Every day, we try to each pick one thing that we are thankful for in this interesting and different season for each of us. Most days, we try and think back over our day and choose one thing about life here in France. Some days, however, it is something from home that we are thankful for… Especially when we have had a day here that reminds us just how lucky we are to have the luxuries that we do back home.
For me, today is shaping up to be one of those days.
I am absolutely thankful for my accupuncturist back home in Greenville. I have been seeing Kathryn off and on for the last 7 years for various ailments, but (to get personal) it was infertility that initially led me to her. She happens to be an expert in using Chinese medicine to help women who are struggling to have a baby. I had heard stories of women using acupuncture to help achieve pregnancy.
Initially, I was (admittedly) completely skeptical, but it was my physician that recommended seeing her and within 3 months, I was pregnant with Wells and have always been truly thankful to her for the role that she played in helping us to get our little man. Since then, she has helped me with various ailments, but over the last few years, it is ongoing problems with my knee, low back and digestion that she is able to work wonders for. I’ve never ever been intimidated by the needles (they are small and thin) and while it doesn’t feel awesome when she is putting them in, I have had so many good results with her over the years that I knew I would really miss her when I moved to France.
Kindly, she did some research and was able to track down a few names of accupuncturists here in Clermont and so I kept that info and put it aside for when I was brave enough to tackle that project. As the months have gone by here, all this walking and carrying heavy groceries a few miles at a time has taken a toll on my knees and back and by November, I was desperate enough to dig out those names and try to schedule an appointment. Since I was really having some pain my back, I was hoping it would be only be a week or two, but knew that (as it is back home), it would more likely be a month or two before I could be seen.
When I called, (phone calls by the way to me are THE most intimidating of all methods of communication here in France) the woman spoke so fast that I could only make out 2 things- March and 18. It was after a few requests to have her repeat and me repeat to ensure I heard her right that she insisted, that yes, March 15 of 2018 was the first available appointment. So obviously I took the appointment and then wallowed in the fact that I would have to wait 4 months to be seen.
Well, today was finally the day. As I usually do, I look up the address and (since I hate driving and avoid it at all costs if at all possible) I make sure I allow plenty of time to walk there. It was pouring rain, but somehow, after a few “reroutes” by Siri, I found this large building with all kinds of words on the outside, none of which resembled anything medical. And there was no number 4 anywhere to be found. But, since I had “reached my destination” I ventured in to what looked like the main door and headed over to the plaque on the wall which stated that “Dr” (Kathryn just goes by Kathryn, not Doctor) Fournier’s office was on the Rez-de-chaussee (ground floor). So, it’s never clear when you enter a building whether you are on the ground floor or not. Is there a basement level? I climbed on the elevator and after pushing zero and nothing happening, I realized I was on the ground floor. As I stepped out, there were no further signs anywhere to indicate where said Dr Fournier was and the only person at the front desk was helping someone else. After about 5 minutes (I’m telling you, patience is definitely a virtue we are learning), the woman pointed out the front door and told me to go to the end of something rather. I headed out that door and into another door where the woman at the front desk asked if I was Madame “Amacafaden”.
We finally got the name figured out/corrected and then she asked me if I had my health card. As ex-pats, we get this question every time we go to the doctor and the answer is no. We then have to explain that we typically pay up front and are given a brown form listing information from the visit and proof of payment which we then submit to our insurance for reimbursement. Without fail, we are reimbursed 80% of the already very low cost visit and always within a week, so overall the system works very well. (Another thing I am thankful for!)
After waiting 15 minutes or so, the doctor comes out in his old white coat, a young very warm friendly man and welcomes me in. One of our babysitters actually helps him out with office work here and there and specifically had told him about me and asked him if he spoke any English, to which he told her that yes, it would be no problem. Ironically as I’m sitting there, she texts me to tell me “Bon Courage” with the needles… thank you.
