On my experience getting health care for the first time in France…

Last week was not a pleasant one for me. I went to bed the evening of Tuesday, September 19 feeling okay, I think, then woke up in the middle of the night with my left ear inflamed and in a great deal of pain. “Oh, yikes!” I thought – in addition to “Ow, ow, ow, ow” – “I have NO idea how to get this checked out by a doctor.”

I knew I had bought some sort of insurance that I thought I needed to get the visa, but in retrospect, no one ever asked me for proof of insurance. But I had never really checked out the website. I had not yet applied for the Assurance Maladie, the French national health care that everyone is required to apply for, because something I had read a long time ago said that I couldn’t do that for three months. Now, in retrospect, I think that there may be different processes for students and those with other types of visas and that students could apply for it right away.

It has been a long time since I’ve had an actual ear infection, so of course I immediately went online to see what Dr. Google had to say. Well, reputable sources seemed to indicate that one should wait a couple days before going to see a doctor because often ear infections resolve on their own and it’s best not to get antibiotics if one doesn’t need any. So I took some acetaminophen and went back to sleep. By morning, the pain and inflammation had started traveling down my neck. Splendid! But, taking the wait a couple days thing seriously, I went to my classes figuring as long as I’m washing my hands and not touching people I probably was unlikely to spread an ear infection.

I once again awoke in the middle of the night, this time with pain in my right ear as well. More acetaminophen and back to sleep, a bit more worried that this thing seemed to be getting worse, and travelling, rather than getting better. I decided that before my class the next day (Thursday), I would stop by the University’s student health service.

The first time I went there, the door was locked and no one answered my knocking, even though it was during the “open” hours according to the schedule. I checked with some helpers in the Maison Internationale (International Office) to make sure I did it correctly, and they confirmed that I did and suggested that I just try again later. For the record, my experience thus far seems to indicate that schedules and general adherence to them seems a little bit “wibbly wobbly timey wimey” in France. So after my next class I returned and waited in the hall and eventually a nurse showed up.

When I described my symptoms (in French, of course – she didn’t speak English), she simply said the doctor was only in the health service on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings and she was just a nurse and could not prescribe any medication. She didn’t even look in my ears. I guess nurses are not nurse-practitioners here – even when they are the only one in the office most of the time. I’m not sure exactly what her purpose was there but I digress. It seemed like this didn’t happen often – I’d think it would happen a few days every week, right? – and fumbled around looking for a place to recommend I go. The place she found, an “urgent care” facility, had already been mentioned to me by someone else, but she called them to confirm I could just walk in. The pain and inflammation on the right side was now also moving down my neck.

After my last class I took a bus and a tram to get to a part of town I hadn’t yet been to to get to the place. It was after 4:30 in the afternoon and there were at least 40 sick people in the waiting room. And there didn’t seem to be an intake window/desk that I could see and no signs pointing to one. Only this big box thing near the entrance that seemed to be how one “checked in.” Unfortunately I couldn’t make any sense of it except that it seemed to want my Carte Vitale (what you get for the Assurance Maladie) which I did not have. Sigh. I decided that I’d rather leave and take my chance with the ear infection than with sitting in a room full of unmasked sick people for who knows how many hours, even though I was, of course, masked before I walked in.

I went home. Went to bed. Woke up in the middle of the night again, this time with my left EYE screaming at me – pain, tears pouring, crustiness crusting. Oh, man!?! Really??? This was in addition to the ears, which were not improving. Now I’m freaking out more than a bit. What’s next? Sepsis?! I need some freaking antibiotics!!!

I went to class the next day, now both eyes and both ears clearly infected. One of my classmates suggested that I talk to our teacher, Tania, since she was from around here, knew the system, and spoke French, maybe she would have a clue as to what to do. I was hesitant to do so, because our teacher had just had her workload effectively doubled because the other teacher was out for some unknown (to us) reason. But I was desperate so I stayed during our lunch break and told her my tale.

