So going to the Doctor's in France is something I've wanted to avoid at all costs. Partly because it's an absolute rip-off and also because the words "social" and "security" said next to each other are two things I don't want to get involved in. Why? Because that can only mean one thing: lots and lots and lots of paperwork. Alas, I've done a pretty good job of keeping healthy here in Paris (bar the 5 fruit & veg a day), and I haven't so much as caught the common cold since landing on this side of the Channel all those months ago. Touch wood and all that. However, I did have to make a trip to a GP recently because of my imminent half marathon. I basically require a medical certificate, acknowledging that I'm fit and healthy enough to compete in running competitions. That's the French for you, making sure they're not liable for anything regarding your possible extinction. Nonetheless, I thought it would be a regular affair where they’d test my blood pressure and breathing which I was hoping to pass with flying colours. The irony of it however was that I was running late (as per usual), but as I was running from the metro to the Doctor, I suddenly felt a shortness of breath come over me. Not exactly the best feeling when you're trying to persuade your Doctor that you're shortly going to be running a half marathon and all she can hear above your murmurings is wheezing.
So I decided it would be safer to go with an English-speaking Doctor, just so there weren't any misunderstandings or unwanted complications. Ya know, just in case they told me I had some deadly disease which could be prevented by NOT eating tomatoes, and I misheard and thought I was being told to eat them all day, every day, until I essentially implode. Death by tomatoes. How quintessentially Spanish that would be. (If you're not getting the reference, I'm referring to La Tomatina which is a yearly festival held in Valencia in the last week of August. In the simplest of terms, it's a "tomato fight").
So being my lazy self I decided to book an appointment with the nearest English-speaking Doctor who happened to be a road along from where I live. After pressing the buzzer numerous times and receiving nothing but a bit of voice recorder feedback, I was starting to get impatient. To my relief however, a French lady who worked in the building came bustling to the door and tapped a few numbers on the keypad. I walked up to the first floor and was alarmed to find a sort of makeshift waiting room which didn't resemble anything like being at the Doctor's. For a moment I was worried I'd entered the wrong room but a sign on the door confirmed otherwise. This was it: a couple mismatched plastic seats and a token plant. There was no reception, no-one to point me in the right direction or tell me to take a seat. There was a man sporting a lot of facial hair sitting opposite me but I decided to let him enjoy the book he was reading on unusual diseases. He looked totally engrossed in it.
After ten minutes of tapping my foot on the cobbled floor, I wasn’t sure whether it was custom to knock on the Doctor’s door or wait for her to come out and invite me in. I didn’t want to interrupt another patient confiding in the state of her oh so private parts. Eventually, I heard voices and two ladies came out and called out my name. Calling me “Gerry Montana” of course because they’re idiots. Ahem, sorry, “misinformed”.
So I explained that I needed a medical certificate for the half marathon and she looked at her intern (yes, she had an intern sitting in on this!) and said “we need to be quick, we don’t have much time!” To cut to the chase, she asked me to strip. OK, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds but I still had to take off my blouse, and then my bra. Flashing a French Doctor wasn’t exactly number one on my list of things to do before leaving Paris. So after obeying her rather raucous command, I placed my wrists uncomfortably over my breasts and stood there like a lemon, not knowing what to say or do. She told me to get onto the bed (I know what you're thinking, so stop it!), and I lay chest down onto the paper towel. That was until she told me to lie down the other way because of course my back was of no use to her. Splendid. So with my wrists still firmly over my breasts, I lay down on my back and stared up at the ceiling. I was trying to keep my dignity by not exposing too much flesh but she asked for my wrist and I winced. Biting my lip anxiously, I let her clamp my wrists and ankles and smiled politely. She then began twisting all these strange nozzles onto my chest and then plugged a bunch of wires into them. You can tell I’m not a scientist.
The Doctor was talking to the intern and muttered something like “make sure you put the wire in the right one, you don't want to electrocute the girl and kill her”. I lay there frozen, and managed to utter a barely audible "really?" before she cackled and admitted that she was "just joking". Well, I'm glad someone found it funny. Because I’m struggling to find anything amusing right now when my breasts are in your face.
So after a few panicky stares at my heart rate which was being drawn onto some long pinky-coloured paper, the Doctor finally confirmed that I had passed this part of the medical test. She then took my blood pressure reading which I always hate because it feels like your arm is about to explode, but it’s always nice to hear that you are “perfectly normal”.
After putting my bra back on (the Doctor insisted on helping me because my strap had come undone), and buttoning up my blouse, I let out a massive sigh of relief. That was until she asked me to hand over 65€ which I reluctantly pulled out of my wallet. Well, I guess that babysitting money had to go somewhere. It felt like I was involved in some illicit trade and that I was paying her under the counter. She pulled out a 5€ note from her wallet (my change) and I saw in the corner of my eye a wad of notes sitting in a drawer below her desk. If I didn’t know better, I’d have accused her of drug dealing.
So there you have it. It seems that being ill in France (or not ill in my case) comes with an ugly price tag, a fair bit of nudity and potential drug abuse.