SEASON of sneezes and fitful drowsiness, the poet might have written. Colds, sore throats, coughing and all kinds of wintry afflictions have already stricken European workers in recent days. Perhaps the dreaded recession has played a role in sapping their morale and weakened their immune system. Whoever the culprit is, the remedy varies enormously according to where exactly in Europe you caught your germs and where you decide to be treated. France and Britain offer opposite attitudes.

In the 13 years I have lived in Britain, I`ve used five different GPs. The scenario never changes. I get a cold; I fight for a week on my own, resorting to a cocktail of raw garlic, ginger infusion, chicken broth and hot baths. After admitting defeat, I go and consult my local GP. He or she hardly looks at me and invariably asks “So, what is it you have and what is it you want?” “Antibiotics?” I venture. “Go back home, have some rest, and take an aspirin. If you`re still ill in a week, come back to see me.”

I leave feeling even more forlorn than when I arrived. A little angry too, even if I know, deep down, that the doctor is actually right.

Cut to the practice of my local GP in France. Jars of pate and homemade jams given by grateful patients stand by a small aquarium. Le docteur asks me how I feel. I give him all the horrid details running nose, saliva`s discolouring and an impression of permanent fog in the brain. He seems fascinated and asks me to undress. I already feel better somebody is taking my cold very seriously. Thorough examination ensues nose, ears, throat, skull, chest, stomach, blood pressure. He uses a few Latin words to say that, well, I have a cold. And I leave with a long prescription of vitamins, mineral supplements, ear drops, seawater nose spray, soothing blackcurrant pastilles and antibiotics. The mist in my brain has disappeared before I even reach the nearest pharmacy. It`s called the placebo effect. I`m sure I could actually do away with the antibiotics now that I`ve been listened to and examined properly.

The question, of course, is whether it makes any sense to prescribe antibiotics for a cold which is probably only a virus and not a bacterial infection. British GPs` no-nonsense attitude is in fact, certainly in medical terms, the most sensible to adopt. However, patients may end up feeling worse the way GPs dismiss them, as if to say colds are for wimps, generally proves emotionally counterproductive. Of course, if you have never known any other kind of medicine, you simply get on with it. But if you have been used to the pampering French system, your local British doctor`s apparent indifference is a bitter pill.

Or perhaps, this is another case of laissez faire against dirigisme. British medicine says laissez faire la nature and your cold will eventually go away. French medicine declares let`s annihilate any soupcon of bacterial infection with nuclear-strength antibiotics. The first one treats its patients with harsh firmness, the second with dangerous exuberance. While we ponder on those two opposite medical options, we are left to sneeze.

— The Guardian, London

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