Being sick in France

<Photo of a variety of French prescription drugs>You may have noticed a slow-down of blog posts recently, and that’s because I’ve been ill. I’ve had all the symptoms of whooping cough, which started at the end of July, and I’m still recovering. Pictured are just some of the drugs they prescribed. I finished some others and I gave away the Ventolin. If you find yourself sick in France, my story might help you.

There’s a running joke around these parts that it’s impossible to come back from a French doctor for as much as a cut finger without at least three prescriptions. Just yesterday, The Connexion published a story about a couple of French doctors speaking up at the over-prescribing of drugs happening in France, saying that “France spends more than €35bn on medicine each year, more than €500 for each man, woman and child.”

I think I may have reached my annual limit, and here’s why. After many visits to doctors, two chest x-rays and three blood tests, I was told I did not have whooping cough, yet four doctors agreed it sounded just like it and kept plying me with drugs for other coughs. The third round of blood tests came back negative, and I now have a variety of asthma drugs that I’ll never use — paid for by the French taxpayer (including myself of course). The doctors were stumped, so when I went back with a pulled chest muscle from the violent coughing (hey, I just wanted something to relieve the pain) the doc insisted on sending me to a lung specialist. My Carte Vitale (French health care card) covers part of the cost of that visit, but not all of it.

“What are you doing here?” the lung specialist asked me. “You should be at an ear, nose and throat specialist.” Do I look like a doctor? Did I know that a “pneumologue” was a lung doctor prior to my doctor telling me? Nope, not me. I just wanted decent painkillers from my doctor, mate. He sent me for more blood tests. None of the other doctors I had seen had noticed that the very first blood test for whooping cough said a further test for the illness should be done if coughing continues, as a negative is sometimes wrong. I’ve now had the blood test and am awaiting results.

If the test comes back positive (and I’m pretty sure it will), most of those drugs pictured have been worse than pointless: whooping cough doesn’t really respond to much, with the cough syrup and asthma drugs inducing more coughing, and the corticosteroids causing a bout of acne that the tube of gel at the front is now helping to fix. So, the drugs just made me sicker.

Without the Carte Vitale, I would have spent hundreds on doctor visits and the same again on drugs. But then, maybe without the Carte Vitale, I probably wouldn’t have bothered going to the doctor in the first place, and at least I wouldn’t be applying zit cream every morning and night.

So, with the coughing finally lessening this week, I hope to spend less time sleeping and more time getting back to doing what I love – writing and exploring France. Stay tuned (and get re-vaccinated!).

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About

I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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9 comments on “Being sick in France
  1. Ron Rundle says:

    Are the French a little “hypochondrial” though? I think most French would think they had been ripped off if the doctor did not prescribe something for whatever the patient believed they had. And there appears to be an extraordinary number of pharmacies in France to cater to their ills.
    Get well soon, Wendy.

  2. Steph says:

    Both my sons had whooping cough despite being vaccinated, when they were 13 years old and a few months old respectively. It’s a horrible illness and I’m really sorry to hear you’ve had it. As you say, there isn’t a lot you can do for it apart from cough medecine. It took doctors in Ireland ages to diagnose it as well. Do hope you’re completely better soon although that will take a little time.
    The vaccinations only last for 7 years apparently altho everyone thinks they cover you for life.

  3. Sue says:

    Ooo, that’s not been nice.

    They do seem more hypochondriac in France than in Italy, and that’s saying something. An English friend resident here went to A&E and got immediate attention due to our reputation for not being so! My prescription for you though would be cheese and chocolate. Hope you get to full fitness soon, as no doubt the snow _will_ arrive in the next 3 months or so… Cervinia opened today :-), but only on the glacier :-(.

    It seems like an old tradition: La Maladie Imaginaire and all that. Can’t see any pessaries in your collection: another old tradition of which they seem inordinately fond..

  4. Diane says:

    Oh man, poor you. I hope you’re feeling better! The insane # of medicine boxes here still baffles me. Even just a little cold will get you a ton of meds you will probably never finish. And just as much as that makes no sense to me, my husband doesn’t understand the concept of “filling” a prescription and getting a bottle with the exact # of pills. Ah, the French.

  5. Wendy says:

    Thanks everyone for the well wishes.

    Ron, yes, I think you’re right.

    Steph, it’s amazing how many people have said to me “I was imunised as a child”. So was I, but as you say, it’s not for life.

    Sue, the snow is here today! Wow, Cervinia picked the right time to open! I think I was lucky to escape the seemingly usual treatment for every ailment (pessaries). Phew!

    Diane, I don’t know what to do with them all! French people must surely have a medicine *room* rather than just a cabinet!

  6. Debora says:

    Oh goodness me, you’ve been in the wars, as we say in the north east of England. I have had a few run ins with French doctors and pharmacies. They do so love to give you drugs. But poor you and I hope you’re on the mend. PS I love the name of your blog!

  7. Wendy says:

    Thanks for the well-wishes Debora – and I think I’m on the mend now. The blog name seemed appropriate, and I was amazed nobody else had snaffled it already!

  8. Jeffrey says:

    Sorry to hear about your illness. It seems Whooping cough is poorly diagnosed just about everywhere.

    There are some helpful hints that seem to help people, I copied that below. Also there is some information in French for you, or your doctor.

    “We have named the following technique Christabel’s method after my
    daughter (9) as she noted that by attempting to stop herself from
    inspiring reflexively between coughs she could reduce the length and
    the violence of the cough and prevent reflux. Simply put she delays
    herself breathing in and holds what breath she has left for as long as
    possible then tries to breath slowly. This technique may not work on
    the first cough of the series but in our experience appears to slow
    down subsequent coughs. The techniques requires practice but does
    allow the patient some control back in their bodies! As this method
    requires the patient to overcome their natural reactions I suspect
    this is only suitable for older children and adults.”

    September 2008
    The feedback about this has been consistently positive.

    November 2011
    Many sufferers of whooping cough find that eating or drinking certain things provokes a coughing spasm.
    I have been passed anecdotal information from A.H., a paediatric speech and language therapist in the UK who has suggested that some coughing spasms may be due to liquid nourishment leaking past the vocal cords into the windpipe. The theory being that whooping cough might be causing some weakness of the vocal cords (it certainly can cause voice changes). I understand that she has found that thickening liquids before drinking can help this problem. Liquids should be thickened to the consistency of syrup before drinking, using a proprietory thickening agent that can usually be obtained from a pharmacy. One such product that should be easily available is ‘ThickenUp® Clear’, made by Nestle.
    If you suspect liquids are provoking some coughing, this is probably worth a try. Feedback (no pun intended) would be appreciated.

    http://www.whoopingcough.net/for-doctors-french.htm

  9. Wendy says:

    Thanks Jeffrey. I’ve done lots of googling (doctors weren’t all that helpful in suggestions) and have tried the things you’ve mentioned with varying success. Thankfully, the coughing has reduced this week so I’m on the road to recovery at last and looking forward to more regular blog entries once more.

About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced professional writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Read more...

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