Thursday, February 03, 2005

Visite Médicale

Three weeks ago at our weekly Monday meeting, among my assignments for the following week, I found what appeared at first to be an invitation: Convocation: Visite Médicale. But it was hardly an invitation. It was an outright ordinance.

They’d finally found me. The Office of International Migration requires each foreigner staying in France to attend a medical check-up. The exact purpose of these mandatory visits remains a mystery, but each person goes home with a giant x-ray of her lungs. Theories on the matter include prevention of potential lawsuits against France, studies of air pollution, and just plain bureaucratic curiosity.

During my first two extended stays, I’d managed to avoid this yearly exam, claiming ignorance or simply blaming the ever-striking Postal Service. I’d heard the horror stories: long lines, crowded waiting rooms full of immigrants, misplaced dossiers, far-away offices. This time, it was unavoidable. The mandate had arrived at and was to be billed to my place of employment. They’d given me the morning off to accommodate, and expected a receipt in return.

So two weeks later, I showed up at the appointed place and time. The swarms of immigrants were conspicuously missing. I was shown to a bare waiting room, and from the brochures, gathered that this was an entirely different sort of Visite Médicale. This was for the Department of Labor. They asked me preliminary questions about my workplace, whether or not I was required to work at a computer, and if I was given a lunch stipend.

After being told to make a little pee-pee into a cup (they had seen my Georgia driver’s license), I was soon shown to the office of Dr. Stéphanie Gentle. Across the desk from Dr. Stéphanie Gentle, I was ready to wow her with my French and answer any other questions she might have. I thought about adding an x-ray of my lungs to the collection of posters on my wall. After inquiring about the length of my stay in France, she asked me, “Can you take off your top?” I faulted a moment and finally responded, “You mean now?” Where were the clear instructions on how much to take off? Where was the paper gown?

Ever since puberty, my yearly check-ups had featured a medical assistant who would divert her eyes and tell me, “You can leave on your bra, underwear and socks. Put this on, opening to the front. The doctor will be in shortly.” She would then leave me alone so that I could undress, fold my clothes neatly on a chair, quickly slip the paper around my body, and climb onto the examination table. Feeling tiny in the one-size-fits-all gown and fidgeting with the scratchy material, I would look out the small window onto the parking deck and watch people search for their cars. Eventually, the doctor would come in. I’d lie down on the table, and if he needed to examine anything under the paper, he would do so perfunctorily and cover me up afterwards.

But there I was, in a nice wooden desk chair, told to strip in front of the doctor. She returned my blank look. “Yes, now,” she said, “so I can weigh you.” Ah, yes. I’d been weighed before. I reached to take off my shoes. “No, not your shoes, your top.” She added, “Do you understand French?” I’d just had a five-minute conversation with her, detailing my eating and exercising habits. Yes, I understood French. I also understood that top must mean sweater. After all, it was bulky, and would probably add weight to the scale. So I removed it. Again, we looked at each other from across the desk. “You must take off your shirt,” she said, slowly and deliberately.

Still wondering if I’d understood correctly, I found myself tangled in my shirt with an audience who was obviously unwilling to reach across the desk and give me a hand. My elbow somehow got caught in my sleeve. I ended up having to undo my actions and start over with a different method. There was no diverting of the eyes. Dr. Gentle just gazed at me, bored with my struggle. Unsure what to do with my clothes, I just draped them over the back of the chair in which I was sitting, as if I was settling in for a nice, pleasant dinner.

Topless now, I continued to answer questions. I gave her the run-down of my workweek and vaccination history. I tried to appear as self-confident as possible, though I’d never sat with a doctor at a desk in my underwear before.

I was finally asked to lie on the examination table. Relieved to be in a more familiar position, I relaxed and waited for the stomach-poking and reflex tests. Instead, she merely took my blood pressure, did some sort of feel-test on my right knee, and asked me if I’d had my beauty marks looked at. Of course, my beauty marks. I love the French language for its translation of moles. I answered, “Yes, I’m obliged.” She gave me an understanding nod; I have been greatly marked by beauty.

After having me stand up straight to look at my back, she motioned for me to regain my seat at her desk. I sat down, not without a longing glance to my wrinkling shirt. The results were good; I was in fine health. I nodded expectantly. She returned my stupid stare, finally pushing a pink paper toward me. “Now would be a good time to get dressed again, Mademoiselle.” Oh, would it be? She sat patiently while I put my shirt and sweater back on and wound my scarf around my neck. She frowned. “The appointment is over.” She said. So I should leave? “Yes, leave. I have other appointments. I’m very busy.”

Dr. Gentle was not living up to her namesake. I gathered my belongings, waited until I was outside the door to readjust my bra, and headed back out into La Défense, disappointed about the non-existent lung x-rays but with a pink receipt in hand, destined for the office.


At 9:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I saw you mentioned on the xanga site of twinkling4jesus. You have a wonderful writing style! What a strange medical visit, but I enjoyed every word. :)

At 12:23 AM, Blogger cdretska said...

yo yo yo... i did a similar thing, which i had to do before i ever got my fucking carte de sejour. though i my experience was a but more traumatic. i had long lines, i had immegrants, i had an x ray of my lungs. you be one lucky girl to have had such an easy visite medicale. sigh, what i wouldn't give to come back and do it all over again. ah well....

much love ems!


At 8:06 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

What a strange medical visit! I still don't understand why it was so very important to take your top off, I would understand your shoes, but your shirt? Strange. It must have been really awkward.

At 5:43 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Update: My friend in med school tells me, but refuses to post here, that the x-ray is probably a check for TB.

In a related update, this does does detract from my desire to own an x-ray of my lungs.

At 9:17 PM, Blogger Matthew said...

well... I received my carte de séjour well before my stupid visite, but decided (because i find the french funny) to go experience this phenomenon. Nothing but line after line where people keep asking you the same questions. And then, and only because its me, I got in a fight with one of the nurses. Leave it to the homo with the swiss accent to open his mouth.

"Why you all not do some pee pee?"
she said to the group of russians plus me.

We all looked around dumbfounded, but then I said to her in French "we have to pee?" she responds, "AND YOU! You speak FRENCH, you should have KNOWN!"

so of course i yelled back. "WELL LISTEN HUN, IF NO ONE TELLS US, HOW THE F**** ARE WE SUPPOSED TO KNOW?! AND what does speaking French have anything to do with peeing in a cup?"

she caved and told us where to go. I felt triumphant. I had beaten the French. That day anyway.


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