Healthcare in France: An American’s Story

by Kelly · 4 comments

in Notes On Culture,Series

My first encounter with the French health care system was after I had been living here, as a student, for about ten months. I was bicycling home late one Friday night from my job at a restaurant when I misjudged the angle at which I should mount the concrete lip of the driveway. I flew off the bike and it landed on top of me with a crash. The accident was so loud that it woke up the residents of the apartment building in front of which it happened; they ran downstairs and called the ambulance. Eventually there was quite the crowd of chattering French people grouped around me as I lay half conscious on the sidewalk; I could vaguely make out some oh la las and c’est une amèricaine! in their conversation.

The ambulance took me to the emergency room, where I was somewhat promptly seen and given eighteen stitches. They even managed to dig up a French intern who had spent her adolescence in Southern California and who spoke fluent, almost accent-less English- quite a nice touch, I thought.

The taxi driver who took me home, at 4am, refused to believe that my mangled face was the result of a bike accident. He kept asking whether my boyfriend was still at home or had already been taken off by the police.

The next Monday, when I went to school, I flippantly explained that, in fact, accidents were very useful things to have when living in a foreign country. After all, you learn all sorts of vocabulary: stitches, anesthetic, pain, ow… the others didn’t really think it was all that funny. I do still remember how to say all those words though!

Several months later I received a bill for the ambulance ride at my mother’s house. It was in French francs, and I don’t remember how much it was but I think it was around $75. I never received a bill for anything else. Not the stitches, not the medicines used, not the services rendered. Nothing. I, as a foreigner, having suffered a fairly serious accident, didn’t have to pay anything except for the ambulance service.

I’m not quite sure why this was. Maybe because it was an accident and I was taken to the emergency room? Maybe my American health insurance company was billed without my knowing about it. It probably wasn’t because the French have a kind heart and treat their patients without billing them. I couldn’t tell you the answer. But I do have to say that my first experience with French health-care, although admittedly traumatic, left a positive impression. And a nice two inch scar in and above my left eyebrow.


1 thrrrnbush April 28, 2008

I suspect the same vocabulary words were very useful when you gave birth in France too. You left out my favorite part of the story though- arguing with the paramedics about Washington state as opposed to Washington D.C.

2 Kelly April 28, 2008

Actually, as anyone who has ever given birth can sympathize with, when I was in labor I reverted to the very basest of expressions, all in English, as there was no way I could think even about speaking French!

And the bit about the paramedics- in the ambulance they were arguing with me about which Washington Seattle is found in. At the time I found them to be incredibly stupid, later I figured that they were probably just they were trying to keep me conscious.

3 JHS May 11, 2008

Thanks for participating in this week’s Carnival of Family Life, hosted at Write from Karen! Be sure to stop by on Monday, May 12, 2008, and peruse the other wonderful articles included in this week’s edition!

4 Jerry January 9, 2009

Oh, that is absolutely amazing. The french have it right here, I think. Our health care system is a mess. Doctors are beholden to the insurance companies and people pay higher and higher premiums. I hope Obama’s administration leads to change in this area.

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