It would probably be right to say that we have had more than our fair share of accidents and incidents over the years, from falling off bikes (me), suffering torn Achilles whilst doing a spoof ‘Riverdance’ routine (me again) and breaking bones windsurfing (yes – that’ll be me again).
We’ve certainly been regular visitors to Accident and Emergency Departments at hospitals in various countries, over the years, even France since we’ve been here. Most recently with a bad reaction to a bee-sting on my eye, that happened whilst out cycling (me- once again)
Finally, though this week, it was Andy’s turn to be dropped off at the Urgences Department at our excellent, local hospital in Apt, following an unfortunate incident with a blade, whilst cutting the hole for a new cat-flap. You really couldn’t write it, and if I’m honest, you do have to wonder how we have actually managed to get quite this far in life. That said, the care in France is incredible and we are starting to feel a bit more comfortable with using it, as the system is very different to the one that we have been used to.
Over the last few months, we’ve had a bit of a steep learning-curve, negotiating our way through the various aspects of the local health system, finding out how it works, and getting used to new processes. We’ve been called in for relevant health-screening, and are now used to being handed scan or x-ray images, which we (rather than the Dr) have to hold onto, and as such, have had to make sure we have become more organised to keep track of them
We each have our Carte Vitale, the French health system card, and have taken out a top-up Mutuelle, with Axa, having chosen one that helps with dental costs, opticians and even preventative care. The Mutuelle isn’t cheap (just under 300 euros for the 2 of us), but it seemed the best option for us, and it certainly has been well-used.
After being used to the UK health system, where services are free at point of delivery, that isn’t always the case here, so we were rather taken aback when we had to pay 25 euros to visit our ‘medecin traitant’, only then to find it reimbursed back into our bank account, a few days later, from the local health department (CPAM) and our Mutuelle. Sometimes we have to show the papers for our Mutuelle, but for other services it just all seems to be linked together remotely, we haven’t quite got on top of who needs what, when, but somehow it all seems to work, which is the most important thing.
With dental treatment, we received a quote for the work that needed to be done, then sent these to Axa, who informed us how much they would pay towards it. Even though it was rather scary handing over a cheque for a very large amount to the dentist, we knew that a significant proportion of it would be back in our account a few days later, and as such were able to get the treatment done.
Our visit to the local opticians turned out to be a bit of a magical mystery tour, with the eye-test showing that we needed new glasses, which we expected. What we didn’t expect was that we needed a prescription from either an opthamologist, or our own doctor. Opthamologists are not easy to find, so the optician wrote letters that we then took to the doctor, who wrote the prescriptions we needed, that we then took back to the optician, for her to be able to order them and for the Mutuelle to partially pay the costs. It was a very different process, perhaps quite a bit more convoluted to we are used to, but at least we managed to get our new glasses and sort it all out, and the glasses are excellent!
The good news is that the prescription lasts for 3 years, so we shouldn’t need to go back to the doctor next time.
So, all in all, we are finding our feet and getting the treatment we need, when it’s needed, which brings us back to this week’s ‘cat-flap’ drama, and Andy’s first personal experience of Emergency care.
It was one of those things, isn’t it always! The blade he was using slipped on the door and dug into his finger, blood immediately flowing, and refusing to slow, even after I made my best efforts at emergency first aid. If I’m honest, I’m not the best of nurses, and after tissues, and padding it, suggesting he raised it above his head, I ran out of ideas and the blood kept running. There was nothing else for it, but to head to Apt and Urgences.
On arrival, I waited outside (COVID regulations), whilst Andy filled in the necessary forms and 10 minutes later was taken in to be assessed. An hour later, he came out with 5 stitches in the wound, a bandage on his finger, and an appointment with the hand specialist clinic at Avignon the following morning. The local Dr thought it hadn’t damaged the nerve, but said it was important that it was seen by a specialist to make sure.
After an uncomfortable night, trying not to sleep on it or knock it, we were up bright and early the following morning to head into Avignon, to the specialist clinic, just off the motorway. After showing our Passe Sanitaire to get into the building, which houses the hand and shoulder specialists as well as opthamology, and facial & jaw surgery specialists, Andy was added to clinical list and we sat down to wait.
It was a busy surgery, with a stream of people coming in to have dressings replaced by nursing staff, others walking in who had clearly just injured themselves, and had come straight to the unit for specialist care, and others, like Andy, waiting to be seen by the specialist.
We waited about an hour, before he was called in, with the consultant apologising for being late, as he had carried out a number of emergency operations already, so was slightly delayed. After a thorough examination, he was happy that somehow, the blade had managed to miss all the important bits (the nerves and tendons) by millimetres. A slight shift in either direction, and the outcome would have been very different, so it would just be a matter of time and allowing it to heal properly, and it should be fine, which was a huge relief.
The finger was re-dressed again and we then were told to make our way to see the Dr’s Secretary who would finalise the visit and deal with the prescriptions. We followed the directions we had been given, into a totally different part of the hospital, where we found the Secretary, who dealt with the paperwork, taking the Carte Vitale and payment of 50e. She then went through the prescriptions, which included pain relief, antibiotics to prevent infection, a huge list of dressings, all of which we needed to collect from the pharmacy. But, also a prescription for home visits by a nurse, every 2 days to re-dress the finger (for the next 18 days) and another for 15 sessions of physiotherapy (should it be needed).
It was almost mind-boggling, especially that a nurse would come to the house to do the dressings, it just seemed amazing, although we hadn’t got a clue how to go about sorting a nurse out, but we knew someone who would be able to help. So, a few moments later, after a quick message to Marina (our friend who runs Ecole Franci Discendum) we had spoken to a local nurse to make the arrangements.
All this had been done and dusted by 11 am, just under 18 hours after the initial exclamation from Andy, that had signalled something had gone wrong. All that was left would be for us to catch our breath over much-needed cake at the IKEA, just opposite the hospital. It may not be the epitome of elegance, nor the perfect French café, but it does Daim Cake, and serious sugar was required, and it really hit the spot.
That evening we collected the prescriptions from the pharmacy, coming away with boxes of what seemed to be every possible dressing item that could possibly be needed, and on Sunday Paulina, the nurse turned up just before lunchtime to replace the bandages.
All in all, it’s been an amazing insight into what happens with a nasty injury like this, and once again it has been an incredibly steep learning curve, but at least we now know a few more steps in the process, and now have details for a local nurse, should we find we need one in future.
Our dealings with the French health system have been consistently excellent, with swift treatment and superb follow-up when it has been needed and I have a feeling that with our track record, we’ll be getting to know it rather well over the coming years!
Oh and the cat-flap….. well the good news is it was worth doing, as Pusscat has already been hopping in and out of it, meaning she no longer stands knocking on the door to be let in, or out….
The bad news is that she may well now be able to bring us little presents again, although yesterday’s gift was a bit too big, even for her to drag through the door
For that I am incredibly grateful!