Emergency in-patient treatment in hospital - experiences

Stella came up with the excellent suggestion of starting a thread on people’s experiences of in-patient emergency treatment in French hospitals. Hopefully this might be of some help others who may unexpectedly find themselves/their family in similar scenarios.

As a starter, (being a recently discharged inmate in Dieppe’s High Dependency Unit following a serious fall whilst out volunteering), I offer the following random thoughts…

You will no doubt be admitted even if you have no paperwork/ID/insurance documents on you. Anecdotally, waiting at emergency admissions, almost nobody had anything on them - since emergencies are (almost by definition) totally unplanned (!)…but sooner or later they’ll want ID (ID card, passport, or Carte de Séjour in my case), and either evidence of private insurance (in my case) or a Carte Vitale/mutuelle. They were v happy with sight of the CdS copies on my phone.

Emergency care is very good but very, very expensive. Here it’s about 1500-2600€ a day in the Intensive Care/High Dependency Unit (Réanimation/Surveillance Continue).

As a condition of the CdS I (obviously) have medical cover (private, though with a high excess in my case, primarily for hospital cover). As I was volunteering when injured, AXA said I would be covered for emergency care above the excess. (If I was being paid, then that would have been a separate claim via an employer). Insurers may send consent forms to enable them to speak to the hospital about your case etc. The Association with whom I was volunteering - unbelievably- does not have separate insurance for injuries to volunteers (you must claim under your own household -garantie accidents de la vie - insurance I was told)… I’d assume other associations must have to have some form of cover for volunteers, but clearly based on what I’ve found it should not be assumed. We will be several thousand euros out of pocket. The principle of having to insure myself when working as a volunteer for an association seems incredible to my mind.

Having a phone/tablet etc (plus a charger, extension lead from awkwardly located plugs etc) is essential for dealing 1. with multiple hospital information requests (and 2. from worried friends, acquaintances, and family who may not necessarily be allowed in to see you in Réanimation/Intensive Care etc - other than by strict, limited appointment).

Multiple medical staff (who you may not see again, and who you’ve no real idea what their role is) will come and briefly look at you. It seems there is an awful lot that goes on behind the scenes to determine and coordinate your emergency treatment. I’m sure it varies from place to place, but volunteering info, and coordination between departments/units seems to be rather patchy at best. You may not be told (let alone consulted) much beyond the bare details, and HAVE to ask to get the detail. Answering your specific questions rarely seems to be a problem.

Food choice may be something of an issue if you’re vegetarian/kosher/halal etc particularly in more rural and non city areas (Dieppe!?).

It would be incredibly hard to deal with all the tasks/actions needed for the hospital/insurers etc from within Intensive care without somebody at home to help, whether a spouse/partner or close friend. They offered to put me in touch with an Assistante Sociale if needed, (though I have no experience of what that actually involves…)

Language. Virtually zero English is spoken in this particular hospital. Not an issue usually for me, but understanding medical terms, emergency procedures, explanations, names of body organs etc in French is entirely new territory for me, and I suspect others, given the unplanned nature of emergencies. Again your phone or tablet is your friend if you need to work out what a {‘contusion’} is, or what part of the body is a {côte}.

Please add in any thoughts and experiences that you think might help others…


I have to wear this surgical corset for the next 3 months, night and day…


Heavens George! What a thing to have to go through. All the very best for a good, speedy recovery.

I endorse what you say about information not being volunteered and about having back-up at home (either family or friend - ideally who speaks good French). And it can be tough to find out more if (a) one’s French is not very good and (b) you don’t know the questions to ask.

My OH was not an emergency but he was in for 3 weeks with 2 ops during that period. I used the nurses and the surgeon’s secretary and made sure they were my allies - it’s really important to be humble and friendly, it helps. I was asking all the time how my OH was doing - on a couple of occasions, as a result, the surgeon phoned me at home late evening. I also did all the emailing to friends letting them know the news - I created round robin emails. OH used his phone to SMS me to say how he was doing and to ask me to bring stuff in…

Five months down the line we are still sorting out the insurance. We are with April and they have an English speaking helpline which has been invaluable. I panicked because we were refused cover for something by email and I phoned to query it. It was their mistake and as a result 2,000€ has been reimbursed. It’s extremely difficult to get good/clear information about what it’s going to cost beforehand and indeed what has been reimbursed and why. (Obviously in an emergency, even more so.)

