Four Become Three Hobos!

09 Feb

Tom’s health had deteriorated rapidly during 2012, following a bout of pneumonia just before Christmas 2011. In the UK, in 2005, he had been diagnosed as having COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease/Disorder) at stage one level. Emphysema and asthma were the demons, and he took early retirement in 2006 at the age of 60 years. He had worked and paid into the UK tax and National Insurance system for a fraction under 45 years, he felt he was entitled to real quality of life during his autumn and winter years. I wholeheartedly agreed with him. 

Prior to taking the first steps to selling our UK property, in order to purchase a permanent retirement home in France, Tom and I investigated the potential short and long term effects of COPD, it made sense to do that. The bottom line prognosis was that Tom could expect between ten and fifteen years of relatively good health, as long as he took particularly good care of his lungs.  

Initially, when we moved to France at the beginning of March 2007, we took out full private health insurance. The cost was shocking – in excess of €3,500 for one year’s insurance that covered the two of us 100% for medical care, including hospitalisation, but with less than 30% cover for dental and ophthalmic care. 

Hey-ho, I shouldn’t have worried about the dental cover, Tom has dentures and French crusty bread have removed a lot of my teeth without anaesthetic! 

When Monsieur Sarkozy’s changes to immigrants’ health care hit British ex-patriots in November 2007, Tom and I were relieved that we had the private insurance. Yes, we were already resident in France before the law changed, but we had also experienced a taste of French bureaucracy by then, we tried to steer clear of arguments and hassle! 

Anyway, moving on, my E121 came into play in May 2010 – nearly eight months late, due to British bureaucratic tardiness, by which time the legal fees had kicked renewal of private healthcare into touch. Off we went to CPAM in Aurillac to get the ball rolling towards obtaining our cartes vitales. A five hours car journey, followed by an hour standing in a slow-moving queue that inched towards the stony-faced lass sitting at a cluttered desk assessing claims, ended with a rejection! 


“Where is your bank RIB, Madame?” 

“Ah, I only have a British bank account at this time, our French bank account has been frozen by the Bank of France because our illegal hairdresser locataire hasn’t paid her water rates, the local Treasury wants us to pay the bill. We have refused to pay the hairdresser’s bill, and we don’t have the funds to pay the bill.” 

“You must give me a French bank RIB, Madame.” 

“I can’t open another bank account because we don’t receive household bills in our names.” 

Gallic shrug from stony-face. Then……….. 

“Why don’t you have household bills, Madame?” 

“Because we can’t live in the property due to………………” I briefly explained the situation. 

“You don’t live in your property, Madame, but other people do live in your property. You have no home in France, you must return to England. Goodbye.” 

Yes, I’m sure the bureaucrats would love to see us abandon our property, and our quest for justice, to jet off back to the UK with nothing left and, as we have very recently discovered, to find we have been abandoned by our country of birth! 

We vacated the CPAM office and drove for five hours back to where we were pet/house sitting. That evening, I registered on-line and started up an AE (Autoentrepreneur) small business as a ‘femme à tout faire’, ie a Jill of all trades, a handyperson. 

RSI took more than two years to give me a carte vitale in return for paid cotisations. Despite me sending several LRAR (registered) letters to RSI Clermont-Ferrand, Tom was never added to my carte vitale – yet, it was his right to be added to my carte vitale. 

So, we have paid cash for Tom’s healthcare in France throughout the lion’s share of our long period of homelessness, to date. Far from easy, but we managed it, just! 

On Wednesday 16 February 2013, Tom was admitted to the CHU (hospital) in Limoges as an emergency. SAMU and the Pompiers were wonderful, my family and I will be forever grateful to them for their efficiency, kindness and care. Although Tom was actually recovering from yet another bout of pneumonia, a secondary lung problem hadn’t responded to the huge doses of antibiotics and steroids he had been taking during the previous two weeks, his oxygen levels had fallen into danger zone. That secondary lung problem was eventually discovered to be the main lung problem. 

