Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Discovering the joy of Socialism...

In general, I am a healthy person. As my mother may proudly boast, I have used antibiotics less than ten times in my entire life; however, the weather and the climate in my new home caused an interesting health condition. Nothing serious - just a circulation problem in my toes - common in old men. This brought about an interesting situation: Heather had to go to a French doctor.

After putting off the inevitable for two weeks, I attempted to get up the nerve to make "the call." I hate talking on the phone in French. Much of my ability to understand the language is based on context clues and facial expression, all rendered impossible by the phone. After the first dial-and-quickly-hang-up call, I managed to control my irrational nerves long enough for the nurse to answer. In halting French I explained that I wanted an appointment with Dr. Tauty for a problem with my feet. She gladly (and speaking in wonderfully slow French) gave me an appointment for the following morning at noon.

Figuring I would have many forms to fill out and with my dictionary in tow, I arrived at the office a comfortable 15 minutes early (as the receptionist in the States tells you to). The nurse showed me into the waiting room, though I am missing the paperwork. I sat there for 20 minutes, along with the typical crying babies and sneezing businessmen. When the door opened and my name was called, I was surprised to find that the doctor himself had come to fetch me. Dr. Tauty is a short, balding Dutch-South African man who was dressed in a perfectly tailored three piece green tweed suit and white doctor's jacket. Plus, I was still concerned (obsessed?) that there was a mistake - I had yet to fill out any forms.

After the traditional and mandatory French introductions, he (he himself, mind you) directed me into his office and motioned for me to sit in the comfortable leather chair opposite his desk. I wasn't weighed, wasn't measured, wasn't asked to sit awkwardly in an empty closet-sized room silently waiting. None of these. Before we began he asked me where I came from and why. Then he got down to business... after I explained he directed me to the examining table on the far side of the room and took a look at my feet. Then he told me to put my shoes back on and to return to the comfortable chair where he explained the problem. Dr. Tauty even took the time to translate the diagnosis into English.

Now I was sure that the paperwork would come, but it didn't. He handed me a prescription and a form I had to send to the Social Security office because I only have a temporary number. Then his face became grave and apologetic. Because I only have a temporary number, I have to pay him the full amount and be reimbursed later. Alright, I was ready. Before I went to the appointment I purposely went to the ATM and withdrew a decent amount of cash for such an occasion. With down cast eyes, he asked for 21 Euros. I had to have him repeat the sum, I thought I hadn't heard correctly. But he assured me that it was 21 Euros. I let out a hardy laugh which elicited a perplexed look from Dr. Tauty. After explaining that a similar visit in the States, without insurance, would cost at least 60 Euros if not 100, he joined me in laughing. "Thank goodness for socialism then," he chuckled.

As he guided me back through the hallway, he shook my hand and kissed my cheek. Then he said, "If I ever see you with anything less than two pairs of socks and thick boots on, I will hit you upside the head with my Hippocratic oath." Out the door I went.

And that was my cultural experience for the week. When I tried to explain to my Danish landlady how weird and bizarre the doctor's visit was, she explained that much of it was the same in Denmark; however, nothing prepared her for the first time a doctor volunteered a house call when her youngest had the flu. Apparently, the house call is a uniquely French custom - I am glad that I did not have to have that cultural experience. If one appointment at the doctor threw me for such a loop, I cannot imagine what it would be like to see the doctor chez moi!

A Votre Santé! (To your health)

No comments: