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!