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.
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.
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 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.