April 24, 2008
When panic is as lethargic as mine was last Thursday, it becomes something more akin to dread. In my feverish haze, the realization that I had strep throat moved me to action. But I just couldn’t move very quickly.
France’s pharmacies (and pharmacists) are so sophisticated, I was secretly hoping that I could just walk in and get antibiotics just by showing the white spots on my throat and big puppy dog eyes. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be that easy, but the pharmacist referred me to the nearest doctor with walk in hours.
However, my American insurance only covers emergency room visits. I weighed my options. Both were nearby. Either way I’d pay in advance. I wasn’t sure where I’d have a longer wait. Could I really go to the emergency room with strep throat?
I tried to call my insurance company. I didn’t know if I needed some kind of pre-approval for the claim. I called the number on the back of my insurance card. The phone card was acting up. I slumped over in the chair, completely drained from just a few minutes’ activity. Finally I got an automated message saying I should call back during business hours.
I decided to walk to the nearby doctor’s office first. However, their walk-in hours had already ended (around the time the pharmacist was recommending him). I realized I hadn’t brought my passport anyway. I walked back home to find it.
Then I headed to Hotel Dieu, the hospital on Ile de la Cite. It’s fortunate that there’s a hospital and emergency room within walking distance of my apartment. The man at the check in desk was a mumbler, and I thought I might throw up if I couldn’t sit down soon. He took his time inputting my information in the computer. I wondered if I looked as bad as I felt. Finally, after what was probably only minutes, he waved me to the waiting room.
I sat down and closed my eyes. My name was called almost immediately. The nurse took my vitals, including my temperature. She said my fever was gone. I shrugged. I still felt it, the chills and the flushes. This was just another step towards getting the antibiotics. She sent me back to the waiting area. A man sat next to me. I grappled with the thought of moving away from him, so I wouldn’t give him strep. I satisfied myself instead by breathing through my nose and turning my head away.
I didn’t sit there even five minutes before my name was called again. A nurse led me back to an examination room. The doctor entered, and I listed my symptoms again. I mentioned that the nurse had said I was no longer feverish. “You’re on the border,” she said, “37.9.” I nodded, not knowing what the conversion was. (I later checked the internet and found this to be a fever of 100.2.) She felt my lymph nodes, which were swollen. Then she looked in my throat.
“Oh yeah, those are some nice white spots there.” She asked me if my voice normally sounded as it did then (raspy and halted). Within just a few more minutes, I had prescriptions in hand, along with a note excusing me from work for three days. (I’d be contagious until Sunday.) I’d already cancelled all my babysitting and tutoring for the rest of the week.
The whole visit might have taken 30 minutes. Now it was time to pay. The caisse was closed, but I stood in front of the window anyway. I contemplated walking out of the hospital. The people sitting in the payment area didn’t seem like they’d care (particularly since they were acting closed). A man in front of me in line finally threw a small fit, and they told him to go to a different counter. But they took my paperwork and charged me 22 euros for my visit. (That is, the fee for my emergency room visit, with no insurance coverage, was 22 euros, or about $35.) I would have been more astounded if I didn’t feel so crappy.
I started to walk again, and inertia took me back to Ile Saint Louis and to the pharmacy. The pharmacist smiled at me as if I wasn’t spreading contagion in her little shop. A six-day course of antibiotics and some fever reducers cost just under 8 euros, or about $13. She gave me a paper to submit for reimbursement from insurance.
I went back to bed and effectively stayed there until Monday. In fact, on Friday, my body created cold sores in both nostrils and across my entire upper lip, giving me the Angelina Jolie effect (except not very jolie, quand meme), thus guaranteeing that I would not leave the house during my contagion and for a few days afterwards. Sometimes, our bodies just know what’s best. (I never thought I’d be saying herpes was what was best for me, ever.)
I hope I never have to go to the emergency room in a foreign country again, but if I do, I’ll rest assured that I’ll be seen quickly and treated inexpensively. Still, I’d be happy if strep throat didn’t come around for another couple of years.