May, 2012 – Graham Miln

Hard Knock Life

I did not plan to throw myself into the French healthcare system so soon. The odds turned against me on Friday and I found myself in a French hospital emergency department being treated for a nasty fall on concrete.

I went running on a wet surface and slipped. Falling badly I landed with a knock to my head and more blood than I care to recall. Thankfully Megan was not far away and I was able to get back to the apartment on foot.

There was a moment when I had to admit I needed medical help and that the situation was not fixable by my own means. In that moment, I had to accept that we would need to not only find somewhere to seek immediate treatment but also deal exclusively in French for a critical situation; all without any time to prepare.

As I cleaned up some of the still flowing blood, Megan looked for the nearest hospital with an emergency department. Oddly searching in English was more effective than searching in French. Google gave us our destination and it was not too far.

The entrance to the emergency department.
The entrance to the emergency department.

An hour and a bit later I was leaving the hospital patched up enough to recover at my own pace.

I was taken to this treatment room soon after arriving.
I was taken to this treatment room soon after arriving.

Always with camera, waiting in the treatment room.

I had heard the French medical system and treatment is excellent. In my short time in the hospital I was given no reason to doubt that reputation. The building was not shiny; it felt used. The emergency department was not busy or harried; it felt calm and we were stepped through the process with relative ease. There was a degree of French queuing and paperwork involved but nothing unexpected. My visit cost just 27 Euros.

Our French was enough but only just. Until now we have been able to face most new situations together. Between us, Megan and I can get by with a mixture of understanding and educated guess work of what is happening and what is expected.

In the hospital I found myself alone in a treatment room dealing with various members of staff. I surprised myself by being able to speak in broken French even while swabs of various disinfecting chemicals were being applied to my face. The stress of the situation did not blank my mind, and that has since been a boost to my confidence.

Thankfully the doctor I saw was able to speak English with ease. Given the knock to my head she seemed to prefer that I spoke to her in English. I presume to ensure I understood and answered specific questions accurately. It was luck that the doctor spoke English. I had not assumed it, and was pleased to have already gleaned from the nurses most of what she reiterated.

Having to cope in another language is tough but it helps to shed my expectations and assumptions. We are learning not to guess too often and not to assume processes and procedures will work as we expect. This quiet shift in our thinking is paying dividends. I am learning to accept I will look foolish, even child like, to some.