Around France

American in France: French Healthcare, Part 1

The Barefoot Blogger will leave her carefree expat role to discuss something critically important to me: French Healthcare.

As I type with one finger of my left hand, I lie in a bed in a rehabilitation hospital outside Nimes, France.

I’ve been hospitalized in the French healthcare system since September 18, when I fell crossing the street while co-leading a ladies’ tour with my good friend, author Patricia Sands.

A unique perspective on my French vs. USA healthcare from one who has experienced a similar orthopedic injury and treatment in both countries.

I wrote about the accident in a previous post. I knew I’d be writing an “inside story” about my experience with the French medical system as an American expat.

Telling the story now, before the upcoming election in the US, seems the perfect time.

French Healthcare: Hospital Admission

My accident occurred in Aigues-Mortes, a historic walled city in southern France, on Tuesday afternoon, September 18.

After my fall, I was taken by ambulance to the hospital of my choice, Centre Hospitalizer Universitaire Carémeau, in Nimes. A hospital in Montpelier was a nearby alternative, but Nîmes was closer to my home in Uzès. Both are university hospitals with excellent reputations.

The ambulance ride to the hospital in Nimes was traumatic, just as you’d expect. The heat, the pain, and my anxiety were all at play. Fortunately, the hospital was less than an hour away.

When we arrived at the hospital, I was asked a few questions, fortunately by someone who spoke English. Simple things like my full name, where I lived, and did I have allergies. No one asked for my passport, formal identification, or proof of medical insurance.

The admissions process, emergency room examination, X-rays, and placement in a semi-private room took about 3 hours.

A longtime friend on the ladies’ tour was allowed to accompany me through each stage of the process. “To hold my hand.” The hospital staff quickly knew neither of us spoke French.

French Healthcare: Surgery

The hospital I was taken to in Nimes after the accident is a university hospital. They have a large, active emergency care unit. Since my situation was far from life-threatening, my surgery was not performed immediately. It was more like 36 hours later.

Meanwhile, I was in a semi-private room with a patient awaiting her second knee operation, not because of my room or roommate but because I was pretty miserable. No morphine or heavy painkillers were given to me before surgery. I was told morphine was prohibited because of its adverse effects on anesthetics administered during surgery.

I remember how relieved I was when the mask went on my face at the beginning of surgery. I knew I would be in la la land when I woke up.

French Healthcare: Post Surgery

I had no idea where I was when I awoke from surgery. No one spoke English. All I remember is that I was moved around a bit, probably from one level of surgery aftercare to another.

Fortunately, I was cognizant that I was in France, alive, and wanted to move to my room as quickly as possible so people would let me be. So I said “c’est bien” anytime I was asked a question. No telling what I was agreeing to.

I occupied a hospital bed in a large double room for ten days with a dear French woman who became my new best friend, Chantal. She spoke not a word of English. Nevertheless, we carried on a daily ritual something like this:

Bonjour, Deborah,” she said each morning. “Comment allez vous?” she’d ask.

Bonjour, Chantal,” I’d respond. “Ça va bien, “I’d answer. Then “ Comment allez vous?”

The simple question\answer exercise would continue through the day — every day — ending with our shared “Bonne nuit.”

My French healthcare

My hospital room with Chantal

My daily care during the ten days in the hospital (“hopital” in French) was extraordinarily good. Except for the bad food and occasional curt response from a nurse or “colleague,” presumedly because my French was unintelligible, I was treated well. There was a time or two when I was left too long on a bedpan, but the small things could be overlooked when I considered my every physical need was being tended to 24/7.

My French healthcare

A fabulous nurse and aide at Carémeau Hospital

French Healthcare: Rehab

Sometime before the end of my ten days in the hospital in Nimes, I learned I was being transferred for physical rehabilitation to a hospital in a small town outside Nimes. I was not going to the rehab hospital in Uzès as I’d expected. It was fully occupied. For the first time since the ordeal started, I cried. In fact, I boohooed.

