The French Health Care System IV: Blood Test

So, today, I had my blood tests performed at a lab in a nearby town. I had made an appointment the other day. My appointment was at 8:50AM so I had to fast 12 hours from the night before.

We arrived and were called to the reception desk immediately. The woman behind the counter didn’t speak English for which I was grateful; I need all the practice I can get. She finished taking my details and we had a seat.

Almost immediately, I was called into a room where a very masterful technician drew two vials of blood from my somewhat teeny-weeny veins while he complimented me on my French. (I held in the laughter.) And voila! It was over. The entire thing took less that 15 minutes.

croissantAs a treat, Stuart took me to a patisserie afterwards where we both indulged in a somewhat unhealthy but buttery and flaky breakfast. It made it all worth while.

Within a week, I received the results of the test in the mail. Guess that buttery croissant was a bad idea! My cholesterol is up. That’s what two years of stress and the French diet will do to a woman. Goodbye cheese. Goodbye eggs. Goodbye butter.

The French Health Care System III: Prescriptions

Today was productive. I managed to make a lab appointment for blood tests, a echogram appointment at the nearest hospital, and to have all my prescriptions filled at the pharmacy.

In France, there’s a pharmacy on every corner. The French take their medicines very seriously. Unlike in the over-the-counter United States, most medicines are only available in a pharmacy. It took me quite a while to get used to the fact that I couldn’t get ibuprofen at my weekly visit to the grocery store. Instead, I could only get a pack of 10 or so pills at the pharmacy…and only by requesting it.

I’m not sure what to think about that. I suppose it is helpful, since being a foreigner here, I wouldn’t know what I was looking at if they DID give easy access to everything anyway.

The positives of the French system are that I got all this (pictured below) and only paid meds4 euros 90 centimes for the one thing that wasn’t covered. The rest totaling under 30 euros was covered both by the system and our top-up insurance.

If I were to purchase these same items in the same quantities over a three-month period from the United States (assuming they were available), I would have paid over an estimated $200 without insurance. It’s no mystery that prescriptions are outrageously priced in the United States. That’s capitalism for ya!

The one aspect of capitalism I do miss is walking into a Whole Foods type of store and having my choice of supplements and vitamins to choose from. I also miss stores like Walgreens and CVS, where I can get my hands on any over-the-counter medication without having to speak to a single soul.

So far, though, I have to give the points on this round to socialized healthcare!

The French Health Care System II: The General Practitioner

So, in my last writing, I introduced a series of posts I plan to share on my experiences within the medical system of France.

metalmarious_medicine_and_a_stethoscopeWhile covered for health originally by my spouse, now that I am self-employed, I am covered independently. We do have top-up insurance which covers most of what the government doesn’t. However, that is only 125 euros a month for both of us, a very far cry from what we would have to pay in the United States, an amount which would total in the thousands and exclude any additional deductibles.

If you’re following along, you know that I had an appointment with a general practitioner this past week. The first comedy was in setting the appointment. I actually did alright asking for a rendezvous on the “trois Novembre” at “trois heure”…but when I hung up the phone, I realized that I might have misunderstood the receptionist because the French don’t say “trois heure”; they would say “quinz” heure which is 3PM. So, was my appointment actually at treize heure, which would be 1PM, since I might have misunderstood “treize heure” for “trois heure”?

I had to call back to clear this up the next day, but it was a bank holiday. When I did get back with the receptionist and asked the time of my appointment, she said, “quatorze” which meant 2PM. Now that that was clear as mud, we decided to show up 1PM just to make sure I didn’t inadvertently arrive late.

The doctor was running a little late, but only by a few minutes. She invited both my husband and myself into her office. We talked about my concerns, and she ordered blood tests, the first thing any doctor in France orders…so I am told.

We then went through to her examination room where she asked me to disrobe. My husband remained in the office just an open door away. I found this a bit odd. I had to fight the impulse to close the door. Everything happens behind closed doors in the US and privacy is sacrosanct.

Once on the table, I went through a blood pressure check, breast exam, a quick pelvic check…

Now, in the US, there are stirrups for these kinds of procedures and plenty of gowns and massive tissue papers with which to preserve one’s dignity…sort of. Not so here. Neither was there an ice-cold stainless-steel stirrup in site. Only now do I realize that stirrups are an absolutely unnecessary and somewhat alien addition to medical tables anyway.

