March 2010


In the States, I can go to my regular doctor for a wide variety of things. Checkups include bloodwork, which is done in a tiny lab right in the office. They can also test a snot sample to make sure they are prescribing the best antibiotic for your sinus infection. There is an ultrasound machine in the office, which I know because one time they did an ultrasound of my heart. Not the case in France. Where in America consolidation = efficiency, in France it means you are reducing the number of available jobs. So in the “Best Buy” type store you HAVE to interact with 4 or 5 employees who all do one tiny little job instead of the one or maybe two you would encounter in Best Buy, and for medical things you go to a regular doctor who orders things like labwork and ultrasounds, and you have to go to a separate lab for the bloodwork and a separate ultrasound doctor for the ultrasound.

At the doctor’s office in America, if you are a woman they make you pee in a cup. They give you the cup and send you into the bathroom. After you collect your sample, you put it on a shelf behind a little door in the bathroom. There is another little door on the other side for the nurse to pick it up and test it. Anonymity is maintained throughout the process, with the exception of your last name written on the little cup. When you go to the lab in France, they give you a vial at the front desk. You walk around the corner with your little vial and collect your sample in the bathroom. You screw on the lid and then take your vial back to the front desk, where you just plunk it down on the secretary’s desk. She picks it up and attaches a sticker with your name and barcode or whatever on it. That is how they do it at the lab I go to most often. At a different lab I have visited, you keep your vial with you in the waiting room until you get called back for the bloodwork part. I am not sure what you are supposed to do with it. It seems weird to hold a vial of pee on your lap, but it also seems strange to put it in your bag.

Oh, and people are not afraid of contamination or contagion here. Neither food handlers nor blood drawers wear gloves. So if you order a pre-made sandwich from a counter, the guy will pick it up with his bare hands, wrap it up for you and hand it over. And the person taking your blood sticks you with their bare hands, and after filling up a large vial will pour some into a smaller vial – still gloveless.

In America, for a pregnancy ultrasound, the woman’s nether regions are covered with a sheet or at the very least one of those paper blanket things doctors put on you so you can both pretend you have maintained your dignity. In France they either don’t care if you maintain your dignity, or being pantsless does not constitute undignity because there is nary a scrap of fabric or paper in sight. The doctor does not leave the room for the undressing part. And when they leave the room afterward, they are unconcerned with your state of undress; they may close the door behind them, but then again they may not. So you may find yourself dressing in full view of whoever happens to be walking down the hall at the time.

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I showed up for the first doctor’s appointment early, ready to fill out a mound of paperwork. Let the record show that Jake was with me, and has gone with me to every appointment except one when he was covering my English club for me. The receptionist told me they were running behind and I could leave for an hour and come back, but I decided to stay rather than risk missing my slot. Plus, the paperwork will take up a lot of time! She handed me a single sheet of paper with a few blanks on it: name, address, date of birth, phone number, and a question which is typical of an OB/GYN and which I will not elaborate on for delicacy’s sake. I sat down in the waiting room and began working on the form. It took approximately 2 minutes to complete. I took the form back to the receptionist and she instructed me to sit down. Then she proceeded to “interview” me: going over the information on the form and asking a few additional questions, which she marked down in some sort of folder-form. I was a bit nervous, as all this was in French and really concentrating to make sure I “understood” everything (I use the quotation marks to represent the HUGE amount of guessing and assuming that goes into my comprehension).

Then she asked me a question; I stared blankly at her. I understood all the words but had NO IDEA what she was asking. I said, “I don’t understand” and she repeated the question a bit slower. I continued staring blankly. Then I pointed at the blank on the form which I will not elaborate on for delicacy’s sake. She repeated the question, this time with obvious frustration. Met with my continued blank stare, she switched to English and bellowed, “WHO TOLD YOU YOU’RE PREGNANT??”

In hindsight this may have been the place to inform her that I did, in fact, take a home pregnancy test. The “who” part threw me off. She did specifically ask if I had had a blood test or ultrasound to confirm pregnancy, which I had not. She acted irritated at this. I still am not sure how you are supposed to acquire a blood test or ultrasound BEFORE YOU GO TO THE DOCTOR, since they both require a prescription. Or why you have to register to acquire a bed at the hospital BEFORE YOU GO TO THE DOCTOR.

