29-30 October 2019
Sleeping soundly in Toulouse. Message from SNCF, definitely NOT something I want to wake to find. I believe France is the only country in the world with a mobile APP monitoring strikes. It has come in handy, but sudden cancellations and changes mean an unpleasant wake up call. What? Our train is not departing our station? Then where is it going?
A trip to the train station; a long line of stressed passengers; a couple options; a change of ticket. Because of helpful SNCF personnel, we are on schedule to arrive this afternoon into Paris.
Following some blogs and Facebook travel groups, I notice the exotic is in, the large touristed locations avoided. This is a shame. While I avoid these cities during high season, there are reasons why cities like Rome, Madrid, Brussels and Paris are popular. And for these reasons – their beauty, history and culture – they should never be avoided.
We arrive early afternoon into Paris’ Gare Montparnasse and take the Métro to Chatalet/Les Halles. It is like “home” as I stayed in this area on my last trip in 2017. This will be a short stay, but in Paris, any visit is better than none.
My friend has not visited Paris before so I have chosen some top sights to encourage her to one day come back to see more.
Our first destination is Íle de la Cité. Just six months ago, I and millions around the world witnessed the potential loss of Cathédrale Notre-Dame. Though missing its iconic steeple and roof, this grand lady of cathedrals still draws hundreds. Work is moving quickly, buttresses are supported, windows removed or protected, and scaffolding rising. President Macron promises Notre-Dame will be restored in five years; I hope to see her doors open once more.
A second stop is the awesome, incredibly beautiful Sainte-Chapelle. This is one of the most spectacular chapels in the world. We do manage to tour its interior, but only after a slight detour.
As we entered the courtyard of Sainte-Chapelle, my friend caught a toe on an uneven surface and fell. There is little around but very hard, stone surfaces. She fell into a corner of a building support. One can consider her lucky that she did not strike her temple; one can consider her unlucky when she slammed her ear into a stone corner.
Blood, Gendarmes, more blood and Gendarmes, the addition of Sapeurs Pompiers/ firemen with first aid support, and the decision was made that she was to go to the hospital for stitches.
I am not much help but at least I didn’t panic for the blood and potential serious harm. The Gendarmes and firemen seemed to have everything under control. They filled out an accident report, seemed solicitous and efficient, and informed us that the fire department would transport us to the hospital. At this point, my travel curiosity has kicked into high gear.
A common question among travel writers, and readers, is travel insurance. Buy or not to buy – that is the question! For Americans, where a trip to the hospital means thousands of dollars, this is a hotly debated issue.
We are walked to the central courtyard of the Palais de Justice where the ambulance is parked. We load up, my friend is strapped onto a gurney and she sees Paris for the first time zipping down Boulevard Saint-Michel. All we miss is the iconic high/low pitch of the siren.
We arrive at the Hôpital Cuchin in the Port Royal area. The emergency room doors swing open and we are ready to see Paris ER in action. But unlike TV, reality is much slower. I note signs of en grève about the room. Firemen of Paris are protesting ill treatment of their emergency crews; not allowed “on strike,” they do protest with signs.
More paperwork, questions, identification, and a cursory exam, then we wait. NOTE: No one, so far, has mentioned money or insurance.
After a short time, we enter an exam room. What happened? “I was taking a picture and caught my toe on the walk and fell.” I witness one nurse glance at the other and perhaps only imagine an eye roll. Peeking at the wound, diagnosis: stitches needed.
We are led to a waiting room and then my friend is wheeled to elsewhere. I remain in the waiting room. The action is constant and calmly managed. I notice more en grève posters and the state code for verbal or physical abuse of any personnel.
About an hour later, my friend returns with three stitches in her ear. A nurse follows with the admissions/diagnosis and treatment paperwork with instructions that stitches are to be removed in seven days.
My friend asks, “Where do I pay?” To which the nurse answers, I am NOT making this up, “I don’t know, you can ask over there.” Exit nurse.
We approach the gentleman working in admissions and ask about paying, and do you take credit card, and what about the bill? Credit card in hand, American expectations on high alert, we wait for the answer. Again, I am NOT making this up, we are told that they will bill her, send it to her address, and she can go online and pay by credit card.
Two Americans, two foreigners, leaving the country in less than 24-hours, somewhat stunned – exit hospital.
We walked to the corner, ate a wonderful beef bourguignon and took in the wonder of entering and leaving a hospital with not one person mentioning insurance, money or concern for how she will pay. Not one person refused service because she was not a French or EU citizen.
Socialized medicine – let me sing thy praise. However, I will wait for the final sonata until after the bill arrives.
I eagerly await the hospital bill. I am willing to bet a good dinner that the removal of stitches may be more than the hospital which put them in her ear.
My friend was a trooper. We returned to Sainte-Chapelle to ogle at the stained glass. We walked down to the Louvre and Carrousel Arc de Triomphe, and from the garden terraces took a moment to stare up the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. In the distance to our left, a mist-shrouded Eiffel Tower beckons.
Alas, it all must be another day.