Since I moved to Paris, I have had a number of "life experiences" that have allowed me to observe and think about cultural differences (or similarities) between my country of origin and my adopted home here in France. I've been to a friend's French wedding. Although I had my own wedding in New Jersey, I got to have a French wedding reception here. I've been to two French baptisms. I served for a very brief time on a committee of non-residents at my local mairie, so I got to dabble a little in French civic affairs. I've been admitted to a small private French hospital and had major surgery with French doctors. I've had French Christmas here a few times now, so I'm comfortable with the family traditions. I've finally found both a French doctor and dentist I like and can communicate with easily (now if I could only find a good gynecologist). I haven't voted yet, but I'm well on my way to being able to do that, once I get approved within the next year for French (dual) citizenship.
There are two particular life experiences, however, that I have not been eager to experience. One, I am happy to say I have NOT done, is attending a French funeral. And the other is a trip to the Emergency Room (the "Urgences") at a French city hospital.
Guess where Georges and I spent the better part of our Friday evening? And it wasn't ME who needed to go there; it was HIM.
We had invited some friends over for a nice dinner this evening. I spent all morning cleaning the apartment (I really need to have friends over more frequently and then my apartment would be clean a lot more often; I am a sucky housekeeper, that's for sure). Then I spent the afternoon shopping for everything we needed to make the dinner. Georges came home a little early from work to help me, since one of his specialties is a yummy little verrine that we like to serve as the entrée (appetizer). This dish includes fresh avocado.
So we're in the kitchen and Georges starts working on the avocado while I'm snapping the ends off the fresh haricot verts I'm planning to serve for the main course with the chicken piccata and rice. And that's when I hear him yell in pain, and a big avocado pit goes flying across the room and lands at my feet.
"Sweetie, did you hurt yourself?"
"Yes, but it's not bad."
"Let me see."
And then I nearly passed out. He had a HUGE, and quite deep, cut on his ring finger. (Damn those super-sharp ceramic knives we bought recently after seeing them used on Master Chef.)
I sent him into the bathroom to run his finger under cold water while I tried to collect my brain. I'm good in most emergencies but I am extremely squeamish when there are things like cuts and blood concerned. I have never, ever been able to force myself to even donate blood because I have such a difficult time even getting a routine bloodtest. And seeing that big gash on my husband's finger was making me woozy.
But I was more concerned about him, and was HE feeling ok; how bad was it bleeding? What were we going to do? At first he insisted it wasn't so bad but then he got another look at it and seemed to decide that I should go ahead and call the SOS Médecins. So I did, and they advised us to apply pressure and go straight to the Urgences at the nearest hospital (I gave them our address and they told us which one to go to). I was already thinking he was probably going to need stitches, but fortunately he hadn't hit the bone and he said he still had feeling in the finger. I found a clean dish towel to wrap his finger and hand in for the trip. We located his insurance card and the checkbook, and walked to Place de Clichy for a taxi since he felt OK, not lightheaded or anything, and he didn't want to wait 10 minutes for a taxi to arrive.
Fifteen minutes later we were at the nearest hospital, over behind Gare du Nord (coincidentally the hospital where the Little Guy was born). The ER lobby looked like a freaking bunker, quite frankly; cement cave-like walls and ceilings and low lighting, nothing like an ER in any hospital I've ever been in back in the States, or even the private clinic I was in here in Paris.
The basic procedure, as Georges explained it to me, is that you get in line at the Acceuil or Welcome desk and tell them what your problem is. They take your id and insurance cards and put them in the computer, and you step to the next window to finish being signed in. Then you wait in that immediate area for the triage nurse to see you and do the initial assessement of how badly you're hurt or how sick you really are. In some cases they can treat you and release you right then and there, but most people get referred to the second waiting area to see a doctor. Of course, if you are brought in by ambulance you get priority treatment and a different procedure is followed in evaluating and treating those patients, and the more of those folks who are there, the longer the "walk-ins" like us would normally have to wait.
It took about 50 minutes, or maybe almost an hour, to get into see this triage nurse. Fortunately, the bleeding had nearly stopped and I felt relieved that although it was a deep cut, it wasn't a severe situation. We even held out a small hope he might get out of there without any stitches at all. The nurse put some disinfectant and a temporary bandage on his finger (he had to remove his wedding ring, and he never does that!) And we moved to the next, and much more crowded waiting room.
