to walk... she hobbled to a waiting hospital bed. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but the whole interaction made me smile.

I waited for about an hour and was then called in to explain my symptoms and immediately handed 4 huge pills. I stared in fright and took a swig of water to ingest the 1st (I’m not so good with pills). As it went down I noticed a sweet fruity taste to it. Odd. So I asked if the pills are chewable. “Oh yes,” said the nurse, “you put them on your tongue, don’t swallow them with water!” Oops. Then she asked me if I’d had a fever. I messed up my conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius and told her a number that widened her eyes with concern and added some compassion to her responses. My fever was never actually over 100. I think I told her something around 105/106.

Back to the waiting room.

In nearly perfect timing, I finished the book that I’d brought as I was called back into the ER. I had no idea that the wait was only beginning.

After a completed blood test, urine test, and xray - between each one I was wheeled about the hospital in a wheelchair, though I tried insisting that I was completely capable of walking - the doctor came in for a conversation. He quickly mentioned that I was a perfect picture of health, and so he wrote me a prescription for a spasm-reducing medicine (my wife tells me they really like this medicine here... she’s been given it throughout her pregnancy too). Then he told me that his life dream is to visit New York and LA, and he asked me if I know when the iPhone 5 will come out in the US. I asked him for a new prescription for my migraine headaches, and he wrote up one for extra strength tylenol. Gee thanks.

What’s the deal with NY and LA? This may be a post for another time, but I swear every French person I’ve ever met either has been to or wants to go to NY and LA.

With that I was sent on my way. No one knew what to do with me for payment since I’m a foreigner and not on France’s social system, so they told me they’d mail a bill and waved me out the door. At the last minute I was also given a phone number for an ultra-sound tech. Am I pregnant now too?

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