Adventure · Culture · Europe · France · Health · Politics · Travel Philosophy · Travel Tips & Skills

Is There a Doctor in l’Hôtel?

You know that tickle-throat, on-the-verge-of-a-festering-cold feeling?  The one that tells you “If you ignore me, it can only go horribly wrong from here”?  Yeah, it sucks.  But you know what’s worse?  Ignoring it while you’re traveling abroad.

Such was my lot seven weeks into a nine-week stint on the road, earlier this year.  I had been going pretty intensely (and without a day off), traveling and working with Rick in Egypt and Israel and working on two Rick Steves’ Europe tours.  With four days left on the current tour and my last tour of the spring season looming ahead, I had a mindset of just wanting to power through.

Big mistake.  Huge.

By the end of the tour, tickle-throat had blossomed into white polka-dot-throat, and my newly developed inability to properly swallow was accompanied by intermittent feverish chills and body-slumping fatigue.  The only silver lining was the sexy, raspy, alto voice I now had.  Too bad my sniffles and repeated hacking covered that charm in phlegm.

Getting my vitals checked by Madame le docteur.
Getting my vitals checked by Madame le docteur.

With less than 30 hours before the start of my next tour, I asked my Paris hotelier to find me an English-speaking doctor to do a house (hotel) call.  I inquired about the price (about €75 typically) and decided it was a smart investment to try to get better.  Within 25 minutes, a petite and stern woman came rapping at my door. After formal introductions, Madame le docteur immediately began speaking in French.  Normally I wouldn’t mind except that my head was in a cloud, and I didn’t want to miscommunicate or misunderstand anything pertaining to my health. When I asked if she wouldn’t mind if we spoke in English, she asked coldly (in French), “Why should we do that if we both speak French?  What is the point?”  Bedside manner…meh, not so much.

The subsequent interrogation by the doctor would have been completely demoralizing had my friend and fellow guide Rebecca not been there to keep me company.  Together we were able to sneak quizzical glances and stifled chuckles as the visiting practitioner tried to get to the root of my problem.

These (apart from the book) are the homeopathic "medications" zee pharmaceest had given me.
These (apart from the book) are the “bullsheet” homeopathic remedies “zee pharmaceest” had given me.

Here are a slew of questions and comments that came hurtling my way (in all its French-accented, broken English glory): What eez wrong wis zhyou?  When deed zis start?  What ‘ave zhyou been takeeng?  Why did zhyou do zat?  ‘Oo told zhyou to take zeez?  Zee pharmaceest ‘az no idea what ‘ee eez doing.  (After looking at the homeopathic “medicine” I had bought from the pharmacist) Zees eez bullsheet (no joke–she actually said that)!  Neh-vuhr tehk zeez.  Now I cannot diagnoze properlee.  Zees zhjust covers up zee symptoms.  Zey zhjust want to make zee monay and make zhyou buy so many medicines.  I don’t like so many medicines.  Next time, zhyou must see zee doctuhr fuhrst.

Turns out I had tonsillitis and sinusitus.  What started off, presumably, as the common cold turned into a bacterial and viral infection of epic-to-me proportions.  Curiously, Madame le docteur seemed irritated by the fact that she had to prescribe much stronger medications than if I had just nipped this in the bud when the symptoms first manifested.  She proceeded to prescribe me no less than six different medicines for my ailments (so much for not liking “so many medicines”).

Here’s what I got:  Augmentin (an antibiotic that kills all kinds of bacteria; side effect: yeast infection–lovely).  Gynopevaryl to try to prevent the yeast infection, Pevaryl and Lactibiane for the likely-to-develop yeast infection (it did), Dolipran for the pain (side effect: nausea and diarrhea–oh joy.), and Claritin for I don’t really know what.

My prescribed medications (from the doctor who says she doesn't like "so many medicines").
The Paris house (hotel) call plus my prescriptions (from the doctor who says she doesn’t like “so many medicines”) cost me about $190–and were worth every penny for my improved health and my peace of mind.

My house (hotel) call set me back €90, and I shelled out €50 for my mountain o’ meds–all in all about $190.   On the surface, that may seem like a lot, but what’s amazing is that I didn’t need insurance for this, I didn’t have to wait for hours to be treated, and that this kind of little-hassle, quick-response doctor care is pretty standard throughout Europe, whether you’re a European citizen or merely a visitor (had I been a EU citizen, most of the cost would have been reimbursed).  Back home, in addition to my annual health insurance costs, I’d still have to fork over my co-pay, would likely have to wait a long while at Urgent Care, and then pay the not-so-cheap cost of my medications.  I can’t even begin to imagine what one of my fellow citizens without any health coverage would have to go through or what they would have to pay in a similar circumstance in the States, let alone what a visitor from another country who may or may not speak English would have to do (but I don’t suppose it would have been as easy as my experience).

This episode opened my eyes in a lot of ways.  I’ve realized that my health, especially when I’m traveling, is precious and should be well guarded, that I need to be proactive about combatting oncoming illness, and that if I do need medical treatment–at least in Europe, I shouldn’t fear how well I’ll be cared for or how much it will cost.  And oh yeah, that pharmacist-prescribed medications are bullsheet.  Europe may not have a perfect healthcare system, but with the social ethic such a forte in Europe, having a health scare where healthcare for all is valued can be a life-long souvenir.

For more insight on the French health care system, take a look at this article by Rick Steves’ Europe tour guide,  Michaelanne Jerome.

16 thoughts on “Is There a Doctor in l’Hôtel?

  1. It truly is amazing to live in the United States and hear so many people so upset with the changes to our healthcare system, and then read something like this. Why wouldn’t we want our healthcare system to be more like those in Europe and other first world countries, where you can get excellent medical attention so easily with little to no cost?

    1. There are certainly great aspects of the U.S. healthcare system. We have well-trained doctors and some of the best facilities in the world. I’m grateful to have GroupHealth as my healthcare provider–they’ve been attentive, thorough, responsive, and proactive when it comes to my medical needs. The problems are that that level of quality is accessible to everyone and that even basic healthcare isn’t easy to get by those who likely need it the most.

      I think it’s a matter of what do we value more: a healthcare system driven by profit that benefits mostly only those who can afford it OR do we choose to be a society that champions the well-being of all its citizens? We are a strong nation that is proud of being “#1” and “the best”, but I think it’s hard to make that claim when we as society make choices that basically say we don’t care about our own people in need.

      Ironically, those who say it’s too expensive (read as: don’t want to pay increased taxes) to have programs that advocate wellness and preventative care or to have anything approximating universal health care end up paying, along with all the rest of us, way more in the long run because of the exorbitant costs (passed on to the taxpayer) associated with emergency medical care, Medicare/Medicaid, and so on. Not too mention the social cost of people going bankrupt because of their medical bills, slipping into unemployment or having to work multiple jobs just to get by. Sadly, many people/politicians/corporations don’t want to think in those terms.

      There are no easy solutions, but can we swallow our pride just a bit to see how other countries have reshaped their thinking and priorities to support a healthy society that know that if everyone contributes, everyone benefits and takes nothing away from those who choose to achieve even more? Just food for thought.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, too, Katherine! It’s much appreciated.

  2. I ususally take a small amount of all the over the counter meds that we are use to. I found out early that it is impossible to find anything in pharmacies in Europe like at home. One time in Praque I thought I was doomed to calling a Dr, but thank goodness I did get through it. But if you work on the road for weeks on end, this is a lot different than a two or three week vacation.

    1. Hi, Judy. Normally, I do that, too, and actually, in this case, I had already used up my scant supply by the time I got to see Madame le doctor. I’ve also had great success in the past with recommendations from European pharmacists. There are things like 800mg ibuproben that you can get without a prescription, but trying to get anything similar to Pepcid AC requires a doctor’s note. Crazy. I’m glad you were able to get good medical attention in Prague.