The idea that I was going to some unknown village where no one would speak English was terrifying. Thoughts of Jane Eyre came to my mind. I envisioned being cast away behind stone walls where I would be starved and mistreated. What had I done to deserve such a fate?

When I came to my senses, I realized I could find out about the strange new place by simply searching the Internet. I discovered I was headed for a brand new hospital, built in 2016, with a sterling reputation for orthopedic rehabilitation. Case closed. I was content with my fate.

My French healthcare

(Upper left) Nurse and English-speaking Doctor (Upper right) Rehab hospital outside Nimes (Lower left) My physical therapist, Clement, also English/speaking (Lower right) Me in motion

French Healthcare: Cost

It’s day 40 since I was hospitalized in France due to a hip and shoulder fracture. Except for a bill for the ambulance that transferred me from the Nimes hospital to the rehab hospital outside Nimes and an account for compression stockings, I have not been asked to pay anything.

The items above cost 76 euros ($86.83) and 56 euros ($63.98). I paid those bills by check. I will be reimbursed by the travel insurance company when I file a claim.

I will receive a bill for time spent in the rehab hospital when I leave. A friend who inquired about payment for the rehab hospital was told it would cost 197 euros per day ($224). The cost includes physical therapy: 1 1/2 hours each day, Monday through Friday.

News flash: I have heard I won’t be billed for my time at the hospital in Nimes. Not for the surgery nor the 10 days as an inpatient.

There is no charge for emergency services in France for visitors.

Let that sink in.

Tomorrow I am moving to the rehab hospital in Uzès. My doctor here pulled a few strings to have me transferred. Perhaps she did it because she thought it would be good for me to be closer to home and my friends. Or, she might have wanted to get rid of me. Draw your own conclusion. Either way, I’m “outta here.”

I plan to stay in Uzès until November 6, when I’ll be taken by ambulance to the hospital in Nimes. If all checks out and my bones are healed, I’ll spend the next 3 to 4 weeks in the Uzès rehab hospital and begin weight-bearing exercises to regain my mobility.

I can return to independent living and outpatient rehab when the doctor releases me.

Next: US Healthcare “A Comparison”



Categories: Around France

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14 replies »

  1. Hello Deborah!
    I’m Gauthier the physiotherapy’s student, i was with you at the beginning of your rehabilitation in Uzes. I searched on the blog more informations to know how were you ! But i didn’t find some so i decided to contact you directly with a commentary!
    I hope that you re well today and you have totally recovered !
    Waiting for your answer to know !
    J’espère aussi que vous avez progresser en français avec l’équipe !

    • I’m so happy to hear from you, Gauthier! I hope you are enjoying being back at school. We miss you here. They are very busy. I’m being discharged Saturday and will be staying with friends. Baptiste and others have been helpful with my French, but no one speaks as well as you. Please stay in touch and I will give you my next progress report.

  2. So interesting to read of your experience (I’ve been following your recovery over on Facebook page too). My experience with French medical care has been excellent – my second son was born here and I found the entire hospital process informative and stress-free. A few years ago my partner badly cut his leg in a work accident and was immediately taken to A&E and seen by a doctor within 20 minutes – the cost including consultation, stitches and medication was less than €15. Incredible. I have found medical treatment from local GP’s to SOS Médecins and specialists extremely understanding, competent and helpful. We take medical care, after-care support and access to medication for granted. Good luck with your continued recovery!

    • Thank you so much for telling me about your experiences. I hear the care for birthing mothers is amazing. Obviously I won’t be trying that out, but I’m curious. Would love to hear about you experience if you have a moment. Especially post birth. Merci!

