dimanche 6 mai 2012

An A to Z of Life in France

D is for Doctors and Dentists

I liked my dentist in London. Even a lamp falling on my head during a check-up didn’t affect our relationship. But my dentist in France is the best I’ve ever been to. (Given that, like most people, I don’t include going to the dentist on my Fun Things To Do list unless absolutely necessary, that is quite a compliment.) According to my friend Dorothy, the dentist is also an accomplished jazz pianist, but that isn’t apparent when he’s working away on my teeth.

I had thought he didn’t speak any English, but gradually some dental terminology — ‘filling’, ‘crown’, ‘oh dear’ and ‘this might hurt’, for example — has emerged. He’s also become quite talkative. Of course, when a dentist speaks to you through their mask, it’s not always easy to catch what they’re saying. Add the French language to the equation and it all gets pretty tricky. Still, as I invariably have an implement or his hand in my mouth at the time, my strangulated responses are probably adequate enough. I did gather, though, at my last visit, that he was unhappy because he was the only dentist within what appeared to be a 50km radius. This meant he could only take 20 minutes for lunch and I couldn’t get a follow-up appointment for six weeks.

He also enthusiastically shows me the results of the x-rays he takes. I don’t like to point out that, as I remove my glasses during treatment, he could be showing me pictures of his piano and I would be none the wiser.

Incidentally, French is such an expressive language. On the first of my recent series of visits, I was told the tooth giving me problems was 'fatigué' [tired]. I know just how it feels.

The dentist’s surgery is in the same building as our two local GPs’ surgeries, which is rather handy. The doctors still run a system where, most days, you can just turn up and wait. The wait, it must be said, can be quite long. Patients have been known to arrive, look at the number of people already there, mark their place with the receptionist and then go off to do their shopping. When they come back, they will probably have progressed one place up the queue so have to resort to reading the large selection of old copies of Paris Match provided for their entertainment. On one occasion, a friend of mine was waiting… and waiting… She’d exhausted the magazines and the health care notices. The doctor emerged, with a patient. He smiled at the crowd in the waiting room and announced that he had to pop out to admire his patient’s new car. He wouldn’t be long. My friend went home for a cup of tea and some new magazines before returning and eventually being seen.

On another occasion, a nervous, elderly friend had got as far as the surgery and was sitting waiting for the doctor when he burst in dressed as a cleaner, clutching a mop and bucket. It was apparently a ruse aimed at relaxing the patient before he took her blood pressure. I don’t know whether it worked or not.

The convention at the doctors’ is that you say ‘bonjour’ to everyone when you enter the waiting room. They all say ‘bonjour’ back and you all chirp ‘au revoir’ whenever anyone is lucky enough to leave. If you know the new arrival well, you exchange kisses, which seems to me to be somewhat foolhardy as you don’t know what’s wrong with them.


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