I don’t remember ever going to accident and emergency in the UK, in all my 29 years.
But six months into my New Lyon Life I found myself sprawled across the riverside in Confluence with blood running down my face and my nice new bicycle basket lying mangled next to me.
People were gathered round me in seconds, talking a lot of fast French that I couldn’t follow. I picked out the words “pompiers” and “beaucoup de sang” though. I assured the concerned strangers that I was OK, not concussed, just bruised, and some very kind staff at the swanky Docks 40 patched me up really well with their first aid kit.
The first things I learnt were: Avoid old tram tracks. Always wear a cycle helmet. (More fool me.) And, less obvious to me at the time, it was not completely mad for the French lady to consider ringing the fire brigade. I now know that the fire brigade also respond as first aiders to injured people.
I was left with a nasty graze down the right side of my face. It turned out the blood coming from ear was just from a stubborn cut, nothing more serious. I’m English so I decided all I really needed was to get home and into my pyjamas with a cup of sweet tea, and perhaps an ice pack.
That was 2.30pm. At 10pm, just after dinner, I had a little panic. I didn’t know what to do with the weeepy graze anymore and the UK’s government health website says to seek medical advice for a scratch longer than 5cm. In hindsight, I should have decided to go to hospital at a more reasonable hour. Thankfully I my boyfriend and chauffeur that evening was very patient.
I then realised I didn’t know the word for accident and emergency. Or what our nearest hospitals are. Or which ones had a 24 accident and emergency centre. After a lot of Googling I finally worked out that we had to go to the Edouard Herriot hospital in the 3eme. I remembered just in time to grab my EU health card and some ID.
At the reception desk I managed to explain in French that I had come off my bike.
– “Were you going fast?”
– Yes, pretty fast.
– “Were you wearing a helmet?”
This was actually the first time that I realised I should have been wearing a helmet.
No, I said. Although I couldn’t redden any more than the deep red graze already on my face.
After about two hours in the waiting room I got to see a very friendly student doctor. She spoke no English so going through her forms proved a little protracted.
“Yes, I have allergies”, I explained. “I take over-the-counter medication for them.”
She seemed very concerned about this. After a coupled more minutes of exaggerated facial expressions I realised she’d understood that I was allergic to all medication. And that was only the first question.
Asked if I had seen a doctor recently, I pointed, not clearly enough, to the front of my shoulder where I’ve been having physio. Her hand gestures that followed made it obvious that she had misunderstood me – no, I haven’t had a boob job! At this point I decided to pull out my dictionary and stop winging it.
An hour later, and the final person to kindly help me in this mini saga was a senior doctor who told me it was nothing serious but to smother my graze in factor 50 to avoid scarring and packed me off with some saline solution, wipes and Vaseline. I did not hang around long enough to find out if I needed the tetanus jab she’d mentioned earlier.
We finally got home about 2.30am. Thankfully my graze is healing very nicely. And I now have a list of local hospitals and their contact details pinned to my fridge, some key hospital-related French vocab saved on my phone, and all my medical documents together in the kitchen drawer.