“I’ll be fine not having a doctor in France – I’m never ill,” I remember telling a colleague. Famous last words.
An ear infection caught me out on Monday. My left ear swelled up badly, turned bright red and was hot to the touch.
I went to 1 of the 73 pharmacists within a 5-minute walk of the flat. There, they recommended I go see SOS Médecins – an organisation that provides round-the-clock medical advice 7 days a week.
For a flat €25 fee, you get to see a doctor. I waited a full 5 minutes to be ushered into a consulting room.
The doctor listened carefully to my explanation of the problem, examined my ear and duly wrote me a prescription. They looked surprised to see me back at the pharmacy quite so quickly to collect the drops that would heal the infection.
So far, so good.
On Tuesday morning I took the Eurostar from Lille to London as usual. I could feel that the infection had spread to my mouth, leaving me a bit numb, but I didn’t worry too much – I was taking the drops that would clear it up.
At work I joked with the same colleague about the irony of needing a doctor in France after all. By mid-afternoon, her laughter had been replaced by a look of concern.
“What’s wrong with your face?” she asked.
I could close my left eye but it wouldn’t blink like my right one. The left-hand side of my forehead wouldn’t crease if I tried to raise my eyebrows and my smile was uneven.
“I’ll drop into a medical centre in the morning if I’m not feeling better,” I told her.
Back at my regular Airbnb that evening, I tried to sip a glass of wine and nearly spilled it down myself. My host eyed me closely.
“I’d like to take you to the hospital,” she said.
I dismissed the suggestion of going to hospital in a typically male, stuff-and-nonsense way – but she did eventually persuade me to call NHS Direct.
I explained what had happened to the doctor on the other end of the phone. He kept asking me about my speech, which even I could hear now sounded slurred.
“I’d like to send an ambulance for you,” he said. “You need to see someone within an hour.”
I refused – after all, genuinely sick people might need it – and my Airbnb host said she would take me instead. If you have never had the pleasure of an evening in Lewisham A&E, trust me, her offer was the very definition of kindness.
There, within 30 minutes, the doctor explained what was wrong.
“You have Bell’s Palsy.”
Now my condition had a name, and one I recognised. I remember a colleague had it a couple of years ago. He looked like he’d had a stroke. I didn’t – but I didn’t look right either.
“I dismissed the suggestion of going to hospital in a typically male, stuff-and-nonsense way”
The eye hospital in Sidcup was my first destination on Wednesday morning, then a chemist where my special drugs had been delivered overnight. Oh yes, this is serious stuff. (I also stopped off at a florist for a big bunch of flowers for my Airbnb host.)
Next week, I’ll go and see my GP in Brighton for a repeat prescription, assuming I still need the drugs.
Then, as soon as I have registered to pay tax in France, I’ll get a social security number here. Three months later, I’ll be able to register for a doctor.
Now I know I do need a doctor here in France after all. Even I get ill sometimes.
Photo © SOS Médecins (Well, you didn’t think I was going to post a photo of me with a wonky face, did you?)