I am not allowed to give blood in France because I could have 'Mad Cow' disease. This rule applies to anyone who lived in Britain during the 1980s. But now my dental surgeon wants to transplant a piece of dead cow into my mouth. Now why would I agree to that?
I ask him. He says this is the treatment he recommends. I know the sub-text: he is the specialist, I must trust him. "But what exactly is 'bovine material'?" His secretary gives me a glossy leaflet. It explains that 'bovine material' is harvested bone from the carcasses of dead cows farmed in America, which it claims, is perfectly safe. Excuse me, but as the glossy leaflet was produced by the company selling the bone it would say that wouldn't it? I Google "cow bone jaw dental transplant". I find nothing particularly persuasive or dissuasive but decide: "No way", anyway. I will not be surprised if the dental surgeon refuses to treat me when I tell him.
This highlights a big difference between the NHS and the French health service. In Britain doctors jump through hoops to explain everything in great detail and give patients the choice. In France doctors tell you what to do on the understanding that they went to medical school and they know best. I prefer to think that in most cases doctors, having completed years of studies and exams, do know best. And if not best, then certainly better than the vast majority of their patients. Then again, if you were a haemophiliac given contaminated blood in the 1980s in Britain or a child given contaminated growth hormone around the same era in France, you would not agree.
The whole doctor-patient relationship has been further complicated by the Internet that has made us all armchair specialists. It has demystified medicine, science, biology, our private lives, the world, the universe, even nuclear physics. Well, perhaps not nuclear physics. The information is out there, masses of it, most of it contradictory much of it plain wrong. I can Google 'pain in stomach' and come up with anything from indigestion to cancer. The Internet can tell me what it might be; only a doctor can tell me what it is.
To be honest, I don't know which way to go on this one. For years I had a monosyllabic French doctor who refused to let me leave without a prescription for at least five drugs, several of them over the counter stuff like painkillers that I didn't need and didn't take. At the end of every appointment he would press me to take a sick note from work (useless as I'm my own boss). He never explained anything; I was expected never to complain.
Now I have a wonderful friendly but no-nonsense British GP in Paris. She is very happy to explain and reassure and I am confident she only gives me drugs I really need. In the Internet age trusting your doctor is a leap of faith, but I do think she knows best because she has never given me any reason to doubt it.
As for the "bovine material". There's no way it's going anywhere near my mouth. I'm not that mad.