Tag Archives: France


Last month I had my usual trip to the Friday market at Brantôme, a small picturesque town in the Perigord , a chance to pick up on the local gossip and see what’s in season.


The gossip first; Olivier from Café Co’Thé on ‘Rue Victor Hugo’ was on the French version of Mastermind and he did very well but didn’t get through to the third round. Needless to say his questions were on coffee! There have been a few major changes in that the pharmacist has moved over the bridge and their old shop has been taken over by the cafe owners next to the newsagent on Puy Joli and as they have createneated a large terrace( and who gave permission for that!)  the stall selling greengrocerie has had to move opposite the new cafe as the pitch has been taken over by the terrace. Moreover, the fishmonger’s van has had to relocate up the road on the main bridge! Then a few progress reports of new illnesses and deaths in the past month, what events are coming up such as ‘ the Charente Weavers festival’ in Varaignes, the home of the slipper ( Pantoufle) and what concerts or Art exhibitions are coming up at the Abbey or nearby and not forgetting the progress of the garden and the weather almost all in the same breath! This is what markets are about and happen the World over – it could even  be Saturday morning in West Ealing or chatting on Pitshanger Lane.

Before meeting up for coffee a view around the many stalls containing foodstuffs, mostly locally resourced, homemade wooden items, soaps and jewellry aswell as random Morrocan , Peruvian stalls that find their way to Brantôme. The seasonal item that is most noticeable are  local strawberries including ‘Fraises de Bois’,  strawberries diligently gathered in the wild. Also, as always is the Asparagus which always appears at this time and has a very short season. Their are the familiar green asparagus but more popular in this region is the white or purple Charentais asparagus. Fresh asparagus is usually only available in French markets in May and June and stalls sell out very quickly.  White asparagus is derived from the same varieties as green asparagus, however its growing method separates it from other varieties; while being cultivated, it has never seen the light of day: soil is mounded over the asparagus plants to prevent the sun’s rays from producing chlorophyll as they grow. Hence,it matures without colour, making it the albino version of asparagus. When the slightest sight of a tip protrudes from the earth, the plant is picked.
Ideal White asparagus spears are pearly white, thick and rounded, about 6 to 8 inches in length with Christmas tree shaped crowns. Their flavor is mild, slightly herbaceous, earthy and nutty with notes of artichoke and fresh White corn. I have to say I prefer the green variety.
As it hasn’t received the nutritional elements of light, white asparagus is more brittle than green asparagus and must be used soon after harvest or the spears quickly turn fibrous and bitter, rendering them inedible. White salad asparagus are tender and sweet, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Sauté chopped white asparagus with shrimp or scallops, or cook quickly in brown butter and serve as a side.

An easy way to cook green asparagus is first break the stems where it breaks naturally to get rid of the less tender part then lie them in a pan or tray covered with water, bring the water to the boil and then turn the heat off and leave for 5 mins. Serve with butter or Hollandaise sauce on their own or an accompaniment with poached salmon.


The same evening we went to the local restaurant for supper and we were interested to note that our amuse-bouche ( pre-meal taster) was garnished with wild asparagus which was foraged in the local vicinity. I managed to discover the source in the next village and imagined Primitive Man ( a known resident of the Dronne valley) probably fed on this delicacy.


The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans valued asparagus for its medicinal value in addition to enjoying it as a food. The second century physician Galen attributed cleansing and healing properties to asparagus.

Asparagus can neutralize ammonia, protect small blood vessels, act as a diuretic… plus its fiber is a natural laxative.

Modern studies show the ancients were right to place high value on asparagus. By eating only a few calories you benefit from many nutrients.

It’s loaded with nutrients: Asparagus is a very good source of  fibre, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.
This herbaceous plant—along with avocado, kale and Brussels sprouts is a particularly rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals.

This is why eating asparagus may help protect against and fight certain forms of cancer, such as bone, breast, colon, larynx and lung cancers.
Asparagus is packed with antioxidants, ranking among the top fruits and vegetables for its ability to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals. This, according to preliminary research, may help slow the aging process.

The asparagus tuber is used in Chinese medicine, known as Tian Men Dong and tonifies the Yin especially the lung and kidney Yin which are affected in debilitating illnesses such as cancer.

This is an an important ingredient of the formula Káng Ái Fāng (C82) which when I have noticed when  administered with Western medicine: the patients seem to respond better and become less debilitated and recover from the ill effects quicker. Most oncologists are not averse to supporting the use of this medication.

image     image

Lung Yin deficiency manifests itself by  a dry cough, loss of voice, thirst, dry throat, dry skin, sometimes spitting up thick sputum.  When advanced, can become Lung Consumption: chronic cough, low-grade afternoon fever, nightsweat, hemoptysis, thin, rapid pulse.

The kidney Yin deficiency occurs in most debilitating chronic illnesses and in Chinese medicine is considered part of the ageing process. It is manifest by symptoms such as dizziness, tinnitus, weak lower back and legs, warm palms and soles, afternoon low-grade fever, diminished sexual function, scanty and dark urine, red-dry tongue, thin pulse without strength.  Kidney yin fails to nourish Liver yin, which can lead to Kidney+Liver yin Deficiency.

In Chinese Medicine the relationship between the Liver and the Kidneys is of considerable clinical significance as it is based on the mutual exchange between blood and essence and is particularly important in gynaecology. Essence ( oversimplified) is a term in Chinese medicine to describe vital substances which are inherited and acquired and determines our basic constitutional strength and resistance to exterior pathogens. When the Essence is deficient it affects growth, development,  fertility and our ability to fight disease of body and mind.

I find that TCM for me gives some explanation to the mysteries of medicine, chronic illnesses and ageing and why we eat certain foods and understanding more about asparagus is a good example of that!


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” Le plateau des fruits de mer” can be essential to a French Christmas and New Year as it is to balmy summer days by the sea. The fact that it may well be served in a grotesque imageceramic boat is neither here nor there. Christmas Eve often means the gathering of several generations of a family sitting round a table covered in white linen, or even white paper, upon which are displayed the elevated trays of the freshest seafood of many types of shellfish preferably with lobster and crab and most certainly with a generous number of oysters. They tackle this feast with an arrangement of eating instruments and consider it a harmonious, pleasurable shared experience. This may be repeated during the Summer months but imageChristmas is a time when fishmongers are selling custom made platters in abundance.
At the very least everyone will be buying oysters by the box or at least a dozen from supermarkets stacked with boxes of oysters transported from the coasts of Brittany or imageNormandy. Alternately corners of the streets or outside small greengrocers there are small pop up stalls selling oysters which are graded by size numero zero (the largest) to numero 5 (smallest for garnish) and most people buying numero 3 or 4 but families buying boxes or 2 dozen. They are enjoyed as a starter for the Christmas meal with a glass of Champagne.

