Sounds absolutely awful, doesn't it? I mean, who in their right mind would want to have state-of-the-art healthcare ready and available should a catastrophic illness strike? How can anyone expect to get better if they don't have the invigorating fight with insurance companies (if you even have insurance), your employer (if you don't get fired for missing too much work), and impending bankruptcy to look forward to?
[Our son] was first diagnosed by our pediatrician, a private sector doctor, who sent us to the (public) specialised pediatric hospital in Paris for additional exams. We did a scan and a MRI the same day, and that brought the diagnosis we know. He was hospitalised the same day, with surgery immediately scheduled for two days later. At that point, we only had to provide our social security number.
Surgery - an act that the doctor that performed it (one of the world's top specialists in his field) told us he would not have done it five years before - actually took place the next week, because emergency cases came up in the meantime. After a few days at the hospital, we went home. At that point, we had spent no money, and done little more than filling up a simple form with name and social security number.
Meetings with the doctor in charge of his long term treatment, and with a specialised re-education hospital, were immediately set up, and chemiotherapy and physical therapy were scheduled for the next full year.
Physical therapy included a few hours each day in a specialised hospital, with a varied team of specialists (kinesitherapy, ergotherapy, psychologist, orthophonist) and, had we needed it, schooling. As we lived not too far away, we tried to keep our son at his pre-school for half the day, and at the hospital the other half. Again, apart from filling up a few forms, we had nothing to do.
My wife pretty much stopped working to take my son to the hospital every day (either for reeducation or treatment) - and was allocated a stipend by the government as caregiver, for a full year (equal to just under the minimum wage). Had we needed it, transport by ambulance would have been taken care of, free of charge for us (as it were, car commutes to the hospital could also be reimbursed).
During the chemiotherapy, if he had any side effects (his immune system being weakened, any normal children's disease basically required him to be hospitalised to be given full anti-biotic treatment), we'd call up the hospital and just come around. Either of us could spend the night with him as needed. We never spent a dime when we did so.
Reading this diary made me realize exactly why the French sometimes look down on us as barbarians.