She brought me to the Maison Internationale, which was closed for some unknown reason that they had not even shared with the teachers. But she could get in and so we had a cool place to try to figure this out. And I discovered that although she almost never uses it in class, she speaks and understands English quite fluently, which made things much easier. She recommended trying “Doctolib” – a French service like “Zocdoc.” I had indeed tried that already, but when I put in “médecin généraliste” the only listings that came up with any availability for today were pharmacies, not doctors. Tania thought it very strange, since we both knew that the pharmacist would not be able to do an exam and give out medications without an actual doctor’s prescription. I thought it was stupid website database programming, lumping all pharmacies in the wrong category, but Tania decided to call one of the closer pharmacies to see what was going on.

Well it seems that one CAN sort of see a doctor in some French pharmacies. Remember telemedicine, that many of us relied on during the height of the pandemic? Well, in France – or at least here in Avignon – they seem to have taken that a step further. Some pharmacies have a telemedicine mini kiosk office set up.

Medadom telemedicine kiosk in a pharmacy in Avignon.
Medadom telemedicine kiosk in a pharmacy in Avignon.

So I downloaded the Doctolib app, made an appointment for 1/2 hour after my classes ended about a 15 min walk away. After thanking Tania profusely, I was able to even grab a quick lunch before our classes resumed.

I did have to wait when I got there – the app warned me that I could have to wait anywhere up to an hour – but it was only around 1/2 hour after my appointment time and there was a cool, unpopulated area where I could sit and “rehearse” the history and look up words I didn’t know, in case the doctor did not speak English. The doctor did not speak English – so when she came on the screen we fumbled through my history. There was some difficulty with understanding the doctor’s follow-up questions, but we muddled through. Then she asked me to get the pharmacist, who she instructed on using (I think it was) device A in the picture, adding a sterile ear thingy, to look into my ears. I have a feeling that the pharmacist was not really used to doing this, so I think maybe the doctor would usually instruct the patient to use this instrument but really couldn’t with me because of the language barrier? I’m not sure.

But she confirmed that I did indeed have raging (my word, not hers) ear and eye infections that required antibiotics, and she wrote me prescriptions for both oral amoxycillin and azithromycin eye drops. She also “prescribed” some paracetamol for pain (more on this later). The scrips were immediately sent to and filled by the pharmacist, and I was on my way.

Cost? Well, I mentioned that I have insurance but that doesn’t even come into play because it doesn’t pay unless the bill is over €50, so it wasn’t even mentioned. The cost of the doctor visit (which would have been the same had I seen her at her office) was €25 and the meds another €25. So for a complete foreigner with no standing whatsoever in France, this urgent care situation cost about $54. I was quite pleased.

One weird, not terribly positive, thing that I discovered (I’m sure more will follow), though is that in France you can only get “acetaminophen” or “ibuprofen” from a pharmacy – not any other kind of store – and you have to ask the pharmacist for it, not grab it off the shelf. AND… You can only buy it in packages of 16 (reg strength acetaminophen) or 8 (extra strength acetaminophen) or 12 (ibuprofen). And my understanding is that one can only purchase two packages of any combination of those at one time. I think they they decided that people were taking too much of these meds “unnecessarily” and that’s not good. But I also think there was a shortage during Covid, so I’m pretty sure I don’t know all the nuances of the situation leading to the law.

Anyway, it’s Monday now and although the infection is not completely gone it has greatly abated and I am a much happier camper than I was last week. Yesterday I also stopped procrastinating and completed the Assurance Maladie application for my Carte Vitale. Now begins the months of waiting for the slow wheels of the legendary French bureaucracy to turn…

Learning so many new things – episode 1

The following are just some random things that came to mind during my train ride from Paris to Avignon on 1 Sept 2023:

BAD… If you’re coming to France for a long time, and therefore have a lot of heavy luggage, it may not be the best idea to plan a 4 day stay in Paris before moving on to your final destination, unless you’re planning to take an expensive taxi to your destination. The metro stations – at least the ones I encountered – do not appear to have any escalators or elevators. It is all stairs. I hope they have some very good system for transporting peope with physical disabilities here. I’ll look that up at some point. That said – identifying the right BUS route will help. They only have one “stair” to lift up to and it’s pretty low. I was able to get to the train station via bus without having to navigate any stairs so, really, that’s the way to go with a lot of luggage. Probably “off-hours” better than rush hours.

GOOD… People in Paris can be very kind and helpful. During my difficulties getting too much luggage up and down to and from the metro, at least 6 people offered to help me. I truly would not have been able to make it without their kindness. Merci, merci, merci.