My personal introduction to oysters was when I was in my late teens when I was hiking through Northern France with a group of English and French students. We had met in the West coast of Ireland the year before in an International camp and it was evident at that time that the French boys were skilled at collecting shellfish and knew how to serve them. When we met them in France we camped in the grounds of various farms and were introduced to the delicacies of local delicious French soft cheeses,Crêpes aswell as cider and Calvados. The imagelast visit was to the home of Alain who was about to join the French Navy for his National service. He happily took us out in his boat and after a coastal trip then moored in a small cove and told us wanted to give us a surprise. The next thing this swarthy French young man dived off the boat armed with a knife. He soon returned with a bag of oysters he had harvested deftly from the rock something he had being doing for several years. He then prepared them by prising open their shell and demonstrating swallowing them whole . Under the circumstances I found no difficulty in acquiring the taste instantly. I have to say at that time I was not aware they are considered to have Aphrodisiac properties!
Like so many foods, oysters are an acquired taste. The thought of eating them raw remains deeply repellent to some, though if you enjoy other seafood there should be little difficulty in getting to grips with them. While Jonathan Swift once remarked that “he was a bold man that first ate an oyster”, the slithery beauty of a fresh oyster is a unique taste most definitely worth acquiring! Many discover a lifelong enthusiasm and will choose oysters in preference to any other item on a restaurant menu. I include myself in that category.
Hence, since 1989 when I have been frequently visiting France I have very rarely missed having oysters for Christmas and with a glass of Champagne.
When I drink a glass of champagne I always think of miners trapped underground, when I worked in a Welsh Mining valley I was told on good account that on occasions when miners were trapped a tube was introduced into the cavity where they were stranded and champagne was delivered as those above ground believed it was good nourishment. Interestingly, in April 2007, the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published the results of a recent joint study by the University of Reading and University of Cagliari that showed moderate consumptions of Champagne may help the brain cope with the trauma of stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Oysters do have health benefits. Don’t worry if you chip some of the shell when preparing the oysters as the shell is a Chinese Herb known Mu Li is also named Concha Ostreae, 牡蛎Concha Ostreae) and is used to treat menopausal symptoms and “calms the spirit”, treating anxiety.
The oysters themselves as well as being rich in protein, they are also low in fat and in calories. They contain significant amounts of zinc, calcium, iron, iodine, copper, magnesium and selenium. Legendary properties have also been attributed: it is believed by some that oysters are the Viagra of the sea. A team of American and Italian researchers analyzed bivalves and found they were rich in amino acids that trigger increased levels of sex hormones. Their high zinc content aids the production of testosterone.
Oysters themselves can and do change gender several times during their lives!



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Posted by on December 24, 2013 in Anecdotes...little stories


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I thought it might be interesting to give a account of a patient’s experience of the health service in France.

Peter is a good friend and like many British people he has chosen to retire in France after having fascinating jobs throughout the World decide that they just want  a peaceful, calm place to spend the rest of their life. Nevertheless, having been busy all their lives they can’t resist getting involved in organising concerts, ambitious needlework/patchwork projects,making jams and preserves,organising barbecues, painting, sculpture,  and  house renovation  not forgetting  writing, fishing, keeping chickens and horses, exploring the surrounding countryside on foot or bicycle and landscaping the land they own.
When friends in the UK say “but what do you find to do all day ?” It is difficult to know where to start. Peter had lived in London and had done various projects in the UK but was finding the incessant aeroplane traffic noise, worked in the City but retired and living under the major flight path was becoming increasingly tedious. He was no longer enjoying the buzz of London and decided to retire to France to build a house. He was initially unsure whether he would ever see the results of his dreams as his blood pressure and cholesterol had been very high despite medication and  he knew he was at a high risk of having a cardiovascular event, either a heart attack or stroke. He was overweight and his diet was poor, the only saving grace was that he had given up smoking many years ago.
After 6 months of living outside a quiet village in the Dronne valley in the Dordogne, known as the land of Primitive Man, the house that had been a dream was beginning to materialise but even better news was that his blood pressure was now within normal limits to the point that he stopped all medication, his cholesterol had fallen from 11mmol/l to < 4mmol/l and he only needed to be on very low dose statin. He had lost weight and was enjoying feeling fit enough to do labouring in the way of moving tons of gravel, felling trees and digging foundations for extensions, running water to fountains etc, etc.


When the men ranging in age from early 60’s to late 80’s get together they spend their time discussing tractors, chainsaws, trailers, where the best builders merchant is and the appropriate French word for useful tools or how nails and screws are sized in France. All this is important as they embark and support each other on another project. Interestingly one of the men described how he had had lunch with apache men on a girder in New York – amazing …….

However, on this occasion the subject turned to medical issues and Peter brought up the fact that he had acquired a hernia whilst lopping some branches off a tree which was obscuring a good view down the river when he was sitting on his newly constructed jetty. It wasn’t long before the men in turn laid claim to the fact that they all had a hernia of some sort of other and proceeded to share how and where they had had it repaired recalling their symptoms concerns and described their experiences in graphic terms. That is the trouble if you are a doctor people don’t hold back in giving their detailed descriptions of their medical conditions as they somehow feel you need to have the full description.
Bernard who had bilateral hernias but was in his late 80’s had been treated for leukaemia and various cancers in the past and is always entertaining as he graphically describes his near death experiences in various corners of the world ranging from being before a firing squad, a noose around his neck or being dumped in the back of beyond and having to find a way out all graphically recalled. He was embarking on building a Chinese bridge over a small lake he had created, was fighting for supremacy with his large Sussex cockerel who had dared to attempt to assault his hen (his wife)and was still playing a round of golf twice most weeks thought he would avoid surgery and had persuaded his French GP to prescribe him a truss! I haven’t prescribed one of those for years since I looked after ex-miners who had such bad chest conditions that they were unable to be even considered for surgery.
Roger,who had had open heart surgery previously had been enthusiastically trying to make a perfect lawn of his one and a half acre garden and had acquired his hernia, was wary of French medicine was opting to return to the UK to attend the London Hernia Clinic. The others present had had theirs repaired in various hospitals throughout the World and were recalling their experiences.

What is a hernia?
A hernia (or ‘rupture’) occurs where there is a weakness in the wall of the tummy (abdomen). As a result, some of the contents within the abdomen can then push through (bulge) under the skin. Normally, the front of the abdomen has several layers comprising skin, then fat, then muscles, which all keep the guts (intestines) and internal tissues in place. If, for any reason, there is a weak point in the muscles, then part of the intestines can push through. You can then feel a soft lump or swelling under the skin.


What are the types of hernia?
Different types of hernia can occur. The most common types are listed here:

Support groups
The British Hernia Centre
87 Watford Way Hendon Central London NW4 4RS Tel:…
Inguinal hernia
This is the most common type of hernia. Males are more likely to have inguinal hernias, as they have a small tunnel in the tissues of their groins which occurred when they were developing as a baby. This tunnel allowed the testicles (testes) to come down from the tummy (abdomen) into the scrotum. Tissue from the intestines can also pass into this tunnel, forming an inguinal hernia.

There are two main types: indirect hernias, which are usually congenital and common in boys, and direct hernias, which are more common in adult men. They can occur in both sides of the body.
With the wealth of advise Peter had been given he decided to phone his French GP next morning.” Could you come down this afternoon about 3pm”, the receptionist said. “That’s fine,” said Peter but then muttered that he would probably have to wait about 40minutes as he spends so much time with each patient.

Having then decided to have the hernia attended to in France and Peter proceeded with the necessary arrangements.
Infact, the GP is a Greek doctor married to an English doctor who had been working in Coventry and they had come to France in 2005 as they had been disillusioned with General Practise in the UK. They had asked me to join them but for many reasons including my attachment to the patients at the Avenue although tempted I had declined to take up the offer.
Peter duly went for his appointment and indeed was seen late. I made no comment. Following the consultation the receptionist had made an appointment to see the surgeon the following week and gave him a letter to take with him. He was then asked to pay 23€ for the consultation at the same time the receptionist put the Carte Vitale in the machine. His contribution was 1€ whilst the rest was reimbursed.

What is a Carte Vitale?
The Carte Vitale is the health insurance card of the national health care system in France. It was introduced in 1998 to allow a direct settlement with the medical arm of the social insurance system.
The card itself is not a means of payment, but a means of easier reimbursement. You should normally expect to receive reimbursement directly into your bank account within a week and the amount reimbursed depends on personal factors but everyone pays a small amount. All residents in France are legally required to have a health insurance as a top up to your public health entitlement, whether through public and/or private coverage. The public health entitlement (and other social security benefits) depends on a number of factors, including nationality, residency status, work status and contribution to the system.
Everyone aged 16+ years of age is required to have one. Children under 16 years are included on the card of their parent or guardian.

