Cold and Flu season is upon us and seeing as the little man is off to the daycare, this one has been very intense. I think he has been sick every single week since starting at the crèche, and even though an elevated temperature scares me not, I have had a few nights where I lay awake staring at the ceiling, waiting for him to call again. No point in falling asleep, and the whole night was more like a quick cat-nap.
One fine day, now known as “The Beginning of it all”, he came to French for mommy group class with me. I knew something was up when while I was teaching the passé composé and he came over and asked for a snuggle. Almost immediately, all 14 kg of him fell asleep in my arms, and he was so wiped out that I was able to continue teaching while he rested. I carried him around for the remainder of the class, no interruptions, and then rather clumsily transferred him to his poussette without waking him – then I was really worried.
One of the biggest and most challenging set of cultural differences I have found since moving to Paris is the general approach to health and wellness. This was thrown in my face as a pregnant new arrival, and despite all of my education in French language and culture, this all came as a complete shock (and disappointment, if I’m honest!). On the positive side, the healthcare system is a very supportive one, but in general the French tend towards the pharmaceuticals. Doliprane (acetaminophen) is taken like candy and le medecin généraliste is like a God who, for 23 – 30 euros, will give you a magic scroll – une ordonnance – with a list of cures for all that has created discomfort in your body. Next, you take this to visit le pharmacien demigods, pick up your prescription and once you ingest it all, Pouf! Pouf! Bim! Bam! Boum! all the discomfort is managed and you can get on with life.
Is it just me or do French people seem quite at ease with les maladies? Perhaps it has something to do with a high level of confidence in the medical system and a slight arrogance in knowing they will be taken care of if something were to go awry, but they don’t seem preoccupied with hand washing or coughing into sleeves. Just look around at the surprising lack of automatic doors and faucets. Germs are shared liberally by way of door handles to turn and buttons to press. I am that person who casually pulls her sleeve over her finger to push the button marked “porte”. In my discussions with the locals, I also get the impression that constant illness this first year of crèche is almost a rite of passage for the little ones – “Si c’est pas cette année, ça sera à l’école!” (if it’s not this year, it will be at school), meaning that this is just another necessary step along the journey of la vie collective. His body needs to go through this or he will be sick all the time when he starts school, and this would be the worst case scenario because when they are sick at school, you have to pick them up. The crèche seems to accept anyone, as long as there is a traîtement en cours.
This brings me to my next point. It doesn’t seem that sick days exist here, so when you are ill you go to work! As I understand it, a person has to be ill for more than three consecutive days in order to be paid, and they must have an arrêt maladie, which is an official letter from the doctor-gods saying that they are ill enough to stay home from work. My personal policy is that if you catch colds early enough, a day of rest plus various other supportive elixirs work wonders to have you back on your feet again. I have trouble with having to make the decision to either not get paid or to give my body what she is begging for – un peu de repos (a little rest).
Finally, let’s set some expectations. Sick children still participate and nobody seems concerned about it. Don’t be alarmed if bébé Jean-François is coughing, sneezing and dripping all over everyone and everything at playgroup, or if a child recently exposed to the Chicken Pox still attends your group music class – De toute façon, c’est mieux de l’attrapper maintenant, avant qu’ils aillent à l’école (it’s better to catch it now than when they go to school). Share the pox!
If you don’t know this about me already, I tend towards the natural side of things, at least at first. If the natural remedies don’t work, I will hop over to the GP for some help, but I’ve been known to use excess garlic to assassinate stubborn viruses (sorry, husband!). While it doesn’t smell great, it’s pretty darn effective. That being said, I became a momma in France so I have adopted some fun French habits for treating illness, especially in my son:
- Serum Physiologique: I love these chubby single-uses. It’s simply eau purifiée and chlorure de sodium, (saline solution) and we use them for all sorts of things. During cold and flu season, and especially with une rhino, we use serum phy to flush and clean the nasal passages. This works wonders with the little one, and it seems to shorten the duration of his stuffy nose. It at least helps him breath clearly long enough to comfortably have something to eat or to get to sleep. In my opinion, an absolute must-have for cold and flu season.
- Pranarom: I love this brand. They have a line of products for kids, and I use their delicious smelling baume respiratoire instead of Vicks to avoid some of the questionable ingredients. The boy loves it for a moment of TLC as I massage it into his chest and back.
- Coryzalia: If I am not mistaken France is one of the largest markets for homeopathie, or homeopathic medicine, and it’s so inexpensive. My mom stocks up when she comes here. Coryzalia is a homeopathic remedy said to reduce the severity and duration of colds. The trick is to catch it early, and it works for us. We dissolve it in water for the little one, and he thinks it’s candy.
- Pediakid: We didn’t get one of the sleeping models… On a good day, it’s a challenge getting our son to rest, and this is especially true when he is ill. Pediakid Sommeil works so well to help him relax and drift off effortlessly, and to get the rest he needs. On the recommendation of a friend, we also started using their multi-vitamin for a little extra support, but I ended up choosing something with less sweetener. It contains sirop d’agave, which makes it delicious but perhaps a little too delicious to be having twice daily.
If you haven’t already noticed, in Paris, there’s a pharmacy on nearly every corner. I frequent exactly three of them – one for my son and his childhood illnesses, one for weird and embarrassing issues (think postpartum “what is happening to me???”), and another one that carries the label Pharmacie O’ Naturel. It does exactly what the label suggests and tends to offer many natural options and alternatives that are not necessarily available in the regular pharmacies. If you are ever in Vincennes, visit Pharmacie de l’Olivier, located at 170 Rue de Fontenay. I always find what I need there, and they have some cute natural skin care options as well.
What are some of your go-to products to help keep your kids comfortable during illness?