Following swift assessment and intensive treatment by super hospital staff, Tom was able to very briefly speak to me from behind his oxygen mask, he said, “I want to go home, Chrissie.” I knew he was referring to the UK as home. I nodded and replied, “Ok, love, I’ll sort it out when you’re well enough to fly to the UK.” Tom relaxed and slept, despite the constant bubbling of oxygen through the water pipe at the back of his hospital bed, and nurses checking his machine-monitored vital stats every few minutes. 

As long as he can breathe, he can sleep on a washing-line, my Tom! 

On Friday 1st February 2013, Tom flew back to the UK. As his wheelchair was pushed towards the aircraft by a member of Limoges airport staff, he didn’t look back. I was so pleased, I was blubbing like a baby and that dismal sight would not have helped Tom! His destination was north London, to live with his youngest brother who lost his sweetheart of a wife to cancer last October. The brothers are very close. 

The following morning, Saturday 2nd February, Tom kept an appointment at the surgery of his brother’s doctor, as he had been advised. He took all the documents given to him by the Limoges hospital doctors; one of those dated documents showed that Tom’s prescribed medication was running very low. 

The doctor’s receptionist told Tom the doctor would not see him.

Why not? That’s for another blog page!


Posted by on February 9, 2013 in World


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16 responses to “Four Become Three Hobos!

  1. Helen Devries

    February 9, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    I am so sorry to hear of your husband’s deterioration in health…you must be so upset that all your dreams of a happy retirement have been shattered by sheer wicked obstruction.

    And yes…I imagine that the doctor can’t see him as he voluntarily left the U.K. and despite paying contributions all his working life no longer qualifies for the services of the NHS.

    • hobosinfrance

      February 9, 2013 at 4:01 pm

      Hi Helen, you’re quite correct about Tom not qualifying for medical treatment in the UK, not unless he opts to remain there as a resident. However, it can take as long as 6 or more months of residency before the UK authorities accept that habitual residence has been established. But, when a health emergency exists, a returning British citizen becomes eligible for medical care as soon as s/he steps onto British soil. Well, that’s the law and the theory, but the ‘actual’ is obviously a much different scenario! Good to hear from you, I hope you and yours are well? C xx

  2. Shelley Ball

    February 9, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Omg Chris! I hope Tom is okay. How are you and the boys bearing up? Are you going to continue the fight? Stay strong and know that we are all thinking about you all. xx

    • hobosinfrance

      February 9, 2013 at 4:34 pm

      Hi Shelley, thank you for being there for us, yes, the lads and I are fine. As you know from many years of friendship that has been constant between our two families, Tom and I, and family, function much better as a team. But, we tighten the circle when things get rough! We will continue our fight for justice, Tom and I are determined in our course, no matter what happens. Love to you and yours. C xx

  3. tottielimejuice2013

    February 9, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    Oh no! I cannot believe the amount of shockingly bad luck that dogs you and your family. I do hope there is some spark of better news on the horizon, will be on pins until I can read the next part of the blog. Much love to you both, Tots x

    • hobosinfrance

      February 9, 2013 at 4:28 pm

      Hi Tots, yes, our family name should be Jonah, lol! Suffice to say at this point, all will definitely be revealed before nightfall today, with a twist that brings it all back to our situation in France! In other words, if we hadn’t been defrauded, and we hadn’t been forced into our hobo existence by the trials and tribulations that instigated the past 5+ years, Tom’s health would not have deteriorated as it did! C xx

      • tottielimejuice2013

        February 9, 2013 at 4:55 pm

        I do hope so, not sure I could sleep tonight for worrying about you both otherwise! xx

      • hobosinfrance

        February 9, 2013 at 5:55 pm

        I’m working on it now, Tots. Am also backing up everything to my obtuse drop-box! We’ll need that at a later day! 😉 xx

  4. catherine

    February 9, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Have you tried phoning Newcastle about your husband’s situation? As he is retirement age and I assume a UK state pensioner, they should be able to ensure he gets immediate care although he may have to go initially through casualty. I would phone immediately as this is what we were advised.

    Am so sorry about yet another blow.

