Going for the jugular

I may have slated French after-sales service, but for the health service I have only bouquets. They have always done us very well. From minor ailments to severe burns, sub-dural haematomas and suspected burst spleens, the diagnosis has always been swift and treatment immediate and successful. The hospitals are spotless, no more than two people (of the same sex) to a room, and the food is good (you even get a choice of red or white wine with your meals!)

When we need an appointment we phone the doctor (he doesn’t have a secretary), and will normally see him within 24 hours. If it’s urgent, straight away. 

In case of need he will personally phone a specialist to make an early appointment. He speaks English, as do many of the medical professionals. Consultations are never rushed, there’s always time to chat about the weather, politics and the general state of the world.

As far as I can remember, I never had a blood test during the 25 years I lived in England. Since moving to France, I’ve had at least two a year. They are carried out routinely to check cholesterol levels and thyroid behaviour. We can either go to a local laboratory, or ask a local nurse to call at the house, which she will do alarmingly early – any time from 7.00 am onwards.

The nurse who came yesterday was a new face, and before she started I warned her that it was always a struggle to find a vein as mine are virtually invisible. As tight as the tourniquet, as hard as I clench my fist, as fiercely as I mentally will the vein to appear, and as much as she taps, the veins remain invisible.

After much clenching and tapping and tightening a thread-like vein appeared in my upper arm, and using a baby needle she managed to pierce it. Nothing happened for some time. We both stared at the little bottle, willing the blood to flow, until eventually it yielded a sluggish trickle.

It took quite a while to fill all six little bottles, and while we waited we chatted. I told her of the doctor who had once tried in vain (ha ha, unintentional pun!) in four places before finding a vein, and who had finally clasped my head gently in his hands and told me: “Madame, if ever you are in a bad accident, when the medics arrive you must tell them to go straight into your jugular, because if not, it will be too late and you will die.”

So I guess in that event it will be important to remain conscious to impart that vital information. 🙂

The nurse said that she used to work with the ambulance service, and that it was well known that all English women have abnormally small veins. So when called to a motor accident, if the vehicle was English-registered and there was an injured female passenger, the medics always went directly for the jugular.

Now while that may seem comforting to English females, what if they are driving a French-registered car and are unconscious, so that the medics don’t know they are English? It makes you think. Perhaps we need to have a tattoo on our jugulars, saying “Anglaise, piquėz ici, SVP”

Getting back to the nurse, she said she was mortified that she would leave me with a large bruise. Brushing aside my assurance that it was normal and didn’t bother me, she kept apologising as if it was a stain on her professionalism, rather than my mingy blood vessels.

She was right when she said there would be a big bruise.


The number to call in France in case of a medical emergency is 15 from a landline, 112 from a mobile phone.

One last thing, for those whose French is not fluent. If you suspect a heart attack, the magic words are CRISE CARDIAQUE a cardiac crisis. It is not “mal au coeur,” or  “mal de coeur” – which, inexplicably, mean “feeling nauseous” or “wanting to be sick”, and will not scramble the emergency services. It could be a matter of life or death, so please remember.

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13 thoughts on “Going for the jugular

  1. We had good GPs – the last one, a Basque, was brilliant. Nothing too much trouble, home visits….and he used to drop in on his elderly patients if on a call nearby, just to see what they were up to. Needless to say he was over run with patients and I asked him how he ever found time to do it all.
    His view was that it was his job to keep people healthy enough not to need to see him!
    He wasn’t popular with the local pharmacies as he used to go through his patients’ medicine chests chucking stuff out and prescribed healthy eating and exercise in lieu of all but essential pills and potions.

    Hospitals were a mixed bag….and thanks to Leo’s illnesses we saw all too much of them…but over all I wasn’t impressed. Vital checks not made….treatment criteria not respected….and to cap it all he was used as a guinea pig without his or my consent with lasting consequences.

    But when it came to taking blood I have to applaud the ladies of the cancer unit at Poitiers – you could give them a stone and they’d get a result. Super ladies.

    • Come to think of it, I’m one-quarter Scottish, one-quarter American thus only half-English. I’m getting more and more convinced that the nurse was trying to spare my feelings. 🙂

  2. My 15yr old was worried about lumps and bumps in his boy bits. Took him to the doctor in the morning and she wanted a scan, but it wasn’t an urgent request. Popped in to make appointment at scan clinic at 5.25. Walked out with scan results and an all clear at 5.40. I’m so impressed.

  3. My veins not a problem either, but perhaps I’m a bit of mongrel!
    I’ve also found the healthcare to be quite dependent on where you live – wasn’t so good at our previous place, especially at hospitals. Great at new place.
    But all over France, as you found, taking blood tests and providing super quick results are the norm I’m happy to say.
    I also love the way that they allow you to be part of the process and not, as in the UK, keeping results to themselves, as though patients can’t be trusted.

  4. We have 19 years’ experience of the French health service down here in the SW and, like you, we are full of praise for it. You do come across the occasional consultant who thinks he is God, but generally we have always felt involved and informed. I, too, have veins that are difficult to locate and bruise easily!

  5. Oh dear, that is a nasty bruise! But I guess you expected it? Thanks for the advice, I always thought ‘mal au coeur’ was a ‘sick heart’ (literally), so it’s good to know the phrase ‘crise cardiaque’ , although how would I then say ‘I have a heart problem’? That would be a good one for me to know. #AllAboutFrance

  6. I’m very squeamish when it comes to veins and feel rather sick now! I don’t know what I expected from the title of this post but it wasn’t a description of difficult veins. I may have to go and lie down!!! I’m not sure if I’m going to thank you for linking up to #AllAboutFrance or curse you (depends on how long I feel queasy) but you’re right about the efficiency of the system. I have only ever had good experiences with French health care. (And you know I’m only joking about that curse….don’t you?)

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