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Global Matters: The French collection

Opinion

Global Matters: The French collection

There are better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon in Paris than making an impromptu visit to the emergency room in a public hospital, but that’s what I did a few weeks ago following an altercation with a chair at a restaurant in the Marais.

I really ought to come up with a better story, but the truth is I cut the dickens out of my index finger on the jagged edge of the chair as I settled in for lunch. I knew in an instant this was not your average superficial nick, and when my eyes cleared sufficiently to have a look at the digit, now swathed in napkins, my suspicions were confirmed. There was no way I could stop the bleeding.

The restaurant’s owner was solicitous – at first offering me a tiny band-aid (which was laughingly inadequate), but then escorting me to a nearby pharmacy for treatment, and ultimately picking up the tab for that as well as for our lunch. The pharmacist disinfected the wound, wrapped my finger in a proper bandage and sent us off to the hospital with the admonition that the wrapping would probably hold for a couple of hours before it would become, shall we say, saturated.

By this point I was no longer cursing or seeing stars and was able to carry on a conversation. Thus we learned, as she walked us from the pharmacy towards the hospital, that the owner of the restaurant was originally from Israel and had moved to Paris 35 years before, and so on. By the time we arrived at the salle d’urgence I was somewhat mollified and therefore decided to drop the billion-dollar lawsuit I had been contemplating just minutes before.

(What can I say? I’m a sucker for the French language. I will have to find another source of retirement income. One hates to profit at the hands of one’s friends, particularly those who own a restaurant. )

And so I was feeling more charitable when we arrived at the emergency room, but my finger was not, and the bandage was already in need of attention. I approached the intake clerk and explained to her what had happened. She referred me to a clerk immediately to her left, two feet away, who listened to me repeat the explanation and then accepted my Maine driver’s license as identification. I then joined three other patients, some wrapped in sleeping bags and other accoutrements of life on the streets, in the reception area and prepared for a long wait.

Within five minutes, however, I was called to an examining room where a burly nurse gently took my blood pressure, unwrapped the pharmacist’s work, examined the wound, listened to my explanation of what had happened, rewrapped the wound and then released me again to the waiting area.

Within 10 minutes a young, tired-looking nurse fetched me and took me deeper into the bowels of the hospital, into yet another examining room. There she and two other nurses unwrapped the wound and noted that it wouldn’t stop bleeding. I agreed. They then told me to lie down as they poured a few drops of black squid ink – they insisted it was an antiseptic – on the wound (“It won’t hurt,” they said. They were wrong.) After wrapping me up rather loosely, they sent me down the hall for an x-ray.

I pointed out that the wrapping had immediately become saturated, but they insisted I go to x-ray, where I waited and bled some more. Ten minutes after that I was x-rayed and told to go ... somewhere. I apologized for having bled on the table. The technician directed me back to the reception area.

At this point, I had an x-ray in one hand and a mound of bloody gauze on the other. I told the receptionist that I was no doctor, but was I supposed to leave the hospital with bloody bandages on my finger? Whereupon the burly nurse whom I’d seen an hour before summoned me back inside, calmly rewrapped the wound – tightly and properly – and finally sent me on my way. I went to the cashier to make arrangements for payment but she didn’t look up.

“Not today. Eventually, you’ll get a bill,” she said. And so we left.

Three days later, a nurse knocked on my hotel room door. Torn from the pages of GQ, he had a motorcycle helmet tucked under his arm and announced that he had come to change the bandage on my finger.

More squid ink, more lies about it not hurting – after which he rewrapped the wound and said, in so many words, that I was good to go. He left, and we resumed our visit to Paris. I self-medicated with rich food and fine Bordeaux.

Last Friday, the bill arrived from the hospital. The total, including the nurse’s visit, was 150 euros (about $200) .

That part didn’t hurt a bit.