I walk into the little waiting room and begin to hear the lightest strains of music coming from somewhere, piped in like I've only otherwise heard in American elevators, but much softer, while 8 pairs of eyes, of ages ranging from pre-K to post-retirement, raise up at the same time to give me the once over. And, again, simultaneously, after a few seconds of scrutiny, they all lower, back to their books, magazines and iPhones.
I'm not quite sure what to do next, because there is no available seating left, save for the white plastic stacking chairs just the right size for 3-year-olds. Should I just stand there, pick up a French children's book and wait for one of the prior waiting room tenants to vacate? Or, am I even in the right place, since I've never been to either this doctor's office or to any other doctor's office in Paris?
Hmm, there seem to be far too many children's toys, books and furniture, bringing back memories of my children's pediatrician's office in New York, and look, there are two sniffling and coughing kids. Yup, I must be in the wrong office.
I go back outside, check the door's address and the doctor's name. Nope, this is the name and the address I was given by my friend who is a patient. He suggested I just show up in the morning, corner the doc and tell him I was "sent by Joe." I knew this wouldn't fly in Manhattan, but when in Paris...
However, two patients came and went and I began to learn the drill. First, there is no receptionist. The doctor opens his examining room/office door, directly into the waiting room, releases the prior patient with a hand shake, nods at the next patient (whose name, I suppose, is on an agenda somewhere in that office) who stands up and shakes the doctor's hand (yes, I imagined all the bacterial permutations of these serial handshakes), enters the examining room and closes the door. It all takes about 20 seconds.
Second (and most importantly), each time a new patient walks into the full waiting room, all eyes raise from their iPhones, etc., so that the owners of each pair of eyes can politely respond to the new patient's greeting of "bonjour madame" "bonjour monsieur" to every other patient in the little room.
Wonderful, I already made faux pas #1 - I had muttered no "bonjours;" rather, I had hurriedly turned tail to go look at the front door, and then had the audacity to return a second time without even an effort to rectify my first rude entrance, clearing up any possible confusion that my first impoliteness was in error.
There was a second problem. There didn't seem to be time in this quick dance of the opening and closing doors to insert my introduction that "Joe sent me." I thought that, well, perhaps at the noon hour (2 hours from that moment), the flood of newcomers would die down and I'd be alone in that waiting room and could then get the attention I deserved. (what a chicken, and what a fantasy)
So after two sets of handshakes, I hopped up, New York style, placed myself between the rising patient who had received the MD nod, and ran up to MD with my "Joe sent me," to which MD responded with "huh?" in front of the whole waiting room. Damn, I knew that would happen! I turned red, repeated, and he smoothly whipped out his iPhone and replied that he had no appointments for today, could I come back next Tuesday ...which would be four days from now. Sigh. I was suffering; that's why I decided the doc visit was going to be today. Yes, I know this is also not necessarily possible in New York either. In any case, I did not want to suffer and worry through the weekend and I was going to be persistent. I'd been sick for over a week with this cold+whatever it was.
I ended up getting an actual appointment (courtesy of same friend Joe, whose name has been changed because "Joe sent me" is so much fun to write) at the end of today, Friday, with another doc in the same neighborhood. The drill was same, and this time, I knew to lift up my own eyes and mutter a "bonjour" to each new patient who entered the waiting room. I was a pro!
The doc came out and gave ME the nod. Wow, pro move #2! I entered, did the hand shake and reminded myself to wash my hands right after the appointment and touch nothing near my face in the meantime.
We went first to his desk, where he asked me to describe my problems, and I responded with my best pre-rehearsed lines using words I'd looked up in Larousse as I waited in the waiting room. Pro move #3! He understood me and he smoothly directed me over to the examining table at the end of the room. He did the usual doctor stuff with little lights into nose and ears and mouth, and the all-important feeling for swollen glands in the neck.
It seems I have a bad sinus infection, which is a first for me and explains why I had no idea why I was exhausted, couldn't sleep, lost my voice, had a constant headache, runny nose, chills and sore throat for over a week.
We smiled and chatted about Obamacare in French, while he wrote my three prescriptions (for what, I had no idea, but I nodded a lot), and filled out an insurance form for me to submit to my US insurer. The French have a great deal of respect for forms. He assured me that, unlike in the US, the medical profession in France is very content.
He then asked for 50 euros, handed me my prescriptions, walked me to the door, shook my hand once again, smiled in the direction of the next patient, and I went to wash my hands before I left the building.