La Republique de Francais requires medical approval for Americans to live in France. The week of our arrival, we spent hours searching Toulouse for the tiny, back-alley Office des Migrations Internationales. We rang the buzzer to be let in, but it was no place I wanted to be.
A young, pierced gal greeted us (i.e., silently stared, snatched our paperwork, and walked away). A professional-looking woman (lab coat over her cleavage) took us to a desk at the end of a cramped hallway, and asked our names and ages in broken English.
“Healthy?” Yes. Check, check, check, check. “Any operations or problems?” No. Check, check, check, check. “Last medical appointment?” I lied and said last month. She squeezed around us to go ask the doctor if the children needed an x-ray or just the adults. Gulp. I’d read that in France the patient is completely naked for any procedure, be it an x-ray or an exam for a sore throat.
She escorted us into the doctor’s office that consisted of a desk, two chairs and a stark exam table. The doctor was large and greasy with long, dark, wiry curls exploding from his head and arms. He had yellowed teeth and needed a shave. He wore a tight, black shirt and several gold chains.
All four Eppersons visibly shuddered. “No way is this guy touching me,” was the shared thought.
The woman barked, “Anglais!” and left us. The doctor grunted, “Bonjour,” and proceeded to talk in French. The only anglais he spoke was to ask, “OK?” We nodded. He continued his conversation with himself, but stamped and signed our paperwork. “Voila.” (The only French word you’ll ever need to know.) That was it. No exam. No x-rays. The scary, hairy doctor did not see us naked.
A few weeks later, I learned my boys needed a French physical for school. Most French doctors do not take appointments. We located the office five minutes past the start of office hours. There were three doors with three names. We opened the door with Dr. Monique’s name and discovered a small waiting room. We were fifth in line. The people sitting muttered “bonjour” and went back to silence.
Dr. Monique’s office door opened and the next person jumped up and dashed in. After an hour and forty-five minutes, our turn came. Dr. Monique was friendly, attractive and not hairy. She had the requisite desk, two chairs, and exam table. She examined the boys (fully clothed) and explained they needed a tetanus booster and TB shot.
In the US, we test for TB. In France, they immunize against it. My kids will now show a positive result when TB tested in the states, but that’s another story. (Repeat after me: Everything in France is different. Everything in France takes longer.)
I received a prescription to buy the shots. Dr. Monique said to come back at 3:00 pm the next day and she would administer the immunizations. We were relieved to have a rendezvous, but bemused to have to find a pharmacy.
We did, and a young, pierced boy, certainly no chemist, filled my order. After twenty minutes of trying to tell me something, he rolled his eyes and grabbed his colleague. She instructed me, “Keep medicine in le frigo.”
The next day, we arrived at Dr. Monique’s slightly before 3 pm, the start of office hours for the afternoon. About 3:45, she breezed in, but did see us first. (Everything in France is different. Everything takes longer.)
A month later, I awoke with mal a la gorge (sore throat) and silently screamed, “No doctor!” I sucked enough cough drops to remove a layer of skin off my tongue, but my throat felt better. I didn’t go to the doctor, but did visit the pharmacy for more cough drops. The pharmacy is the only place to buy over-the-counter meds in France.
Repeat after me: Everything in France is different.
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