Before I even get started, let me warn you that if you get squeamish when it comes to chatter about doctors poking around in lady bits, then this post will not interest, amuse or inform you in any way. You’ll likely be too preoccupied with all of your squeamishing to to focus on reading, so… off you go while the rest of us talk.

Like a great many people, I’ve never cared much for going to the doctor. Any doctor. For anything. I’m not afraid of doctors, but in the past, I usually had to feel as though I were at risk of coughing up my aorta, or maybe shitting out a spleen or several yards of intestines. Even when I had broken bones, I was reluctant. I didn’t mind carrying my broken wrist with my good arm if the alternative was sitting in the emergency room. A busted eye socket… well, I didn’t even go to the hospital. Luckily, I didn’t end up paying for my stubbornness with a weird, crooked face.

Admittedly, a weird, crooked face can be quite endearing.

As I got older, I realized this is fucking stupid. I had a good job with fairly decent medical insurance, so it made sense to take better care of myself. At least as much as my insurance would let me.

But that was nothing compared to the socialized medicine in France. With socialized medicine, there is no reason whatsoever not to see a doctor when something hurts, snaps, makes weird noises, or when you have demon possession vomit & rapid-fire machine gun poo.

My first doctor visit in France was in Paris. I didn’t speak any French at all, so like most English-speaking expats, I found an Anglophone doctor. She was British, I’m American, so we could chat about those French quirks that only Anglophones find amusing or irritating. Communication wasn’t a problem & she seemed nice enough, so I decided that she was worthy of poking around at my body & my lady bits with cold, metal tools.

“Alright, then. Go on and drop your trousers,” she said.

“Um… right here? Now?”

“Yep.” She laughed. “Go on, then.”

Wait a minute. What was this shit? Where was the nice assistant in the lab coat to lead me into a small room with a paper-covered table? Where was the 5 to 10 minutes of alone time for me to strip down & where in the hell was my giant sheet of tissue paper to cover my nakedness?

After a mild jibe about my American modesty, British doc had me on display on her table.

“Oh, sorry,” she said, “I’m out of swabs. I’ll have to make due with something else.” I watched her come at me with a tongue depressor. I’d like to say that she vanished from sight, but since I didn’t have that nice barrier of tissue paper, she had nothing to vanish behind, leaving me with a front-row seat to my pelvic exam. After a brief moment of scraping my insides with a stick, she popped her head up & said, “Sorry ’bout that! The bleeding should stop by tomorrow.”

What. The. Fuck.

I got dressed, got my shit together & a few minutes later, I was sitting across from her at her desk again. We were in the middle of the usual post-exam small talk when she suddenly stood up, turned off all the lights in the office & said that I would have to go, as she had a party to get to & didn’t want to be late.

Yes. She kicked me out of her office.

Okay, so that was only one doctor. I decided that day to find a new general practitioner with an ample supply of cotton swabs.

Or one that looked like this. Whichever I could find first.

However, with the free health care, I found myself going to the doctor for every ache, pain, sniffle, snuffle or discomfort. I began to feel like a hypochondriac, even though I’ve never been like that at all. And with free healthcare, you don’t see your regular doctor for everything. Migraines? Here’s a note. Go see a neurologist. Allergies? Okay, here. Go tell it to the allergy specialist. Oh, you wear glasses? Go see the opthamologist. All of this has made it possible for me to get acquainted with all sorts of colorful characters from the French medical profession.

Like the crazy dermatologist in Paris who screamed at people on the phone, snapped at my husband repeatedly, then was soft-spoken & kind to me when no one else was around.

There was also the nurse at the pathology lab who scolded me repeatedly because I peeked under the wad of cotton on the inside of my elbow after having some blood drawn for a routine blood test.

Most recently, it was the dentist who splatters my face with water & my own saliva so much that I always make sure to wear my glasses to our visits, just for the eye protection.

Is this to say that all French doctors are crazy? No. But, there are differences. The appearances aren’t the same. I haven’t seen a lot of those white smocks & lab coat looking get-ups. The environment in their offices & waiting rooms isn’t as sterile, or reeking of pine cleaner. And yes, their bedside manner is different. Absolutely. Even the ones who seemed batshit crazy ultimately solved my problem – quickly & efficiently, without insisting on more tests, visits & procedures. They’ve all seemed to really know their shit, so if they are insane, it seems to work.

The only disappointment I’ve had with any doctor in France has been with the Anglophone doctors. I hate to say it, but that’s been my personal experience. I’ve been to one other since the tongue depressor incident – an American opthamologist in Paris. Both of these docs overcharged, made me feel like a number & didn’t solve my problem.

So, I gave up on that. Now it’s all small-town French doctors for me.

It’s been a few years since I was splayed out on that English doctor’s table in Paris, so recently, I had to go in for my routine examination – with my new, small-town French doctor. I talked with her using my ridiculous imitation of the French language as I watched her remove the metal stirrups from a cluttered storage closet, then fasten them to her examination table.

By now, I’ve abandoned my American modesty at the doctor’s office. I’ve given up hope of ever getting another sheet of tissue paper. Now I just drop trou & hop up on the table.

“Okay,” she says. “You make a fist.”

“A fist? Like this?” I hold up my fist. Until now, I’ve never been told to make a fist in the middle of a pelvic exam. I briefly wonder if this is some European, turn-your-head-and-cough sort of thing for ladies.

“Oui.” She nods. “Now you put it under your butt.”

Oh. Of course.

So, there I was, propping up my ass with my fist, sans tissue paper, thinking that no matter how fucking bizarre this might feel, at least she knows her shit. At least I’ve got excellent medical coverage & she has a plentiful supply of cotton swabs.

Wave a hand full of these in my face & I’ll love you forever.

If you’ve ever suffered through any humiliation or ridiculous incidents at the doctor’s office, please feel free to share. We’ll only laugh at you a little bit – mostly we’ll be laughing with you.



  • I knew the “no gown” phenomenon was coming, so I 5 finger-discounted the U.S. gown from my last visit to my HMO and I’ve whipped it out for my last 2 annual gyn visits to the small “cabinet de médecins” in the middle-of-nowhere, France, pop. 7,000+/-. My female French doctor thinks its humorous but she rolls with the punches. At least she didn’t tell me to make a fist and stick it under my butt!

    I’m actually glad to hear your take on the relative differences between a typical visit to the doctor’s office in France and in the USA. I could regale you with stories of the endoscopy with only local anesthetic in my nasal passage; the ER visits for my Frencher Half, or the visit to the dermatological surgeon, who had a USian wife, and thus entertained his co-surgeons with interpretations of my American utterances for “yes” and “no” while I was under local anesthetic for the removal of facial moles.

    I never fail to write a mental blahg post after each new experience. Perhaps one day I’ll actually type one up. In the meantime, the reading public is fortunate to be able to learn about the joys of being on the receiving end of medical care in France from you!. BTW, I too had a, different, dermatologist who had so much repressed anger that she was a chronic pain patient herself in another town! Ha! Ha! Ha!

  • wig

    hilarious! after walking away from the cold, somewhere in between of assembly line and flat rate American style medicine of today’s corporate doctors, to take my chances with on-line research and “supplement” medications over “FDA approved” prescription medications that end up on some lawyers desk 2 years after they are released on the market, it’s comforting to know that the medical profession sucks no matter where you are! What happened to the kindly old doc who would listen to everything you had to say and answer all your questions no matter how long it took and respected your dignity and privacy? Not a dying art, already dead.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *