The price of peace of mind

I want to go to St. Tropez badly.  That town has just been in the press recently, but most Americans aren’t too familiar with the south of France.  This just isn’t a place that Americans (and when I use the term Americans, I’m talking about people from the U.S.  I’m aware that people from Mexico, Central America, Canada and I guess even South America are all American’s from the America’s) vacation.  I hear a lot of people talking about being in Cancun or one of the Caribbean islands, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone I know talk about vacationing on the French Riviera.  Since I’ve been here I have not seen or heard talking ONE person from the United States.  I hear English, but it’s spoken by Australians and Brits.  And then it sounds funny.

The reason the town of St. Tropez has been in the news is because that’s where Jon Gosselin of Jon and Kate Plus 8just vacationed with his 16 year-0ld  girlfriend.  Ok, maybe she’s 22, but she is the daughter of Kate’s plastic surgeon who did her tummy tuck in the first season.  And because of that Jon CROSSED THE LINE!!!

Anyway, that’s the only American I have heard of ever vacationing in the south of France other than the movie stars at the Canne’s film festival and they don’t count.  They’re just there because it’s the cool place to be seen that week.

But, the reason I want to go to St. Tropez is because every Thursday between 3 and 5:30, Brigitte Bardot hangs on the beach in front of the tourist information office and signs autographs!  Bless her heart… she turns 75 this year!  I can’t wait to see what she looks like and how in the world she holds up in this hot sun.  I’m melting and I’m a quarter century younger than she is.  Her 1956 movie “… And Brigitte BardotGod Created Women” was filmed in St. Tropez and was steamy enough to put the town on the map!  I don’t remember the film but I do remember her being such a sex goddess when I was young.  A true icon.  As true an icon as Elvis Presley, who I did see in concert the year before he died.  (amazing concert!)

The problem with going to St. Tropez is that besides being on Thursday, which is the clothing market day in Antibes, and I have yet to see, is that it’s going to cost $75 Euros to get there.  With the weak exchange rate, everything is so expensive here and my money is going faster than anticipated.  There are no trains into St. Tropez so it’s either by bus, boat or car.  The bus would take ridiculously long and I don’t have a car.

about 100 yards from my apartmentI wanted to do this badly enough, that I earmarked $100 in my mind for it.  But… I spent it.  I decided to buy peace of mind instead.  Those chest pains that I’d been having since I’ve gotten here were getting worse and I wasn’t feeling too good.  It’s scary to be sick in a foreign country when you’re by yourself, don’t have transportation, don’t speak the language AND have no way to call for emergency help.  I don’t have a cell phone here nor internet in my apartment, so to communicate I have to walk with my computer to within the wi-fi signal of the Lebanese restaurant and then get on-line and use Skype.  I checked the bus and train schedules to Nice, thinking that if I awoke in the middle of the night, knowing I needed emergency help, I would be prepared with what to do.  I was left with walking to the bus or train station, either about a 15-20 min walk and hoping it was when service was running.  Not a real good option.

I found the number of an organization that helps “Anglos”  in the French Riviera find English-speaking emergency care.  That’s the term the organization uses- Anglos.  Now… this is where the interesting things about the French health care system became apparent.  When I called the number a physician answered the phone!  What the???  And he asked me about my problem.  He gave me the number of an English-speaking doctor, Doctor Bruno Lavagne, in Antibes and told me to call the next day at 9 AM.  I called around 10:30 and guess who answered the phone?  Dr. Bruno himself!  He asked me the nature of my problem and then continued to ask about further details.  He asked me to come in at 3:30 the same day!  What service!  I’ve paid nothing, no one knows if I can pay, and I’ve already spoken with two doctors and have an appointment that day.

Antibes 9.9 007I walked myself to his office, about ¾ mile away.  It was an odd entrance. The little room looked like a foyer with a hallway with doors.  What struck me was the lighting.  A receptionist sat at a desk in very soft light.  Barely enough for her to see to read, but all she did while I was there was talk to people so maybe she didn’t need light.  I told her in French that I had an appointment at 3:30.  She asked me to write my name.  “Where?”  She nicely pointed to a little scrap paper- definitely not a sign-in sheet.  She was super friendly in a quiet way and told me that I could wait in the room in front of her (I had no idea that door led to the waiting room) and the doctor would be with me.  I went into the room with five other people, sat down and then wondered what in the world I was doing there.  He wouldn’t be able to diagnose anything in his office.  It would be terribly expensive.  How could I even trust his competence?  The tile floor was beginning to have a cheap look to it…  and how long would I be sitting in this waiting room with these horrible foreign illnesses floating around me?  I walked back to tell her something came up, and I’d have to re-schedule but she seemed so nice.  So instead I asked her how much it would cost.  That would be my deciding factor.  I wasn’t going to pay over $70 Euros ($105).  I would take my chances and just get myself to some emergency room if need be.  She said “33 Euros”.  “Oh”.  So I went back into the sick room and took my seat trying not to breathe.  Actually the only person who looked sick was a little girl with both her mother and father who appeared to have a fever.  But then that made me nervous… the other adults didn’t even look sick, so God knows what ailment they could be hiding.

