Thursday, May 28, 2009

I gave my blood for France

You never know where an idea will take you. In our case the brainstorm to move to Paris resulted in me standing in a generic medical examination room with my blood dripping on the linoleum floor.

Qualifying, and requalifying, for a Carte de Sejour requires, among many other things, a physical. I am not a fan of being unclothed in front of strangers or being punctured by them, even if they are medical personnel. But if people need information about your body there is no alternative.

Which is how we ended up in a bleak, utilitarian medical office in the 17th. There was the appropriately humorless bureaucrat at the reception desk, a woman who, from the looks of her face, had all the joy sucked out of her life around 1992 and never got a refill. She seemed disappointed to find we had an official letter of appointment and were there on the correct day and time. She pointed us upstairs.

There we found her antitheses: cheerful, helpful people who patiently explained to us in simple French what the process would be. We were early and watched the clients arrive: a young Asian woman, Japanese I think, who kept getting up and pacing around; a couple with an infant; a tall young African man, a college student I guessed, reading a textbook. And us.

The staff drifted in: the black technician who would give me my eye test and prick my finger; a woman doctor in a white lab coat; a lanking balding guy in a loud tropical shirt. They seemed to genuinely like being around each other. A lot of joking and "how was your weekend" chat.

Dripping .
The physical was very basic: a simple questionnaire, an eye test, blood pressure cuff, a quick finger prick for a blood sample. It was after the prick that I had the bleeding problem. The technician only half-covered the hole with the band-aid and so a substantial amount was oozing out. I knew I would clot eventually but in the meantime my hand was dripping red dots on the floor. What followed surprised me. He apologized and nervously started layering band-aid after band-aid on top of the bloody fingertip. Now I had an oozing stump of a digit which looked very post-amputation.

The second last step was an X-ray. It was like a scene from a French farce: Open one door. Enter a large closet. Lock door. Remove shirt. Now that you are half-naked, open other door, step into a large dark room where two women briskly tug you over to an X-ray machine and push your naked torso up against very cold metal. Inhale. Hold. Click. Voila. Back in the closet. Shirt on. Unlock door. Out to the waiting room.

Eventually I was summoned to see the doctor. He turned out to be the guy with the wild and crazy tropical shirt -- pineapples and palm tree designs all over it. He already had my X-ray (see above) on his light box. The image of my pacemaker glowed in it like a weird alien spacecraft drifting through a black night. To my relief he spoke English.

The conversation went something like: "You are old. You have a pacemaker. And your blood pressure is a little high."

"White coat syndrome," I suggested.

He shrugged in reluctant agreement. "But you also have health insurance and money. So welcome to France."

Afterwards we sat in a cafe down the street and had two champagnes to celebrate. For the first time in our lives were not just tourists. We were now visiteurs.

Mysterious French fact: The word for "prostate" in French is feminine.

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