When Kids Get Sick in France

If you have children, it’s the biggest fear that your children will get sick or injured on vacation. Especially in a foreign country. France has wonderful healthcare, so that is a great relief. However, the system works differently from the USA. While I hope you don’t need them, here are some tips and advice for when you’re traveling with children and need to see a doctor or go to the hospital.

Most all medical locations will require a mask at the time of writing (January 2023). Masks are sold in pharmacies and grocery stores.

Emergencies (Urgences) in France

Number to call in case of emergencies – dial 15 for SAMU (Services d’Aide Medicale Urgente) which will call an ambulance if needed. Generally, if it is not life or death, they want you to speak to a doctor over the phone to decide the best course of action, which can take some time (anywhere from 10-40 minutes). They can also advise which hospital will be best to go to if you don’t require an ambulance. Read more about hospitals below in Hospital Stays in Bordeaux section.

Pharmacy (Pharmacies) in France

The pharmacies in France are great, the pharmacists often can help you with choosing the right medication and making decisions. However, many drugs that are over the counter in the USA are by prescription only in France. In your medical kit from the USA, try to bring your own allergy medicine for children, melatonin (if you use it), motion sickness medication, and antibacterial creme for cuts. These products either don’t exist for kids in France or you would need to see a doctor first.

While the general hours for pharmacies are 9am-7pm Tuesday-Saturday, some will be open on Monday (not all) and the majority are closed Sunday except for the ‘Pharmacie en garde‘. You can find your local after-hours pharmacy here https://www.nouvelle-aquitaine.ars.sante.fr/pharmacies-de-garde-de-nuits-dimanches-et-jours-feries . Your local pharmacy will also have a written post in their window for this location. Please note, sometimes these locations are only for emergencies and will require a prescription to pick up medicine.

Doctor’s Office (Cabinet Médical) Visits in France

If you live in France, you have your local doctor (médecin généraliste) who you visit for nearly everything. You will also visit this doctor to get an ‘ordinance‘ to visit specialists. Doctors are generally only available Monday-Friday from 9am-7pm (although our local doctor can take visits as early as 730am and as late as 830pm, when needed). If you want to find out who is available, book online using this website Doctolib https://www.doctolib.fr/. This site allows you to choose languages spoken and to send information in advance to the doctor, through the site. For most doctor office visits it will be a flat fee of around 35 EURO to be paid in cash or credit card.

If your child is sick after hours or on weekends, there is SOS Medicines that can send a doctor to your home or hotel https://sosmedecins-france.fr/. It works best in the larger cities (less possible in the countryside). The fees are higher than a general doctor, but it is certainly better than waiting in a hospital emergency room.

Labwork at Laboratories (laboratoire d’analyse) in France

Required testing (like blood or urine tests) is not done in the doctor’s office, but at separate laboratories (laboratoire d’analyse). These do not require appointments. The results will be sent to the doctor and you can request an email with your results (or pick them up directly from lab). Depending on the lab results required, this is generally done within 24 hours.

Hospital (Hôpital) Stays in France

So you have called SAMU (15) and they have either sent an ambulance or advised you to go to the ER/urgences. Pack a small bag with essentials if you have time. Items like a phone charger, identity documents, a bottle of water, snacks, masks, hand gel, and a toothbrush are perfect. You never know how long you might be waiting in the emergency room or in the hospital. I’ve personally had two experiences with my eldest daughter being sick or injured, which were all handled very well. Of course, it’s the unknown and the waiting that is stressful.

If this is a Friday or Saturday night, or the weekend in general, expect rather long wait times in the ER. If they have deemed your injury a priority, it can go faster. When my daughter injured herself and broke her front teeth on a slide, we were in a full waiting room for two hours. At 1 am I saw we were now the only child waiting and decided to ask. They took us next.

If you are not European, please be prepared to show all health insurance and any travel insurance. I would call your insurance as soon as possible to advise of the situation. You might need to email information to the hospital as well.

One more difference to point out, hospitals are not in as big a rush to get you out as they are in the USA. When you give birth, you will generally be in the hospital for 4-5 days. When my daughter aspirated a carrot, we were in the hospital for three days. This can be hard if you are on vacation in France.

If you need help and have an emergency, please feel free to contact me and we can see how to help best aquitaineguide@gmail.com

Hospital (Hôpital) Addresses in Bordeaux

This is non-exhaustive, but locations I have used personally

Children’s Hospital Pellegrin / Hôpital des Enfants CHU / https://www.chu-bordeaux.fr/CHU-de-Bordeaux/H%C3%B4pitaux-et-sites-du-CHU/Groupe-hospitalier-Pellegrin/H%C3%B4pital-des-Enfants/ / Place Amélie Raba-Léon, 33000 Bordeaux / +33 (0)5 56 79 56 79 

Hôpital Saint Andre for Childrens Dental Emergency / https://www.chu-bordeaux.fr/CHU-de-Bordeaux/H%C3%B4pitaux-et-sites-du-CHU/Groupe-hospitalier-Saint-Andr%C3%A9/H%C3%B4pital-Saint-Andr%C3%A9/ / 1 Rue Jean Burguet, 33000 Boreaux / +3 (0)5 56 79 56 79 (general) or +33 (05 57 82 07 70 (dental)

Labor and Maternity (Maternité) at Bordeaux Nord / This is where I gave birth to my youngest daughter with Dr.LeMeaux (who speaks English) / https://polycliniquebordeauxnordaquitaine.fr/maternite-2/ / 33 Rue du Docteur Finlay, 33000 Bordeaux / +33 (0)5 56 43 71 11

For More Information – https://www.fluentu.com/blog/french/french-medical-terms/

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