Monday, 13 February 2017

A French hospital visit

Moissac (France) - August

         So, where was I? Oh, yes, I'd just arrived at a factory in France to start work packing plums. The boss led me through vast room after room until we came to the one I was to be stationed in for the next month. In the middle, stood a long line of machinery surrounded at various intervals by about ten workers.

Encounter with a stapler

           I was put on the final section where workers were stapling cellophane wrappers onto plum-filled crates and loading them onto trolleys. For the first couple of hours, everything went fine. I was getting into a rhythm. Whack, whack, whack; three staples to secure the cellophane wrapper onto one side of the crate. Whack, whack, whack; three staples on the other side. Whack, whack, whack. Whack, whack, whack. And it was then that the unfortunate incident occurred. I was in the act of swinging my arm strongly downwards to hit a staple into the box when the lady behind me knocked my elbow. So, instead of hitting the crate, I hit my forefinger that was holding down the cellophane. I examined my finger in shock. There, embedded in the fleshy part of my nail, was a perfectly positioned staple. I could not have done it more neatly if I had tried. Pain surged through my finger; I had not only injected a staple into my nail, I had also hit it extremely forcefully with a heavy metal object.

            At that moment, the supervisor walked past and I had no option but to hold out my finger. I tried to explain that the woman behind me had bumped into me at the crucial moment. However, in my distress, i was lost for words and could not remember the French for either ‘knock’ or ‘elbow’. So I was left to say “she…” and wave in the direction of the woman. To my great annoyance, the culprit remained silent. If it had been me, I would have been greatly apologetic. As it were, I was left looking extremely stupid; the ‘anglaise’ who, on her very first day, had managed to staple her own finger. Oh, the humiliation.

A French hospital visit

            The supervisor walked me back through vast room after room until we reached the office of the boss, the last person I wished to see right then. (See previous blog post Manual labour and French forms )
           She took the news with a weary air; I had no doubt lived up to her expectations. I was driven to a local nearby hospital by another employee. Healthcare in France is to a degree private. And it is thus a rather different experience than a trip to the NHS. I sat in a small comfortable waiting room which was empty apart from myself. After only ten minutes, I was shown into a consulting room. Well, that was certainly better than the typical four hour wait in the NHS! There are, however, disadvantages of a private health system, namely it isn’t free. With this in mind, I was concerned that, since I had no social security number, I would not be covered by the factory’s insurance. To whom would the bill then fall? To the factory? To me? Either way, it was clear that I was not going to be invited back to work there. Sacked on my first day, that was a record for me.

            “Oh, the new fashion!” remarked a doctor jovially as he entered the room and saw my stapled nail. I forced a smile for his sake but I was feeling far from cheerful. He injected a local anaesthetic into my finger. I am sure that I later benefited from the pain relief it brought. However, in that moment, the extra pain brought from sticking a needle into a place which has little flesh really did not seem worth it. After deftly removing the staple, he proceeded to wrap my finger in copious amounts of sticking plaster, wrapping each layer over the previous one in a crisscross pattern at the front. At the end, I looked like I had a small banana protruding from my hand. I had not had an x-ray. Yet I wondered if the doctor perhaps suspected my finger was fractured since this is the way my thumb was bandaged when I broke it aged twelve. I say when I broke it but it would be more accurate to say when my friend broke it. We were in a hockey lesson at school when the ball came whizzing toward us. My friend took a whack at it with her hockey stick, missed and hit me on the thumb instead.

          My host, Dominique, came to pick me up having received a phone call from the factory. More humiliation and explanation. To my great surprise, however, apparently I had worked hard and the factory would have me back the following day. I had been my usual diligent self. Still, I can only imagine that they were mightily low on staff. And even more fortunately, I never received a bill for my visit to the hospital, phew.