I’ve finally emerged from the tunnel of being sick, after nearly three weeks. Thankfully, because god did it suck. Go wash your hands right now, just on the off chance that you can get my germs transmitted through a computer screen. I’ll wait.
I now have a vast array of personal experience in getting sick far from home and can say with great authority: getting sick in a foreign country sucks. Well, getting sick in general sucks. But far from home and family, in a foreign country, in a foreign language, all of that makes it harder.
This evil maybe-flu illness that I had was one of the worst bugs I’ve ever gotten. I don’t really remember ever being this sick. I certainly haven’t gone to the doctor because of an illness in years.
Fortunately for me, my boyfriend was visiting when I got my 103-point-whatever degree fever and couldn’t move or feed myself.
But I have to hand it to France: even if it’s driving them into debt, sécurité sociale, the French national health care system, is really excellent and simple, at least to someone like me who is used to the American mire of forms and long waits every time I need to go to the doctor.
As a teaching assistant, I am a part of the French system. I have a social security number and a health card. (I’m just glad I got sick after my card arrived. Otherwise, I would have had some paperwork to fill out in order to get reimbursed for my doctor visits.)
So with my delightful 103 fever Wednesday evening, I knew I needed to go to the doctor on Thursday. Fortunately I don’t have classes on Thursdays anyway, so I was free to focus on stressing about how to find and communicate with a doctor in French when I could barely get out of bed.
Turns out, nothing to stress about. I went online to the Pages Jeunes (yellow pages), looked at the map, and chose a female doctor within a ten minute walk from my apartment. I called the number and with the aid of this amazing bilingual script from Comme Une Francaise and made an appointment for 5 pm the same day.
I showed up ten minutes early and the receptionist asked me for my address and phone number, as well as my medical card, and that was all.
I sat in the waiting room for a few minutes and the doctor came out to get me. I shook her hand and followed her into her office, which was a desk with a exam table behind it. This is pretty standard for France from what I’ve read.
The doctor asked me who my normal doctor was, so I explained that I’m from the United States and don’t have one in France.
Then she asked me why I had come there, but I didn’t understand what she was asking at all. I struggle with questions that involve the verb arriver=to arrive, because it often means “come” as well, as in “I’m coming” = “j’arrive” or in this case, “Why did you come here today?”
With a quick, “I’m sorry, but my French level is particularly low at the moment, what are you asking me?” she explained the rather obvious question in words I understood.
I described my symptoms. I had made a very meticulous list of symptoms translated to French and temperatures converted to celsius. She was suitably impressed by the 103-point-whatever fever and laughed at my crazy list.
The exam was standard–she listened to me breathe, looked in my ears and throat.
She told me I probably had the flu and prescribed heavy-duty ibuprofen and aspirin, along with a cough syrup.
She also gave me an “arrêt de travail,” a fancy French doctor’s note, to give to my school to get Friday off. There were three carbon copies to send to sécurité sociale.
The doctor had a card reader for me to scan my health card, and then I paid her 23 euro in cash. A portion of that should be reimbursed to me by direct deposit, but I’m still waiting on that even though my prescription reimbursements took less than a week.
And then I left the office, again no paperwork. I went to the pharmacy, gave them my prescription, scanned my card, and paid about 7 euro. There was no wait for the prescription to be filled.
Calling in Sick
I had no idea what to do to call in sick. Could I just contact the teachers? Did it have to be official? That depends. In my case, I was working with four different teachers on Friday, so that was a lot to organize to not call in sick officially. But I didn’t actually know how to call in sick officially, so I sent about a thousand emails.
I usually try to email the teachers I work with in French, but I could barely communicate in English, so I figured I had the flu, I could stick to what was easiest. They are English teachers, after all. I told them I was sick and couldn’t work on Friday, but didn’t know how to call in sick, so I was just contacting them directly.
All the teachers told me to contact the woman in administration who had been in charge of all my paperwork this year to let her know I wouldn’t be working and to give her my arrêt de travail.
I emailed her (in French. Badly. She later corrected several mistakes I had made in my fever-haze), and she said I could bring the paperwork in on Monday when I returned.
Unfortunately, on Sunday night I still had a fever and still felt like death warmed over. It was also the day my boyfriend left.
I emailed everyone again. West left that night, going through Paris days after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, when there were still active hostage situations in the city. So again, sad, stressed, and sick.
On Monday, the woman in administration said she needed my original arrêt de travail as soon as possible, so I sent it with my roommate who also works at the school.
Doctor’s Visit Number 2
Again, same-day doctor’s appointment. This time I took a form that had been given to us when we signed up for social security at the assistant orientation in October that would make the doctor my official GP in France, so I would get a little bit more money back from social security.
I didn’t have a temperature with her high-tech thermometer that she passed by my face for about a millisecond, but even so she gave me three more days off and a prescription for antibiotics.
I had a cough that lingered another week or so, and sore side muscles from coughing so much, but I started to feel better right away.
Getting Paid (Or Not) For My Time Off
I don’t think I will be paid for the time I missed, but no one seems to know for sure. Some people have told me that as a public employee, I won’t be paid for the first day I missed. Others have told me it may be the first three days. The most recent that I heard is that I won’t be paid at all for the missed days, but I will be partially reimbursed by social security. I will update when I find out what in the heck is going to happen.
Stay healthy this winter, stay away from school children, and wash your hands!