Medical Issues in Paris (aka The Agony and the Ecstasy)


You walk everywhere in Paris. It’s a pedestrian town. I love that about it. You feel much more connected to the city and its people when you are walking. You walk to the metro, to the grocery store, the butcher, the boulangerie, the wine shop. It’s a wonderful way to live — until something goes wrong. After we’d lived here for about six months, my right foot started hurting terribly; so badly, I could barely walk. So, I phoned a doctor at the American Hospital of Paris. Why there, you may ask?

Even when you speak French well enough to get along with day-to-day conversations, it is important to have a doctor who speaks your native language really well. There are too many scary discussions about symptoms, tests and complicated treatments. All of these things need to be understood completely on both sides of the desk. As a result, many Expats choose the American Hospital of Paris when they have a medical issue — even when they’ve lived here for years. Although the assistants at the hospital usually only speak French, the doctors there are required to be fluent in English.

Back to the foot. I booked the first available appointment with an internist. Normal waiting time for an appointment to see any doctor at this hospital is approximately two to four weeks. So, two weeks later I saw him, and he referred me to an orthopedist. I called and booked her first available appointment which was another two weeks away. So far, we’re a month into this, with my foot still hurting like crazy.

When I finally arrived at the appointment, the orthopedist began speaking to me in French. I asked her if we could continue in English since discussing medical matters was difficult for me in French, and she told me she didn’t speak English.  Oh boy.

So, for the next hour, we had a consultation entirely in French. I was proud but needed a cocktail by the time it was over. Long story short, she thought the foot might be broken but she wasn’t sure. So, she gave me a list of four different tests I needed to complete at the hospital. After that, we’d meet again to go over the official diagnosis and treatment plan.

Due to overbooking and a broken MRI machine, the tests took about three weeks to complete. Then, it was another week before I could meet again with the orthopedist. We had another half-hour discussion in French about my foot. Turns out, I had a stress fracture of my right heel. The treatment she prescribed?  No walking!  The conversation went something like this:

Doctor: “Don’t walk.”

Me: “But I live in Paris. We walk everywhere.”

Doctor (laughing): “I know, it’s difficult, but just don’t do it.”

Me: “For how long?

Doctor: “I don’t know. Come see me in about a month.”

So for a month, I basically laid on the sofa and waited.

Total time to diagnose a broken foot and find out the treatment plan?  Two months! That’s right…two months. To diagnose a broken foot. The foot still hurts, by the way. It’s still a problem. And I don’t have the heart to go through it all again to see if there’s anything else we can do to make it better.

Fast forward to about a month ago: My back goes out. This is not the first time my back has gone out, but it’s the first time in Paris. And here, when your back goes out, it’s even more complicated than the foot thing. The pain was so intense that I told my husband I might have to go to the hospital. He very sweetly pointed out that since I couldn’t walk, he’d need to call an ambulance. And since I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t take our tiny elevator downstairs, so the EMTs would have to carry me down five flights of stairs on a stretcher. They would take me to the hospital in the ambulance where I would have to stay until my treatment was decided. Then, if I still couldn’t stand, I’d have to take another ambulance to get home, and the EMTs would have to carry me back up five flights of stairs on a stretcher to get me into our apartment.  Uh, no. There’s only so much humiliation a Texas girl can stand, after all. But what was my alternative?

Well, since my first orthopedist didn’t speak English, I didn’t want to go back to her. It was fine discussing a problem with my foot, but when we start talking about my spine and possible surgeries, I need a doctor who speaks English. As a result, I had to get another referral from the primary care physician for a new orthopedist. I just have to tough it out at home until then. Keep in mind that this means I have to be flat on my back in our apartment while I wait. The doctor referred me to another orthopedist, promising that this one would speak English. Now, it’s been almost a month since my back went out, and I’m still waiting for my first appointment with the new orthopedist. He will almost certainly schedule a battery of tests (three weeks for those) and then refer me to a surgeon (three more weeks). Then the surgeon will schedule a hospital procedure. Who knows how long that will take to schedule since they’ll need to book an operating room?  I’m looking at three months of appointments, tests and stressful conversations about treatment. And, in the meantime, it hurts to walk. It hurts a lot. So, I spend many days lying either on the sofa or in bed.

Interesting plot twist: Did you know that spending weeks lying in bed can cause problems with your lungs?  Well, it can. Thank goodness mine was limited to a severe case of bronchitis and not pneumonia. Nevertheless, every time I had a coughing and choking fit, it felt like someone was jamming a knife in my lower back. For two days and nights, this went on every few minutes until I finally decided to call SOS Medecin. It’s a service in Paris where doctors make house calls, you know, for when you’re sick and stuck in your apartment like a little old lady. I knew they couldn’t do anything for my spine, but they treat sick people all the time, so I thought they could help me with the coughing.

HOLY COW!!! Best decision ever! What a difference. It was the easiest, most amazing thing. It made me wonder why people in the U.S. ever let doctors stop making house calls. Within thirty minutes of calling the local number and giving them my symptoms and address, a doctor was ringing my doorbell. That’s faster than Domino’s Pizza delivery back in Texas! Funny sidenote though: Even though they promised on the phone that the doctor would, of course, be able to speak English, when he arrived, he spoke only French. (I’ve chosen to find that charming.) He was, however, adorable, efficient and very good at what he did. He examined me, diagnosed me and gave me five prescriptions on the spot (steroids, antibiotics, pills for my lungs, my cough, and an inhaler — the whole deal, baby). Total cost for his visit? 80 Euro. (Frankly, at that point, I would have paid a thousand.)

I shuffled downstairs to the pharmacy in the building and took my medicine within ten minutes of the doctor’s departure. My lungs are so much better already, I feel like a person again. That visit restored my faith in Parisian medicine, and it certainly saved my sanity. The moral of this long, sordid tale?  If you’re sick, get a doctor to make a house call; you’ll be right as rain in no time. But, if you can’t walk, look out. Life can get really complicated.

Wish me well. It looks like it’s going to be a while before I can roam the streets of my favorite city! In the meantime, I’ll just write about Valentine’s Day, our favorite restaurant and all of the wonderful cities in this country that we’ve been able to visit. France is like a family of beautiful daughters. Each of the cities is different, but so lovely and utterly charming. I can’t wait to introduce you to them all. You’re bound to fall in love with at least one of them.

11 thoughts on “Medical Issues in Paris (aka The Agony and the Ecstasy)

  1. OMG .. What an experience, hope you’ll be back to your normal daily activities very soon, I know how much you love to walk, this must been very frastred for you .

    Excellent blog BTW , enjoy reading it
    Happy Valentine hope you’ll have a great one in the most romantic city in the world ❤️💕

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Can’t they put a boot or something else on your foot so you can walk? Health care may be expensive in the states but at least you can get quicker appointments if you need them.


    1. She gave me a prescription for heel pads to soften my regular shoes, but when I wore them they killed my back, so I just bought better French shoes that had a hard rubber sole. Worked alright. But the time it takes to diagnose and treat these things here is a bit surreal.


  3. Above all I wish you a speedy recovery from your ailments. Next, I have a question for you. Why not check the U.S. Department of State list of English speaking physicians in Paris? There are orthopedists on it, among other specialties.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Grace, although I thoroughly enjoy reading your blogs, this one really makes me feel bad that I can’t be there to help you. I know your husband is doing much more than I can do but I just wish I was there to ease some of the pain. In the midst of your pain, it sounds like you are finding joy. I have to admit, I found some of this story humorous. You are such a great person and inthanknyou very much for sharing your experiences.


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