The last thing you probably want to see during a winter commute in a crowded Parisian metro is someone coughing without covering their mouth. Germs. If you’re like me, the person doesn’t even have to be ill, and you’ll be sick the next day, barely able to crawl out of bed. Luckily, in Paris, you don’t have to get out of bed to see the doctor! Yvonne recounts her experience with the French healthcare system, and how house calls still happily exist in Paris, below. In the meantime, we hope you all stay healthy. -HiP Paris
Americans haven’t had house calls since the days of Little House on the Prairie. However, back when I was watching the TV show, I did not have a full appreciation of Doc Baker and his little black bag.
When I lived in the suburbs of California, my family always seemed to get sick or injured on the weekends. I was forever jumping into the minivan and dragging a wheezing, bleeding, semi-conscious child (or myself) to Urgent Care, where we waited on plastic chairs with all the other contagious people. Then we waited in a freezing exam room until a sorta-doctor came in and prescribed antibiotics or stitched the kid back together or whatever. And it usually put us back between $80-$300, depending on how severe the problem was.
I’m not knocking the American system—OK, maybe a little—but France has another way.
It’s no secret that France has a top-notch healthcare system. But one of the wonderful, lesser-known features: house calls 24/7, 365 days a year. Yes, a doctor will come to your house within the hour. Here’s how this miracle happened for me.
One recent Tuesday, I felt that little tickle in my throat. By Thursday, my head felt too large and my eyes were bulging. I felt awful. On Friday, I went to the pharmacy. (That’s the French way—first stop is always the pharmacist.) She listened to me say vague French things (which I had Google-translated while waiting in line) like congestion des sinus and douleur and mal de tête. She gave me nose spray. I was pretty sure I needed something stronger. She insisted I should try the nose spray first. Fine.
On Saturday, I felt worse. But my Protestant Work Ethic said just keep moving, you’re not sick so I did the grocery shopping and laundry and cleaned the cat box, since my teenage son (the cat owner) was out of town for a volleyball tournament.
On Sunday morning, I woke up with a swollen face. I could look down and see my own cheekbones. Swallowing caused a tidal wave in my head. Tea and a hot shower were no help. My doctor didn’t have any appointments until the following Thursday, by which time I knew I would be dead. I decided to die, slowly and painfully, in my own bed.
Then I remembered SOS Médecins. I’ve seen their little white cars tootling all over Paris, and I had a friend who had used them. I didn’t know if I deserved a house call or not, since I could still technically walk, but I decided to call France’s bluff.
I went to their website, where I learned I could call or fill out the online form. I don’t like making phone calls in French even when I’m healthy (though they allegedly do speak English), so I filled out the form, complete with a drop-down menu of 100 symptoms and hit Enter. Right away, I got an email saying stay home, we’re working on it. Right, I thought, we’ll see if anybody actually shows.
Thirty minutes later, the doorbell rang. It was a doctor.
He was a perky, unassuming, middle-aged man with a black backpack, dressed in the usual French-casual clothes: striped t-shirt, black jeans, and jacket. I would have spruced up a bit if I thought anybody was actually coming, but he’d caught me by surprise, so I was in my pajamas, with bed hair and morning breath, while he gave me the exam. He had all the tools of the trade in his backpack: stethoscope, laptop, paperwork, etc.
He pronounced sinusitis, wrote me out a prescription, and scanned my health card with a little gizmo from his backpack . He apologized profusely that I would have to pay $70 for the visit (ooh la la, this price for anything medical in the US is a steal), but assured me that I would be reimbursed through the French health care system (if you’re not in the French system, you’d simply be stuck paying the $70, but from an American’s point of view, that’s still a deal). He swiped my credit card with the same gizmo, shook my hand, wished me a good day, and was off. The whole visit took less than 15 minutes.
I did still need that medicine. I really didn’t feel like going out, but it was a beautiful fall day, so I brushed my teeth and hair, put on lipstick, dark sunglasses, and a trench, and popped down to the pharmacy. They filled the prescription. It cost $10, which would also be refunded by social security. I came home and went to bed.
France, you seduced me with your wine and your cheese, your museums and concerts and architecture.
Now, you’ve stolen my heart with your health care.
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Written by Yvonne Shao for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates.