A few weeks ago: three to be precise, Theo whacked his hand against the wall during a tennis game on the wii. He received a huge bruise for his trouble, and initially it swelled up and we had lots of tears. However he seemed to be able to bend the finger in question so after a cold compress I gave it little more thought until he came out of school one lunchtime complaining that it still hurt.
I decided that the French medical system was a question for the mamans, and turned to a group of them to ask what they would suggest! It might be a little hasty to say that the French are a little more neurotic about illness than the English, but since they had spotted the bruise some weeks ago, they felt that I should quickly be brought up to speed and advised a hasty trip to the x-ray department at the local Clinique de Cédres. Arrive immediately after lunch, they advised, when there would be no queue; and I duly did.
Negotiating my arrival was complicated enough, having finally found a parking place I made it to the Accueil (welcome desk) and basically explained my son’s condition, only to be redirected to the secretary’s office. It was necessary to check in, and to give my details, address, phone number and so on and receive some paperwork before being passed back to the Accueil. Having waited a further minute or so we were asked to make our way to the x-ray department on the next floor.
We had been issued our all-important “Carte Vitale”, the French medical/social security card, and so at the X-ray Accueil we duly checked-in and handed it over. Our details were once more taken, but not having our own private medical insurance, we were asked to pay 8 Euros on the spot, 30% of the total x-ray bill. We were seated mere minutes before being called in for the x-ray, and were back at the main Accueil within ten. After a further 5 minutes we were called in to the doctors office where it was explained to me that Theo had broken his finger and that it was necessary to put it in a splint for two weeks. There are times when vocabulary needs to be learnt very quickly, and this was one of them. I quickly realised that I didn’t know the words for bone, growth, or splint, and that “fracture” in French means “a bill” and not a break! Fortunately the doctor, who spoke no French was able to get a translation of the paper work, though I was mortified to see that Theo had been considered “neglected”. I was asked to bring him back in two weeks, since it had already been three weeks since the break. On leaving I was presented with my “fracture” – a bill for 22 euros, which I was expected to pay immediately and claim back the 70% from the Department of Health. Despite being under the roof of the same hospital and using the Carte Vitale, the different departments had different systems for payment with no obvious reasoning for the differences. What impressed me hugely was that our total hospital turn-around had been in under 45 minutes. In England, the minimum waiting time before x-ray never seems less than 3 hours, and often more!
We duly returned two weeks later, confident of the removal of the splint, only to go through an identical process, paying identical amounts of money, but unfortunately receiving the news that no healing had taken place to the finger. Having got bone, growth and fracture firmly installed into my vocabulary, I was now missing growth-plate and calcification! Another splint was fitted, and Theo was banned from all sport; with a further instruction to come back in two weeks.
Two weeks passed again and we followed the same process, a small amount of healing had taken place, but there was a likelihood that the finger might not grow straight or in size as he himself grew due to the position of the break. This time we were instructed to visit a specialist in a fortnight’s time.
Having now paid out a fairly large sum for the broken finger, I judged that it was time to take out private medical insurance since I was aware that the Accueil staff were always slightly astonished that we didn’t have any. I had also in the meantime met another English couple who within weeks of moving to France, and within weeks of each other suffered a nearly fatal case of blood poisoning, and then pregnancy complications. Despite being practically at death’s door, they were required to pay the ambulance driver by cheque on arrival at the hospital (since ambulances are private) and the costs for intensive care and dialysis without private medical insurance, which ran into the thousands. I considered that with four children, the odds on a serious illness leading to bankruptcy were not worth taking the risk!
The visit to the Specialist was a jovial one, with the finger now mended, if slightly crooked, and with every chance of normal growth. A pleasant conversation regarding the weather followed since the need for further advice was minimal, and I paid 60 euros for the pleasure!
Theo, needless to say, was delighted with the result of the consultation since the very next day his class was booked on a residential “classe poney” to a equestrian centre 20 km from Rouen. His teacher had refused to take responsibility for him, and I had had to sign a variety of papers taking full responsibility for him in the case of an accident. Finally, in my hand I held a specialist’s certification that he was medically sound to ride a horse and he was “good to go”!
The Carte Vitale was, I am glad to say, true to its promise, and within a couple of weeks 70% of all the costs paid within the hospital were safely back into my bank account.