Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I'd been warned. My mother-in-law had told me he was an idiot. When I came back from the hospital emergency room and gave the assembled family a debriefing, I mentioned I'd been instructed to wait for the swelling to go down and then take myself to an eye, nose and throat specialist within a week. "You could go see Dr. so-and-so," she said, mentioning a doctor in a practice nearby, "but he's an idiot." She suspected him of caring more about his Porsche and his friendship with the high-flying, scandal-ridden mayor than his patients.

But I called anyway, figuring that a known idiot was better than an unknown, motivated as well by the fact that he had a separate number for his receptionist and, shy as I am, I wouldn't have to talk to him directly to make an appointment. And so I found myself on Monday morning, x-rays in one hand, the other extended to shake with a middle-aged man in a white coat with tousled hair and eyes that dripped disinterest and disdain.

He led me to a chair opposite his desk. In France, most doctors work individually, and they answer the door and show you into their office themselves. There's no nurse, no long wait in a tiny room with a gown and a paper sheet draped over your legs, and if you have to undress, you do so with the doctor standing a few feet away, eyes averted. A visit begins and ends in a very civilized manner across a desk, with the examination table discreetly placed in a separate corner of the room.

"I'm here because I had a running accident. I fell." The doctor stared at me, at my two black eyes, at the long scratch on my forehead and particularly at my nose, but said nothing, so I continued. "My nose was broken, but without any displacement. At the hospital, they told me to wait a week, then see a specialist, just in case..."

"Your nose is crooked." He announced, cutting me off.

"Uh, I hadn't noticed anything in particular," I replied.

"Your nose is crooked," he repeated. "They can't tell anything at the hospital, just afterwards. You don't see it?" Normally the French word for crooked, à travers, is a bit less harsh than its English equivalent, but the doctor spat it out with such force that it sounded like a curse.

"I didn't see anything different than before," I said hesitantly.

"Your nose was like that before?" he asked, incredulous. How could you go through life with such a disfigurement? he seemed to say.

"Well, I don't know. I mean," I said, suddenly unsure. I hadn't actually asked anyone if my nose was crooked. And after all, while looking in the mirror that morning, maybe I had noticed a slight difference. Surely my husband would have said something. Or was love blind?

"No one has said anything to you?"


He shrugged, got up from his chair, and motioned me to the examination table. Just like in the television series, with a slide, a flip, and a loud snap he took the x-rays out of their envelope and held them to the light. He glanced at them, then came up to me and grabbed the bridge of my nose.

"Your nose is broken. Does that hurt?" he asked, wiggling my nose and pressing his giant fingers into my eyes.


"Does that hurt?" he tried again.


He moved my nose back and forth, staring at me sternly, for what felt like an eternity or at least a good five minutes, until eventually he let go.

"We need to operate," he pronounced. "To put it back straight."

"Operate?" I was stunned. I hadn't noticed anything was wrong, was in no pain, and honestly thought this would be a routine visit. Now Dr. Porsche was talking of surgery.

"So what are the possible complications?" I stammered. "What's the argument for, what's the argument against?"

"It's a one-day procedure. On the one hand, there's general anesthesia, and the possible complications of that. And you'll have your nose in a cast for a week. On the other hand, if you do nothing, you'll have a crooked nose forever." It was clear to the doctor which was the worse fate.

"Can I think about this a bit?"

"No. If you do nothing, it will heal, and it will be too late."

He was a hard sell. He gave me paperwork to fill out, an anesthetist to call, directions to his clinic in the chic suburban neighborhood of Neuilly, and his mobile phone number to let him know when I decided. He made it clear that my indecision was folly; I had no time to lose. Afterwards, I had the unpleasant sensation of having spent the morning talking to a salesman on a used car lot.

I handed over his sixty Euro fee (60€! And he didn't even take the government-issued carte vitale!) and slunk out of his office close to tears.

"Your nose is crooked," he assured me one more time for good measure as he saw me to the door.

I rang at my in-laws' apartment across the street. I knew that if anyone could look at things rationally, it was my mother-in-law.

"Do you see anything wrong with my nose?" I asked when she answered the door, barely choking back a sob.

"Well... hmm..." she studied me closely. "It may be a little, just a tiny bit, curved to one side."

"Crooked?" My voice cracked, despite myself.

"Wasn't it like that before?"

While I panicked and searched for close-up full-face pictures of me stored on their computer, my mother-in-law repeated, "He's an idiot! I knew it! Quel con celui-là!" Eventually I found a series of pictures taken on le Petit's six-month birthday. We both sat in front of a cake, me looking directly at the camera, le Petit on my lap bewitched by the lit candles. I had a giant smile.

I looked beautiful. Happy. Consumed with joy, I'd even say. Yet as I looked closely it was clear as day: my nose was curved to one side. I'd never noticed it before.

Dr. Porsche, though he has probably given up hope by now, is still waiting for me to call back.


Isabelle said...

Yes, what a jerk!
That's the kind of guy who's helping the "trou de la Sécu" getting deeper!!

caramama said...

That guy sounds awful! Doctor's should have to learn bedside manner in school if it doesn't come naturally.

I think having your nose a little crooked would add character! I'll bet it's a beautiful nose!