I’m home after four days in a French hospital. The scheduled surgery and stay went well. But of course, this is France, so although everything went well, that’s not to say it wasn’t complicated.
It started two months ago, when my surgeon’s assistant set the October date. First up were three hospital appointments — pre-admission (no appointment needed), cardiologist (not typically needed) and anesthesiologist — a week prior to surgery, and I was grateful that the assistant wangled them on the same day. She asked me to sign some papers, and gave me an hour of pre-admission forms to fill in.
Prior to pre-admission day, I visited my health insurance provider (called mutuelle in French) twice to give them papers they were ‘missing’. I discovered that anomaly during the initial phone call to the mutuelle to notify them of the surgery and to check a code and price from the surgeon. Confused yet? That code and price tells the mutuelle what the surgery is and how much extra the surgeon wants to charge. Had my mutuelle refused, I would have had yet another call to make — back to the surgeon’s assistant with the message from the mutuelle. It’s all a bit Chinese whispers.
Meanwhile, at the pharmacy, they measured me for compression stockings and gave me more paperwork for my mutuelle, a supply of medical products to use before surgery, and a jar to pee into ten days before surgery, which I was instructed to take to my local pathology centre. With that pee test passed, it was time for the three hospital appointments.
The day started with handing over forms and identification during pre-admission, then onto the cardiologist for some tests (not typically done before surgery unless, like me, you have any sort of tiny, irregular heart rhythm that they want to check). I passed the tests and moved onto the anesthesiologist. More papers were signed and the full procedure was carefully explained (in French), which was reassuring. I left with a prescriptions for a blood clotting test and a French blood type card because, apparently, my Australian blood type card doesn’t have enough details. The pre-admission day took around three hours in total.
At home, the night before surgery dictated the usual no eating or drinking from midnight rule. It also involved the Betadine shower — a special soap wash, with instructions on how to wash (twice), then to dry with a clean towel and wear clean sleepwear between clean bed sheets. In the morning, I had to repeat the two-wash Betadine shower and step into clean clothes, ready for hospital.
Ah, hospital. Let the fun begin! I paid extra for a private room, where flower bouquets are forbidden, and patients must bring their own towels and soaps. In a blatant admission of poor hospital food, I also had the option to pay to upgrade my meals!
Once in my hospital room, a nurse tutted that my identification documents had my two first names but my hospital bracelet was missing part of my first name. Well, that’s because I have one first name and one middle name, but of course in France, that’s all too confusing, and so a new hospital bracelet was ordered with my new double first name. The phone line rental turned out to be a bit pointless: the phone never rang because the hospital forgot to activate the line (which is a bit unhelpful when close family on the other side of the world are trying desperately to call).
After surgery, nursing staff visited throughout the night and checked pain levels, blood pressure, temperature and heart rate. The checks continued day and night until I left, along with blood tests every morning before breakfast.
Black coffee was automatically delivered with breakfast and sporadically with lunch, and the tea lady laughed when I asked for a coffee with dinner. “Non, mais non! Pas si tard,” she said, wagging her finger as she left the room. I couldn’t physically make it to coffee machine on the ground floor, which just made that finger wagging even more annoying.
Checking out of hospital was relatively simple: armed with a swathe of new prescriptions for post-surgery care, I collected my security cheque, wrote a new (more expensive!) cheque, and handed over the TV remote control. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond, sitting painfully on a straight chair, when I was asked if my stay had been good. Um, was I meant to enjoy it? It’s probably just a nuance of French language that I misconstrued but all I could do was utter ‘uhhh’ and look blank. I blame the drugs. Speaking of which, those new prescriptions have led to a big box of goodies from the pharmacy (mostly covered by my Carte Vitale, but not completely), including injections and bandages administered by the daily nurse.
To wrap up, I have total confidence in the French medical system. I don’t mind that the pre-surgery Betadine scrubs and preparations seemed excessive (much better than being inadequate!), or that the administrative processes leading up to the stay was stressful due to the pages of paperwork alone. During my stay, I received professional care that was focussed on my well-being and recovery alone.
A week later, I’m here, lying on my couch with compression stockings on and awaiting today’s blood test and anti-clot injection. Recovering at home is comfortable and far more relaxing than a hospital. The calls from Australia are coming in and I’m surrounded by get-well flowers. And most importantly, I can have milky coffee any time I like.
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