Where there are excess medical charges (called dépassements) over the official tariffs you may be able to get reimbursement from your voluntary insurer. If not, the costs fall to you.

imageVitale card is a microprocessor-based or so-called “smart” about the size of a credit card. The updated version launched last year is more refined with photo and signature included. It does not contain any medical information but all the administrative elements needed to support your care:

imageyour identity and your rights-holders under 16 years of age;
your registration number;
the health insurance plan you are affiliated;
the health insurance fund to which you are attached;
your rights to any universal health coverage complementary (CMUC);
your rights to any exemption from co-payments if you get under a long-term illness (ALD), maternity, accidents at work, etc..
The Carte Vitale is strictly confidential. Except for the owner, it cannot be read by the Health Insurance Fund or the health professional seen, unless they are equipped with a business card which allows reading the card. It includes specific rights such as exemption from from certain payments.
You do not have to submit your Carte Vitale during a medical examination conducted as part of a loan application eg mortgage.

You can access the information contained on your Carte Vitale using ATMs installed in the reception points (excluding information on your rights to exemption). These ATMs also allow you to edit the certificates (eg certificate or certificate of daily duties allowances), and update your Carte Vitale.

I volunteered to take Peter to the hospital appointment partly to translate some medical terms but also because I was curious to experience how it all worked. We set off on the 21km trek by car as there is no public transport except taxi. It was reasonably easy to park with no charge. When we arrived we were directed to the outpatients.
It is a public Hospital known as The Centre Hospitalier de Périgueux, public health facility was opened on its present site in 1953. It has 580 beds and has an A&E, a 38bed Maternity unit and 115bed Psychiatric unit. It serves a population of 410,000 and stipulates the following user rights
The user is at the heart of the concerns of the public hospital. It must accommodate all patients without discrimination of any kind. The user rights are specified in the “Charter of the hospitalized person” (circular dated 2 March 2006), which must be brought to the attention of each person hospitalized. This charter is available in seven languages ​​(English, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Portuguese and Arabic).

  • The right to access and quality of care
  • The right to be informed and to participate in decisions
  • Access to health information (medical record)
  • The legal protection of privacy
  • The management of pain in hospital

More details on the website
It has an extremely low incidence of hospital infection and it is a statutory right of the patient to have pain controlled adequately to the extent that a patient post operatively or undergoing a procedure will be asked at frequent intervals to grade their pain from 1-10.
When we entered the hospital we were struck by the quietness of the hospital and the stark cleanliness of the corridors and the rooms bearing in mind it had been built since 1953 and various additions in the past decade. All staff were uniformed including the admin staff who wore white pyjamas, also nurses wore white pyjamas with coloured bands to indicate their status and the doctors wore white coats. They were softly spoken but professional and helpful. We waited in a waiting area and everybody respected the quietness. The doctor wearing a white coat passed by with a patient acknowledging our presence and apologised for keeping us a few minutes waiting. He then showed us into a stark room with only a desk, several chairs and a telephone. He read the letter and then asked to see Peter in another room for examination. They both reappeared and he agreed it was a hernia and needed surgery. He then took out his diary and asked when would be a convenient date, Peter got out his diary and between  themselves they arranged a mutually convenient date. He then explained clearly exactly what he was going to do in a mixture of French and English, showing Peter the type of gauze had he would use and suggested that as he was taking a blood thinning drug that he should stay in overnight and he would also see the anaesthetist. He then dictated a letter to his GP and the anaesthetist. He also answered Peter’s questions patiently. He then sked Peter to write a cheque  for 42€ slipped it under the phone with the other cheques and at the same time handed a form to reclaim this charge from Peters health insurance.
A week later we returned to see the anaesthetist.  Firstly we had to take a number in the main reception area and when called go to the allocated admin staff (a bit like the system at  Perceval  House, Ealing ) who then took the Carte Vitale which demonstrates you a resident in France and entitlement for a percentage of medical costs by the state , the remainder of the cost is met by the insurance company and these documents have to be verified before the patient can make arrangements for hospital admission. also it was necessary to produce a photo ID ( passport or ID card)
Following this the proceeded to the area where the anaesthetist was consulting. The receptionist looked oddly at me to come forward calling me Peter. However, it turned out that most of the patients were antenatal and her expression was indicating that not only had I had an unusual female name but perhaps I looked a little old to be pregnant.
The patient established we saw the anaesthetist who quizzed Peter about his past medical history and current medication,examined him and the asked him to go into the next room to have blood taken and an ECG tracing by the nurse.
imageThe nurse then issued Peter with 2 bottles of Betadine to be applied over the whole body including the hair on the evening prior to surgery and the morning of the surgery, no food or drinks from the night before and to arrive at the hospital at 7am.

