I saw Sicko last night. I have many many thoughts on it, but I think I’ll restrain myself to a anecdote.
My younger cousin and I were traveling across France together, and as we prepared to go into Lascoux (the reproduction caves), she said, “I think I might have an ear infection. I get them a lot.”
When she emerged, she was glassy-eyed with agony. We drove down to the tiny village at the foot of the mountain, and headed to the first giant green cross we saw. “The pharmacy will help you. They always do.” I said.
“I don’t think so, I think I’ll need a prescription.” She went up to the pharmacist and in her formal college French requested assistance. He replied, and she burst into tears. She pleaded and he shrugged. She explained to me (my street French having never had to incorporate words like “ear infection”) that she had to go to the doctor for a prescription. Imagining she’d be in pain for days until they fit her in, she cried to him to please just help her. He called the doctor instead, and told her she just needed to walk across the square to see him.
We walked across the square and entered the doctor’s office where, to our great surprise, only one other person was waiting. A moment later, she was swept in by the doctor himself (no nurse was on duty), and we idled in the small and sunny room speculating on what it would cost us, foreigners not covered by the state. About 15 minutes later, we were ushered into a room that was more living room than examination room. It was also sunny, with the disturbing machinery tucked away in the far end, and the doctor’s desk and comfy chairs at the other.
The doctor examined her, wrote a prescription for an ear infection, and then turned to tell us sadly that we would have to pay because we weren’t in the system. He was deeply apologetic, and as Katy started to tense up, I told her don’t worry, I’ve got my credit card. Then he gave us the bill. It was 20 euros. About 25 bucks. I put away my credit card and pulled out a 20 euro bill.
We walked back to the pharmacy, and they were closed for lunch. Rather than drive to another nearby (French laws require a pharmacy be open at all times, but they tend to take turns), Katy napped in the car while I walked around the charming village. I eyed the closing times of restaurants nervously, stomach growling. They all closed promptly at 2:30, like every other restaurant in France. It’s hard to eat formally between 2 and 7 — miss the window and its casse-croute* for you!.
The pharmacy opened 45 minutes later, and we got the medicine and were able to get to a lunch spot overlooking the river before the restaurant closed! Katy nibbled her crepe and drank her wine, feeling better every moment. It’s funny how just possession of a cure often makes you feel better.
When I think of the famous annoyances of France such as everything shutting down between 12-2, and compare it to America where we are too scared to visit a doctor even when we are in pain, I can’t help but feel we’ve made some poor choices in our life. Watching Michael Moore walking down the rues of Paris in his baseball cap, asking himself the same thing while my (French) husband dissolved into giggles next to me I felt anger than amusement. How did we let the corporations buy our government from us and brainwash us into thinking it was okay.
On the drive home, Philippe reminded me that it has a price. In France, small businesses can barely survive, new businesses can rarely get started because the obligation to employees is so crushing. But I look at Canada, full of many of my favorite start-ups and people and think, we didn’t have to give it all away. If you cut off a finger, you shouldn’t have to wonder if you can afford to get it sewed back on; if your baby has a fever you should be able to have a doctor see her even if you don’t have insurance. Somewhere there is a middle ground.
* snacks, literally “break bread”