    • hobosinfrance

      February 9, 2013 at 5:52 pm

      Hello Catherine, it’s smashing to e-see you. Tom did contact Newcastle out of desperation when his medication was at a dire low level and no doctor would treat him, he had tried 4 local doctors by then. He was taking high doses of prednisolone (prescribed in France) – as you will know, he could not just stop taking the prednisolone because he couldn’t obtain a prescription. He was referred immediately and directly to the hospital A&E nearest to the address where he was living with his brother. That’s when things started to turn around! Yes, Tom is a UK state pensioner, we’re both UK state pensioners. Hope you and yours are well. C xx

  5. Kathy Chaney

    February 9, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    Sorry to hear your problems but didn’t your husband take his CEAM card (the equivalent to the EHIC) with him when he went to visit the UK?

    My husband is in the later stages of COPD and I have to say that the treatment here in France is much better than in the UK so you may find this a blessing in disguise – I’m pretty sure mine would be dead by now if he’d be left to the tender mercies of the NHS.

    • hobosinfrance

      February 9, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      Hi Kathy, it’s lovely to hear from you. Tom still doesn’t have the French equivalent to an EHIC card, he was still waiting for RSI to add him to my carte vitale when he was admitted to hospital, the Attestation is not accepted outside the Cantal. That was the second time he has been hospitalised in France during the past 3 years, we have had to pay for all treatment, despite the bureaucratic blunders being responsible for my carte vitale covering Tom. My RSI initiated carte vitale expires at the end of April, followed by a transfer to CPAM. Tom is coming 67 and I’m 63, we will have been resident in France for 6+ years, it will be interesting to see what obstacles are raised then! The consultant who examined Tom (and who arranged urgent tests) in the Limoges hospital told me he initially thought Tom was in stage 4, re the emphysema, but one specific test result that Tom eventually had in the UK proved otherwise, it also proved the French consultant was correct in his revision! That test result was a heck of a shock. I agree with you, Kathy, this has been a blessing in disguise! My warmest regards to you and your husband. Chrissie x

  6. Susan Oakes

    February 9, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Thinking of you and the boys in France and Tom in England. I’m sure he should get the treatment he needs as a returner to the UK. My brother-in-law has just received emergency treatment after years in India – and he has worked abroad almost all his life so hardly any NI contributions. Anyway, fingers crossed, and will be looking out for your next episode. Hope it’s very soon as, like others, very concerned for all of you. Got lots of questions of course – but they’ll wait! Sue xx

    • hobosinfrance

      February 10, 2013 at 12:28 am

      Dear Sue, it is so good to hear from you, we miss you very much and hope all is well with you and yours. As you will see from my follow-up post, Tom did eventually get the medical care he needed. Although, we were really shocked by the treatment and attitude that he initially received in the UK. We’re used to it here in France, but never expected it in our country of birth! Re your questions – ask away, you always manage to remind me about something or other that I have forgotten to mention in a blog post, and I’m then able to pop the point in my dropbox back-up to include in the book, lol! Much love to you all, and I so hope your brother is making a full recovery, Sue. C & menfolk xxxx

  7. Perpetua

    February 9, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Chrissie, I’m so sorry that Tom’s health has got worse to the extent that you’re now lhaving to live apart for the time being. I do hope that with his brother’s care and living in better conditions, his health may improve enough for him to come back to France. I’m also sorry that initially he fell foul of the new UK regulations, but am glad that he’s now getting the treatment he needs.

    • hobosinfrance

      February 10, 2013 at 12:48 am

      Hi Perpetua, always there for us. To be honest, the relief when we discovered Tom does not have cancer was immense. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, not long after we became hobos, I kept the information to myself until I was told I would be a survivor! My way of dealing with it because I realised Tom and Paul would not cope well with the fear and worry. That was the right thing to do, just as not sharing with Tom what the Limoges hospital doctors had told me about his condition was also the right course to take. But, on both occasions, I felt as though I was the last person left on earth, insular, a dreadful feeling that just can’t be explained. Am beginning to wish we could have hopped over 13 and moved directly to 2014! If I were a superstitious person, I would probably now be dreading the remaining days in the rest of this year! However, I’m not given to superstition, and I firmly believe our little family unit has become stronger for the experience of dealing with this latest worry. I hope you and yours are well. C & menfolk xx


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