The most awkward aspect of my appointment was just hanging out and talking with the doctor, me undressed and uncovered, as if it were something that happens every day. Ah, but of course, for the doctor it DOES happen everyday. Now, some might think how terribly uncomfortable that would be, but if it didn’t bother her, why should it bother me? The fact that the French are so incredibly comfortable with their bodies is something to be admired and adopted, in my opinion. The overprotected privacy measures in the states would seem to only  reinforce body shame and neurosis. Still, I will need more time to adapt in this regard.

The cold is another matter, though, which I’ll never get used to. I find no difference in that when comparing exam rooms in the US and France. If I can’t have on socks and wrap myself in a blanket, I’m going to be cold!

I filled in no paperwork (which any American knows is the whole point of going to a doctor!) other than something called a Choix de Medecin Traitant, handed over my Carte Vitale (or health card), paid my 23 euros, and was done.

I was given a long list of vitamin prescriptions (yes, paid for by the system – see my next post), my blood test request, an echogram order, and a referral to a cardiologist. This was all give without ceremony, resistance, or a hidden mental process undertaken by the doctor on how this might affect her salary, quite unlike what would have happened in the US.

It was all very easy.

Until next time…

 

Alice through the French Health Care System

I’ve been enrolled in the healthcare system in France since early 2015. In typical fashion (for me), I’ve been avoiding needing it. However, I’ve recently had some health concerns that require a doctor.

Healthcare in thiah_has country is so different from healthcare in the US…and not just for the obvious reasons. But before I start blogging about my healthcare excursions in France, let me start by saying that I have never enjoyed going to the doctor…ever. I have a history of mistrust with them, for some very good reasons. There is nothing more irritating than a know-it-all doctor who gives me no credit for knowing my own body, let alone credit for being able to understand the complexity of medicine, a doctor motivated by big pharma to prescribe garbage that doesn’t even address the core issues of illness, a doctor who slaps a diagnosis down with alarming inaccuracy and rolls his eyes at the possible validity of alternative means of well-being.

I realize not all doctors are like this (thank God), but far too many of them are. I avoid them like the plague…which I guess means I’d rather HAVE plague that see a doctor!

In the United States, I didn’t have any healthcare insurance for many years. I only worked part-time at a college and part-time for myself, so I was out of luck. Being healthy, it wasn’t much of an issue. I neither smoked nor drunk alcohol, I exercised daily, and I ate with my health in mind. Recently, I’ve seen a meme going around called MEDS: meditation, exercise, diet, and sleep. Those remain my first line of defense and have served me well.

I was in my transition to France at the time Obamacare became mandatory, so I managed to escape it for the most part. I won’t get into what I think of the Affordable Healthcare Act, so ineptly named. This is about France, after all.

But I do have one more US-related perception to address. I know people (I’m related to some of them) who believe that socialist healthcare as found in other countries is a horror of ineptitude and out-of-date practice with long wait-times and little to no freedom of choice. Granted, this perception is one mostly instilled by propaganda and the corporations in the US that don’t want to lose their moneytrain, but I was beginning to wonder after watching my husband deal with some medical concerns here. The jury has remained out in that regard.

But now, I have my own first-hand experience to share, and so I will.

Yesterday, I saw a general practitioner. My husband had to “encourage” me into keeping my appointment, and I knew I should just get it over with, but I really wanted to cancel. The days leading up to it, I had to keep my anxiety in check. Turned out, I had nothing to worry about. The doctor was a lovely woman with a direct but warm manner. I trusted her immediately. She fortunately spoke enough English for us to be able to communicate sufficiently, too.

I’ll be sharing more about my first appointment (okay, truthfully, it isn’t my first appointment…I’m trying to forget the first appointment…long story!) and subsequent experiences as a patient in France. Stay tuned…

 

Back to French Class: The Zen Approach

It’s no secret to my readers that learning French has turned out to be a bigger challenge than I thought. I started out so gung-ho only to find that the stresses of acclimatizing to my new life abroad were making it impossible for me to focus on language-learning. What I thought would be my number one priority became the last thing on my mind! Eventually, it became a downright aversion.

