Poor Alpine Girl has once again encountered the French medical system. I’ll say one thing for French doctors: they certainly are thorough…
She started off with just a cold and a slight temperature on Monday last week. I didn’t really think too much of it: it’s the first time she’s been ill and, although it broke my heart to see her red eyes and snotty nose, like the good English girl I am, I didn’t want to bother the doctor. I remember going to see the doctor in the UK when Alpine Boy had his first cold (as I was worried it had got to his chest), and being told it was, well, just a cold. The doctor didn’t actually roll his eyes and call me a hypochondriac during his three-and-a-half-minute consultation, but he may as well have. I felt truly chastised for having wasted his time for “just a cold”.
So, forgetting the French aren’t like that, I didn’t take Alpine Girl to the doctor’s at first. I still thought she was just a bit bunged up and I didn’t want to take her all the way into town in the freezing cold for nothing (it is very cold here at the moment). But last Tuesday was the night from hell: she wouldn’t sleep at all and I spent all night walking round with her, sucking snot out her nose (nice) and waving eucalyptus steam around the room. It was the three hours’ sleep that night that finally convinced me that a doctor wouldn’t mind seeing her.
So last Wednesday we bundled her up and braved the cold for the doctor’s appointment. I was still not convinced a doctor wouldn’t just tell me to stop being such a drama queen, but Alpine Papa convinced me. You can tell he’s a true Frenchman.
And worth it, it was. We had a full 15-minute consultation – none of the cursory glances I had experienced with the NHS. (Please don’t think I’m slagging off all NHS GPs, I’m really not – some of my best friends are NHS GPs and I am sure they do a fantastic job! Unfortunately they don’t work in my local doctors’ surgery…). Everything was thoroughly and methodically checked – eyes, ears, nose, throat, chest, tummy, head…. And there was not one single incidence of eye-rolling. Unfortunately, though, that’s because Alpine Girl did in fact have more than “just a cold” – she had an actual, real-life chest infection. The weird, fleeting feeling of relief that I wasn’t a time-waster, however, was certainly not worth the pity I felt as I looked into the weeping, rheumy eyes of my poorly little girl and held her close as she coughed with fatigue (straight into my face. Great. I am waiting for my very own chest infection now).
But don’t worry, Alpine Girl – the doctor has just the thing for you.
Lots of things in fact.
We got antibiotics. And a nose wash. And eye drops. And paracetamol. And a decongestant. And 6 sessions of physiotherapy. My mouth dropped further as the doctor’s prescription got longer.
I had learned my lesson from the previous time the doctor gave us a prescription for paracetamol. This time I swallowed any pride about not wanting to look like a stupid English prude, and specifically asked for syrup, not suppositories (to be honest I was thinking more about Alpine Boy – I’m now an expert at sticking tablets up a baby’s bum, but I don’t dare even suggest it to a grumpy three-year-old with a headache who has never had a suppository before…). The doctor chuckled and obligingly deleted the word ‘suppositoires’ from her screen and, with a look of amusement in her eyes (no doubt relishing her new dinner-party story about the funny English woman who doesn’t want suppositories), slowly typed ‘s-i-r-o-p’. I sat back smugly in my seat: English sensibilities – 1; French superior treatment plan – 0. Ha.
The doctor got her own back though – I casually mentioned that I had put some Vicks on Alpine Girl’s chest during that Tuesday night from hell, and she frowned and muttered how bad that was. “I’ve got something much better than that for you” she said, taking a pen to the already long prescription. “It’s really good – herbal decongestant, gets to work right away, will clear her nose and let her sleep.” She looked up. “I know you don’t like suppositories, but…”. I could swear she was hiding a revengeful smile.
English sensibilities – 1; French superior treatment plan – 1.
And then the physio. Wow – definitely 2:1 to the French by now. It wasn’t a particularly serious chest-infection, but apparently this is standard treatment here. Do they do that in the UK? I’ve never heard of it (but that doesn’t really say much).
We had no idea what the physio process involved. Alpine Papa’s colleagues were therefore keen to explain it to him, one of them helpfully reporting that her kid had been so traumatised by the treatment that he now refuses to visit any doctor. Alpine Papa also made the mistake of watching the process on You Tube, and called me from work just before the appointment to explain just quite how horrific it all was. Thanks.
So it was with trepidation and a knot in my stomach that I cautiously opened the physio’s door. “Don’t worry, Madame” he smiled at me kindly (whilst cracking his knuckles and rolling up his sleeves like a pro arm-wrestler). “It won’t hurt a bit. I promise.” My relief was short-lived, however, as he quickly went on: “She’ll scream like hell though! Don’t worry, that’s good”.
So, for all you physio novices out there too: the process involves a burly physiotherapist putting his huge hands on my tiny baby’s fragile, bird-like chest and squashing her like a deflating air-mattress until all the air is forced out of her miniature lungs. He doesn’t squash her hard, he assures me, but try telling Alpine Girl that. She did indeed scream like hell. Apparently that’s good because that gets all the gunk out of those millions of alveoli. But I’m a mummy, not a doctor, and so it didn’t seem good to me, watching her get redder and more stressed and tired, screaming and screaming and not having a clue what was happening to her. That first session was probably about as difficult for me as it was for her.
I’m hardened now though. Maybe it’s because for the last two weeks she hasn’t slept more than five hours in a row, and has started waking up screaming two or three times every night. I’m so tired that it’s actually a relief to be able to put her in someone else’s capable (albeit firm) hands for 20 minutes or so every day. Even if it makes her cry. And I can see it’s working – after five of the six prescribed sessions her lungs are getting clearer and her coughing has reduced. If I can manage to get the car through the 60cm of snow we have up here then we’ll go to the final session this afternoon, and hopefully that will be it, she’ll be cured. I never thought I’d say it, but I think I am a convert to the French school of interventionist medicine. I’m sure many people will have things to say about how such treatment really isn’t necessary and causes more harm than good, but all I can say is it worked for us. That horrible chesty cough has gone.
And you know what? Those decongestant suppositories worked a treat…