BAD… Mint Wireless’s customer service is complete and utter crap. Supposedly wifi calling allows me to make calls to the US as though I am in the US. That was not the case, and after many tries with their AI which was really AS (artificial stupidity), I was able to “chat” with an allegedly real person who gave me something to try that involved restarting my phone. I asked whether I’d have to repeat the entire story another 10 times as I had in order to get a chat session to her and she said no and provided me a case number. Well, that was a lie. The AS didn’t give a shit about a case number – or at least was very confused by it. My multiple attempts to again chat with a person were unsuccessful and I ultimately gave up. So now I have no idea what to do. Spending $15 a month just to get 2-factor authentication for my various important US accounts seems kind of excessive. Grrr. I have about 5 days to figure out an alternative before handing more money over to Mint.

Update (8 Sept 2023): I was finally able to figure out the solution myself and wound up renewing Mint after all. I also discovered that if one needs to actually talk to a human and has access to a phone that can call their customer service number (which I couldn’t until I fixed my original problem), there might actually be real help available. I haven’t tried the solution to my second (not critical) issue yet, so we’ll see.

GOOD… It appears that my Free Mobile (that’s the company name) french sim card plan, which costs €2 plus €2.99 boost per month (I put the sim in an old phone of mine) DOES allow me to call the US without an additional charge (total around $5.50/month for essentially the same talk, text and data as the Mint plan). Unfortunately others can’t call ME without it being an international call. So I’m still working things out. I’ll update this post with what I’ve worked out.

BAD: Sometimes on an SNCV train, your seat number doesn’t actually exist. I had seat 86 (right car, right level) and looked and looked. The seat numbers jumped from 83/84 to 87/88 – I kid you not. I felt like a complete idiot until I came across another passenger who was looking for seat 85 – so it wasn’t just me! An employee – I think they were in housekeeping based on seeing them later carrying a trash bag – just pointed to a random seat and said “sit there.” I was a little worried that someone would have a ticket for that seat.

GOOD: The seat she pointed to was in a quad setup and the other 3 seats were empty – otherwise the train was fairly full. And I realized that Avignon was the first stop! So once we got going, no one was going to kick me out of the seat and I was going to be able to “spread out” my things for my entire trip. I’m writing this now from my own personal computer table. 😊 It’s been an hour and they still have not checked my ticket. I do wish I had managed to stop again at this wonderful chocolatier by my hostel. I ate everything I bought yesterday and am now feeling a bit peckish. Not sure I want to pack up my stuff enough to find the dining car though. It is only about another 1.5 hours. Currently going 262 kph btw. The windows are very large and the French countryside is beautiful.

Views from the train to Avignon.

View from the train from Paris to Avignon 2023 Sept 1
View from the train from Paris to Avignon 2023 Sept 1

2020 Musical Odyssey

UPDATE 11/21/2020: This was a failed project. I kept it going for 6 weeks and then sort of let it slip for the rest of the year. Can’t even blame it on Covid-19 – this would have been an easy-peasy thing to do in lockdown. Guess it was just not important enough. I may attempt again someday (with an improved way to make entries – this updating the same page thing was a little clunky). But I think this is done for now.

One of my intentions for 2020 is to listen to at least on new (to me) music album every week. This post is where I will record my progress. The “recommended by” for the most part are recommendations for the artist – not always (but sometimes) recommendations for the particular album.