We sat down and spoke for a few minutes (by “yes” that he spoke English, I believe he meant “a few words” because our entire conversation was in French) during which time I told him about my various ailments and for the most part I could understand his questions, there were some I did not. He then pointed over at his old leather exam table and after kindly apologizing (for the humiliation in advance!?) and asked me to remove my pants so he could examine my knee and back. By the way, there is no exiting the room for the patient to change. Doctors here just stay in the room. After offering me a rather small towel to cover my mid-section, he poked around on my knee, hips, ribs, shoulders and then after sitting up, my back.
He asked me if I was interested in being treated today, which I told him, yes I was and he then proceeded to take out a box of needles from a drawer which he brought over to show me and I think he was asking me if I recognized these, were these the ones that my other acupuncturist would use? I basically told him yes, but I don’t know. She never showed them to me! But, as I usually do when asked something I don’t understand in French- I said yes 🙂
He had me breathe in and out and while doing so, inserted a needle into each of my ankles and then 2 needles separately into my knee which didn’t feel great, but weren’t bad. He told me that he’d be back in a bit. I lay there in a sterile room looking outside at the rain and trying to find the relaxation in all of this…. but honestly it was so quiet other than talking outside in the hall that I found it impossible to relax.
Dr. Fournier came back in after 10 minutes or so (without knocking, knocking is also not a thing over here in France when you visit the doctor) and opened the window, which at first seemed a little odd since it was a cold, rainy day. He told me something about a new “modern” technique that he was going to use that included heating the needles. Ok, I said and laid there hoping that the didn’t include burning my knee. He opened up what looked like a matchbox and rolled up some paste into a ball which he put on the end of each needle and then lit a match and burned the end of the needle until it turned orange. “I will do this 3 times” he said, along with something about smoke and left again.
This time while I’m lying there, I start smelling what seems very similar to marijuana and it starts getting stronger and stronger. Now I realize why he had opened the window. The phone rings and next thing I know, he walks in on his cordless phone (not cell, not portable. Cordless.) while speaking to a patient about scheduling an appointment. He sits down at his computer and chats away all the while I”m lying there trying not to think about what old Kathryn acupuncture was like.
He was very attentive, though and did come over every few minutes to ask me if all was going ok, was I having any pain, etc. I commented about the marijuana smell and he laughed and asked me if marijuana is common in the US like in Amsterdam, where it smells like marijuana he said.
When he finished the last time, he said a few words, had me roll over on my side, told me to breathe and proceeded to push a needle into the back of my knee, while saying “tac”. (French people say “tac tac tac” when they are thinking or looking for something..) After I reflexively jumped from the pain, he pulled it out and apologized and headed on to my back. He proceeded to do some kind of technique where he lit a match and rubbed some type of something rather on my back while I could feel the match RIGHT next to my skin, all lasting a total of 30 seconds and then “Fini”! We were done.
He had me get dressed and sit down at his desk, he went into a whole set of instructions about something having to do with my knee but I only understood a little- something about how it will get better in a few days, that it was ok to walk, etc.
As strange as the whole experience was, Dr Fournier was very kind and patient with me and my bad French as I’m sure I answered most of his questions nonsensibly. And he agreed to see me again in a few weeks, led me out to the desk to schedule my next appointment and when I asked where to pay, she pointed out to the welcome desk where I came in originally. 25 euros later, I was on my way. Overall, I was happy that I”d found an acupuncturist here in France and hopeful that he will be able to help me in ways that Kathryn could.
But it was hard not to think about what I took for granted……
I would call and ( in English :)) schedule an appointment 4 weeks out, park right in front of the building, walk into a small quiet office with candles burning and soft music playing. The receptionist would tell me which “room” was mine and I’d go in, climb up onto a warm bed with warm blankets and lie there listening to spa music. Kathryn would come in and we’d chat, she’d ask me how various things were feeling etc and get to work applying the needles all over- from my feet all the way to my ears! But I never even felt them. She’d then usually pull over a heat lamp next to me, put some lavender essential oil on a tissue nearby which smelled heavenly and step out for 25 minutes or so during which time I would almost always fall asleep. She would come back in and work on my back, same thing – I’d rest another 25 minutes or so and then I”d be on my way.
So, while every.single.encounter. here is different, we are slowly learning that an open mind is essential to getting through the day. And being thankful for the things that we do miss 🙂