Last day of 2013

Le Reveillon feels as strange as Christmas did.

Quite a good day’s physio. I can hold my arm up (well, half up) for a few seconds. I can touch the opposite shoulder (when the physio supports the weight of my arm), nearly touch my chin and not at all put my hand on waist in the pool.

Anne meanwhile is delighted: after a scare a few days ago when it looked as if things might be going wrong with her knee, she has been told she can go home on Friay, so long as she continues with daily physio. Great for her, but I will miss her.
The clinic pulled the stops out for supper: foie gras with endive et confiture d’oignon et figue, followed by capon and then little parties, washed down with a glass of wine.

Ive just finished watching a bad costume drama on Arte and can’t decide whether to stay up to trinquer le novel an. Goodness knows if anyone will be in the salon apart from the nurses. Well, it’s 11.15 as I write, so I suppose I might as well.

……. And I did. I joined a sad collection of half a dozen patients (average age over 69) and two nurses. Most of the younger or fitter patients were away for the night and the more decrepit or disabled asleep in their rooms.

Actually it was quite companionable: we toasted the new year with a bottle of red fizzy and were offered sandwiches and biscuits.

Thisis Pierre, one of my two mealtime companions:



I then paid for this break to my carefully managed routine by having a bad night with little sleep.

Weekend visitors

Yesterday Charles and Pierre visited for the last time before they go to Genoa for the winter. A good visit; I will miss them.

Today my young friend Alice came all the way from Octon (Graeme was on call at the local hospital). Her two children, Matty and Louis came too, and were incredibly well behaved! Their visit was like a breathe of fresh air. I love having friends from other generations.

Sleeping drug

I felt increasingly unwell on Friday – tired, shivery and cold.  When night came my usual ploys for getting to sleep failed and finally, in desperation, at 3am I rang for the nurse.  It was my favourite night nurse, Amandine, and she gave me a couple of the same pills she gave me on the night of the nightmare. They did the trick, so I at least managed to have three hours sleep before the morning routine started again.

Last night I asked about this drug which has now twice rescued me from desperation.  Amandine said it is called  Euphtose, is made from natural plants, is harmless and non-addictive. Sounds too good to be true.  I’ve started to look it up on the internet. It is apparently Passionflower.  MedlinePlus, an American government site, says

The chemicals in passionflower have calming, sleep inducing, and muscle spasm relieving effects.

There is some doubt about its efficacity and the usual caution about taking too frequently. All I can say is it has worked for me and was a lifesaver.

Two new meal companions

Mealtimes – focal points in our day – have been transformed by the arrival of two people at my table. Theit predecessors were perfectly amiable, but we had little in common. A week or so ago Frédéric (guitarist in wheelchair, who  must be the most sociable person here – he makes a point of saying hello to everyone) said he had just met a Scottish woman , and introduced me to her.

Anne Guthrie was in fact born and brought up in Kenya, but went to school at St Leonard’s (near St Andrews) and to Edinburgh University.  She is now married to a Frenchman, lives in the Pyrennees and runs her own business, Safari Sud, bespoke organized cultural and activity holidays for a predominantly American clientele.  She is younger than me and different but i liked her immediately.  We come across each other in the course  of the day but I have not sought her out, in case she wanted to engage with the younger inmates. Then yesterday she came and asked if she could move to my table, partly to escape from one of her current companions – the woman who sat next to me on Christmas Day.  I was delighted and look forward to meals now, though it looks as if Anne, who has had a knee op, will be let out in a week.

My other table companion, Pierre, is s a retired physicist, my age or maybe a little older.  We have already had some good conversations, with Anne before she left for the weekend, and then one today.  My experience in the world of university computing is one area we have in common.  And then today we talked about the ways in which the sixties was a watershed decade.

A strange Christmas

I think this is the first time in my 70 years that I have spent Christmas without family and friends. I once had a peculiar but enjoyable Christmas in Nigeria – during Ramadan – but even then I was with my friend, Wenol.

