So to catch up... I'll fill you in on just the major events of this last week.
My appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon!
I had been fretting about the appointment simply because I didn't know if he spoke much English and I was worried about whether I would understand what he was saying if we had to rely on my limited French! After a sleepless night of such fretting, I asked a girl I know if she would come with me as she speaks fluent French. As it turned out, the surgeon spoke pretty good English but nonetheless it was extremely helpful to have a French speaking person with me as even finding where to go in the hospital and what to do when we got there was a minefield on its own!
Anyway, we found the right place eventually and then we sat and waited. And waited. And waited. It was unbelievable! It was well after 6pm when I was finally seen! (We have been told since that this delay is extremely unusual!) I was shown into a consulting room by a lady who put all my documents out on the desk and set up my x-rays on a viewer ready for the surgeon. Despite the long wait, there was no sense of rushing when we saw him. He examined my shoulder and discussed the history and how he thinks he can help. I was expecting surgery and sure enough that will be necessary but it will be keyhole surgery so the recovery time shouldn't be too long (she says optimistically!) However, before he does that he wants me to have an MRI scan and 15 sessions of physiotherapy. As I am a non-urgent case, my MRI scan will not be until 4th March but at least it gives me plenty of time to organise the physiotherapy (which I believe will help me in the post-op recovery).
An Appointment at the Bank!
Banks work in a different way here in France with each branch operating separately like a kind of franchise. We opened our account with the bank Crédit Agricole before we moved over here using their English speaking helpline. But the actual branch is over an hour's drive away from where we now live. As each branch acts independently of each other, there are occasions when it can be difficult, for example making deposits. Our local branch in Moncoutant does not have the ability to view our account on their computers so you can't query anything. This, coupled with the fact that the English speaking helpline has been closed, led us to the conclusion that we would be better off having our account with the local branch. Don't for one minute think this is a straight forward operation! Oh no! Hence the meeting at the bank! We saw a lovely lady - Veronique! - who had a very limited amount of English but who told me my French is good! The meeting went on for over an hour, during which time Veronique opened up a completely new current account for us, arranged for us to have new debit cards, internet access etc. It turned out that some savings accounts can be transferred so various forms were completed and signed to achieve this. There is no simple way to transfer direct debits so we're attempting this ourselves. The whole process should take a month or two and I'm left feeling rather nervous about the whole process! I'm sure that in a few months, things will be working like clockwork again but I wouldn't mind betting there'll be some sticky times along the way!
And while I'm talking about banks, did you know that out here we have to pay for our debit cards? There is an annual fee and there are different 'levels' of cards you can have. Naturally, the bigger the annual fee, the more benefits you get. For example, we have gold cards, which gives us the ability to withdraw more cash per week (there isn't the daily limit like you have in the UK), spend more per month using the card and they also give us inclusive travel insurance. There is no such thing as a credit card with the bank but you can have a card that gives you what they call 'deferred payment'. I don't know how long the deferment period is but would guess it's nothing like a credit card gives you.
A change in our healthcare
I'm not sure if I've already talked about why we currently qualify for French healthcare. There are various different ways in which people qualify, for example, if they work here and pay 'social charges' which I believe is something like 14% of income, then they qualify. For us, the length of time for which we would qualify was dependent on our National Insurance contributions in the UK over the last couple of tax years. We've come a bit unstuck as a result. Goodness only knows we've paid a fair whack of NI contributions over the years but unfortunately, not in the last few years. Danny has been getting his pension from Fords for several years now and topping it up with a small salary. I retired in July 2011 so I didn't pay much NI in that tax year. You don't pay NI on pensions so the bottom line is that our qualification time is fairly short. I believe (and indeed hope!) that this changes again once we get our UK state pensions (still a couple of years away). Anyway, the bad news is that Danny no longer qualifies BUT the good news is that I will still qualify for another year and I am entitled to add him as a dependent. We think then that we are going to have a gap of just over a year in which we will have to pay for private medical insurance from around this time next year. I think we'll cross that bridge when we come to it! Suffice to say, this change involved a trip to Niort this week, to the office that deals with such things but we think things are underway to ensure Danny will remain covered.
And finally - the Weather!
So far, where the weather is concerned, I think we have been luckier than our friends in the UK but not as lucky as our friends in America, Australia or Israel! We have had some snow but it's only lasted about a day at a time. We've also had yet more rain and even a few days when the sun has been shining and we've seen blue skies.