Meeting Eileen has brought a dramatic realisation that carrying an EHIC card when travelling in Europe is not sufficient.

I first met Eileen at the clinic in Ganges – the nurses told me there was an elderly English woman who spoke almost no French in a nearby room.  Eileen and her husband had just arrived in the Cévennes to stay with their friend, John. While the two men were out in the garden, she went down to the kitchen, miscalculated the number of steep Cévenol steps and went hurtling to the floor, breaking her femur badly.

After ten days of traction, an operation to put a metal rod into the thigh, and a few days recovery, she was transferred to Les Chataigniers.  And there she is, three doors away from me. After a couple of days her husband drove back to England with the friend, and she is very much alone.

The very nice Romanian nurse on duty when I arrived asked me if I could go along and cheer her up and help generally with the communication problem.  Eileen is 84 but clearly used to being active and independent and is completely thrown by this disaster. Unable to communicate effectively she feels scared and lonely.

So I have become rather involved in her care, acting as interpreter in meeting with, for example, the doctor, and passing on her requests and questions to other staff.

Sitting alone for much of the day, Eileen has too much time on her hands to get anxious about her treatment, how long she will have to stay here and how much it is all going to cost.

She had wanted to take out holiday insurance but her husband had insisted that the EHIC card was sufficient. Since I am totally covered by my combination of the French health cover (my carte vitale) and my private insurance (mutuelle), I don’t really have the sums at my fingertips and have been making enquiries for her.

It turns out that the Ganges clinic has sent her papers to some national body which deals with transactions between different European countries and her bill for the fortnight there will eventually be sent to England.  Here at the Chataigniers I think her daily charges will be 20€ (for meals etc) and a 50€ supplement for a single room (which is definitely not covered by the EHIC). Even if I am right, that is nearly 500€ a week.

The European Health Insurance Card covers your health treatment when in France, but you may have to contribute to the costs.  I have tried to reassure her the Ganges bill should not be exorbitant: from what I have read on the internet the maximum patient contribution should be 20% of the costs plus 20€ for each day in hospital. She is worried about the bill for the traction and operation in Ganges.  I have no idea what these cost, but I have tried to reassure her that the prices in Ganges are reasonable and I would be surprised if she had to pay more than a few hundred euros at the most. I hope I’m right! It would be nice if there was a helpline one could ring to get a clearer explanation of possible charges (and their limits) in a particular situation.

Mealtimes are another challenge.  The dining staff, who know me well of course, have put me at a table with her so we can speak in English.  For the past few evenings we have been joined by a woman who lives in Valleraugue (with a house in Ganges and flat in Montpellier). She and her husband spent seven years in Algeria (he was in the army, she was a nurse) and I’m afraid her view of the world reflects that of many French who lived and worked in Algeria. I have already had to remain silent when she talks about immigrants.

That first evening, she turned to us and asked in an accusing voice why we were not speaking French in France. I repeated (politely…) my explanation of Eileen’s circumstances, asked her to excuse us, and break off at intervals to explain what we are discussing (so she doesn’t think we are talking about her!). But the subject keeps coming up again and yesterday she turned to Eileen and said it was impolite to not talk in French at a mealtime in France.  I had had enough and this time refused to let her insulting behaviour go unchallenged (particularly as I could see Eileen wilting under the onslaught).  Luckily the very old gentleman who has joined us at the table took over and said firmly but courteously that her position was not acceptable and her language could have been better nuanced.  Madame deflated under this double onslaught, changed her position and at one stage even turned to Eileen and said she hoped she had not inadvertently offended her. Fortunately Eileen gave a little smile and put her arm on Madame’s arm.

After our first meal with her, when Eileen was crumpling also under Madame’s ‘informed’ opinion that the femur would take three to six months to heal, we fortunately bumped into another resident – Monique – with whom I had already have several friendly encounters.  She tried her few words of English and expressed sympathy with Eileen.  She had apparently overheard the first exchange and the next day told me she had slept badly she was so angry with Madame.

Typical of Monique is that she talks to all, especially those that others do not talk to, such as the chain smoker with long straggly hair and a hacking cough, and the black woman who wanders around like a lost soul (she can never remember what room she is in or where she comes from, but turns out to otherwise be very coherent in her conversations). The friendly woman lives in le Vigan so I am sure I will come across her in the future.

The future?  I have no idea how long I will stay here.  I have recovered remarkably well from the operation and each day feel more like myself. Yes, the stomach is uncomfortable, but not as bad as my sciatic nerve problem, which – with enforced lying on my back – prevents me from sleeping at night. It is just hard to remember that I must not bend down or try to pick anything up.

In theory I reckon I could go home soon, with daily visits from a nurse to put on my compression stockings and beastly corset, and either eating out of the freezer or getting meals delivered.

If I did not live on my own, that is certainly what would happen.  I’ll wait a few days more before discussing departure date with the doctor.


As I pressed published, the gentleman from the dinner table yesterday evening passed my door and entered to say bonjour.  His eyes lit up when he saw my computer and said he must get his out when he feels better tomorrow.  He showed me his website, which is all about his work since abandoning his job as head of a school for children with learning difficulties or behavioural problems: from what I can see, his goal is to persuade the world to abandon money! I’ll have to return to read his works.


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