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A country that can't even spell "hospital"






Mega Fix


TWA Flight 800






Recently, incredibly, France was just cited as having the best health care system in the world. Speaking from experience, I personally wouldn’t want to die there or get sick there or even sprain an ankle there. The French do many things well, but health care, alas, is not among them.

But as with art, architecture and pastry-making, the French do their health care with style, with panache, and never more so than with the new Hopital Europeen Georges Pompidou. (No misprint; no “s” either; it’s “hopital.”) Eight years in construction--from the French perpective, that’s time enough to lose two world wars--the “Hopital” will, when finished, cost $300 million plus trappings, have every new gizmo known to man, and “look transparent from the street.”


Does everything in France named “Pompidou” look transparent from the street? Those familiar with the spectacular Parisian eyesore called the “Pompidou Centre” know that its sole claim to architectural accomplishment is its transparency: all glass with pipes and heating ducts visible everywhere. But it’s one thing to have the world stare at you while you gaze at a painting. It’s another thing to have the world stare at you while your doctor gazes at your prostate.

Transparency? Mon Dieu! The very cornerstone of the building is made out of plexiglass. Who but the French could have thought such raw exposure a defining virtue in a health acre enterprise.

Apparently, the French are trying to overcome the old image of the ‘hopital” as immured and antriquated as the ancien regime. I got a behind-the-wall look at one such entity when my two year old fell off her trike, had her scraped elbow misdiagnosed, and ended up spending three days in an institution to which even Zola would not have condemmned his characters.

This special children’s hospital had some 50 kids to a ward and a single doctor, “the grand patron” (big boss), who made his rounds at 8 AM and 5 PM, and God help those, like us, who brought their tot in at 8:30. With a 105 degree fever and an arm swollen to her shoulder like a sausage, she was told to lie in bed and wait until 5. Only an American-style consumer super-fit by yours truly saved her arm. We had her in surgery by 10 AM.

The French boast of having three times as many hospital beds as America per person (1 to 86 v. 1 to 243). What they don’t tell you is that these excess beds are filled with armless children waiting for their new plexiglass prostheses to arrive. Maybe, we could have used a little transparency after all.

Like most of the area’s hospitals, the new Hopital Pompidou is located in the heart of Paris, this despite the fact that the Parisian population has been shifting consistently to the suburbs. The result is that on any given morning the Gare de L’est looks like the train station at Lourdes filled, as it is, with the lame, the maimed, and the bleeding.

Why Paris proper? Well, if you were a French doctor with clout, and you had no regard for market forces--there are none in French health care--where would you rather spend your ample lunch time, the Left Bank or the French equivalent of East St. Louis?

Yes, the French do a great job with food. And although my daughter’s health care was frightening, her meals were fabulous. I should know. I ate them. The wine wasn’t half bad either.



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