I shook my head from all this past reverie and put my mind to the job now in hand. We had the French attestation (paper confirmation) so went along to our local doctor in the next village. His office was situated on the Place de la République, over the railway line with its frightening red and white barriers permanently at half-mast, over the picturesque bridge shading the river Seye, and then left at the little lane by the expensively-lit pharmacie.
In the salle d’attente waiting room were seated three other people, all elderly. We entered, wishing them all a bonjour, as is the custom. We refrained from the usual ça va? (asking how they were) because clearly if they were all right, they wouldn’t have been there. We looked around for a receptionist, but evidently such an officious person, so beloved back home, wasn’t required here. We waited. Soon, the doctor breezed in, issued bonjours to us all, then welcomed the next in line into his surgery.
I tried to make polite conversation with the lady sitting on my right.
‘Monsieur le docteur, il est un bon docteur?’ (Is he a good doctor?)
‘Mais oui,’ (of course) shaking her head at such a stupid question.
I shut up and concentrated on translating the several posters pinned to the walls. As I was neither pregnant nor likely to be suffering from Aids, I didn’t bother attempting to read further. When the time eventually came for us to go in, I shook hands with the doctor and explained as best I could that I had come as translator for my husband. He nodded and ushered us into his surgery.
‘What has brought you to my surgery this morning?’ he enquired politely, whilst punching up some details on his PC.
‘Our Citroën C4!’ said H, quick as a flash.
Nothing wrong with his humour then.
The doctor looked puzzled, as well he might. However, we have hit upon a useful introductory phrase, which always seems to work. ‘J’ai mal au…….,’ (I've a pain here....) pointing to the offending part of the body. Soon the offending leg was being prodded, pummelled and the knee hit with a hammer. The doctor looked, then gravely pronounced:
‘C’est normal pour un homme de votre âge.’ (It's normal for a man of your age).
‘But, my other leg is just the same age, and that one doesn’t hurt.’
The doctor grunted several times, making copious notes into a file, before telling me that it was best if we sought a second opinion at the local Hôpital Chartreuse in yet another town, Villefranche de Rouergue.
‘Why do we need a second opinion, when we don’t know the first yet?’ said he logically.
‘Shh,’ said I resignedly.
The Hôpital Chartreuse proved clean, friendly and efficient. I had decided, whilst there, to take up the offer for me to have a mammogram. The French health service, rather like the NHS, invites all ladies over fifty to have a free test and as I had undergone this procedure several times in the UK I didn’t think it would be a problem. However, I had forgotten that tiny problem of language.
‘Please fill in this form,’ said the receptionist.
I glanced quickly at it, but was puzzled.
‘Why does it ask me for the name of my daughter? How did you know I had a daughter?’
‘I don’t understand, madame.’
‘See, here,’ said I pointing to the first line. ‘Nom de jeune fille…’ (young girl's name)
‘No,’ she explained resignedly. ‘We need you to put the name you had before you were married.’
I felt foolish. And the feeling persisted right into the consulting room. The nurse gabbled something quickly before leaving the room. Did she say I was supposed to undress? What if she didn’t say that and then I am led in my nakedness along a public corridor? Oh God, why ever did we come to a foreign country…?
But once I had at last finished with my radiology, and I was thankfully pronounced fit and well, we proceeded to the Physiology Department, where H’s treatment proceeded much better. The Korean doctor we saw there was charm personified. I explained as best I could H’s leg problem, furnishing the doctor with the usual difficult-to-read note from our own doctor. He got straight down to business, asking if the patient could lie down on the narrow, short (!) bed (all Frenchmen are short) whilst he did several tests on H’s nerves and muscles. At some point the doctor unravelled a long cable with a needle on the end. I thought I’d better say something.
‘Uh, mon mari n’aime pas les aiguilles.’ (My husband doesn't like needles). This translates medically as either ‘my husband has a low pain threshhold’ or more realistically ‘my husband is a coward.’ Either way, the doctor seemed to catch on straight away. He told me that as soon as he was about to puncture the patient’s foot with the long needle, I should divert his (not the doctor’s) attention. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this, but waited for him to nod, before suddenly coughing. My cough was followed instantly by a howl of pain from the unfortunate patient.
The doctor said that in his professional opinion the difficulties with the leg stemmed from problems in the lower back and the fact that H wasn’t getting any younger. I translated. To which H replied: ‘it’s not younger I want to get, but older...!’
Anyway, the doctor pronounced that the problem with the leg was nothing too serious that could not be corrected by the purchase of a bicycle.
‘See,’ I told H, ‘it’s what I’ve always thought:
He says you’re to get on your bike!'