  3. I have had such positive medical experiences in Italy — some funny, definitely with cultural differences, but all positive — it makes me question our U.S. system. Care here is very personalized, direct-from-the-doctor with few nurses, technicians, etc. They spend time with you, get to know you, and take an interest. It is also shockingly straight-forward, with no “bullsheet.” Doctors say what they think in some times blunt manner, but isn’t it better to have clarity?

    1. It’s always nice to hear that someone else has had good results regarding medical care in a different country. And I think you’re right: it’s much better to have clarity than to have everything sugar-coated or danced around. Tell me what’s wrong and how to fix it. Thanks for sharing your insights!

  4. Sorry to hear about your illness, and hope you’re feeling better with the mountain of med’s provided by Le Doctor. I really enjoyed your articulate and thought provoking reflections on health care systems. I’m Canadian, so probably have a somewhat different view on the subject than the majority of your readers. I’ll be the first to admit that our health care system isn’t perfect, but I still strongly believe in the concept of national health care. I don’t have a problem paying higher taxes to fund a system that benefits everyone, and doesn’t force people into bankruptcy to pay for health care. The movie “Sicko” provided some glaring examples of that.

    So far I’ve only had one health care issue during travels that required a Physician, and that occurred during a visit to Rome in 2006. Prior to that trip I had joined an organization called IAMAT, which I believe was started by an Italian Doctor. The concept is that treatment will be provided for minor medical problems by English-speaking Physicians for a set fee (which at that time was US$75). I called one of the Clinics listed in their book, made an appointment and the problem was dealt with promptly. Based on that experience, I was glad that I had joined! They have member Physicians in many countries in the world.

    Hope you’re making a speedy recovery!

    1. Thanks, Ken, for your well wishes and for sharing your experience. I’m eager to look into IAMAT and see what the plan and fees are now. We never think we’re going to need special care while we’re traveling abroad (or are at least willing to gamble that we won’t), but when you need it, it’s sure nice to have a plan.

  5. My husband and I have both had to have medical checkups while we were on a year long trip to Europe and to the Middle East. We had our care done in Germany. We planned to see Drs. recommended by the US Embassy and we got very good care. One Dr. told us. I don’t know how to charge you until all your lab work comes back. Go away for a month or two and I will figure it out and you can pay later. I also had a hospitalization during a trip in Germany. The care was wonderful and really inexpensive 435 Euros for 48 hours in the hospital with an EKG, Sonigram, and blood test every 3 hours–not by nurses but by Drs. They gave me the blood tests because my 1st and thankfully only heart attack was found by a blood test with no other indicators. My advice get the care you need in Europe and your hotel will help you.

    1. Hi, Paula. Did you end up paying the Germany doctor later?
      That’s impressive how little you paid (by U.S. standards, of course) for the hospitalization. I’m glad you got the good and attentive care you needed without the worry of whether or not you could afford to be helped.

  6. I get sick every time I go to Europe and every time I am amazed at how little it costs and how efficient it is. Glad you’re feeling better!

  7. A friend and I did the Rick Steves 14 day Villages and Vineyards tour in France last year. My friend came down with a sore throat while in Colmar. Our guide made a same day appointment with a nearby doctor. She walked my friend to the doctor’s office and acted as an interpreter. The office wanted to know my friend’s name and not much more. No long forms to fill out. The cost was under 30 euros and the prescription was less. One of the very nice aspects of taking a Rick Steves tour is having someone to help with any medical problems. We always mention this experience when the subject of the US health system comes up.
    Hope you stay well on future trips.

    1. Hello, Joyce! I’m glad your friend had the help of one of our stellar guides and that the medical care was so accessible, carefree, and inexpensive. It’s terrible to feel stressed about availability, quality, and cost when you already feel terrible from injury or illness. Thanks for sharing the experience here.

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