The day we moved to Paris, I had pneumonia and my eight year-old daughter had a confirmed case of strep throat. Snow fell from the sky, the thermostat plummeted to historic lows, and by Saturday morning my very Californian five year-old was sick too. Their Dad was on a plane, flying home from a business trip in Cologne, and through a feverish haze, I went into panic mode.
It was the weekend in a foreign country that had been our home for all of 96 hours. I flew down a flight of stairs and asked our concierge what to do. She kindly introduced me to the pharmacist next door, explaining that the French turn to their pharmacist for basic first aid and medical advice before heading to a doctor.
Pharmacists diagnose minor problems, and if you needed to see a specialist, they know the best doctor in the neighborhood for what is ailing you, and in Paris most of them seem to be able to do it in English these days. Have blisters that keep you from enjoying your stay? They’ve got Compeeds that are light years ahead of moleskin. A cold slowing you down? Regular visitors swear by modern French remedies.
But even in France, only a doctor can prescribe antibiotics. “You need to call SOS Médecins,” explained the pharmacist. I was surprised by the “SOS.” My daughter was ill, but it was not an emergency. But she patiently explained that they are simply a team of doctors that make house calls. Trusting her, I dialed 3624 and 20 minutes later we had an English-speaking doctor at our door. He did a thorough check-up, took a throat culture, filled out a prescription, and handed me an invoice for 78€.
SOS Médecins is a great service that I have turned to time and again. But sometimes an emergency is just that, and an Emergency Room is the only solution. There are public hospitals throughout the city and they are all excellent. In fact, I am writing this post from the ER at the public hospital Cochin after having cut myself with a kitchen knife. I had to wait two hours before seeing someone, but I am now in my own room with excellent wifi access as I wait for my charming Italian doctor to come back with her needle and thread. Most of the doctors I have run into in ERs (and I have run into half a dozen ERs since our arrival!) speak English and are quite thrilled to practice it on you.
Now that I live here I have insurance, but as a traveler, make sure your health insurance covers you abroad, or purchase travel insurance of your own. I have been a big fan of World Nomads ever since they medevaced me out of Africa. Pack your contact lenses, extra glasses, and any medication that you require in your carry-on, never under the plane, and bring copies of your prescriptions, just in case you run out of something, break your glasses, or lose an important medication. Some pharmacies are open nights, Sundays, and holidays. And should an emergency ever arise, if you want to be 100% sure that you’ll be treated in fluent English, the private American Hospital in Neuilly will make you feel at home.
Written by Sylvia Sabes for the HiP Paris Blog. All photos by Emma Stencil. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.