Tuesday, 10 February 2015

French hospital encore

Four years to the month since I had first been admitted to the emergency department of Rambouillet hospital, I found myself there again, twice in one week.

I'd been sick for over 5 weeks. Caught in a doctor's waiting room over a 3 hour wait for treatment, it seemed to start with a sore throat and cough, earache and sundry other symptoms one can expect during winter but those symptoms just wouldn't get better. A trip to find a doctor resulted in antibiotics to protect my bronchial lungs, steroids and paracetamol. As a couple of weeks went by I improved but never got well. Jean-Claude suffered many of the same symptoms but to a lesser degree than me. Then things took a turn for the worst. I was incapable of doing anything except lying as still as possible and drinking liquids. My coughing was seismic and meant I became incontinent from a urinary perspective. How on earth was I supposed to work? After no improvement for three days, a temperature up and down, and unable to eat I decided to take off for the hospital. This is not a decision made lightly as the experience is invariably unpleasant and the wait... well... torture.

It was a Sunday night, relatively quiet but with a lengthy waiting time. We waited five hours in the waiting room from 8pm til 1am. I was then transferred to Box 3 (room) where I was given a chest xray, blood test, and tortured by inexperienced and incompetent nursing staff unable to insert lures into veins without damaging them and inflicting a lot of pain. I was shivering with cold/fever but given no blanket. The intern, when she finally arrived after 7 hours, was a kind and lovely person (most unusual, she had caring eyes). She felt the antibiotic I'd originally been given by my doctor had been too general and thus ineffectual. She changed it and prescribed an anti-inflammatory for my sinuses and ears. I was sent home with permission to take two more days off work (a total of 3, so generous). I had to wait more hours until JC could find a pharmacy open during normal hours. Many are closed on Mondays or at least Monday mornings. If you get a prescription from a hospital you have to search for a pharmacy that might come and open it's doors to you after hours. Nothing is obvious so you usually suffer until the next day. If like me you are incapable of standing or driving you are pretty much screwed.

The next day I was even worse. My temperature became more militant, I was vomiting and unable to eat or keep my medicine down. Unable to sleep because of the violent coughing and nausea, having eaten little for nearly a week I didn't know what to do to help myself; neither did JC who was becoming alarmed. There weren't any neighbourhood medical centres with 24/7 service including a pharmacy, such as I used to have access to in NZ. In France such things are rare.  I'd already lost a day of work and JC had been obliged to fill out and post all sorts of paperwork to my employer within 24 hours of my receiving the OK to not work for 3 days. No such thing as waiting until you are well enough to sit up and do it or go out to a post office. Thank goodness JC was there.

I'm a contractor and so if I don't show up to work I don't get paid. If I don't get paid I can't pay rent on my apartment. Do I have any sickness rights? I don't know because clear, direct and transparent work contracts don't exist in my sector. All my contract states is refer to law xyz or abc etc from back in the 1980s. These laws are incomprehensible to most people and still don't say anything. What's more they are in French legalese. There are no clear communication lines to HR to ask questions-it's as if staff don't want to be found.

After 36 hours of getting even weaker I felt I had no choice but to go back to the hospital, lying down in the back of the car as we travelled the 27km to Rambouillet, hair plastered to my face from sweat. I was incapable of sitting upright. This time, clearly ill, I was transferred to a trolley in the corridor and left there for 8 hours. They checked my blood pressure and oxygen at the beginning and then I became invisible. Several times over the hours I pleaded with staff to let me have a drink of water. I was ignored or told it wasn't their job to do that. There was a total lack of caring. It may have been the emergency department but there was no sense of urgency anywhere. Extremely quiet, calm, staff wandering about doing things but certainly not overworked.

Not one person in A&E, despite years of their higher education, seemed able to speak English. I felt desperate, unable to communicate effectively due to illness and stress, isolated, alone. JC had gone home this time after 4 hours of waiting and no communication from hospital staff. I was to wait a total of 8 hours only to be told I could go home, it was a second virus but keep on with the antibiotics anyway. The intern on duty that day said it wasn't technically possible to give me any more days off. JC later informed me this is rubbish; she simply couldn't be bothered completing the pre-prepared paperwork. I explained to this intern I'd needed a drink of water. She did not bother to reply or act on it. On my way out I had to knock on the door and ask for a drink. She seemed highly put out as she reached for a cup and bottle above her. I was not impressed. Where was the basic nursing and caring?

What were the positives this time? I had Jean-Claude instead of an ambulance. I didn't have to pay hundreds of euros on my way out of the hospital because this time I had medical insurance. I had JC to come and collect me so I didn't have to walk home alone sick in the freezing winter weather. The hospital didn't bother with a lure the second admission this time so my bruised veins were left alone. They didn't insist I wear a mask the second time I was admitted last week so I don't know if I'm contagious or not.

Am I well? No. I'm improving incredibly slowly but still extremely weak, with all the original symptoms and pain so I don't know if I'll have another relapse. I'm trying to arrange to teach replacement classes for some of my students so I will get some pay in a few months time but some classes cannot be rescheduled, I'm told. It's all very worrying. I really don't feel well enough to work but there's no choice.

There are some nasty microbes out there that just won't let go. Take care and even if your partner is very concerned for your health, hospital might prove a waste of time. I have no alternative I can recommend.


Anonymous said...

Oh no! That just sounds down right horrible! I really hope you are taking a turn for the better!


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