I let myself off the hook. I stopped trying to force it, and that was the right decision for me. But now, I sense a complacency encroaching, and I don’t want to be one of those people who lives here for 12 years and still can’t speak a lick of French (due to apathy rather than a cognitive challenge).

I’ve had three important points working against me:

  1. My husband doesn’t speak French, so there’s no practice at home.
  2. All of my friendships and/or business relationships are with native English-speakers or French who speak English, so there’s no practice there either.
  3. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and tend to be ultra hard on myself.

The truth is, one CAN indeed get away with not learning the language and still live here. It makes the world a bit small, but it can be done. There are consequences, for example needing help with critical communications and living with an undercurrent of fear of crisis, but it is possible. Since I don’t like the idea of living in such a small world and don’t much care for the consequences of not speaking the language, I’ve decided to try, try again. So, I’ve headed back to school to my neighborhood French classes!

Having been through, oh, six or so teachers, I’ve returned to the one I started with here. I seemed to learn the most from him. Whether that is because I was more motivated when I began there or whether he’s just a damned good teacher, I don’t know. What I do know is that not all teachers are created equal, just as all students learn differently. There needs to be a good match in style between teacher and student for anything to click.

I’m in a group of welcoming intermediate speakers. The class is given almost entirely in French. I only understand about 50% of it, but I don’t mind that so much. Mostly, I just want to expose myself to new vocabulary and a new insight here and there. I want to have opportunities to enjoy the language again rather than be intimidated by it.

I’ve noticed a change in my attitude for the better. I barely took notes at our first meeting today. I’ve realized that writing things down doesn’t really mean I’m going to remember. In fact, ironically, today one of the first things the instructor taught was something I had written on the very first page of my journal last time I was in his class…over a year ago! How’s that for progress?  LOL

The point is that I’m determined not to make “French class” a stress. This is a major shift that I want to cultivate and maintain. Maybe it took me a year and a half to work through being okay with not knowing. I’ve said “je ne comprends pas” and “je ne sais pas” and the dreaded “je ne parles pas Francais” more in the last year and a half than I’ve ever done in English in all the other years of my life combined! All that reaffirming of what I “can’t” do can’t possibly be good for one’s ego day in and day out!

It does, however, make it essential to drop one’s ego, come out of hiding, and stand proudly ignorant before the masses. So today, I sat there and let the words flow over me. Some I knew. Some I didn’t recognize. If my mind flew out the window to think of other things, I let it. If I made a mistake, I did my best not to care. If I had no idea what someone was talking about, I let it roll off my back rather than sitting there pretending I got it. My instructor said, “Ask questions.” And I intend to…but only if I really think it’s important. I don’t need to understand everything. Isn’t that wonderful?! I hope that if I have a day where my mind is overloaded and not functioning all that well, I can still uphold a “who cares” attitude. It certainly feels better!

I guess I’ve discovered the zen approach to language-learning:

Show up. Make it enjoyable. Forget the rest.

 

Xenophobia: An Expat Nightmare in Any Country

Every Wednesday, I hang out with a group of mostly British ladies drinking tea and conversing about all manner of subjects at a local cafe here in the Poitou-Charentes. Today, somebody mentioned xenophobia (put that on your scrabble word list) and how it is increasing in France. Xenophobia is a dislike or prejudice toward people from other countries. Seems to be increasing everywhere! world-flag-map

From Brexit to burqini bans, dreams of building walls to extreme vetting, closing borders to policing restrooms (which okay, technically is another kind of phobia altogether), the world seems determined to hate itself and each other–because let’s be honest, hating anyone is nothing more than self-hatred turned outward.

I haven’t been on the receiving end of any blatant xenophobia, but I dread the day I do. So far, the worst behavior I’ve experienced is an insistence in speaking too rapidly “at” me and the occasional roll of the eyes and dismissal from people who clearly have more important things to do than try to communicate with someone who hasn’t mastered their language yet. Can’t say I blame them!

More often, I find myself angry at my own kind talking hate speech and glorifying that kind of ignorance. I get furious with headlines that slant and journalism that tries to tell me what to think. I hate it no matter what side it comes from. Sadly, journalism has fallen into the often-made-fun-of category of professions that nobody likes…politician, lawyer, journalist. I think even morticians rank higher these days. They’ve completely effed up, if you know what I mean, emboldening idiots everywhere to take up their idiot flags and wave them around in sane, educated people’s faces.

