There’s something about being away from home – engaging in unaccustomed activities, eating new foods, drinking different water, being susceptible to a place’s germs or insect bites…. Sooner or later minor emergencies happen, especially over a longer stay. Every year it’s something different – I guess we might as well expect that something will come along. We’ve been doing so well this year! Two whole weeks with no health problems after a couple of initial accidental encounters with gluten while undergoing the initial stress of jet lag.
But last night, I knew that I had a problem with my big toe on one foot. It hurt. I limped home and looked, and sure enough, it was red and swollen, and the nail looked bruised. I put triple antibiotic lotion on it and a Bandaid, and went to sleep hoping that by this morning, it would look much better.
But it didn’t.
In fact, it looked really ugly. I knew I’d better get it attended to, so it wouldn’t get worse.
Fortunately, we have learned that Paris has good options for quick doctor appointments for people who aren’t at home and don’t have a personal physician. It’s called SOS Doctors, and if you look it up online, you will find a French phone number to call to make a house visit appointment. There are tens of thousands of English speaking residents in Paris, and thousands more English speaking visitors in Paris at any time of year, so the receptionist and the doctors speak a little English. You call the number and get a live person who asks where you are staying and gets all the information necessary to access you at that place. Then they ask what you are experiencing, and if that sounds like a doctor is needed, they dispatch a mobile doctor who arrives at your hotel or apartment with a large bag of medical supplies and equipment.
In Paris, if you have a health-related question, you can also go to the nearest pharmacy and show/ tell the pharmacist what you are concerned about. The pharmacists know all the nearby doctors, or they may tell you to call SOS Doctors – or if the ailment is not likely to require imaging or prescription medication, they will tell you how to treat it and sell you the appropriate remedies.
My toe definitely looked infected, and it hurt to put on a shoe and walk, so I figured it would probably require a prescription for antibiotics and just called the SOS Doctors number.
A half hour or so later, our apartment doorbell rang, and we opened to greet the doctor. Other Parisian doctors we’ve experienced have carried traditional doctor bags. In contrast, this one – up to the minute – had a carry-on spinner suitcase that he could wheel along.
The doctors who sign on for this kind of practice have offices in the neighborhood, but they also like the variety of different people and languages and situations and buildings, and they are very good at on the spot diagnosis without fancy equipment. European medical schools still teach what is called “Physical Diagnosis” which is the art of direct physical observation and case taking to arrove at a reliable diagnosis. I’m sure that most situations for which calls are made are actually reasonably minor – ours over the years have been potentially serious situations in preliminary stages that are likely to respond to antibiotic prescriptions – things like pneumonia, bronchitis, and now this infected toenail.
This situation on the surface seems so minor as to be embarrassing to ask about. But, indeed, the doctor cautioned me about staying off the foot (Drat!!!) and prescribed several medications to abort the infection, saying that if it doesn’t heal promptly, I will have no choice but to go to a hospital and have it operated on. Yikes!!
It helps to have a traveling companion – odds are that when one is laid low, the other can still go out and get food and medications. I was very grateful that Nancy could do those things. I’m now doing as told – staying off the foot and taking medicine (and, of course, praying and using homeopathic remedies.. it never hurts to do everything possible.). I envision the infection starting to look much better tomorrow or the next day, so that at least I will get back home with no surgery having been performed.
In any case, I’m really glad that we learned about SOS Doctors on our first stay in Paris. It’s a piece of knowledge that has come in handy often enough that it’s worth sharing.
Also worth knowing: If you have a real life or death emergency in Paris, or most places in Europe, the number to call is 112. This is the European equivalent to the American 911.