  3. Deborah, I saw this on Twitter and just read your posts. What an ordeal you’ve been through…it sounds like you’re handling everything with incredible grace and strength. I had a “French fall” a few years ago, and your experience brought it all back. Mine was not at all as serious as yours – stitches in my forehead – but struggling with my limited French, the ambulance, the feeling of helplessness being in another country so far from home were all there. And interestingly, the only bill I also received was for the ambulance! Here’s my post, if you’d like a little read in a “misery loves company” sort of way: Wishing you all the best for a continued speedy recovery! Mary

    • I just read your post. It sounds like our accidents and the kindness of perfect strangers were almost identical. Glad you were able to continue your trip, and yes, you must go back to Aix. I look forward to following your blog. Thanks for the note.

  4. Hi Deborah, we exchanged emails a few times two years ago when my family stayed in Uzes for 4 months. As a mom there by myself with three kids I remember asking around a lot about the health system, trying to formulate “what if” plans if one of us had an emergency. I remember never feeling quite settled because I never did reach a level of “I’m confident I’ll know what to do” but I did become more confident that there would be someone around me who would help if the need arose! And I did experience how informed and helpful the pharmacist would be behind the easily found and frequent green cross signs. Thank you for sharing your insights and I’m so pleased to hear you continue to heal and recover. What an ordeal! Best wishes, perhaps we will see you walking about the village upon our return next year (I hope so).

    • Jody, I know just how you felt. I, too, depend on my pharmacist Michael Payan and his staff to help me with issues. I have an English-speaking doctor who is wonderful. Thank you for your comment and please, stay in touch.

  5. Deborah, thank you for sharing your experiences with heath care in France. I am sorry you are having such a long road to recovery but pleased that overall everything is going well. I’m not sure if you can name the travel insurance company that will reimburse you for certain expenses but if you can, I would certainly like to know. Rest and continue to recover.

    • The travel insurance company is IMG. I’ve opened the claim but I’m just getting the first bills to submit. Hopefully everything will be ok. I’ll keep you posted, for sure. Thanks for the note.

  6. So glad to hear that you are doing better, after reading about your fall. Sounds like something I would do. Getting ready to have my second knee replacement before moving to France for a year or more next July. I fell two years ago in Spain and badly sprained my arm and my total at the emergency room was only a little over $200 US. Amazing, can you imagine how much it would have cost here in the States. Great care, too. If you have time, I would like to know which type of health insurance you chose when you first moved to France – travel insurance or medical insurance, as I know my husband and I will have to have it to get our Visas. Thank you for any help you can offer. Many wishes on your continued repairs and return home.

    Gina Berk

    • Gina, I use IMG for travel insurance. I’m hopeful everything will work through them as expected. I’ll keep you posted. My first step when I get out of here is to apply for a Carte Vitale, French health insurance. You should check on your eligibility after you get a Carte de Sejour. Let me know if you need more info. Thanks for your comment. Glad you’re heading this way!

  7. Thank you, Deborah, for sharing your experiences with the French Healthcare system. I was wincing through the descriptions of the pain, the challenges of using French, not your Mother Tongue, during a medical crisis, and the general fear of diagnosis, surgery, and rehab. As a Nanny living in Paris in the 70’s I came down with a painful bladder infection and the doctor came to me, brought lab specimen equipment with him, made the diagnosis, and handed me the medication I would need before he drove away. He stopped by a few days later to make sure I was on the mend. There was never a bill to pay.

    We have absolutely no excuses for the ridiculous cost of health care in the U.S., and in reality what does it matter if we raise taxes to pay for quality care when so many Americans are paying MASSIVE premiums with unbelievable out-of-pocket costs to cover what their insurance companies won’t cover.

    Thank you for bringing this issue to your Blog, with ONE FINGER typing, I might add. You have an impressive reader base and your midterm election timing couldn’t be better! People, get informed and VOTE!!!

    Wishing you the very best and speediest recovery, Deborah. Any chance you’d feel for writing an op-ed on the environment 😉

    • Judith, thank you so much for your interesting comment. I can imagine how you felt as a young woman in France who was challenged with the language. I am not surprised that you had such kind help with your medical crisis. I find the French to be extraordinarily understanding and generous. Oh that we can make the change in the US needed to treat every person with dignity.

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