Xenophobia aside, now that the UK has voted to exit the EU, I wonder where I will stand when my carte de titre expires in 3 years. Will I still have a right to live here as the non-EU spouse of a UK (formerly EU) citizen? Will my husband have to apply for citizenship in France to keep his rights? Will I? It’s all a muddle of uncertainty and will be for quite some time. It makes me realize just how tenuous my rights actually are. They are all pinned on Stuart and his rights. So, if something happens to him, what happens to me? Only time will tell.

But that’s the expat life…one had better thrive on uncertainty!

 

 

Meditation: The Key to Managing Expat Stress

I can’t believe it! I’ve been living as a resident in France now for a year and a half! Pretty sure I was passing out with an anxiety attack in my French class about this time last year.

Life abroad has been an amazing, inner-strengthening experience. Thinking back, I used to get so incredibly upset over the most uncontrollable of things…as if that would help! Now, crap comes at me left and right as it always does and has, but I’m letting it roll off my back more and resting in trust.

I know there are other expats the world over facing unbelievable difficulties as they adjust (or don’t) to life in another land. And there are those ex-expats who’ve returned home to discover that they’ve changed and no longer seem to fit in. We’re a different breed…expats…with unique concerns and needs. So I want to share the things that have truly helped me in the hopes of helping others like me.

To what to I attribute the shift that took place within me?

praying-1051078_640A DECISION

It started with a decision. I remember the day. I was doing what bored expats do, watching a Star Trek Voyager episode online, during which the cool-headed Vulcan, Tuvoc, was teaching the character Kess how to focus her attention. Something struck like lightning. In that moment, the knowing that that’s what it all comes down to…the ability to control our focus….became a reality for me. And I decided right then and there that I was going to apply myself toward focusing my attention on the positive, on what I desired, and on my own happiness above all else. I’m sure this wasn’t the first time I’ve come to this decision in my life (I seem to have a short memory!), but something was different this time. Something struck deeper, was understood more intently. It was a “pivot point” that changed the direction my life was going…which was down hill!

MEDITATION

As a result of my decision, I turned my attention to meditation on a daily basis. I’ve meditated off and on for years, but now it became a matter of life and death to apply what I’d learned over the years.  Taking time every day to stop and empty myself of my fears, worries, judgments, criticisms, and need to control was crucial to changing the way my mind had been wiring itself since moving abroad and the stresses that entailed. I learned to spend hours just sitting, feeling the sun, smelling the grass, enjoying the breeze, watching the sky. Like most people, I had to work through the guilt and idea of “doing nothing”; I knew deep down that I was actually doing something more important than anything else could ever be.

SPACE FOR GROWTH

As a result of my decision to be happy and my dedication to meditation, I started to grow again in ways that felt beautiful. I practiced self-inquiry diligently and began to question my sense of self and the identity I believed myself to be…as well as the identity I believed I lost as a result of moving overseas. This added so much space to my life…space to accept things that previously would have driven me mad. I began to live less in the past, though I had a pretty good handle on that one to begin with, and less in the future, which had always been my weakness, prone to catastrophizing and projecting struggle and negativity into tomorrow. It’s so much easier now to notice when I’m doing that out of mere habit and to bring myself back to the moment…a moment which is a lot more pleasant that my warped imaginings!

Life isn’t perfect. I am and will always be a work in progress, I suppose. But now I can live with that. Meditation has been so powerful and so important to my ability to withstand my expat experience that I’ve decided to reach out to other expats to promote the practice of meditation among us. We are a unique group of people with unique issues…facing isolation, the breaking apart of the known and comfortable, overcoming and often failing to overcome language barriers, going through challenges the likes of which others can’t even imagine. Meditation is a lifeline throughout those experiences.

So, in addition to offering meditation locally, I plan on offering meditations via on Facebook through the International Daze page now renamed Expat Sanctuary. These will be video meditations that you can tune into and watch at your leisure. Please like and follow the page where I will continue to share my writings as well as tools and tips for improving well-being and inner happiness, all with the Expat in mind. Think of it as a place to turn to to retreat from the challenges of living abroad and as a reminder to spend a few minutes every day stopping, emptying and refreshing the body, mind and spirit.

What has been your greatest challenge to peace of mind as an expat and what have you found to help?