One of my six month objectives was getting my Carte Vitale, which finally arrived this week, 8 months after becoming eligible as an autoentrepreneur. I was amused that after weeks of chasing and a letter in March informing me that ‘les délais peuvent être longs’, when I did receive the form requesting a photo, I had a total of 14 DAYS to respond, or risk forfeiting the card altogether!!
But on Wednesday evening, after getting back from a rehearsal for my concert with the ‘Ensemble Orchestral’ on Saturday, I was browsing the Guardian website and saw an article on the strikes in France. I have to admit that although I’d seen something on Citymapper, I wasn’t aware another 3 day round of transport strikes had been announced. For months, all and sundry have been protesting about the ‘Loi Travail’, a project designed to relax France’s strict labour laws and make it easier for people to be sacked (the logic being that employers won’t be so afraid to take people on if they can get rid of them quickly…?)
A number of rushed meetings with stakeholders have been held and various amendments made, so that it’s unclear what’s actually left of the original project. But, in a Jeremy Hunt-like move, the government have got fed up and decided to push the legislation through anyway, invoking article 49-3 of the constitution. This says that the only way to prevent the bill is for parliament to pass a motion of no-confidence in the government, which would throw them all out and call an immediate general election! This would no doubt be very entertaining, but is not going to happen, because there are not enough rebels on the Left prepared to sacrifice their own party.
So, we have more strikes. The Guardian ‘Witness’ section was actually asking for local ‘witnesses’ to write in to say how all this was affecting them personally. I thought it would only make me late for my lessons at the engineering college, which seemed unlikely to be of great interest to Guardian readers. But as D would be going in early to work on Thursday on the scooter, I thought it might be sensible to go with him, get in with plenty of time, and do some marking over a nice cup of coffee nearby.
It wasn’t to be. We were making quite good progress despite the traffic and the drizzle, but coming down the hill to Trocadero, there was sudden braking in front, skidding, a lurch forward, and we both flew off into the road. Luckily, a long way from the cars behind and in front, who stopped, helped lift the scooter off my right leg and ushered us over to the pavement. I could feel my left foot giving me a lot of pain, but it was the light-headedness and nausea initially that made me incapable of responding to D’s suggestion of going to a pharmacy to sort out the wound on my ankle. I sat down on the pavement and heard his voice becoming fainter and everything going blurry as he said he would call the Fire Brigade…
Yes, the fire brigade, or les pompiers, are the first port of call in an emergency in France, and carry out basic first aid and triaging before passing on to other emergency services. No, they didn’t turn up in a fire engine, fortunately, but pretty much a standard kind of ambulance. I didn’t actually black out, but a few surreal moments passed while I wondered if I’d had a head injury and was going to die, before I came out of the blur, and heard a woman’s voice saying, ‘Madame? Est-ce que je souris?’
I looked up, thinking some medically-trained person had appeared to help already, but it turned out to be just a surprisingly well-meaning passer-by thinking I was upset and needed cheering up. D said, ‘we’ve had an accident and I’ve called les pompiers‘, but she went on undeterred, grinning broadly and asking me if she was smiling or not.
Shortly after, les pompiers were there, escorting me onto a stretcher in the ambulance and asking lots of questions. I surprised myself by answering in fairly coherent French, and it seemed clear that the only real problem was my ankle, which had now swollen up like a balloon, and they had to cut off the popsock to clean the wound. Except that I now started shaking uncontrollably, without knowing why, so they decided to put me into the ‘coquille‘ (shell) which meant strapping me into the inflatable blanket on the stretcher and putting the neck brace on. Whilst thinking this was serious overkill for a swollen ankle, I was grateful for it, as it stopped the shaking and succeeding in warming me up. D, I should have said, only seemed to have a few bruises, but was looking more and more anxious as he stood outside without knowing what was going on.
Now came the inevitable question: “Have you got your Carte Vitale?” And no, I hadn’t, as it was still sitting on the table in its envelope at home. But apparently it’s OK anyway, I’ll just have lots of paperasse to do in the coming days. After waiting for what seemed like ages, we set off to Boulogne hospital, where I got wheeled off on the stretcher into the reception area. I didn’t expect my first encounter with French hospitals to be a view of the ceiling, but reflected that getting the full patient experience is always worthwhile for a clinician… Next, I got to experience being transferred from stretcher to bed (last time that happened was in manual handling training at QEH Woolwich) and then was at last given some painkillers (OK, so I didn’t go the whole hog by being kept nil by mouth…)
A little later, I was wheeled into a ‘box’ (which is what they call the little treatment rooms in A&E) and an interne en médecine came to examine me. When I said I played the violin and was getting more worried about my left little finger, which was swelling up and feeling decidedly dodgy, she had a quick look and brusquely said, ‘oh, it’s just a bit grazed, I don’t think you’ll have any problem with that’, and left me to wait for X-ray. Not before her superior came to look at the ankle, said it was almost certainly broken, and was I nil by mouth in case I needed surgery later on!
I was wheeled out and down some corridors to a queue for X-ray, where I requested and succeeded in getting a picture of both my finger and foot, before being wheeled back to be lined up with three other beds in a corridor outside the A&E nurses’ station. I think I waited for nearly 2 hours, watching the comings and goings of the doctors, occasionally holding X-ray prints up to the light (they actually do that here, instead of looking on a computer!)
In contrast to an English A&E, everything was remarkably calm, not a single raised voice, and only the occasional movement of patients in and out of rooms. Meanwhile, in the corridor, I watched increasing numbers of staff heading off for their lunch breaks, coveting their water bottles as I felt my parched lips, and wondering how I was going to get to the loo if someone didn’t come pretty soon. To a soundtrack of intermittent groans and utterances in Arabic from the man in the end bed, and another phone conversation from the man in the bed next to me. The male assistant’s answer to my request for help: ‘just wait till the doctor’s looked at the X-rays…’ Fortunately a female assistant appeared soon after and only had to wheel me backwards into the disabled loo behind, inches away from the toilet seat. Simples!
After an eternity, the interne reappeared to ask if I had definitely had my left foot X-rayed, as it said right on the film, and they couldn’t see any breaks. Not worlds away from the NHS, then, after all. And there was me thinking they hadn’t sent me home yet because calls were being made to orthopedic surgeons and goodness knows what else. A nurse turned up with a brace (and a form to sign to say I accepted it freely and the hospital would request reimbursement from my insurance) and a little ‘doigtier’ or finger brace (as the finger turned out to be possibly broken after all). Foot was cleaned up, strapped into brace and a plastic surgical shoe cover provided for my bare foot, before being sent on my way with my X-rays and a wallet of information. So no concert for me today, just an appointment to see the orthopedic doctor in 10 days’ time…