I didn’t find the medical language difficult - often it’s the same as the English - but it’s something that interests me so I know the English terms. Maybe it’s my age, but playing the elderly Englishwoman who needs help is a good way of improving communication - not least with the consultants / surgeons. They may speak more English than they are initially prepared to let on - they don’t want to be seen to make mistakes. So a lot of my conversations were a real mixture of French and English.

Food choice can be tough anyway! Hospital food tends not to be great. OH lost 10 kilos in 3 weeks.


When OH was in réanimation, there was no english spoken but a previous patient’s family had left some french/english dictionaries which some folks would have found helpful, we didn’t need them because the children speak fluent french and mine is quite good but I can imagine its a very scary scenario not knowing what the staff are telling you. My three year old grandson recently had to go to urgences late at night, he went via the pompier’s ambulance and they put the lights on for him. Luckily it was only stitches in his forehead but he was seen very prompty and all taken care of paperwork-wise on the spot.

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Thanks for highlighting the Insurance aspects… both Private and re Associations etc etc…

Many years ago OH offered to repaint the metal gates to our commune cemetery… for free…
Knowing that the cantonniers were overstretched and that he had all his own tools/equipment to do a “proper” job… to us it seemed a reasonable suggestion/solution…
but the council turned him down… explaining that they could not allow it due to the lack of Insurance for a non-employee…

Seeing what injuries you have suffered… by accident… I rather think the council made the right decision.

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I was admitted as an emergency to Macon hospital with pancreatitis.
Because of Covid I had to wait for eight hours until my negative test came through.
I felt sure that I would be admitted so took my tablet and kindle with me, but found they had no WIFI.
The food is dire.
I was there for a week and had to go back two weeks after being discharged to have my gall bladder out.
This time I managed to get a private room, but the food was no better.
I am expecting to have a biopsy on my lungs in the hospital Loius Pradel in Lyon soon.
I have been told that I will be in for two to three days.

It wouldn’t have helped in George’s situation but since my experience of Urgences followed by a week in hospital, I have a sort of kit-bag at home, easily accessible for going with me if the problem arises at home. It contains the obvious stuff like toiletries and some electrical gear plus nightwear and a towel.

The other thing I do wherever I am, is to have a copy of my current ordonnances on me plus the carte vitale and mutuelle. It’s where a handbag is handy…


Great idea to have a copy of your CDS on your phone, maybe also CV or just social security number . I have my drug list on it just in case.

I am also surprised that the volunteer assoc don’t cover you - I must ask mine! But thinking again about this since French people generally carry civil liability insurance , health insurance and so on perhaps that is the norm? Interesting to find out.

A friend had an accident carriage driving, and ended up under the carriage with multiple broken vertebrae. He too had to wear a body shell for months, but they only had once overprinted with child like denim overalls available. At least it was blue not pink, but he is a very elegant man and found the decor more upsetting than the shell itself. Your white one looks far more acceptable.

OH was in hospital recently and as a non-meat eater was given a lot of fruit and yoghurt, to accompany plates of steamed vegetable and cold pasta. Luckily not there too long or he would have withered away. Hope you had someone delivering something edible.

Are you actually discharged to home, or just a normal ward? Hopefully all improving and prognosis is for complete recovery.

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Are you able to arrange for food to be “brought-in/bought-in” ? I’m sure I’ve seen folk walking around with food/goodies when I’ve been visiting OH in hospital…
Other than that… take a supply of “iron rations” :wink:

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Different times. I can only speak of one emergency treatment in my local French hospital for peritonitis in 1992. I was about 51. A neighbour told me my face was yellow at the same time I was feeling slightly unwell with a mild ache in my side. Subsequently, another neighbour drove me to the hospital where I was admitted immediately, and my surgeon, once he decided what needed to be done, carried out an emergency operation a couple of hours later.

