Genetic Testing in France

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Well we visited The Geneticist Today; a Professor Labrune, at the Hospital Beclere (somewhere on the outskirts of Paris). Actually, it is in the direction of Versailles and my husband commented on how exciting it is to be in a place where we could hop over to Versailles after a doctor’s visit.  The fact that I was a.) freezing b.) nauseous c.) trying not to pass out from the bus ride kept me from agreeing enthusiastically.     We secured this appointment in the complex yet sincere way that the French do everything.  After many emails and several intense consults with friends and family, I was convinced (not to mention a bit panicked) that it was essential that I be tested for a variety of genetic diseases (including the Jewish ones).  Apparently, even though neither my husband nor I have any history of genetic diseases of any sort in our families, this testing is common in the USA and so we were advised to pursue it.     In my normal pre-pregnancy state I tend a TAD towards the anxious side.  In my pregnant state with hormones running rampant I am pretty close to hysteria much of the time.  I searched the internet, examined pregnancy books and grilled friends and family doctors at home about the dangers of genetic illnesses.  Visions of deformed babies and childhood deaths haunted me.  Meanwhile, my Parisian GYN looked at me blankly when I mentioned that I must be tested for a variety of diseases, a.s.a.p.  She had no idea what I was asking.     True to French form, after my doc greeted my anxieties with a look of curiosity and confusion, she set off on a search through the hospital to find the answers to my questions.  After a forty-five minute tour of the hospital, consulting with a variety of physicians, she returned to her office (where I was not-so-patiently waiting) to tell me that this hospital does not in fact perform such screening (what?!  This is common practice in the USA!)  In fact, since it is a specialized concern, she would refer me to a genetics specialist who would give me an individual consult.     Frustrated that I couldn’t just have the blood test done and over with then and there (I abhor blood tests), I grudgingly took the information and waited for my appointment.  This was one of my many lessons in the French health system, which is related to the French culture in general.  The French, as a whole, feel entitled to good care.  They feel it is their right and their privilege to seek professional advice and help when and where they want it.  Because of socialized medicine, there is no hesitancy to refer to specialists.  Likewise, there is no hurry to pack many patients into a short time frame, scheduling appointments 15 minutes apart as in the USA.       In two months, I have visited my GYN four times and only once has it been for an actual exam.  The others were all consults or opportunities for me to address concerns and get information.  Two of these consults included my husband.  When I call my doctor, I actually reach her directly on the phone.  If I have anything other than a brief question, she schedules an appointment to talk in person.  Sometimes these appointments last up to an hour.  My private insurance (since I don’t qualify for social security) covers 90% of all my care.     Therefore the entire mentality is different.  French people often seek several consultations from several doctors to get different opinions.  They are not restricted by primary care referrals and 15 minute sessions.  Patients hold onto their own medical records, lab reports and x-rays.     So my husband and I were sent to see Professor Labrune, the Genetics specialist.  We had an appointment schedule for 9:30 am and I was so anxious about finding the office and arriving on time that I couldn’t sleep the night before.  Clay calmly planned out our subway route.  The next morning we left before dawn (the sun doesn’t rise until 8:30 a.m. –a real downer in the early morning) and shivered our way to the metro.  One metro and one extremely nauseating bus ride later, we found ourselves in front of what looked like a warehouse.  Armed with only the Professor’s name (and no other information), we wandered around the chain link fence, looking for the appropriate entrance. We finally found a sign directing us to Prof Labrune Porte 33.  Hesitantly, we entered the “porte’, which was actually a delivery entrance.  Following a bakery delivery truck in through the door, we found ourselves in a garage, wondering where the heck the doctor’s office was.  We wandered our way through a door (having asked a confused delivery man where to go), which led to a maze of white hallways.  By this time, I was anxious, nauseous and desperately had to use the bathroom, which luckily I found easily.  No matter that it was an employee only entrance; this was a desperate situation (besides, I figured “hey I’m a pregnant lady! Back off!”), I could…
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