As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, my parents have been visiting Bordeaux for the past several weeks. After about 3 weeks in Bordeaux while walking to my apartment for a visit, my mother rolled her ankle on an ancient cobblestone curb and fell. When she reached down to catch herself with her hand, she broke her arm/wrist in two places. She literally fell 30 feet from my door. Normally when she arrives at my apartment, she presses the “doorbell” once so I can let her. It’s a quick fast bzzzzzz. On that day she pressed it twice and the second time really held the bell. The second bell sounded awful inside the apartment like a blow horn at a ball game that is losing his air. Both my husband and I looked at each other and said “jeesh, what is going on”.
First, I should mention it was Mother’s Day and she was walking over to my apartment to plan a family trip to the beaches of Normandy. Rather that the festive planning, my dad came into the apartment and said “Your mom has broken her arm and we need to get her to a hospital”. I raced down the stairs and saw that the inside of my mom’s right arm was at a very unnatural angle. I lost my breath. All of my thoughts became about her (having my thoughts on any one thing is noteworthy). I probably should have called an ambulance but instead, I called an uber (can’t make every decision perfectly under stress).
The experience of going to a French emergency room was quite different that of the US. My French friends had been telling me how long the waits could be and they were right. We arrived shortly after 6:30 pm and by 12:30 am, I was asking the receptionist if we could just leave and come back tomorrow. She was concerned my mother was in pain but when I assured her she needed rest more than surgery to fix her arm that night, she understood. But a whole lot happened in that 6 hours of waiting.
We waited in the first emergency room for about 1 hour before my mom was called back. My dad and I made awkward small talk to disguise our nerves from each other. By the second hour of waiting, we had moved on from small talk to more substantial and interesting matters. We saw her walk by us on her way to x-ray. But this whole time, she was on her own. They only wanted patients in the back. After she made it back to the evaluation room and the doctor looked at the x-ray, the doctor decided she needed to be transferred to another hospital for surgery. So the doctor set her arm in a temporary splint and ordered an ambulance.
Just as in the states, when you go from one hospital to the next you have to ride in an ambulance. The ambulance driver could only take one person in the ambulance so my dad went in the ambulance with my mom. I convinced him it would be fine because the hospital they were taking her to (Hopital Pellegrin) was right next to my office and I would easily be able to get there even though it was nearly 10 pm. I assured him I would take the tram instead of riding a bike (a promise I had no intention of keeping).
When I got to the hospital, my dad texted that they had moved her to a separate hospital on the that specializes in hand and plastic surgery. After enjoying this new emergency room for an hour, the nurse came out and informed us we were in the wrong emergency room because there was a bit of miscommunication with the ambulance driver and they thought she had broken her hand. It turns out there is a separate emergency room for hand related accidents, no joke. Since she had broken her wrist and arm, they wanted us to go back to the general emergency room. Oh yeah, and they wanted to transfer her by ambulance the 200 yards from one emergency room to the next. We convinced the nurse to let us walk and off we went to another emergency room waiting area.
At this point in time it was after midnight. We were all tired. My mom has actually broken her arm 3 other times in the past so she knows the drill. She knew that she wanted rest and that waiting 10 hours to have the surgery would not cause too much of a problem. The temporary splint helped a good bit with the pain and she was exhausted. In addition, one of the times she broke her arm, she was visiting my sister and the emergency room doctor gave her a temporary splint and told her to fly home to meet with an orthopedic surgeon. She was stuck with a split for a week and had to fly home with the temporary fix. So she knew a few hours would be okay. I don’t judge these broken arms, I am half her age and have broken my foot twice (that I know of, there may be one other time when I just avoided the doctor knowing there isn’t much they can do for a broken foot).
So we went home for a few hours of sleep before coming back to the hospital around 9 am to wait another. They admitted her right away and began the process of getting her ready for surgery. As they were preparing her paperwork, they informed us she would be spending the night. In the US, in general, you wouldn’t spend the night for arm surgery but we reminded ourselves this was not the US. Throughout the long day of waiting for the surgery, there were portions of the day where we were allowed to be with her. But at other times, the doctors wanted my father and me to wait in the waiting room. I also noticed that although about half of the staff spoke some English, those that didn’t were a little nervous about me as the translator. They were grateful I spoke French for small talk but they preferred to communicate directly with my mother for medical dialogue with Google Translate. I understood their desire and tried to stay out of their way.
She as sent back for surgery around 5 pm that day. The surgery was in a separate building than the emergency room and luckily this building had a cafeteria so I could finally get my dad to eat something. It was a standing point of bickering/love between the two of us that he needed to eat. The surgery did not require her to go completely under so we were able to see her quite quickly after she made it to the recovery room. She was exhausted but her arm was in a lovely blue cast and she said she was feeling much better. They transferred her into a spartan room that she shared with an older woman who appeared to be recovering from hip surgery.
There were so many things that were different about the way she was cared for in the French system than what we would see in the United States. But the care was outstanding. The rooms were not as nice as those in the US and the wait times were certainly longer but within 24 hours, she had been in surgery and was casted. When she went back to have the arm re-checked, a nurse did not call her back to see the doctor, the doctor came out directly. The three of us discussed many times how we could see the reasons why healthcare costs so much in the US. The French healthcare system was like flying on a discount airline. They still get you there safely, on time and (generally) with slightly friendly social interactions than you see on the more expensive airlines. They people in the hospital were so kind and my mom is back to exploring France, albeit with a slightly more relaxed pace.