WKAlbumArtistRecommended ByImpressions

Sleep Well Beast The National Karen R, Mace D It was interesting. Voice similar to Leonard Cohen. Liked Walk It Back and I’ll Still Destroy You the best.
1High VioletThe NationalMace D, Karen RThis one did less for me than the Sleep Well Beast. If I had to choose a favorite song from the album it would probably be Bloodbuzz Ohio.
2AimsVienna TengSaeri G, Karen RI like this artist and plan to listen to more of her music. I think my favorite on this album would probably vary by what mood I were in, but for now, I’ll say, Close to Home.
3Cuz I Love YouLizzoRae M, Maria AGreat, powerful voice, powerful lyrics, and very dance-able beat. Will probably listen to more. Still deciding on favorite.
4My Head is an AnimalOf Monsters and MenTracy F, Karen R, David SLiked it, but I think that I wouldn’t binge listen to this because although I think the femme voice is beautiful, I think I’d only consider it so in small doses. Favorite of the album is Six Weeks.
5When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Billie EilishThe GrammysEven though I don’t think anyone gave me a recommendation for this artist, I figured I’d have to check her out given her killing at the Grammys. This artist is my absolute favorite so far this year. I will definitely listen to this album again and again, and will check out her other work. A few of the songs I loved were: bad guy, all the good girls go to hell, my strange addiction, and listen before i go.
5TakkSigur RosRoss M.I think I’d really need to be in a particular mood for this. Or maybe 25 years ago when I was kind of into “new age” music. Now I just find it kind of monotonous. 🙁 I really hoped to enjoy Icelandic music, because I really enjoyed Iceland. Sigh.
6RammsteinRamsteinKat D.I would definitely listen to this again – and others by this artist. Love the voice. It makes me really wish I knew me some German.
6The Bifrost IncidentThe MechanismsAndy S.This was very interesting. I want to see the movie! (Not that there IS a movie – it’s just very narrative/cinematic). I’ll definitely try more by this group. I’ll also recommend it to my spawn – I think he might like it.

My 2019 Performing Arts (Mostly Theatre) Adventure

In the beginning of 2019, I set an intention to see at least one live performing arts performance every week for the entire year. I’m happy to say that I succeeded. Not only did I attend at least one performance every single week of the year, I attending 101 different events over the 52 weeks. Even excluding my time at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I “doubled up” 10 weeks of the year.

I was very happy that friends joined me at 26 of the events (or I joined them, in some cases), and 17 of the events involved people that I know personally. Also, 79 of the shows were by groups that I have never seen before.

Below is the list of events by week. When it says “w/” the name following is someone I know who was involved in the show (most often as a performer).

