Cal and I got up super early last week and went to Dr. Navarro to see what was up with this dry, hacking cough I’ve had since Paris. I don’t usually need someone to accompany me, but my knowledge of French doesn’t extend to medical terms. It turns out to be bronchitis; but, in the surreal world that is Montpellier, there is more to the story than that.
Dr. Navarro has been Cal’s doctor for years. He treats most of the expats we know and hangs out at several of the expat bars, where he is known as “Dr. Death” for his general demeanor (think 150-year-old love child of Lou Reed and Marty Feldman) and his penchant for whiskey and Champagne. Together in the same glass. Starting around 11 AM.
Last spring Cal and I were having an apero on the terrace of the Vert Anglais when a woman at the adjoining cafe passed out at her table. Her friend screamed, and Dr. Death came weaving out of the cafe to attend to her. Without putting down his cigarette or his drink, he took the woman’s pulse, slapped her across the face, and called for an ambulance on his cell phone. While they waited he let the unconscious woman’s head rest on his hip as he chatted amiably with her friend, the waiter coming by to refill his toxic cocktail.
As if that isn’t enough to hamper your confidence, there is his office. You enter from the street via one of those impossibly gigantic outer doors, through a cavernous hall and into a small, dusty, drafty waiting room made of stone.
We learned recently that the building that houses his office was once where Louis XIV stashed his mistresses when he came to the South of France. The entry is so large because it was where they brought the horses in to be stabled; the horses were a front, so to speak, for less savory activities.
There is no receptionist, no nurse, and as far as I can tell, no telephone. You simply show up and sit there, hacking and wheezing and reading old copies of Paris MATCH, until he lurches out of his inner sanctum to get you. This time we were greeted with a resounding, OBAMA! that made him do a little hacking and wheezing of his own. Dr. Death is a chain smoker.
His office/examination room also is a small, dusty, drafty room made of stone. There is his desk, covered by piles of papers; his examining table, propped up on one side by a scale; and this area, which defies description:
First, you sit around his desk and chat for a few minutes. He asks Cal how his meds are working, and he asks me how things are in Italy, or sometimes Spain. It’s because of my accent when I speak French; I can’t help it. But no matter how much we try to convince him otherwise he insists I am Italian or Spanish, and tries to trick me into admitting it. It’s actually pretty funny.
Then he asks what ails you. This is where Cal launches into a little speech he’s prepared while I nod and point to various parts of my body. Dr. Death usually gives you a diagnosis instantly; then, as if you’ve protested, he sighs and tells you to get up on the table. Sometimes he takes your blood pressure; sometimes not. Sometimes he listens to your chest; sometimes not so much. Thirty seconds later he slaps you on the back and walks back around to his desk, where he starts writing out many, many prescriptions.
We pay him 20 euro since we are not on the national health plan, and we are sent away with a hearty OLE! or VIVA ITALIA! until the next time.