Let’s start with a quick poll here. You are one of the organisers of a race, charged with sitting on a chair near the finish line. Do you:
a) stay safely in your seat until everyone has arrived;
b) bimble out in front of a competitor hurtling towards the line at flat out speed, causing him to crash and break an ankle in his bid to avoid hitting you
Option A? No, apparently not. Which is why, rather than spend the final week of this year’s winter season skiing, drinking cold beers in the sun, plotting final road trips to Tignes and so on, I have been providing a taxi tour of Grenoble’s medical practitioners, interspersed with the odd educational visit to a selection of government bodies.
Mind you, this does give us the opportunity to get to grips with the nitty gritty of France’s much-lauded healthcare system. First port of call, after being piggy-backed off the piste by a passing Samaritan, is the magnificently moustachioed Dr Bernard at the resort medical centre. Dr B is familiar with JC’s anatomy, having treated a broken (and re-broken, and then broken again) hand back in January. He X-rays the offending part, prescribes half the pharmacy, and tells us it needs an MRI scan. We head back down the hill minus nearly 300€ and spend Sunday using the crutches to frighten the cats.
On Monday morning the receptionist calls with an appointment for the scan, so on Tuesday afternoon we duly head off to the clinic armed with half the library, since we have previous experience of hospitals, waiting rooms and A&E departments. However, we barely get the chance to read a paragraph before he is in and scanned and we’re being fleeced for a further 130€ and told that we won’t be fully reimbursed for it either because JC hasn’t nominated a medecin traitant. What? Mais oui, she says, you have to nominate someone as your regular doctor if you want to see your wonga again.
Back to Dr B, who is happy to be JC’s doctor (recognises a cash cow when he sees one), stamps the relevant form and tells us the ankle needs to be looked at by an orthopaedic specialist. So off we toddle first thing the following morning, armed once again with the library, in search of the ankle clinic. After a further half a paragraph we find ourselves being ushered out of the door 60€ poorer and with instructions to buy a bigger ankle support.
Back once again to Dr B, who prescribes a further month of anti-clotting injections, at 60€ per seven-day course. This time we get them from our local pharmacist, who has our insurance details and doesn’t charge us up front. Cost so far …. about 500€. In theory we should see all of this back again eventually, but I wonder if we could go bankrupt in the meantime.
Next stop the Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie, which deals with all things illness-related. It is currently hidden behind a load of building work, which means that we drive past it twice, and when we finally do find it, access is via a cracked path and a flight of stairs, which is entertaining with the crutches. Oui, we can hand in the form giving Dr B as JC’s doctor. Non, he still won’t be reimbursed for the scan, because the form is dated two days after the threatment. She looks at me, then at the form, then changes the date on it to last Saturday.
Back home, I find that I can keep tabs on my reimbursements online by setting up an account at http://www.ameli.fr. So I fill out all the required details, hit enter and get a message saying that they will send me my access code …. by post. Post. Snailmail. Why, one wonders, did they just ask me for my e-mail address? However, I remain Zen, as the French say. (After eight years of living here I am expert at keeping my blood pressure down when faced with this sort of ridiculous behaviour).
Further trawling round the ameli website reveals that JC should be eligible to claim sickness benefit, so we trundle back off to the CPAM with all the paperwork we can think of. Oui, says the nice lady, you are entitled to sick pay, but unfortunately non, this is not the correct piece of paper. This is merely a certificat medical. Did Dr B not furnish you with an arret de travail? Er, non. And Dr B has now disappeared off on holiday, (along with every other doctor in 2Alpes, apparently, leaving the resort’s residents with a 30 minute drive to the nearest surgery). Fortunately for us, any old quack can be prevailed upon to sign a sick note, so we take the relevant details (and the ankle) to my own doctor, who gives us the correct piece of paper and charges us 22€ for the privilege.
There’s no doubt that the system ticks along like clockwork – specialist appointments are forthcoming the next day, you never wait, everywhere is modern and spotlessly clean – but I have no idea what people do who don’t just happen to have 500€ handy.
Following all of this rigmarole, I was really kind of over the whole idea of snowsports for this year, and couldn’t get together any enthusiasm for skiing on the final day. Besides, what if I managed to damage myself as well? All of the above all over again only with taxi fares on top.