Hell there again! Well, I have been meaning to write this for a while but thought honestly who will want to read about health care in France? Well at Unfrench we tell it warts and all so here goes...
So I am Clare aged 46, I arrived in France aged 43, healthy, no medications, keen to start our next chapter here and lots of plans and things to do!
That summer I stopped having periods. 'Fantastic' I thought as they had always been painful since aged 14, and having no children, not really too early to be starting the menopause. Months went by and I felt pretty good, the occasional hot sweat but not too often and certainly not a problem.
Nine months later, bang! I thought my body was going to explode with pain. My back and my stomach and head, I really thought 'this is not normal'. The Period from hell arrived and with it a whole host of symptoms. Hot, cold, miserable, putting on weight, yelling at Martin, night sweats, zero energy to get through a day, and an uncontrollable rage which would sweep through me from chest upwards, then diminish again within minutes. Keep me away from the knives, honestly take them away.
By this point we had registered our businesses and had our social security numbers and the all important Carte Vitale! We shopped around for top up insurance, Mutuelle. All good to go, or so I thought.
Next we couldn’t find a Dr who had space to take us on. We didn’t realize that in some areas of France a space at a Dr’s surgery is a rare thing. Well yes it is a HUGE problem. Yes you can visit Urgence at the hospital, bit like a walk in A & E, but not the same as a Dr who knows you, your history and has access to your records. Plus if you haven’t declared your médecin traitant to the health authorities your “caisse” you can’t claim back in full your costs! Who knew! No body tells you these things, until you find yourself stumbling along in the dark! I once had a boss who used to say you don't know what you don't know Clare! So true!
The plot was thickening we were getting more confused and frustrated. I was taking more and more boxes from the Pharmacie for my symptoms, with a lesser or greater degree of success. Honestly these things are not cheap and I had worked my way along the shelf of most of the pharmacies around here.
By luck, some local friends needed Martin to help out with translation at a Dr’s appointment. Off Martin went, and he returned saying Dr Baert will take us on!! Because Martin was helping a very poorly friend, he said yes you two come and see me I will register you. I heaved a sigh of relief.
We went along at 8.15 one evening, yes really, he was that busy and saw us at the end of his long day. I was clutching our CV's, details of our Mutuelle, and cheque book. He scanned the Cartes, had a brief chat and gave us a form each to declare him as our médecin traitant. Hurrah we had a Dr locally.
A month or so later I had pains in my elbow and both wrists, from gardening and painting no doubt. I needed my first appointment with Dr B. I rang up, oh Dr B is retiring this week, can you come in tomorrow and bring a memory stick?? Retiring? Selfishly I thought oh no we have just found you! Turns out he was very ill and not expected to live much longer.
So, I arrived with my memory stick, and my newly created "medical file" under my arm. He did various tests on both arms and said I think Carpal Tunnel in both wrists, but your right one is worst yes? Yes. He then injected my wrist with something to mimic the symptoms I had been getting. He didn't warn me or tell me, just fished out a bottle and and needle and did it! I then couldn't drive and couldn't feel my hand for about 3 hours. I had wanted to discuss my other symptoms and decided not to, as I was quite freaked out by this point.
He declared I needed proper tests with his cher colleague Dr Samad. His receptionist kindly phoned and made an appointment for me for the following month of July. She said I rang for you because he is going on holiday soon and I knew he would fit you in if I rang. Excellent. Then she put my very limited records onto the memory stick.
So the search began for a new medicine traitant. None in either of our local towns were taking on. Martin rang round them all. We asked our neighbours as they too had Dr B. Oh we will just have to go to Urgence if we need anything said Yvette, there is a new Dr coming in the new year. This was July, and I needed a referral to a surgeon as soon as possible!
Fortunately, a friend told me of her Dr, she had moved and set up her own practice and was taking on new patients. She is a 40 minute drive away though. I looked her up and emailed her. Yes please come and see me this week, bring your medical files!
Now in France to see your Dr is 25 Euros, payable by cash or card in our case. If you are registered with Carte Vitale and a Mutuelle top up policy, you are reimbursed to your bank account. Seamlessly, yes it really works like that.
So she referred me to a surgeon for my wrists and if you read my blogs from last November time will know how that went. Which left the issue of my menopausal nightmare which was beginning to take over my life and affect everything really.
Your symptoms are not severe enough to treat she told me. We only treat very severe cases in France. I got home and researched this and of course its utter rubbish. Now at this point I could have carried on with herbal remedies, which believe me have helped a lot, but I decided no, this is not good enough why should I feel like this when it needs investigating? Back to Dr I went, requested full blood tests.
So by early December I had 3 lots of blood tests, including at my insistence full thyroid tests, hormone tests, ultrasound on my thyroid and parathyroid. I mentioned my Mum had her parathyroids out and that was enough for Dr to listen. I also had several visits where I explained in french and then English all of my symptoms, how I worried I may use one of the sabatier knives on someone, and that I feared Martin might leave me.
At last a referal letter to an endocrinologist, and a gynaecologist typed out and a few suggestions of who to try in Tours, and Chinon. We struck lucky with the endocrinologist who had a cancellation for the following Monday. Off we set to Tours with family and Daisy dog, as Jamie and Kerry had arrived from UK for a few days. The expert opinion was yes my thyroid was borderline underactive but she thought my symptoms were menopause related and wait to see the Gynaecologist.
In mid January I finally saw the Gynaecologist and she was extremely thorough, read all my notes, all blood tests, looked at scans. Told me my estrogen level is still ok but I have zero progesterone which is why I had been suffering all these months. Finally. What a relief to see an expert in her field, who completely understood and could start to treat me. Smear test done, prescription and letter to go have a mammogram in my file, I now felt something I hadn’t felt in months. Hope.
So really, wherever you live, whatever conditions you face, please put yourself first. You know your body, do not be fobbed off. Read up, educate yourself, please don’t get carried away self diagnosing, but gather information, write down your patterns, symptoms, yes into French if need be. Talk to other people too, I refered to my Mum and 2 Aunties a lot about this time of my life, family patterns can emerge and help. Two local friends have also proved invaluable in this journey, you know who you are so a grand Merci et bisous.
À bientôt, Clare X