We were then told to return to reception to make the appointment to see the anaesthetist and receive paperwork and instructions of what to do prior to admission. The receptionist then arranged the overnight stay and if he wanted a single room that would be 4o€ extra to be paid after the stay.

On the day of the surgery we set off at 6.15am by car in pitch black down country lanes and only the occasional lorry or car to the hospital. As we entered the town the only activity was bakeries selling bread and the bar tabac selling coffee and newspaper and cigarettes. When we arrived at the hospital we trailed down endless corridors into the silent stillness of the hospital to be welcomed by 2 nurses ( one of which turned out to be from the next village)who showed Peter to his room. He was asked to robe in a gown and the a careful inventory was taken of his belongings including watch, mobile phone including the make (although of antique value only) whether there was a charger,rings, money- notes and coins and items of clothing. He was then asked to show ID ( passport, DVLA or ID card ) He was then challenged as to whether he had washed with Betadine evening and morning ( after admitting he had used deodorant under his arms he was sent to the bathroom to apply Betadine under the arms). He was quizzed as to when he had last eaten, whether he wore glasses and how many pairs he had with him, did he have false teeth, similarly if he had a hearing aid and as he some dropping of the mouth from an old nerve problem whether he could manage normal food. Also asked if he wanted to use the TV and then was shown how the mechanism of the bed operated. This was all documented .
I was asked to leave to learn the room, whilst the nurse attended to him. He reported  that they had asked him if he had urinated that morning and then proceeded to shave him from the level of the umbilicus to the the mid thighs and everywhere in between! He was then given a tablet to relax him as he began to doze and adorned with mop cap a porter soon appeared to take Peter to theatre and I made a hasty retreat.
He told me subsequently that when he arrived in the theatre where he was then asked to transfer to the operating couch and wheeled into theatre and didn’t remember anything until he woke in his bed feeling parched. Eventually the surgeon did his round at about 6pm checked his wound and gave him permission to have a light supper – three course as the usual in France and all in sealed containers.

The view from the window was merely other hospital buildings but he was entertained by the starlings gathering on the communication wires constantly jostling for position until an unbeknown signal gave rise to a sudden departure in a large black cloud.(mobile phones are useful to capture these moments!)
He was able to phone me to say all was well so far and he was in no pain (there is a hospital policy,as stated in their brochure to aim to keep patients pain-free). He had a poor night but he found the nurses attentive and reassuring. The next morning breakfast arrived a few biscuits with butter and jam and a bowl of an apology for tea!! He was then told he could wash in the ensuite bathroom and dress but again with an offer of help. Throughout this experience he felt nothing was too much trouble for the nurses and they were thoughtful and reassuring. He was someone who had experienced previous hospital admissions and had been fearful on this occasion, which is normal as people get older and are aware that there can be complications, which friends are only too glad to share!
He rested during the morning and after the three course lunch soup, celeriac and paupiette de veau followed by a yogurt all in sealed packaging.  The surgeon arrived to discharge him after further inspection and advise regarding driving and completing the hand written records and  a prescription and instructions for the nurse to remove the clips after 10 days.
I arrived to collect him and the nurse passed over the papers and he was told to collect the prescription for dressings and painkillers from the pharmacy and then phone the nurse to visit him at home to attend the wound. Then we went to the hospital administration to make the final settlement including paying for the overnight stay in a single room which would have been 37€ but as all the rooms for It is of note that nurses have a practise run from their own surgery premises and can ask patients to attend but usually they visit the home post operatively.