Then not so long, a thin, pleasant, mild-mannered man wearing casual pants and a stylish Indian-cotton shirt appeared.  Another patient?  He said, “Vickie?”  It was the Doctor Bruno who did not look like his name.  Well, maybe the Lavagne part.

He showed me the room and from that point on, he never left the room nor did a nurse or the receptionist do anything- not even come in.  It was one-on-one with the doctor.  He did a thorough exam and then pulled out wires with metal half-balls on the end that looked like it could be from a Frankenstein movie.  I had already decided that I WAS NOT going to let him do anything invasive- not even a shot.  I would handle his drawing blood and only if I could see that the needle was a disposable, pre-packaged kind.  He said he was going to do an EKG.  No waiting for someone to roll it out from another room, no waiting for a nurse to have time to get to me.  Nope… voila!  Dr. Bruno did it all!  The EKG wires that attached to my body were metal ½ spheres hooked to a suction ball.  He squeezed the ball and the metal thing attached by suction.  Odd… in fact I have a very funny mark on my chest left by one of the suctions that looks like the EKG machine and I had a hot and heavy date!  But he ran it, pulled the strip, made some marks and said, no, I was definitely not having a heart attack.  And then he gave me the strip of paper to keep.

We talked for a little while more, mainly my concern over in case of an emergency i.e. waking up knowing I was doomed, what I should do.  I wasAntibes 9.8 020 surprised to learn that the hospital in Antibes is supposedly superb for vascular surgery, and the University hospital in Nice may not be my best choice.  He also told me that the emergency system is different in France compared to the states.  If I would call the ambulance here (#15) a doctor would answer who would access the problem and determine which hospital would be the best one for treating the problem, since the closest hospital may not be the best.  Interesting.  Then a group consisting of a doctor, a nurse and a few other helpers would arrive in the ambulance and stabilize me at home.  And begin treatment.  The goal is not to get you to the hospital as fast as possible, but to do almost everything they can at the original location.  Hmm… wonder if the French team can perform an angioplasty in your home?  Just kidding, I’m sure they would get a patient to the hospital as quickly as possible if that’s what had to be done (wouldn’t they?).

Then it was time to pay.  Dr. Bruno wrote the bill and told me I could turn it into my insurance company.  The EKG added another… get this… 25 Euros!  If the exchange rate was what it should be, that would mean I had a first time doctor’s visit and an EKG for $58!  And on the day I called!  With the exchange rate it cost $86 US dollars.  He seemed to be waiting.   I asked if I should pay the receptionist.  Oh, no, she had already left.  I was supposed to pay the doctor!  I looked through my purse for three $20 Euros and handed them to him and he reached into the drawer of his little desk and handed me a $2 euro coin for change.  When antibes-9-8was the last time you handed money to your doctor?  And he gave you the change?

Walking home I felt much better, but still decided to stop by a cell phone store and purchase my very own, use-in-France cell phone.  That little sucker put me back $39 Euros.  Bummer.  But I knew that in an emergency I would feel so much better being able to call for emergency help from my room rather than trying to walk a block away from my apartment and wait for my computer to get connected.

So there goes my $100 I had planned on using to see Brigitte Bardot.  Oh well… I had to make a choice between peace of mind, or getting to see in real life if a 75-year-old woman still has the ability to emanate sex appeal.  Hmm… now that I think about it, maybe both could have given me peace of mind.

Note: since I didn’t take pictures of Dr. Bruno or his patients- I thought that might freak them out- I filled this blog with some of my favorite Antibes shots.  All of these pictures except Brigitte and the one above are things within a block or so of my place.


  • donna says:

    you should sendthis one to Dr Ra

  • Bonjour –

    I enjoyed reading your blog entry … as I also was in the south of France at the same time … AND … I know Dr. Bruno ! He is a friend of a friend and I met him first at the open air Opera at Villa Eilenroc in 2008 … he was wearing a Neru jacket … and then last year at the Jazz a Juan festival I was happy to talk with him again … and he was wearing jeans and Converse All Stars … with a Pink Floyd decoration. He’s great !!! A kind and funny friend … and his wife is beautiful and sweet. Congratulations on your blog … !!! and Bon Appetit !!!

  • correction: the correct spelling is ‘Nehru’

  • That medical experience is universal here…and that is one HUGE reason why I love living in France!!