Which, I am sorry to tell you, absolutely STANK. I know, it's a major city, and there are all kinds of people coming there with all kinds of issues and personal hygiene habits. But UGH, that was almost enough to make me lose my lunch, and I was already on thin ice after seeing the cut. We were lucky to find two seats together, at least.
I had called my friends just before we left the house to cancel our dinner plans; we were hoping we could have them come tomorrow evening instead, assuming everything was OK with Georges. So while we waited, Georges read a book on his iPhone and I texted my friend with an update. After that, I was in the process of tweeting something about how we'd probably be waiting in there for hours, when they called Georges' name! After only 10 minutes! MIRACLE! The French emergency room really does have un sentiment d'urgences after all!
I wasn't allowed to go into the next room with him, which is really just as well as I'm not good with the medical stuff and probably would have had to leave anyway once they got started working on him. But he texted me just a couple of minutes later to say he would be getting stitches. I wasn't surprised but I was sorry he had to have them; at least they gave him some local anesthetic which he later said helped a lot, although it was uncomfortable, even so.
However, he was in there for about 45 minutes or maybe even a bit longer, and I thought, "How long does it take to stitch up a finger?" While I was waiting, I found myself observing the others in the room. There was a young couple who had come in with a male friend who seemed in a huge amount of pain, literally doubled over; I couldn't tell if he'd hurt his back or if he had abdominal pain, but they took him in very quickly and they both looked very worried. There was a man snoring away in the corner, covered up by one of those gold metallic warming "blankets" like they give to marathon runners after a big race; my guess is that he was some sad drunk who'd been brought in by the Red Cross and they were just letting him sleep it off for a while.
And then there was... a drag queen. At first, I had thought it was a drunk hooker because I only saw this person from the back, walking weaving unsteadily out of the big waiting room out towards the entrance, being supported by a Red Cross worker. The reason I assumed "hooker" had to do with the hot pink micro-mini skirt that wasn't quite covering "her" ass, and the long black hair that was a wig. But then a few minutes later, a nurse wheeled this person back into the waiting area in a chair, with a blanket over "her" lap (guess that mini skirt wasn't covering much in front, either) and that's when I realized that it was a man in drag. And I'm still guessing a drunk hooker.
The worst was the old lady who seemed to be normally dressed in a black pants suit, but who was sort of wandering in and out of rooms aimlessly and no one from the hospital seemed to even notice this person. But the rest of us waiting in there sure noticed her... because she positively REEKED of urine. She sat down next to a family with a little girl, seeming interested in the child and even smiling at her, and in about 10 seconds that child's entire family got up and moved across the room. The stench was THAT bad. Fortunately, the woman got up a few minutes later and wandered back out toward the entrance, and she didn't return while we were there. Sad, but there it is. Life in a big city hospital, I suppose.
When Georges finally came out, he had a smile on his face and this on his hand:
Don't worry, he still has a thumb, you just can't see it in the picture. :) But he also has 4 stitches. And should have quite a nice little scar on his ring finger when all is said and done.
The reason he was in there for so long was that the doctor was being shadowed by a 4th-year med student, and he had to let the student do some of the stitches. (Personally, I would have been all "Get that rookie doctor the hell away from me!" but I suppose they have to get their practical experience somehow.) No antibiotics, just prescriptions for Doliprane (that's Tylenol over here) and bandage materials. Must change bandages every 2 days and in 10 days he can either go back to the hospital or to his own doctor to get the stitches out. I'm going to book him an appointment with our normal doctor so he doesn't have to wait for hours again at the hospital, although he wouldn't go to the ER again but to another area where they do outpatient follow-up procedures like this.
We came home on the bus, and ate out tonight. Neither one of us was much in the mood for cooking anything after all that. Fortunately our friends can come over tomorrow night instead, so that's good news.
And now I've seen a French E.R. in action. Not that I wanted to, but if I HAD to do it, I'm glad it was something non-critical and that Georges is going to be fine in a couple of weeks with no lasting damage. At least now I understand how things operate here, in the event (God forbid) one of us ever has to go back there for something else. I have to admit, this was a bit of a fear of mine, the idea of "What if?" something bad happened and I had to navigate an emergency hospital situation. Now, at least, I feel a bit better prepared, just in case.
In the meantime, I have forbidden Georges to use any sharp objects or handle any breakables for a while. My sense of urgency demands no more trips to the urgences for the forseeable future!