The Displaced Nation

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WORLD OF WORDS: When words fail you: i.e., you have a throbbing toothache in a foreign country

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr traveled to Corsica last summer to do the GR20 two-week hike across the island, said to be the most grueling long-distance trail in Europe. (She was also, btw, collecting material for Book #2!) When she told me this, I remember thinking: she’s chosen such a curious location! As some readers may recall from Lorraine Mace’s interview with novelist Vanessa Couchman, Corsica exudes a sense of displacement. Annexed by France in 1769, it retains a distinctly Italian flavor. Marianne told meshe read Couchman’s novel, The House at Zaronza, which is set in Corsica, when preparing for her trip. But nothing, readers, could have prepared her for the adventure she shares with us below. —ML Awanohara

My worst travel nightmare has materialized: a throbbing toothache in a foreign country. From experience, I’m sure it’s a dead nerve and I need antibiotics tout de suite.

After two days of downing pain relievers—I am miles from a town of any size on Corsica—I know I must deal with this immediately. Certainly before boarding a ferry from France to Sardinia, Italy—if there’s going to be any chance of me communicating with the doctor.

Readers, as you know I love immersing myself in the world of words. Can you imagine how I felt being in a situation where I was about to have no words?


We arrive in Bonafacio, a striking city with a stout hilltop fortress and stunning white chalk cliffs on the southern tip of the island. France is famous for its red tape and I’m ready to tackle it with respect to healthcare.

We reserve a late afternoon ferry for my emergency journey to Italy. Close to tears from the ache, I tell our hotel desk clerk what’s wrong and ask if she can get me a medical appointment. She picks up the phone and dials the local doctor whose office is down at the port. “Yes, he is seeing walk-in patients this morning. Here’s his address and our shuttle will take you.”

We enter his bare-bones, second-story walk-up office in a pastel 18th-century building overlooking the sparkling harbor. I wait ten minutes until his current patient comes out and then in I go. All he asks is my name. No ID, no insurance paperwork, nothing else. I’m in need and he’s treating me. A couple of questions, a quick look in my mouth, a few taps on my teeth, and he writes two prescriptions: one for an antibiotic and one for pain (a drug not available back home). Total damage: $33.

We head to the pharmacy next door, shell out a whopping $16 for the meds, and we’re on our way. Less than an hour after my plaint at the hotel and just shy of $50 for an impromptu doctor’s consult and the cure for my pain. I pop the pills and by the time we board the ferry hours later, my jaw is no longer on fire.

I can only imagine how long visitors to the US would wait, what documents they would be required to provide, and how much they would pay for the same treatment. Red tape and unconscionable fees in France? Not when it comes to healthcare.


* * *

What a harrowing tale, Marianne! But the happy ending reminds me of the first time I went to a doctor in Britain. I was astounded that there weren’t any bills and the doctor simply tried to help me. After that, I became a national-health-service convert. It was a formative moment. It’s also a timely reminder of what we may be giving up in this country—I’m thinking of our post-election debate! —ML Awanohara

Readers, have you ever had this kind of nightmare in a foreign country? Do tell in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in September 2015 with She Writes Press. She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. The couple has just now taken early retirement in Park City, Utah, where she plans to spend her time working on Book #2. Marianne has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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Photo credits: Top of page: Marianne Bohr (supplied); world map via Pixabay. All other images via Pixabay except the one of red tape: Tied up in red tape, by James Petts via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

6 responses to “WORLD OF WORDS: When words fail you: i.e., you have a throbbing toothache in a foreign country

  1. Gene H. Bell-Villada December 17, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Americans love to believe the myth that socialized medicine means endless red tape. On the contrary, it’s the privatized US system that is filled with all sorts of steps and referrals.

    In 2011, my wife broke her leg in Spain. Everything–the ambulance, the X-rays, the attention, the diagnosis– was absolutely free of charge. They even offered to give her free surgery, though both we and they knew that it would be a better idea to do it in the States, where we knew people and where there would necessarily be rehab.

    Oh, and instead of “red tape,” there was exactly one piece of paper to fill out. That was all.

    • Gene H. Bell-Villada December 17, 2016 at 7:00 pm

      Must add: for the surgical procedures, ambulances, and other stuff in the States, the copays and deductibles came to several hundred dollars.

    • mcbohr December 20, 2016 at 9:40 am

      Yes indeed, we Americans love to tout our healthcare system as the best in the world, but there is so much paperwork and rigamarole that separates patients from care. Perhaps it’s the best, but it’s hard to tell after having to fill out endless paperwork and answer a slew of questions. Europeans just get right to it: healing patients.

      • Gene H. Bell-Villada December 20, 2016 at 9:58 am

        The US health care system might be “the best” in technical terms–machines, computerization, (government-funded) researches, etc. But, in terms of availability to everyone, it cannot qualify for that high honor. All that gadgetry is available only for those lucky enough to have health insurance, be it through employers, ACA, or personally out-of-pocket.

  2. nessafrance January 4, 2017 at 9:08 am

    There’s a lot to be said for the French healthcare system and I’m glad you got fixed up while you were still in Corsica. Toothache is one of the worst.

    I’m greatly in awe of your GR20 hike. We’ve done parts of it on various trips to Corsica, but there are bits of it that scare me silly just from the photos! I just have to live it vicariously.

    • mcbohr January 4, 2017 at 10:41 am

      Hi nessafrance — I’m so happy to hear you’ve done pieces of The Twenty! So many give me blank stares when I mention the trek. Writing about the two weeks is allowing me to relive it all, especially the grueling climbs. Bravo to you for doing pieces of it!

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