My worst travel nightmare has materialized: a throbbing toothache in a foreign country. From experience, I’m sure it’s a dead nerve and I need antibiotics tout de suite. After two days of downing pain relievers miles from a town of any size on Corsica, I know I must deal with this immediately. Certainly before boarding a ferry from France to Sardinia, Italy so the doctor and I can communicate. We arrive in Bonafacio, a striking city with a stout hilltop fortress and stunning white chalk cliffs on the southern tip of the island. France is famous for its red tape and I’m ready to tackle it with respect to healthcare.
We reserve the day until our late afternoon ferry for my emergency, knowing it could take some time. Close to tears from the ache, I tell our hotel desk clerk what’s wrong and ask if she can get me a medical appointment. She picks up the phone and dials the local doctor whose office is down at the port. “Yes, he is seeing walk-in patients this morning. Here’s his address and our shuttle will take you.”
We enter his bare bones, second-story walk-up office in a pastel 18th century building overlooking the sparkling harbor. I wait ten minutes until his current patient comes out and then in I go. All he asks is my name. No ID, no insurance paperwork, nothing else. I’m in need and he’s treating me. A couple questions, a quick look in my mouth, a few taps on my teeth, and he writes two prescriptions: one for an antibiotic and one for pain (a drug not available back home). Total damage: $33. We head to the pharmacy next door, shell out a whopping $16 for the meds, and we’re on our way. Less than an hour after my plaint at the hotel and just shy of $50 for an impromptu doctor’s consult and the cure for my pain. I pop the pills and by the time we board the ferry hours later, my jaw is no longer on fire.
I can only imagine how long visitors to the US would wait, what documents they would be required to provide, and how much they would pay for the same treatment. Red tape and unconscionable fees in France? Not when it comes to healthcare.