Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


Ampule me once, shame on you

Here in la France, I’ve seen people taking pills at restaurants and in bars, something which I’m not sure I have seen in the US. I’m just speculating here, but it’s possible that for Americans, having to take any medication is a fraught topic. If I were having lunch with someone and they popped some pills in between courses, I’d certainly ask what was wrong with them. The wording of that question (“What’s wrong with you?”) is aggressive in the extreme, implying (or hoping for) weakness on the other person’s part. I think it’s the natural reaction any American would have and the most likely way they’d express it.

On the occasions that I’ve noticed people ingesting medication here, no one seems to find it comment-worthy which makes it note-worthy in my mind. The good news is that such blasé attitudes means that I’d actually seen people interacting with ampoules before, so I had a vague idea of what to do when I was confronted with this:


But, to be honest, seeing people from afar ain’t the same as actually knowing what to do, so I thought of movies where I’d seen people with ampoules and tried to remember what they did. In WWII movies like THE ENGLISH PATIENT, morphine addicts and nurses always had a tool like a file to saw through the marked ends to get to the drugs held captive inside. I ended up with a markedly less precise way of releasing the goods, but it got the job done.

Now I know that whenever I get a prescription, I need to request that the medicine come in an easily accessible form and that it not taste vile. Two important lessons learned and all I had to do was shatter an ampule all over myself to learn it! Another victory for expat-ery!


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Pharmaceutical phull circle

If you know what this is, you have an old person in your life.

This is exactly the model I had. A whole month of drugs fit in here.

If you don’t know, it’s like an advent calendar for sick people. You put all of your pills in the corresponding window to make sure that you know when you have or haven’t taken your medicine.

I had one for almost ten years, during my twenties, to get a handle on the FIVE pills I had to take daily just to be able to walk around. This excessive dosing was to cope with the insane allergies I suffered while living in DC. Honestly, the place was built on a goddamn swamp which is a sure sign that it wasn’t supposed to be populated, but that’s where my job was, so multiple doses of antihistamines it was.

When I moved to Spain, one of the things I was really looking forward to was getting off my meds, but that proved to be a poor decision. The climate there almost exacerbated my condition even more, but the drugs were stronger so I only had to take three a day.
Through all of this, I held on to the dream of a drug-free life. My arrival in France meant another attempt at not being so doped up all the time and I succeeded. For months, I only took a regular pill to control what my dictionary says I can legitimately call “the curse” and that was it.

A less-bad day

Until The Knee Incident happened. Now, I’m taking prednisone (steroid), an industrial antacid (to protect my tummy from the steroid), an anti-inflammatory and a pain control thing (as needed) in addition to my daily pill. Were you counting in your head? I didn’t need to because I can visualize them in my hand every morning: there are four if it’s a good day, five if it’s not.

So, I’ve come full circle and relearned a lesson that I really should have gotten through my thick head long ago: the universe hates me and/or it wants to keep me heavily medicated so that I can’t anticipate what it’s going to do to me next. Well played, universe.


Unintended (American) side effects

Even Americans joke about how bad health care is in the US. It’s uniformly expensive and it’s hard to get appointments or treatment in any kind of timely fashion. Of course, there are some Americans who have it worse, or so the joke goes: the children of doctors.

Having been one myself, I’ll say that this is only half-true. Pretty much everyone I knew growing up went to the emergency room at least once, something which I’ve never done in the US. Many of them had stitches and casts and splints and were diagnosed with sprains and all manner of other injuries that I never technically had, despite playing my damn heart out and generally carousing around.

Of course, it’s not that doctors care about their kids less, it’s just that they are usually better judges of what the appropriate course of action is in a given medical situation. Additionally, if your parents are legitimately Old World people (as mine were), most things can be cured at home or are deemed not as serious as the sufferer thinks.

The unintended side effect of growing up thinking that none of your physical pains are really that serious is that you start to think you can take care of things on your own, even if you don’t have a medical degree. (Or maybe that was just me.)

This is an x-ray of my right knee, the one that was causing me so many problems recently. It doesn’t look like anything to me, but people who know how to read them saw right away that there was a lot of liquid that had no business being there, so a battery of additional tests and x-rays were ordered.

On my own, it’s possible that I would never have found out that I have a chronic inflammatory disorder, but now that I know, it explains a lot of little problems I’ve been having for a long while. This experience won’t change my behavior for good, but I am starting to find that perhaps it’s better to go see a professional than to think I can cure everything myself with an Advil (which, if we’re being honest, really does generally make everything better).