France has a wonderful health system; arguably one of the best in the world. If you have a problem and are referred to a specialist, you normally have an appointment a few days later. Last week, I received a letter, telling me that I’m due my four-yearly bilan de santê, a completely free health check-up that lasts an afternoon.
Great, but only up to a point. We hadn't lived here long, when we noticed a marked change in our own behaviour. Instead of having the usual packet of aspirin and sticking plasters in the bathroom cupboard, we one day realised that we had amassed a cornucopia of pharmaceutical products.
I now have just about every illness known to mankind. I’m still missing a few, but I know deep down that ‘The King’s Evil’ is only a matter of time. Strange really, as I feel perfectly OK.
Spasmophilie is a common syndrome here. ‘Spasmo what?’ I hear you ask.This is where the sufferer starts spontaneously hypeventilating due to the general angoisse of existence. I dare say at this moment, all across the nation, there are people flailing about like newly landed halibut as the unbearable heaviness of being smashes down upon them. More tranquilisers are consumed here than anywhere else on Earth.
Don’t get me started on ‘heavy legs,’ as reported by the BBC, in December 2008. Heavy legs, is, or rather was, an affliction to which the French were absolute martyrs. They used to consume a third of all the lotions and pills available worldwide for this problem until the health insurance companies stopped paying for them. Consumption is now one tenth of what it was.
Hypochondria is more or less compulsory. It is also big business. In the next village they have a pharmacie the size of a supermarket. To give you some idea, the private car park holds about 150 cars. Due to economies of scale, they sell things cheaper than most other pharmacies are buying the stuff in for. I avoid it as much as possible, as it has a distinctly purgatorial atmosphere, being always packed with desperate, wild-eyed people, some of them lugubriously wheeling trolleys, mostly containing snake-oil type cures and large boxes which, I hope, for their sake, are catering packs of Prozac. It isn’t unusual to see families staggering back to the cars, each with three or four carrier-bags.
The reason it works so well in a village of a couple of thousand people is because it’s famous. In summer, you see people in the car park from all over France, testing their cars' suspensions to the limit with stacks of bargain basement potions. Probably the defining moment of les vacances. ‘Wait ‘till we tell them back home where we’ve been.......’
The fact is that an efficient health-system is a treadmill. The more you are advised on your health, the more advice you need. An addiction. In some ways, the stoic Brit ‘mustn’t grumble’ approach probably works equally well as a preventative.
Gotta go.... hyperventilating.
For the full BBC article: