American Mom in Paris: Docteur Knows Best

American Mom in Paris: Docteur Knows Best

docteur knows best

I was on the phone with my daughter’s otorhinolaryngologist (her ORL, or ear-nose-throat doctor) when he called me a princess. “Ma petite princesse,” to be precise.

No one has ever called me that. Because I’m not. I drink tap water and take public transportation. When, upon occasion, my nails are done, I did them myself. I don’t even disturb doctors over common colds.

So last December, when Viv caught her first significant cold in Paris, I had her tough it out. It wasn’t until her fever stuck around and her head and ear began hurting that I took her to the pediatrician.

Viv had an otite séreuse – a middle ear infection. She took antibiotics for a week, recovered after a few days, and was back to normal.

But not so fast. I had to ask her to do things once, twice, … five times and in a raised voice before she would respond. She said “What? “ a lot and turned the volume way up on the iPad. At first I thought it was willful. Then I realized even she was getting frustrated. Something was still wrong.

She couldn’t hear in her right ear.

Doctor checking for ear infection
© Katarzyna BinaAasiewicz/123RF

The pediatrician sent us to an ORL. A slim, charismatic man in his late 60s and a well-tailored grey suit, he looked in Viv’s ears, ran some electronic tests, squeaked her nose, and gave a preliminary diagnosis of “too much végétation” before scribbling out a prescription for a sinus x-ray.

The x-ray confirmed the overabundance of végétation (or adenoid), which blocked her Eustachian tubes causing both the infection and the hearing loss. The végétation simply had to be removed.

Adenoidectomy is a common outpatient procedure in France, our ORL said. He’d find a Friday spot to give Viv the weekend to recover. She’d just need some pre-work for the general anesthesia. And, with that, he opened his agenda to schedule the procedure.

That, presumably, is when I started to become a princess. Not loving the idea of general anesthesia, I asked if there were other treatment options. He looked up from his agenda to assess my seriousness, saw that I was, took a breath, and said that I could certainly explore different options with other ORLs but… Effectively, there were no other reasonable options.

He, being French, was surprised that I might second-guess his professional opinion. I, being American, wasn’t about to let a healthcare professional get in the way of my daughter’s well being. I didn’t schedule the surgery.

I consulted with our beloved American pediatrician back in Washington, DC. She judged the French ORL’s advice sound but, being American, humored me with some non-invasive, homeopathic, and ultimately ineffective treatments and exercises. I didn’t bother going to another ORL. Three months later, Viv and I were back in the ORL’s office scheduling her surgery.

Some days later, the ORL called me to suggest we set a follow-up appointment the week after the procedure. Obligingly, I started to rattle off some day/time options. That’s when he interrupted me with, “Ah, mais non ma petite princesse. C’est ma secrétaire avec qui vous pouvez prendre les rendez-vous.

Oh. So I schedule surgeries with the ORL but ORL visits with his secretary. I bet real princesses already know that. I’m still in training.

Viv recovering from surgery for ear infection
© Stacey Pavesi Debre

The operation took 45 minutes and the recovery took a few weeks. Now, when Viv can’t hear me, it’s because she doesn’t want to. But it’ll take me a while longer to master how the French and their healthcare system work.

ALSO READ: the vital basics about the French Healthcare system.

Stacey Pavesi Debré is a Taiwanese-Italian américaine, born in Ohio, raised in California. She spent her teens in Tokyo then studied at Cornell University. She fell in love with the events industry at Time magazine and Teach For America in New York City, was seasoned at The Atlantic magazine in D.C. and Politico in Paris and Brussels. She is now the founder and director of Music Together Bébé Music Box, repurposing her events and management experience to share her love of music with families across Paris. She is a major fan of French pastries and French panache – separately or together – and endeavors toward eventual fluency in the French culture without losing any of her beneficial American qualities.


  1. I so admire your tenacity in pursuing what you felt was right for your daughter. It’s not easy in the face of dismissiveness and paternalism, not to mention navigating cultural differences. You’re a great mom!


eighteen − 2 =

All comments are moderated. If you don't see your comment right away, please be patient. It may be posted soon. There's no need to post your comment a second time. Thank you!