The staff here have made a big effort to try and create a festive spirit, with many of the nurses and aides sporting rtes hats and stripy red socks., and an attempt to decorate the dining room and salon.  But it is still an institution.

Christmas Eve

The entertainments? A Catholic service and lotto.  I passed on the first, no surprise, and was thinking of avoiding the second, when a nurse came to prise me out of my room.  “It will be fun, she urged – as have said various nurses and physios.  So I went, and it was – at least for the first hour.  I was sustained by my awful sense of competitiveness when playing games.  And there was a fascination about the way random numbers can seem to have a pattern – like in roulette – a deliberate avoiding of the numbers I needed.  But like most people I did eventually win: a set of twelve little glasses ous a booklet of aperitif and starter recipes.  One if the aides thought this was a joke that this had gone to an anglaise.  Even more funny if she had realised the full extent of my incapacity in the kitchen. Still, it was very relaxing and convivial, and I enjoyed talking to my neighbour, an amputee much younger than me with whom I enjoy the odd chat, usually in front of the coffee machine.

Dinner looks better on the menu than it was:

20131223_IMG_1942.JPGBut again, a big effort had been made.  Instead of the usual isolated tables each seating four, we had been placed in a U shape – two long tables and one sat the end.  And the table was laid with festive details.  I had quite a pleasant meal, with my friend, Roland, the builder from Avignon on one side (another thoraco sufferer) and on the other a pleasant man who never complains about his two amputated legs following complications after 16 years on dialysis.

Christmas Day

Much of the morning was spent trying, with much frustration, to watch grandchildren open presents.  Otto and Willow were opening theirs when the nurse arrived to wash and dress me.  The FaceTime connection with Kate and Steve’s house is pretty poor also, though not as bad as my earlier attempt with Deb and Dan.


Christmas lunch was a rather flat repetition of the evening meal, except this time I was stuck next to a woman who irritates me (and who fortunately does not speak English). I love coquilles St Jacques and langoustines – though the latter were rather wasted on those of us with the use of only one hand. (When there is meat on the menu, aides go round cutting our food up for us, but not apparently shelled fish.)

The buche de Noel was too artificial for me.  Give me Christmas pudding and brandy butter any day!



Later I watched the assembled Gillies, Bennion-Pedleys and Filsons have what should have been an absolutely delicious Christmas meal, cooked by Ed.


It was marred by the fact that Otto and Willow were tiring, would not eat anything or stay at the table – it had been too long a day for them.  And poor Kate, who had been feeling ill all day, was surviving rather than enjoying herself.

The evening took a dramatic turn for the worse.  Kate went to A&E where they said she might have a stomach ulcer or Gerds, but for now needed medication to sort out the acidity.  Deb went to the rescue, driving to a chemists in Streatham, had a puncture, drove to Kate and Sreve’s house with a fkat tyre, so the wheel is a write-off, and had to borrow Steve’s car to cross London to her home.  A traumatic day for all!

Boxing Day

Back to the usual routines here, starting with a 9am session in the pool directed by a cheerful but hungover physio.

Meanwhile the Gillies household is obviously struggling in Lond, with Kate still feeling ill, and Steve having to entertain two toddlers on his own.

Life in the B-P household is more cheerful, with another lunch party, and Ella enjoying her presents.




Marble chute – present from me (in theory…)


Weekend visitors

I cherish the visits, because I know this is a good hour’s drive from home.

Charles and Pierre came on Saturday, full of news about the previous week’s concerts, at which of course I could not perform, and dark hints about ‘l’ambience’.  I fear la jalousie des musiciens continues.  It was a good visit, they came armed with DVDs which I look forward to watching.

