Monday, September 1, 2008
Visiting the Doctor
As I was packing up my toiletries kit for my last tour it came to my attention that I forgot to reorder my birth-control pills. With two days before the August vacation season and a quarter of a package left I realized I need to move quickly if I wanted to remain unpregnant this summer. During the month of August ALL city dwelling Europeans run for the hills and the beaches to enjoy some of their copious government sanctioned vacation time. Cities like Rome, Paris and London simultaneously empty as signs are posted in windows saying things like "Vive les Vacances! Closed!" and "Fermé! See you in September!". During August most tourists don't see a difference since all major sights and shops are open, but if you live here and are in need of a dentist, mechanic, hairdresser, or attorney then you are fresh out of luck. So I quickly googled doctors in my neighborhood and found Dr Delfieu whose office is just two blocks away.
I dial the number and as it's ringing I am trying to figure out the best to say, Hi I'm an American and I don't have health coverage (as a matter of fact I am not legally living in your country) but I would really like some birth-control pills and am willing to pay cash and so I need you to write me a prescription and I know you are going on vacation this week and therefore are surly very busy but I really need to see you this week. One of the cardinal sins Americans make while trying to communicate with the French is over sharing. Giving far too many details and information about our personal lives. Grégoire has gently, and not so gently, reminded me of this many times and yet most of the time I just can't help myself.
So, the phone rings and a man picks up and says, "Allo". Not "Bonjour you have reached Dr Delfieu's office" or "Hello this is Dr Delfieu's office, how can I help you?" Just a man's voice saying hello. I reply, "Hi, is this Dr Delfieu's office?" He says, "This is Dr Delfieu speaking". Oh my. I have NEVER ever called a medical institution in the US and had the doctor pick up the phone. There is usually an army of nurses, medical assistants, receptionists and recorded messages to keep the public far far away from a medical expert until it's time for your appointment, so I was shocked silent when the doctor himself picked up the phone. I tried my best to be brief and explained what I needed and he says, "fine, come in before five" and hangs up the phone without asking my name or contact information or anything.
It being one in the afternoon I wasn't sure when between now and five he was hoping for me to arrive so I split the difference and headed out at three. At three o five I run in to my first obstacle. The front door. This office, like many offices in Paris, is part of a larger building
of other offices and apartments that are hidden from your average passer by. I see two tiny plaques on the wall indicating that the doctor's office is in the building but not indicating how one enters the locked front door. After a few minutes brainstorming I give up and call the doctor from my cell phone. Since he didn't ask for my name earlier and in a effort to not give not much personal information I didn't volunteer it, so now that I needed to call back and I had to introduce myself as the American that needs birth-control who is now standing on the sidewalk and cannot figure out how to open the door. The doctor explains that I just need to hit the big black button next to the keypad. I do so and the door opens and it makes me wonder why have a lock and password panel if all you really need to do to get in the building is press the back button but those thoughts were quickly chased from my mind when I realize there is a second locked door and again no obvious way of opening it. Just as I think, oh god, I am going to have to call him again, a lady exits the doctor's office and I sneak in behind her.
There is no one to greet me. Just a small hallway leading to what I assume is a waiting room and then a big door leading to what I assume is the doctor's office itself. I join the other two people in the waiting room and try to blend in. After 20 minutes the doctor pokes his head in the door and the lady sitting next to me stands and follows him. Hmm, did she have an appointment I wonder? Do I need to tell anyone that I am here? The second question answered itself because there was no one to tell. So I wait. And wait. The man next to me either gives up or leaves to run an errand. A few minutes later the doctor comes into the waiting room and points at me. I follow him into his office.
Before my bottom hits the chair opposite his desk I am halfway through telling him my life story in true American style. I start to trail off as I look around his desk. It is pilled with unusual objects. Animal skulls, feathers, African masks, porcelain vases, ancient books, stacks of paperwork, large pieces of coral and a carved wooden ape who is holding on to its pink painted penis.
At this point I gaze up at the doctor to get a feeling for who this man is that has choosen to decorate his office with these kinds of treasures. Dr Delfieu is a man in his late 60's with wild wirey hair, thick round black glasses and bad teeth. Around his neck is a silver necklace with a whale's tail charm and he is wearing a Chinese style white linen shirt and an unbuttoned blue vest. Since I could not figure out how to discreetly take a photo of the scene, I drew it from memory. Please note the ape on the left hand shelf above the computer.
I handed him the package of the birth control pills I am currently taking and he sighs as he reaches for a giant book. While he has a computer on his desk I got the strong feeling that it doesn't get much use. This book, he tells me, translates medicines from American brands to the closest French equivalent. He finds just the pills for me, writes me a prescription and asks for €23. "Vraiment? Really?" I say. He says, "Oui, désolé, but since you don't have state coverage you have to pay in cash, I'm sorry it's so expensive." I smile, thinking that it costs me more to see a doctor in the US when I had insurance, and hand over the cash.
As I get up to leave I can't help inquire as to whether or not he has a receptionist. During our visit his phone rang several times and he had to answer each call. He says, "biensur, I have a receptionist, she works from 9:00-2:00 three days a week. If you need an appointment you need to call her, otherwise you can just show up for the open appointment hours like you did today". "By the way," he adds "when you get your paperwork all sorted out and need to choose your permanent doctor here is my card". Still disturbed by the ape, I thanked him and left.