An excerpt from My French Platter Replenished describing to Steve my ‘unusual’ experience with the French health check-ups, by Annemarie Rawson.
Finally Steve and I were both registered in the French medical system. Fundamental to getting our carte Vitale was the necessity to have our birth and marriage certificates translated into French by an authorised agent and submitted to the authorities which took an inordinate amount of time to get done.
We’d registered with a medical practice in Gaillac—the Drs Chalan, a French husband and wife team recommended by Denise. Both spoke a little English, although hers was better than his. I’d somehow severely twisted my back, could hardly walk and the pain was intense. Steve whizzed me down in the car to the doctors’ surgery, with me yelping in pain on every bump he went over. I couldn’t get comfortable at all. It was just awful.
My appointment was with Mr/Dr Chalan, who was very thorough and gave me an injection in my bottom to give immediate pain relief. My God, the sting from the jab caused me more pain for the first ten minutes. It was so deep, intense and excruciating, I hobbled around the surgery whimpering, with tears streaming down my face. After a week of medication and rest when I could, my back slowly came right. With the amount of bed-making I did, it needed to be fixed.
I booked a return visit to see the doctor as I wanted a referral to visit an osteopath to get some proper work done on my back. This time I saw Mrs/Dr Chalan who was also extremely thorough. She sent me for full blood tests and gave me a slip to get a bone density test done. In France if you want to do any physical activity, such as yoga, join a gym or play sport, you have to provide a clearance letter from your doctor. On a practical level, all the letter states is that your blood pressure and heart are fine. That’s if they are, of course. I wanted to attend a keep-fit class so the doctor gave me a letter for this, too. I was very impressed with Mrs/Dr Chalan.
A few months on, it was time for me to have my annual physical check-ups—a mammogram and smear test. What a vastly different experience these were compared to those done in Auckland.
‘How did you get on?’ Steve asked when I walked through the door late one afternoon, feeling a little flummoxed from the check-ups.
‘Well, where do I begin? It was certainly different. When she asked me to remove my lower clothing, I did so, looking for the sheet to cover myself. There wasn’t one. Nor was there a screen or curtain to pull around me. I lay there starkers, Steve, while she fussed about getting gloves on and preparing the speculum.’
He screwed his face up. ‘What’s a…what’s a speculum?’
‘Oh it’s a thing to, to…oh it doesn’t matter!’ I snapped, filling the kettle at the sink. I was badly in need of a cup of tea and couldn’t be bothered to explain. ‘The weird thing was there was no modesty about the whole experience. I wasn’t exactly embarrassed but I did cover my lady bits with my hands while she got ready. It was really quite odd.’ I stood gazing out of the kitchen window, thinking about it, while the kettle boiled.
With the tea made, I took the cups and saucers from the dresser, putting them on the table. I turned to Steve and leant back against the countertop, folding my arms.
‘Then I went for my mammogram, just across the road. The nurse who showed me into the consulting room was French and…’ I stopped talking. Steve was obviously engrossed in something on the laptop. ‘Are you listening to me? You asked how I got on so I’m telling you.’
‘What? Oh, sorry, yes, go on.’ He was contrite, moving his laptop to one side.
‘The nurse was French and she didn’t speak English. She indicated for me to remove my upper clothing and to leave my things on the chair.’ I poured the tea and took a cup over to him. ‘I looked around for the gown that’s always provided back home but there wasn’t one. In Auckland we always wear a gown and when the radiographer’s ready, you open one side of it and she manipulates your breast between the plates.’ I stopped to draw breath and gulped a welcome mouthful of tea. Steve was still paying attention and listening, probably because I mentioned breasts.
‘There I stood, topless, while she put the X-ray plates into the machine. The nurse then manhandled me into the right position, mashing my breast between two icily cold plates. With a quick swivel around and a change of sides, she then flattened the other breast.’ I winced, remembering the pain.
‘So really, it’s much like a hamburger patty, slapped between two buns, wouldn’t you say?’ Steve smirked and snorted behind his tea cup, enjoying his silly joke. I just rolled my eyes at him and carried on as if I hadn’t heard him.
‘When the radiographer finished, I reached for my clothing. She said in a very stern voice, “Non, madame, non, non, non. S’il vous plaît. Arrêter.” Well I understood that but I thought she meant please stop and wait for your results but she meant stop, don’t put your clothes back on. I sat there, Steve, and waited topless for the doctor. I was getting cold and must have waited a full ten minutes with my arms wrapped around my body and covering my breasts. I got the general impression nudity wasn’t an issue for French women. They seemed proud of their bodies, no matter what size, which is a great thing. The doctor duly arrived and was very nice.’
I took a sip of tea and continued.
‘He was Indian, raised in London and spoke the queen’s English. Communication wasn’t a problem and he maintained excellent eye contact throughout our conversation. His eyes never moved below my chin as he asked me to lie down and proceeded to squirt gel onto each breast.’
‘What a gentleman!’ Steve grinned inanely. I ignored that as well.
‘During the ultrasound, he completed several circuits with the probe, concentrating hard on the screen in front of him. Throughout the entire procedure, he kept up continuous chit-chat about his life in France, the beauty of New Zealand and how he loved London. I think he was putting me at my ease.’
I finished my tea, putting the cup and saucer in the sink, then collected Steve’s from the desk.
‘As soon as the specialist finished, he abruptly stood up, declaring there was nothing to worry about, wished me a good day and exited the room.’
‘Well that was an experience alright.’ Steve slapped his laptop shut and headed for the door. ‘I’m off to do some garden work.’ He stopped in his tracks and turned. ‘Oh and what’s for dinner? I’m starving.’ That man’s stomach ruled his life.
I let out a deep sigh and watched Steve through the window as he traipsed up the steps beside the cottage to the veggie beds. I didn’t know why I bothered telling him. All he needed to know was that everything was fine. When he’d asked, ‘How did you get on?’ I should’ve just said, ‘All good, thanks,’ and left it at that. I never learn.