Then om Sunday Margaret came with Poppy and we had another lovely walk in the sunshine.  Margaret has brought me up to date on local news and scandals – and no, I won’t risk repeating these on the internet.  She and Hans visit my house regularly.  The kitchen progresses, although it appears my fridge and dishwasher are too old to attach to the doors I have bought.  Richard is attempting to find a solution.

The pool is making good progress.  Jacky is taking January off, but already you can see the main pool taking shape.

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The weekend saw a lot more people leave for Christmas. We are down to about 20 who can’t leave because they have thoraces – like -me, or are still in wheelchairs, or live alone.


Benefits of pool

Today was the end of my first week with sessions in the pool that’s me on the far right).

It has been a week of significant change, very tiring but morale boosting. The pool helps tremendously: the water supports the weight of the arm, enabling you to get damaged muscles working again.

A much reduced class today as many people have gone home, either for the weekend or for good.

Another nightmare

Still recovering from my traumatic night, I received a devastating blow: the clinic secretary said she had received a letter from my Mutuelle which appeared to say they would not be meeting the ‘hotel’ costs of my stay.


The French health system is complicated; the CMU (the state health insurance system) picks up the total medical costs of a hospital stay ( and all or part of other costs such as visits to the doctor or medication). The patient pays the costs of the room and meals. But most people subscribe to a top-up private insurance scheme – known as ‘la mutuelle’. You can expect your mutuel to meet at least part of the hotel costs, sometimes for a limited number of weeks each year.

This is what I had expected and the secretary and my physio were equally baffled. I phoned the Montpellier agent of my mutuelle, all set to do battle. The total cost of a single room plus meals for my ten plus week stay is likely to amount to something like 6000 euros!

It turns out that what the letter means is that the mutuel will not settle my bill direct: I must pay the clinic and the mutuel leg will reimburse me. Even better news, she confirmed that my contract is for 100% and for unlimited time periods. Phew!


Last night I had my most scary night ever.It all started pretty normally: I try to stay awake until at least ten, in an effort not to be awake in the early hours of the morning. I went to sleep, as usual saving the sleeping pill for the tir when I usually wake up- about 1 or 2am.

This time I must have had a prolonged, intense nightmare. i won’t bore you with the details, which I still remember with frightening clarity. Suffice it ended with me fighting for my life against villainous murderers, yelling without avail for help (no doubt emitting the sort of yelps Poppy does when chasing chickens in her dreams). I woke with sudden violence to find myself standing by the bed, trembling violently and sobbing. How did I get there? Did I fight off the murderers with both arms? Certainly my left arm and shoulder were numb – no pain, nothingness.

Fearing I had damaged my shoulder, I rang the bell. It was my favourite night nurse, Amandine, who had already rescued me one night when I needed to have a break from the thoraco. She assured me that I had not managed to move the thoraco in my struggles, so all should be OK. We walked along the corridor for ten minutes to help me recover from the tram, then she gave me some pills to calm – assuring me they were sourced from natural plants and not yet more chemicals. Amazingly I slept, though in the morning the nightmare was still hovering over me.

The doctor is going to review my medication, but all a bit mysterious as I have had no morphine for over two weeks, was assured the painkillers and anti inflammatories did not provoke nightmares, and I had not yet taken the sleeping pill.

Even during the night, this reminded me of Tish, our grandmother’s, experience when aged 80 recovering from a broken hip. Dad got a call from her in the early hours of the morning saying the BOSS (South African secret police – this was in the late sixties) were coming to get her, but she was going to escape by the window. Dad told her to hang on and he would help her escape, and then quickly rang the hospital to get them to rescue his mother in law!

Les marcheurs

I have been lucky to have been placed for meals near this group of fellow shoulder patients (there should be a collective noun for us – ‘les thoracistes’?). This particular group are mainly younger than me and fitter. They have taken to going for two hour walks in the afternoon,and have thoroughly explored the countryside around. Now they are almost all ready to leave.
As Christmas approaches more and more people reach the end of their stay here. I fear the average age of my companions is going to rise.