I finished the interview and proceeded to wait for 2 hours before we made it into the doctor’s office. She was delighted to practice her English, which was refreshing, and asked me to tell her about myself.
“Um, I’m 27…”
“And this is your first pregnancy?”
“As far as I know.”
“And you want to continue the pregnancy?”
Once again I was caught off guard. In America this is not something a doctor would typically ask if you are sitting in front of them, beaming, next to your equally beaming husband. I mean of course there are some doctors with terrible bedside manner but in general if a couple comes in together and they both look relatively happy, despite sitting in the waiting room for 2 hours, you can assume they are not there to schedule an abortion. However this is a typical, routine question in France. I assured her that I had every intention of continuing the pregnancy and she asked me some more questions, then did an exam.

Let me explain that in France the doctor’s office is literally an office. They sit at a desk with books and files around and talk to you, and their exam space is in the same room. So they talk to you, and then tell you to take off your pants and put them on a chair or something and hop up on the exam table. There is no leaving of the room for a few minutes for privacy, no flimsy paper blanket to give you the illusion of dignity. She apparently did not listen to some of what I said during the “talk time” (I will refrain from elaboration for delicacy’s sake) because she was concerned that I was “measuring small.” She told me to get dressed and told me I needed to go have an ultrasound immediately to date the pregnancy. She called an ultrasound buddy of hers (doctors here do not have that stuff in office, you have to go to a separate ultrasound doctor) and asked her to stay late a few minutes to squeeze us in for an emergency ultrasound. So she scribbled prescriptions for bloodwork and the ultrasound; we paid and started booking it across town to get to the ultrasound doctor. I should note that due to the information I conveyed to the doctor and which she did not pay attention to, I was unconcerned about being a bit smaller than she wanted but did recognize this as an opportunity to see my baby a few weeks earlier than we normally would.

We made it to the ultrasound doctor, handed her the paper from the first doctor, and she told me to take off my pants and sit on the exam table. You just have to get used to this stuff if you are having a baby here. And then we got to see our baby, a little bean with arms and legs waving around and a heart, and we heard the heartbeat, and one of us cried but I won’t say who. I was never so happy to have a doctor not listen to me. And thus concludes the first appointment.

Things the doctor DID NOT talk about, which she probably should have:

  • prenatal vitamins
  • that I need to wash fruits/vegetables REALLY well because of toxoplasmosis in the soil
  • Chick-fil-A
  • Panda Express
  • your house
  • Posado’s
  • Flip’s Patio Grill
  • Macaroni Grill
  • Italianni’s
  • Italian Inn
  • Olive Garden
  • Steak & Shake
  • Pizza King
  • any place in Austin
  • Mellow Mushroom
  • Simply Fondue (or Melting Pot)
  • a good barbecue place
  • a good hamburger place
  • Ton’s Mongolian Grill. Or Chan’s.
  • Freebirds
  • Cracker Barrel
  • IHOP
  • Le Peep
  • Arby’s
  • Johnny Carino’s
  • BEDFORD SNOBALL
  • Cheesecake Factory
  • Red Lobster. Or you could just make me some Cheddar Biscuits.

Isn’t that an impressive title, Sons of Thunder? I suppose that is the title because it is about two brothers who have anger issues. One of the brothers does tell a little story about thunder one time so maybe that is where it comes from.

Anyway, so my first impression was: there are 8 characters mentioned in the first 2 pages. It appears that there are 2 sets of brothers in those 8 but it’s not super clear. I am no expert but I don’t really think it’s very good writing to introduce 8 people in 2 pages. As for the story, it’s about these 2 brothers who go to America with a friend and her grandfather, but the grandfather dies on the boat so it’s just the 3 kids, fending for themselves. Of course as they grow up the older brother is in love with the girl but circumstances prevent them from being together, then the second brother is in love with her but circumstances prevent them being together, then tragedy occurs and – I’m trying to be vague here, so as not to ruin any suspense should you care to read it – let’s just say it narrows down the choice for the poor girl. Like most Christian romance, it is pretty soap opera-ish and a bit over-dramatic, but that’s to be expected. Also I should mention that it is set during the 30’s/WWII era if that piques your interest. My summary is, meh, it was ok. Personally I prefer the Thoenes for WWII era fiction.

This book was provided for review by the LitFuse Publicity Group.

The next order of business was to procure prenatal vitamins. In the US, prenatal vitamins are basically normal multivitamins on steroids – “extra” on everything. I was taking some vitamins I had brought over, which actually would have been fine for prenatals…but I was running low. So, off to the pharmacy I went (after looking up how to say “prenatal” in French).

After a few attempts, I managed to convey to the pharmacist what I was looking for. She disappeared in to the back room and returned with a small box. I could tell by the name and the pregnancy-related-looking logo that we had indeed had a communication success. I was so excited that I didn’t check any of the information, just happily forked over the 11 euros and went on my way.

