Many people at home have asked me about the health care here in the Land of Cheese. I have to report that, along with most things, the quality is very high. The doctors are extremely knowledgeable and the facilities are modern. However, there are cultural differences in health care and the types of concerns that I have verses the typical Swiss patient. I have been on the receiving end of a couple of withering looks when I ask my American-style questions, like the time when I asked about stopping the bottle at one year—which, as you know, determines which college your kid gets into in the U.S. My doctor just looked at me with a puzzled expression and said, “Why? A bottle is just a way to distribute milk.” No mention of baby bottle mouth, rotten teeth, excessive weight gain, etc. He didn’t tut, frown, or report me to social services. In fact, he really couldn’t understand why I was stressed.
My one healthcare issue is that while the doctors speak English, many receptionists do not. For example, the receptionist for our pediatrician does not speak English. I know it sounds really spoiled of me to complain, but it’s a comfort issue. Unlike in the U.S. where you can call the nurse, or the receptionist (or even the operator!) with your “is this normal?” question that you really don’t want to bother the doctor with, there is none of that here. I limp along with my rudimentary French descriptions of imaginary diseases that I, as a first-time mom, am convinced my daughter has contracted. It’s often humiliating. But, I have to say the receptionist is very patient and kind to me—and she usually just schedules an appointment with the doctor to placate me off the phone. I’m a regular at the office.
My first trip to my gynecologist in the Land of Cheese was one to remember. Set in a clinic in the Jura Mountains, I was greeting with a fabulous view of the countryside, Lake Geneva, and the Alps. I mean, can you imagine recovering in a hospital room that provided this coveted view? I could, and did—I immediately saw myself radiant and rested basking in this view, sweetly singing (yes sweetly) the “Sound of Music” to a cooing happy infant who would sleep through the night from day one. Sure, the clinic was a little 80s looking, but who’d even notice with that view? Besides, I heart the 80s.
Before the exam, my doctor—who by the way is a vision of Chanel chic with her elegant jewelry and designer scarfs—shook my hand and escorted me to her serene office. Once inside, the calm atmosphere in her office struck me. With a beautiful orchid setting the mood and retro white leather chairs, the doc and I had a very civilized conversation about my family medical history. It’s actually quite nice to speak to a doctor sans paper gown—you should try it. Her calm voice lulled me into a comfortable trance. The words “calm,” “chic,” and “civilized” don’t usually pop into my mind at a gynecologist’s office, so I had a good feeling about this place.
Dr. Chanel showed me around and on the way to the nicely lit examination room (no bright, medical-style lights to be found), she asked me to stop in the toilet to make “pee-pee.” Huh? I must have given her a funny look, because she repeated “pee-pee” again this time clarifying that she didn’t need to check my pee-pee, she simply needed me to empty my bladder before the exam (it’s the chic thing to do). I’m still a thirteen-year-old girl obviously because I had to fight to hold back the giggles. I had a Structures instructor in grad school who used to talk about “erect members” in his lectures. We’re talking architectural structures here—beams, columns, etc.—and I would almost make pee-pee laughing so hard every time he said the words.
Speaking of pee-pee, when I first took my daughter Addi to the pediatrician here, he clapped and said “Bravo, Mademoiselle!” when she made pee-pee during the exam. How cute is that? An American doctor would never say that.
This same pediatrician—who I have to say looks like he could be a stunt double for Prince—also counted the rolls on Addi’s legs at our check-ups. “Un, deux, trios … un, deux, troix!” I giggled the first time because our girl had some seriously cute baby fat and her legs were so gloriously chubby at that point. But, Dr. Prince said quite seriously that it is a way to make sure her legs are the same length. What a practical use for rolls … I’m thinking I should apply the same theory to my love handles? Hey, I’m just balanced!
Even a vet visit with Tycho can be interesting. Tycho had a rough sort of dragon-skin-looking patch on his nose that I needed to get checked out. The doctor said he was digging around and sticking his nose in taupe holes. I gave him a questioning look and the doctor asked a staffer if she knew the English word for taupe, which she didn’t. He then held his hands up to his face to make a pointy kind of nose and did a pretty good rodent impression. Along with the description and “sleeps at night” coupled with the alleged hole sniffing, I finally figured out that Tycho was putting his big nose in mole holes.
Overall, we’ve been lucky to find such good doctors to care for the people (and animal) that I love. Our fashionable gyno, musical pediatrician, and theatrical vet are all very good sports about my random questions and fumbling attempts at—okay, butchering of—the French language. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: it’s always an adventure living in the Land of Cheese.