Finding a Doctor in France

July 4, 2013
Finding a Doctor in France

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I stared at my arms.  The red blotches were definitely getting worse and the itch was starting to keep me awake at night.  I knew I should go to the doctor and this time I did have travel insurance but, as always, I decided to wait.

I was staying at a small farmhouse in Brittany, helping with some renovations.  I have a friend who lives there and I go back to visit often.  Because I tend to stay for more than a few days, I try to help with things around the house to ‘pay my rent.’ I have written about them before here. This time we were building a wall along the front of the house in order to prepare the area for a patio. My brother and my friend built the wall and I was responsible for the pointing (for the girlies out there, this means, my job was to put the cement mixture between the gaps in the wall, a bit like grouting between tiles).

We’d been at it for a good few days now and I noticed after the second day, that I was starting to get a few red spots around my wrists.  I ignored them but they steadily got worse.  Now, after about 6 days of work, I had red blotches all the way up to my elbows and little spots were starting to appear all over my hands.

I didn’t think it had anything to do with the cement mixture because I was wearing two layers of gloves (disposable gloves and plastic marigold gloves). But eventually, it became clear that the cement mixture was the culprit.

My brother and I decided to go away for a few days in order to give my skin a break and to explore the south Brittany coastline.  Before we left, we visited a chemist and, thank goodness for my brother’s French, explained the story.  The pharmacist said immediately that it was an allergic reaction and gave me a cream and some pills – €24 worth!!!!

After a few days away, there was no change but, thinking that the pills and the cream were working behind the scenes, I decided to return to my wall and my pointing. After just one day, my rash (or whatever it was) got so bad and when I woke the next morning to find little blisters appearing on the blotches, I decided then and there to see a doctor.

But where?? We were in a little village in the Brittany countryside.  While speaking to my friend, we established that there was a doctor in a nearby village who consulted during the morning.  As long as I arrived before 12:30, I wouldn’t need an appointment.

My friend, my brother and I jumped in the car and off we drove. Hoping I hadn’t caught some bizarre French disease, I was also worried about what it was going to cost.  I paid the equivalent of $124 to see a doctor in South Africa last year and I didn’t have insurance then.  Thank goodness, I learnt my lesson and don’t travel without insurance now. But, I was still a little worried.

The French doctor turned out to be a complete darling.  His messed up hair and curly mustache didn’t fill me with confidence when he first opened the door, but he turned out to be lovely.  My brother translated (thank goodness or I think I would have just shown the doctor my arms and drawn lots of pictures) and it turned out that my skin had a severe allergic reaction to the cement powder and I was to stay as far away from it as possible.

While relieved to know what it was, I was somewhat disappointed as not only was I enjoying the work, but it also meant a lot to me to help my friend.

Then the big moment came and I asked my brother to ask Dr. Lovely how much the consultation was.  I didn’t need any French to understand the ‘waving away’ motion and ‘Non.’  The sweetie wasn’t even going to charge me for the consultation.  A prescription for more pills and more cream was handed over and a big thank you from our side and we left with a great opinion about doctors in remote areas.

Driving to the chemist, I wondered how much the cream and pills would cost.  I had shown the doctor what the chemist had given me and he had just said that he would give me something stronger. Holding my breath while the pharmacist collected my things, I half closed my eyes when she handed over the bill.  I almost fell over with shock! Was it more? No, in fact, it was actually less–a mere €8.71.

So it just goes to show, doctors aren’t always more expensive and going to the chemist first isn’t always cheaper.

So with the help of my new, cheap and effective medicine, some barrier cream and a pair of rather unflattering vets gloves, we managed to finish a huge portion of the wall before we left Brittany.  I now carry both the cream and the pills with me when I travel.

Happy itch-free travels!


Photo by Colleen Setchell. 

About Colleen Setchell

Colleen Setchell is a writer, photographer and enthusiastic explorer. She exchanged her stressful corporate job for a few years of travelling. She is at her happiest when she is learning and discovering new things, eating food and drinking cocktails on the beach. She is now a writer living on Koh Samui in Thailand and teaches English part time.

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