When I got home I examined the information label more closely. As stated previously, a prenatal in the US contains approximately 3000 vitamins & minerals in higher amounts than regular vitamins. The French variety had about 5, all in amounts the FDA would deem minimal. For example, the FDA recommends a minimum of 400 micrograms of folic acid for regular people and 600-800 for pregnant women; this little vitamin contained 400. While I am far from believing the FDA to be the source of all nutritional/medical knowledge or having my personal well-being as their main interest, I also believe that some of these recommendations are actually based on research and science and it may be a good idea to try to adhere to them. There was also something called “nicotinamide,” which inspired fear until a Google search revealed that it is, in fact, a form of niacin rather than an ingredient to help French moms stop smoking.

Obviously this would not do. I immediately got online and ordered some decent prenatal vitamins and was even happy to pay international shipping charges to ensure my poor little baby could avoid neural tube defects. And in the meantime, I took those French “prenatal vitamins” with A LOT of orange juice.

I thought it may be interesting for my friends & family in America to hear about all the wonderful things I have experienced due to being pregnant in a foreign country. So, we begin here with my adventures.

Let me begin by saying that if I was back in good ol’ DFW, there is an awesome birth center in Hurst and I would be going there and seeing a nice midwife who supports my “leave me alone unless I am dying or have a sinus infection” view of the medical profession in general. Most of France is not really compatible with my view* of pregnancy/childbirth, which is basically that 98% of what happens is probably normal and not worth freaking out about and the fewer needles you poke in me, the better for everybody involved. Oh, and don’t do “routine” things that are for your convenience rather than my health or the health of my child.

After I found out I was pregnant, I began scouring the internet to find an English-speaking doctor. Or midwife. Or even just a website I could understand. Unfortunately I couldn’t find ANYTHING because people in this freaking city don’t like speaking English, which is AWESOME since I only got 96 hours of language school and had a crappy teacher for most of that…that is a different story, however, although it will pop up in a later episode (stay tuned). So, I went to Tiffany to ask for help. Being a super-helpful person, she was more than willing to oblige. The first thing we did was visit 2 hospitals in the city to acquire lists of the doctors who deliver there. At the second hospital they asked how far along I was. When I told them – I was only 6 or 7 weeks at this point – the receptionist lady sucked in her breath and shook her head. I was very far along, she said. Maybe too far. It may be to late to register.

Let me pause here to 1. point out that you have to register at a hospital to deliver, basically within 3 hours of peeing on the stick, or it is too late 2. ask what happens if you don’t register in time – do they leave your laboring self out in the parking lot? let you deliver in the waiting room? 3. point out that there are plenty of people who, at that point, aren’t even aware that they ARE pregnant. I’m not sure what happens to them either.

So, Tiffany asked her doctor if I could come in to get the “prescription” that would allow me to register at the hospital. When this doctor found out “how far along” I was already she insisted I come in immediately because it may be too late to get a place at the hospital. We did that, then returned to the hospital so I could get one of the coveted, going-fast, hard-to-come-by places based on a guessed-at due date. And then Tiffany, super-nice person that she is, started calling doctors on the list to find one that could manage in English because while I struggle with French in person, there is absolutely no point in even attempting a phone call. Thankfully we found one much earlier than either of us expected, made an appointment…and I will leave you there with bated breath until the next installment.

*My pre-childbirth views, that is.

Over the past year Jake & I have invented several ways to entertain ourselves when we find ourselves with spare time on our hands. Here are some winners.

  • the 24 game. (We were going to do the 24 challenge, which is where you watch an entire season in one day…and then we thought, we should invent The Ultimate 24 Challenge and watch all 7 seasons in one week! and all 24 fans would marvel at us, but then we found out we don’t really like 24 so we didn’t.) When 24 goes to a commercial break, there is this clock that counts beep beep beep…and then it counts back in when they come back. Because we watched online, there were no actual commercials in between, so when the clock counted out we would each shout a time before it came back and whoever was closest would win. If you guessed the exact time you were the big winner!! If your time showed up a few seconds later you could get honorable mention, but if your time was the second before the first one it didn’t count. We both hated 24, we just watched some older seasons in order to play this until we couldn’t take it anymore.
  • interrogation evaluation. After “contingency training” we like to evaluate the humanizing, diversion, and recurring diplomacy requests of people being interrogated on TV shows or movies. Can I get a bottle of water?
  • bad guy finder. Jake has created an algorithm to predict the perpetrator in episodes of Numb3rs. It was actually quite reliable for seasons 1-4. We think they changed writers at that point so we are currently adapting the algorithm.
  • the iTunes Shuffle Fantasy League. We each have 10 bands selected, then we put iTunes on shuffle. When one of your bands is up, you get a point. This one is our current favorite and comes highly recommended.