My appendix had “exploded” as he explained later, and three abscesses had developed, trying to repair my appendix, and my lower abdomen was full of pus! Got the lot - appendix removed, stomach pump for 3 days, abdomen laced with pipes connected to a valve stitched into my side to drain the pus into a bag hanging on the side of the bed! I had a good look – the pus was as black as Hades! It turned pink eventually, thankfully.

At that time, I had private health insurance for one year, my first year in France, which covered all the costs, but the surgeon told me that the French State would pay for it, and I needn’t bother with my private insurance policy. I wasn’t au fait with such matters back then, and as I had private insurance, I used it.

I was in hospital for about 3 weeks, allowed home because I was going spare being in hospital – couldn’t wait to get out because of the absolute boredom of lying in bed for so long! Once back home a nurse came to see me regularly to check up on me and to change the dressings until I was better and able to fend for myself again.

I was so well cared for in hospital. When I was mobile again, I bought flowers, designed & made a big thankyou card, and went back to thank all the nurses.

A caring surgeon as well. I found out that he had driven to Bordeaux, 120 kilometres away, to get me all the English newspapers he could find, because I was on my own, on my Todd, tout seul, being so bloody independent! I had no visitors, so he asked the partner of another of his patients, an English woman who also had peritonitis, to look in on me. He introduced himself, and he, she and I, became good friends.

A year or so later, my surgeon held a party at his house to which I and his other patients were invited.

Different times.


Too far, I will be in hospital in Lyons.
Hopefully in the capital of French gastronomy food will be better.
They will have to cater for my diet as pre diabete anyway.

That is very interesting to know. I now find I’m of course out of time to notify a claim under our own household etc policy, due to the week’s delay in learning that the Association does not cover me. The other members of the Association clearly believed they were covered by it for work on a medium/high risk environment (ruined chateau, with the ever present threat of falling stones, rocks, slipping etc).

I was given parole and delivered home, by ambulance (they refused to let my wife drive me!) last night…I’m quite sure there will be a full recovery in time…


My wife and I each have one of these dictionaries in our emergency bags:

Hadley’s French Medical Phrase Book: Hadley’s Guide Anglais De Phrases Medicales


Since you were in intensive care might it be worth asking for an exceptional case to be made? Don’t ask, don’t get.


Hmm… seems one thing to learn from this is…
in case of any personal accident… to contact one’s Insurers/Health etc immediately/in the shortest delay possible… even if it means a third-party (friend/partner) reporting on one’s behalf if one is “totally out of it”…

Better for someone to report and be told… oh that’s fine we can wait… than as in George’s case … sorry, toooo late :frowning:

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When we started our Association, we were told we had to have insurance for it, even though there were no risks of the type George’s activities obviously had. Perhaps the requirement to carry insurance is a regional/departmental thing?


I did a stint as Pres of the Comité des Fêtes Association… and discussed Insurance at Renewal time…
It was some years ago… but if I recall correctly, I had to give the Insurers a run-down of what events we did and what sort of activities…
They made it clear that if we did such-and-such we had full cover for folk… but if we digressed into such-and-such… we did NOT have the cover and must explain that to all concerned… to ensure they had their own cover…

That was how the Policy was arranged and costed…
If we wanted to do something a bit different, with certain “risks”, there would be a special cover/Policy/charges etc et (I think that was how it was explained).

We kept to the basics… phew…
EDIT: it might be that George’s “Association” is actually just a gathering of volunteers :wink:


A white car…Oh, good.
That’s black humour.

I presume due to the nature of the injuries and the required treatment it is only now that you have just become in a fit state to deal with this. I would be surprised if a medical practitioner could not be found who’d be prepared to comment to them in such a way if required.

I’d be really interested to know if they do.still refuse to take the claim, and if so, I’d take it to the mediator. It would be a blot on the landscape of French culture if that still failed - but perhaps worthwhile to know?