On arriving home he rang the nurse’s home to arrange the visit. He had previously seen nurse Leblanc for home nursing and asked to speak to her and she replied it was her speaking but strangely did not know his house and sounded different… All was revealed when it turned out Nurse Leblanc who he spoke to was the daughter-in-law and Nurse Leblanc  had divorced and remarried. The male nurse had been dismissed as he had made fraudulent claims all because he wanted a  fast car and a bigger house!  Sounded like something out of a soap opera…..

The nurse called at the house every other morning with both nurses alternating.  They left their instruments in a well used tin case at the house and sterilised them by wiping with Betadine and did not use gloves. Nevertheless, the wound healed beautifully and each visit the nurse advised gentle mobilisation. Unbeknown to them he had driven the tractor around the garden!

Card readerAt the end of each dressing each nurse recorded the visit by putting the Carte Vitale into a card reader and a cheque was made out for 30€ most of which is reimbursed.

The wound healed very well and after 6 weeks he was seen by the surgeon for review. He was satisfied that the operation was satisfactory and he was discharged.

Overall, this was an extremely satisfactory experience and an insight into French medical care.

More insights into how the Hospital is organised can be found on the link below

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Posted by on December 22, 2013 in Training and Advice


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We all know that feeling of arriving at the station as the barrier goes down and watch your train slide away from you.image
It leaves you feeling irritated and perhaps distressed at the prospect of a long wait for the next train and the hassle of arranging an alternative pick up at your destination.
The last time this occurred was earlier this month when the Eurostar arrived late and I didn’t have enough time to cross Paris to catch the connecting TGV at Montparnasse. I arrived with 4 minutes to go before the departure time but the awaiting station uniformed official mercilessly blocked mine and several others entrance to the platform claiming we should be there at least 2 minutes before departure and indeed by the time she had completed her declaration it was just just less than 2 minutes!

I walked away crest fallen, luckily with a semi-flexible ticket and started to make my way towards the Salle d’Attente ready for more than one hour’s wait. On my way I noticed, out of the corner of my eye a cycling machine for charging batteries.
image I put down my luggage and plugged in my iPad and it wasn’t long before a young French girl from a small village near Nantes joined me also having missed her train connection. We both began pedaling as if in a road cyclists heaven cycling the French Pyrénées on a challenging climb. (Echoed by passing French young men) then she said that there was no need to pedal so hard, the devices did not charge any faster and we slowed down to a casual pace.
She then started to tell me how she had worked as an ‘au pair’ for a councillor’s family in Rochdale near Sheffield. Whilst living there she had worked as a volunteer at a youth club and it was whilst working there that she had gone back to the flat of 2 of the young girls from the youth club. She had been discouraged but felt she had something in common with them as they claimed that they were bored at home and she empathasisec as she been brought up in I small out of the way village in France. When she arrived at the flat she was not unduly surprised to see the disheveled outer appearance after all the outside of her parents farmhouse was not exactly pristine.
As she entered the flat she was shocked and surprised to see that it was totally empty except for some bedding strewn on the bare floorboards, no doors, no electricity and only cold running water. Her look of surprise prompted the girls to admit that both parents were drug addicts and they had sold every possession and use the doors as firewood to make an open fire to cook and keep warm. What do you do to occupy yourself the French girl asked and they told her how they played cards by candle-light and listened to the radio when they acquired batteries.
Following this experience she went back to France and studied Political Sciences and now involved in French Politics.

We the talked about social deprivation and poverty and she felt is was because in Britain we had not had a Revolution and didn’t appreciate the concept of Liberté,Egalité & Fraternité and tended to concentrate our efforts on Liberty(freedom).
More importantly after this experience she had phoned her mother to apologise for complaining about being brought up in a boring simple village on an ordinary farm!
It was not long before we noticed that 45 minutes had passed and we parted with devices charged and in separate directions to try to make some difference in society.


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