Now that I can finally benefit from what many consider the best health coverage in the world, I'm making overdue appointments with doctors to get back on track with my santé. The first order of business is replacing embarrassingly old "two-week" contacts that I've been using for over a year. Yes, a year. I was without health insurance for more than a year, and there was no way I was going to afford a $400+ doctor's appointment plus the price of new lenses or glasses on my barely sustainable salary living in L.A. Plus, my contacts have been working fine, and there's no reason to fix something that ain't broke, right? Despite my valid reasons, my mom and husband have been on me since forever to get some new lenses, so needless to say, it was first on my list of doctors to hit up with my shiny new securité sociale.
On Saturday, Gui and I went to see his good friend, who also happens to be an outstanding optician, at his place of business to get me some new eyes. I had spoken to him at the wedding we went to in La Rochelle last month and he was completely lost for words when I explained my long-term relationship with these two-week contacts. "You must come in and see me so I can at least give you some sample contacts while you wait for your carte vitale," he had instructed me, after getting over the initial shock of my statement. So, there we were, and after taking off my lenses, he lead me to a tiny room that had a familiar big machine which I attached my chin and forehead to and read letters on a wall from. It was clear after a few moments that I'm basically blind. He gave me a 12-week supply of a stronger-than-before prescription of THREE-week contacts with very clear instructions to change my lenses after three weeks, not three years. Then, he gave me a couple of names of ophthalmologists, who he said were the best in town, but who would likely have a 1-2 month wait to see. Apparently, an optician can't give me a prescription for glasses, so seeing an ophthalmologist is necessary before I can get glasses or purchase contacts.
Gui called the doctor right after we left, and keeping in mind that this is a Saturday, he was greeted with a chipper (well, as chipper as a French secretary can be) scheduler who notified us that the doctor had just had a cancellation and could see me on Monday - that's in two days! Sweet! But, after booking the appointment, we realized that I'd have to go solo, as Gui would be doing a team-building thing off-site that day and couldn't accompany me to translate. I was a little intimidated, but not enough to keep me from going. Facing my fear of French is the only way I'll ever conquer the language.
So, giving myself plenty of time, I took the bus a short ride away to the doctor's office that was really just a converted couple of apartments on the second floor of a random building. I read the signs carefully, pushed the buttons to get through the door and waited patiently as the secretariat finished a call with an annoying woman who didn't want to wait for the médecin to call her back about an emergency she was having with her eyeballs. After a quick check-in, I sat down on one of the three chairs in the small secretary's office until she told me that I could wait in the waiting room, if I wanted. Waiting room? I had no idea. So, I made my way back to the hallway where I discovered a sign directing me to the salle d'attente - doh! I walked in, smiled at the elderly lady that looked up at me and took a seat. Every time someone else walked into the room, they broke the silence with a bonsoir, one girl saying it rather boisterously before looking around at everyone for a response. I mumbled a soft 'soir, but no one else looked up from their interesting magazine. I think it's kind of funny to greet a room of waiting patients, but it is polite, so now I know not to make the same faux pas on my next doctor's visit.
I was the second person called by the doctor, who was middle-aged, well-dressed and rather kind. He took me to his office which was a large, dark room with piles of books and papers, and had a large machine by the hidden window. We sat at his desk and discussed the history of my eyesight, while he jotted down a few notes in scribbly French. I apologized for my bad French and he seemed amused that I was even trying. His office seriously reminded me of a Charles Dickens book - it was old, creeky and untidy with a dissected eyeball on the desk and several piled books in the glass-door bookcase. It was lit almost entirely by a vintage desk lamp and the light coming from the big machine being reflected high on the wall. Every time he paused to scribble something down, a hypnotic tick-tock from the desk clock broke the silence. I could practically see Bob Cratchit burning the midnight oil in there.
I took a few tests with the swiveling machine in the corner, and he checked my vision as I wore a pair of funny metal glasses; he chuckled a few times at my grammatical errors (someone saying "more better" in French is just as funny as it is in English, apparently); and we there were a few awkward moments when I didn't know what line (if any) I should be reading on the wall or whether I was saying the letters in French or English.
The visit went smoothly, and I felt a little proud of myself for having accomplished such a task completely solo. But, the best part of the visit was when I paid. The total bill for nearly 30 minutes of the doctor's time and expertise was 37€ (roughly $50). That means, if I didn't have insurance and I wanted to get a prescription for glasses and contacts, I'd be out a measly 50 bucks! Since Gui and I are covered under his insurance plan, we'll be reimbursed by direct deposit the 37€ plus however much my glasses and contacts will cost us. I know my mom will be very happy to hear that I'm no longer torturing my eyes, and with amazing health coverage like this, I don't really have an excuse for not keeping myself in tip-top shape from head to toe!