01The Winter WolfOtherworld Theatre
02The Old Lady BroodsTrap Door Theatre (w/Manuela Rentea)
03AntigoneKirkwood Players
04The Tin WomanTheater of Western Springs
05I Know My Own HeartPride Films and Theatre
06Defiance Buffalo Theatre Ensemble
06Chinese New Year Paradevarious
07ChapattiFirst Folio
08Angelique Kidjo and Ladysmith Black MambazoAngelique Kidjo and Ladysmith Black Mambazo
09GiselleEnglish National Ballet
10Cardboard PianoTimeline Theatre
11Gross IndecencyPromethean Theatre Ensemble (w/Heather Smith)
12How to Live on EarthChimera Ensemble
13Southern ComfortPride Films and Theatre (w/Kyra Leigh)
13The Man Who Was ThursdayLifeline
14Good Enough16th Street Theatre
15Cambodian Rock BandVictory Gardens
16Best for WinterIdle Muse Theatre (w/Erik Schnitger)
17A Night at the CabaretCenter Stage (w/Rose Bonarek)
17Eurydice (Ruhl)Jedlicka Performing Arts Center
18Medusa UndoneOtherworld Theatre (w/Mary-Kate Arnold)
18Small WorldNew Colony
19Friends of GamelanOld School of Folk Music
19Vagina MonologuesElgin Community College (w/Brin Bixby)
20Tribute to Cliff Alexis Harper College Steel Bands (w/Pen Skrzynski)
20I and YouOPFT and Open Door
21Rodrigo Concierto de AranjuezCSO
22BiPolar BitchLabrynth Arts & Sweetback Productions
23It is MagicTheater Oobleck
24Bonnie Whitmore and James McMurtryat Space, Evanston
24A Few Good MenTownSquare Players at Woodstock Opera House (w/Steve Pickering)
25The Killing GameA Red Orchid Theatre
26Anne of Green GablesWarrenville Masterpiece Community Theater (w/Brian Sebby)
27Elizabeth RexOak Park Festival Theatre
28New Play Dev Workshop ShowcaseWomen’s Theatre Alliance (w/Sara Keely McGuire, Cherie McGuire, and Christopher Donaldson)
29Ada and the EngineThe Artistic Home
301776St. Genesius Productions (w/Rose Bonarek)
31Pirates of PenzancePM&L (w/Jennifer Biel)
32Henry VFirst Folio
32Cakeat Out of Space
33Being NorwegianEntity Theatre e.V. (GER) @EF
33Fight SongCalArts Festival Theater (US) @EF (w/Fiona Casper-Strauss)
33Trying it OnWarwick Arts Centre and China Plate (ENG) @EF
34Dark PlayNeonBox Theatre Co (US) @EF
34DallowayDyad Productions (ENG) @EF
34Dorian GrayThe Georgian Theatre Royal Youth Theatre (ENG) @EF
34MetamorphosisDifferent Theatre/Sweet Productions (ENG) @EF
34Importance of Being EarnestShakespeare Reloaded (GER) @EF
34Hyde and SeekFlat Packed Theatre (ENG) @EF
34FishbowlSIT Productions (ENG) @EF
34DrowningDark Lady Co (US) @EF
34Genesis, the Mary Shelley PlayArtists Collective Theatre (CA) @EF
34To Fall in LoveMelpomene Productions (US) @EF
34It’s True, It’s True, It’s TrueBreach Theatre (ENG) @EF
34The Patient GloriaGina Moxley and Abbey Theatre with Pan Pan Theatre Company (IRL) @EF
34ElizabethanDavid William Hughes (US) @EF
34ChameleonFRANK. Theatre (AUS) @EF
34Happy HourFKP, Richard Jordan Productions, Teatro Metastasio, Teater Grob, The Pleasance (ITA) @EF
34Piracy! A Comedy on the High C’sQuesting Vole Productions (ENG) @EF
34The BurningIncognito Theatre Company (ENG) @EF
34The Incident RoomNew Diorama Theatre in co-production with Pleasance and Greenwich Theatre (ENG) @EF
34Ceilidh Dancing with Band AwryStramash (Band – Awry) (SCO) @EF
34QuintessenceEmily Carding/Sweet Productions (ENG) @EF
34DNACasus Circus and Cluster Arts (AUS) @EF
34The Resistable Rise of Arturo UiBede’s (ENG) @EF
34Fempire: Cleo, Theo, and WuTheatre of NOTE (US) @EF
34The WaspPeppered Wit Productions (ENG) @EF
34Noir HamletYasplz LLC (US) @EF
34SprayCho-in Theatre Company – Korean Season presented by AtoBiz Ltd (KOR) @EF
34Northanger AbbeyFireside Theatre (ENG) @EF
34And Then They DiedRiddled Image (ENG) @EF
3500 (zero zero)Argonaut (ENG) @EF
35My Love Lies Frozen in the IceDead Rabbits Theatre (ENG) @EF
35EinsteinPip Utton Theatre Co (ENG) @EF
35The War of the WorldsRhua and Clay (ENG) @EF
35Thrones! The Musical ParodyThrones! The Musical Parody (US) @EF
35A Midsummer Night’s DrollThe Owle Schreame (ENG) @EF
35Wild SwimmingFullRogue (ENG) @EF
35Sexy LampKatie Arnstein and Victoria Gagliano (ENG) @EF
35Murder She Didn’t Write: The Improvised Murder MysteryDegrees of Error and Something for the Weekend (ENG) @EF
35A Midsummer Night’s DreamThe Bridge Theatre, London
35Bartholomew FairSam Wanamaker Playhouse/Globe Theatre, London
36Legally BlondeFreemont St Theatre (w/Steve Pickering)
37Glengarry Glen RossHale Theatre Co. (w/Alan Ziebarth)
38OsloTimeline Theatre
38Best of EnemiesOpen Door Repertory
39Aurelio VoltaireChicago Steampunk Expo
40Holmes and WatsonBuffalo Theatre Ensemble
42Mother of the MaidNorthlight
43Countess DraculaOtherworld Theatre
44The Hound of the BaskervillesCity Lit
45Hell Followed With HerWildClaw Theater
46The Suffrage PlaysArtemesia
47TruGoz & Fotos at Stage 773
47Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula, Two Scenes from Antony and Cleopatra, and The PlanetsChicago Symphony Orchestra
48PackingAbout Face Theatre
49You Are HappyRed Theatre
50Steel Bands Tribute to Women ComposersHarper College Steel Bands (w/Pen Skrzynski)
51Mystery of Edwin DroodBlank Theatre
52Burning BluebeardPorchlight Music Theatre