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Day 17 - A day in a French ER

FRANCE | Monday, 17 May 2010 | Views [393]

I’m in the St Louis Hospital emergency waiting room and it’s filling up. I tried to see a regular GP but was told to go to the St Louis ER instead. I have a stomach bug that won’t go away. It’s been more than a week now and I thought it’s probably about time I see a doc. Plus, it’s not Madagascar anymore, the doctors in France should be well educated and speak SOME English right?

Most people look fine like me, grumpy faces but otherwise ok. I’m a little disappointed. It’s my first visit to an ER and in a big city too. Where are the car wreck patients? Where’s the blood and guts? The old lady on the stretcher doesn’t look too healthy, but she’s managed to fall asleep peacefully with her mouth wide open.

2 hours later...

I’ve been in to see the nurse who has taken my details (blood pressure, etc.). He could barely speak any English like the nurses at reception. I can tell today is going to be fun already. I hope the doctor will speak a little more. The drinks machine is broken and I’m in desperate need of some water. Thank god Maryanne brought some magazines to read.

2 hours later...

A very young and rather cute doctor examined me. He had very poor English like the nurses, but this time I was prepared and had a timeline of my symptoms written out in French, thanks to my trusty dictionary.

The only problem was while he got all the details from me, I couldn’t understand much of what he was saying.

“Blood test... I’m sorry,” he said with a frown. “No problem!” I replied. I’m usually not too bothered by needles, and so told him not to be sorry. Spoke too soon. The nurse came in and took 8 vials of blood. She was very friendly and surprisingly spoke Mandarin and some Cantonese (she was an African migrant). I was quite relieved when she filled her last one and began disassembling the connectors from my arm. Too bad it wasn’t all coming off. The needle and final connector piece was left there shoved in my vein and taped over with 5 layers of bandage and tape. It is to be left in for the rest of the afternoon... It’s extended past the joint too, so it’s impossible to bend my arm even a fraction. Despite my protests, the nurses insist they can’t remove it until later, whenever that might be.

4 hours later...

The doctor called my name. No private examination room this time, just a corridor. They must’ve all been full. He began to explain the test results to me in slow French and broken English. Je ne suis pas. Desole.

Luckily we were in a public place as a girl waiting on a stretcher piped up and translated in perfect French and near perfect English between the doctor and I.

All tests negative. Take some drugs. Go see a doctor again if it doesn’t improve. Go home.

It was past 6pm when I finally had the needle removed and was let out. 


I’ve never been bothered by the language barrier while travelling until today (I’ve also never been bothered by needles till today!) Being sick and being unable to communicate is not pleasant to say the least. It’s also made me think how important translational services and a little bit of patience and understanding can be for migrants in new countries.

It's just one more adventure every traveller must experience at some point or other and I’m rather happy to be not quite dead yet!


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