We have become very familiar with our neighborhood pediatric clinic. On our fifth day in Geneva, Forest spiked a 104 degree (Farenheit) fever and developed a rash on his torso. My friend Melanie took me to Clinique des Grangettes because they have a pediatric emergency room. We walked in and were seen right away. Despite having no official Swiss identification, medical insurance cards or permanent address, we saw a doctor, who looked a little like he belonged on the cover of a romance novel, and he diagnosed an ear infection. He wrote us a prescription for antibiotics- liquid, thank goodness not the usual suppositories that they try to prescribe as often as possible here.
As we left, I stopped by the welcome desk and retrieved my wallet. The nurse looked confused so I said in slow English, “How much do I owe you?” She did not move so I said, “Money. Francs? Euros?” “Oh, no, no,” she said. I took out the cash this time, “No, how much?” Nurse: (silent with a quizzical look). I put my wallet back and slowly walked out, waiting for someone to tackle me from the side Terry Tate style. But we just left. A few weeks later, a bill arrived in our mailbox, even though we had moved from our temporary apartment (the address I had given when we registered) and I again, wanted to call to explain they undercharged us. The bill was nothing close to an ER bill would have been in the states, especially if insurance was not provided. I was impressed.
Our pediatrician is also at Clinique des Grangettes. She is a young pediatrician who Forest likes to visit, most of the time. This last visit was Forest’s eighteen month check up. She asked me several questions while she handed Forest two puzzles. I bit my tongue as Forest took all three puzzle pieces and built a tower with them, adding from the other puzzle until he had a nice little stack going. The rule follower in me wanted to say, “No, Forest, put them in the right places.” But the doctor turned, said, “Bravo Forest” and took the puzzles away. I guess a tower was acceptable. Then she asked me two questions that made this visit different from any other pediatric appointment I have ever had.
1. “Does he sleep well?” The question is not odd in and of itself. People have been asking me this since the day he was born, as if sleeping well is the most important skill or quality a human can attain. Not compassion or ingenuity or even how to tie ones shoes, just sleeping well. I digress because I don’t want to confess this, my deepest, darkest secret: My eighteen month old does not sleep well. He sleeps well enough but he still wakes up in the night. Even as I write this, I want to lie. I want to delete those words and rewrite, “My son sleeps well. He sleeps 12 hours at a time.” But, I am out to be honest, so I said, “No, he does not sleep well.” The doctor just looked up and said, “Oh, but is he happy?” I almost cried. No one asks that question. She understood me and made me feel like there might be at least a few things that are more important than whether or not he sleeps well. “Yes,” I replied and that was that.
2. “When you say ‘no’ does he get frustrated?” I thought she was going to ask, “When you say no, does he listen?” so when she finished with “frustrated?” I was caught off guard. I quickly thought back to our many episodes of crying on the floor of airports, stores and playgrounds when I tried to steer him another direction or when I told him he could not ride the escalator alone or that we had to go on a plane. “Yes, he does,” I said. “Good,” replied the doctor. I read in Bringing Up Bebe that the French consider it a part of the parents job to frustrate their children. They believe it teaches patience and problem solving. I like that the doctors here are more concerned about Forest’s personality and emotional development than they are about his skill acquisition. I like that they have a snack bar downstairs, a three story aquarium in the middle of the clinic and excellent graphic designers (you should see their signage). And I really like our doctor. One point for Switzerland. Well played.