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Inspiring Life & Travel in France

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Inspiring Life & Travel in France

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American in France: French Healthcare, Part 1

The Barefoot Blogger will leave her carefree expat role to discuss something critically important to me: French Healthcare.

As I type with one finger of my left hand, I lie in a bed in a rehabilitation hospital outside Nimes, France.

I’ve been hospitalized in the French healthcare system since September 18, when I fell crossing the street while co-leading a ladies’ tour with my good friend, author Patricia Sands.

A unique perspective on my French vs. USA healthcare from one who has experienced a similar orthopedic injury and treatment in both countries.

I wrote about the accident in a previous post. I knew I’d be writing an “inside story” about my experience with the French medical system as an American expat.

Telling the story now, before the upcoming election in the US, seems the perfect time.

French Healthcare: Hospital Admission

My accident occurred in Aigues-Mortes, a historic walled city in southern France, on Tuesday afternoon, September 18.

After my fall, I was taken by ambulance to the hospital of my choice, Centre Hospitalizer Universitaire Carémeau, in Nimes. A hospital in Montpelier was a nearby alternative, but Nîmes was closer to my home in Uzès. Both are university hospitals with excellent reputations.

The ambulance ride to the hospital in Nimes was traumatic, just as you’d expect. The heat, the pain, and my anxiety were all at play. Fortunately, the hospital was less than an hour away.

When we arrived at the hospital, I was asked a few questions, fortunately by someone who spoke English. Simple things like my full name, where I lived, and did I have allergies. No one asked for my passport, formal identification, or proof of medical insurance.

The admissions process, emergency room examination, X-rays, and placement in a semi-private room took about 3 hours.

A longtime friend on the ladies’ tour was allowed to accompany me through each stage of the process. “To hold my hand.” The hospital staff quickly knew neither of us spoke French.

French Healthcare: Surgery

The hospital I was taken to in Nimes after the accident is a university hospital. They have a large, active emergency care unit. Since my situation was far from life-threatening, my surgery was not performed immediately. It was more like 36 hours later.

Meanwhile, I was in a semi-private room with a patient awaiting her second knee operation, not because of my room or roommate but because I was pretty miserable. No morphine or heavy painkillers were given to me before surgery. I was told morphine was prohibited because of its adverse effects on anesthetics administered during surgery.

I remember how relieved I was when the mask went on my face at the beginning of surgery. I knew I would be in La La Land when I woke up.

French Healthcare: Post Surgery

I had no idea where I was when I awoke from surgery. No one spoke English. All I remember is that I was moved around a bit, probably from one level of surgery aftercare to another.

Fortunately, I was cognizant that I was in France, alive, and wanted to move to my room as quickly as possible so people would let me be. So I said “c’est bien” anytime I was asked a question. No telling what I was agreeing to.

I occupied a hospital bed in a large double room for ten days with a dear French woman who became my new best friend, Chantal. She spoke not a word of English. Nevertheless, we carried on a daily ritual something like this:

Bonjour, Deborah,” she said each morning. “Comment allez vous?” she’d ask.

Bonjour, Chantal,” I’d respond. “Ça va bien, “I’d answer. Then “ Comment allez vous?”

The simple question\answer exercise would continue through the day — every day — ending with our shared “Bonne nuit.”

My French healthcare
My hospital room with Chantal

My daily care during the ten days in the hospital (“hopital” in French) was extraordinarily good. Except for the wrong food and occasional curt response from a nurse or “colleague,” presumedly because my French was unintelligible, I was treated well. There was a time or two when I was left too long on a bedpan, but the small things could be overlooked when I considered my every physical need was being tended to 24/7.

My French healthcare
A fabulous nurse and aide at Carémeau Hospital

French Healthcare: Rehab

Sometime before the end of my ten days in the hospital in Nimes, I learned I was being transferred for physical rehabilitation to a hospital in a small town outside Nimes. I was not going to the rehab hospital in Uzès as I’d expected. It was fully occupied. For the first time since the ordeal started, I cried. In fact, I boohooed.

The idea that I was going to some unknown village where no one would speak English was terrifying. Thoughts of Jane Eyre came to my mind. I envisioned being cast away behind stone walls where I would be starved and mistreated. What had I done to deserve such a fate?

When I came to my senses, I realized I could find out about the strange new place by simply searching the Internet. I discovered I was headed for a brand new hospital, built in 2016, with a sterling reputation for orthopedic rehabilitation. Case closed. I was content with my fate.

My French healthcare
(Upper left) Nurse and English-speaking Doctor (Upper right) Rehab hospital outside Nimes (Lower left) My physical therapist, Clement, also English/speaking (Lower right) Me in motion

French Healthcare: Cost

It’s day 40 since I was hospitalized in France due to a hip and shoulder fracture. Except for a bill for the ambulance that transferred me from the Nimes hospital to the rehab hospital outside Nimes and an account for compression stockings, I have not been asked to pay anything.

The items above cost 76 euros ($86.83) and 56 euros ($63.98). I paid those bills by check. I will be reimbursed by the travel insurance company when I file a claim.

I will receive a bill for time spent in the rehab hospital when I leave. A friend who inquired about payment for the rehab hospital was told it would cost 197 euros per day ($224). The cost includes physical therapy: 1 1/2 hours daily, Monday through Friday.

News flash: I have heard I won’t be billed for my time at the hospital in Nimes. Not for the surgery nor the 10 days as an inpatient.

There is no charge for emergency services in France for visitors.

Let that sink in.

Tomorrow, I am moving to the rehab hospital in Uzès. My doctor here pulled a few strings to have me transferred. Perhaps she did it because she thought it would be good for me to be closer to home and my friends. Or, she might have wanted to get rid of me. Draw your own conclusion. Either way, I’m “outta here.”

I plan to stay in Uzès until November 6, when I’ll be taken by ambulance to the hospital in Nimes. If all checks out and my bones are healed, I’ll spend the next 3 to 4 weeks in the Uzès rehab hospital and begin weight-bearing exercises to regain my mobility.

I can return to independent living and outpatient rehab when the doctor releases me.




Day trip from Uzes to the Cevennes

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2 Responses

  1. I cannot sing the praises of the French health care any higher! We have used to its full extend for crises I won’t elaborate on, and with very little cost (we are covered in the French system). However, emergency care for visitors is not free in our experience just a few weeks ago. When our son visited us, tripped and gashed his head, bleeding profusely, we took him to the emergency room (in Béziers). The care was excellent. He required 8 stitches. He has no insurance in the US (don’t get me started), and all they had was his passport and our address here in France. They did not charge him/us at the time, but we just received the bill for just under 95 euros, which we will pay happily. In the US it would have cost may multiples of that. Hope you are recovering soon from your recent fall!

    1. I am not surprised at the treatment your son received. I have experienced the same. The last emergency visit was not as good as times before, but it was a holiday. It is unfortunate that the same level of care and affordability isn’t available in the U.S. Thank you for your comment and for following the blog.

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