Thursday, August 9, 2012

Getting Sick Abroad

Nothing makes you want your mommy more than being sick. This is especially true in a foreign country, a la France, as the language barrier seems 10 times higher when you're not feeling well. (Did I mention that my wonderful mommy is also fluent in French?)

For the past few weeks, I've been sick. Really sick. I think it was an all-too-common case of traveler's intestinal distress. After several days of misery, it was time to seek out some medical advice.

I called my international insurance company and they didn't have any specialists within 100 miles of Aix-en-Provence. This meant that I was on my own for finding a doctor, but they reassured me that I'd be reimbursed just the same.

We went to the local hospital in Aix, but I couldn't bear waiting for hours in the emergency room to see a doctor. Instead, we got the names of a few private physicians who'd be able to see me on another day.

Avenue Victor Hugo, a.k.a. "doctor's alley" in Aix-en-Provence.
We headed off to the first doctor on the list, as her address was the only street name that we recognized. We stumbled into her office just before closing and I desperately pleaded for a rendezvous (in French, a rendezvous is simply an appointment, nothing scandalous!) The doctor gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look and sighed, "Oh, l'anglais." Despite her unenthusiastic response to my native tongue, she still made me an appointment!

So how the heck do you have a medical consultation when you can't communicate with your doctor? More importantly, how can this doctor not speak English when the gas station attendants and the cashiers at Quick Burger can speak it fluently?

I decided to type up a basic description of my personal information (name, DOB, address) and my symptoms. Perhaps the doc would feel more comfortable reading English than speaking it? Jim also had the brilliant idea of using Google Translate to get a rough French translation. Lastly, if we got really stuck, we had the backup plan of calling my dear mom in the middle of the night to act as a translator!

On the day of the appointment, we somehow managed to communicate through a combination of Franglish, gesturing, and guessing. It's truly amazing how much you can pick up just from the context of a situation. The doctor was very patient and spoke very slowly and simply to us. I had brought along a French-English dictionary, but it was pretty much useless when it came to medical terminology.

We left the office with a sense of relief. Thankfully, communicating with the doctor wasn't nearly as difficult as we had anticipated. Also, the total cost of my visit was only 36 Euros ($45 USD) -- remember, that's the cash price without any insurance!

Now, it's been about a week since my doctor's appointment and I'm happy to say that I'm feeling much better. I have no idea what got me (perhaps I should have properly washed our produce?), but I'm sticking to a plain and simple diet for a few more weeks, just to be safe. We have just under a month to go here in France, and there's still plenty of stories to tell about our lovely house guests...


  1. Oh Nat. That is just awful. I hope you are feeling 100% soon.

    1. Thanks, Dac! It's all part of the experience...

  2. Hey Natalie :-) good to heare that you feel better now!
    ...and that there are more "stories" coming up soon! :-)
    Have fun and enjoi the rest of your time in France!

    Greetings from Germany

    1. Thank you, Andreas! I always seem to get sick at least once on my trips. :-)

  3. It is really difficult to communicate with a doctor, even when you speak the language quite well. Interestingly it is almost as difficult to communicate with a hair dresser:)

    Glad you feel better,
    liefs Sylvia

    1. Sylvia, I remembered your comments about getting sick abroad when this happened! I know that there is no reason why the doctor should have spoken English (this is France after all), but we really have been amazed how many people respond to our broken French with perfect English!

      We are both in desperate need of haircuts too, but we're going to wait until we get to England or South Africa!!!