Visit from Margaret

Where would I be without Margaret? She brings me fresh clothes once a week (and next week I hope some something tasty to eat since I’m so bored with hospital food!), but also she gives me the gossip from home.

She has kept me up to date with news on the pool and new kitchen projects. She Said Richard Who Had collected my belongings from London is about to start work on assembling the kitchen. I know it’s a long way to went and I’m looking forward to seeing all these changes to my home in mid February.

it is very kind very indeed to come so often. I realise now that I couldn’t manage without her visits. The French system really does assume that should have family and friends around you.

New meal companions

I’ve changed my meal table. Before I sat at the table nearest the kitchen, in a rather dark corner, with Malika, my Moroccan neighbour, a man of 80 who was pleasant enough but almost completely deaf, and a rather ghastly woman, older than me, who flirted all the time with the deaf man. I decided that I really had had enough of being depressed at mealtimes, though with hindsight I realise that it was as much recovering from the operation. My medication combined with the food offered meant I had no appetite. Mealtimes were an ordeal rather than a pleasure, so I needed a change and asked to be moved, hoping my former neighbours didn’t take too much offence.

Ironically I was moved to a table with two old ladies, one of whom is 94 and the other 92. You would think that would be even more depressing but they are two feisty old ladies who completely have their wits about them and make very entertaining lunchtime companions. We’ve now developed a daily habit of going to the salon afterwards for a coffee together.

The fourth person is a much younger woman called Christiane, probably in her early sixties. She comes from a mas – a farm – between Nimes and Arles where they grow vines and olives. Her husband is working flat out with the olive harvest which started mid-November and this year will go on till mid December. Christiane is a fellow shoulder patient who has had a pretty miserable year. She had a shoulder transplant, then she hadn’t abscess and had to have a second operation, and now she has had a second shoulder replacement. She has spent the best part of the year in and out of hospital and is amazingly cheerful with it.

Here are the two old ladies. I think the first is about 90.  The second is 94 and much more lively than my photo suggests!
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Sentence extended

It was about now that I got the bad news that all was not straightforward. Normally one wears the thoraco for about four weeks and then there are about two eels while they work on the muscular system. Both Lucie and Brigitte had spoken of my fragile tendons. then Lucie revealed, assuming I knew already, that I have to spend eight weeks with the thoraco – at least a month extra in hospital. Amazingly the detailed operation report has not yet reached the hospital, so they cannot tell how many tendons were cut during the operation or whether they were already in a fragile state.

This came as an awful blow. Plus I was angry that the surgeon did not say more during our brief post operation meeting.

So it looks as if I have to wear the thoraco till at least mid January and dont get out of here till some time in february.

My daily routine of ‘rééducation’

In the morning I start by going down to an area called ‘balneo’ where I get a warm pack on my neck at the start of each session (to warm up the muscles) and an ice pack on my shoulder at the end of each session (to reduce inflammation).

The area is completely unimaginatively laid out, with chairs round to the wall just like in a dentist’s waiting room. The centre of the room is dominated by a huge bath where young people with sports injuries sit for ten minutes in icy water! Nevertheless this is unimportant centre of social activity. It is where those receiving shoulder and knee treatment meet each other each other four times a day, 20 minutes a session, so a total of 80 minutes daily.

After ‘le chaud’, I spend 20 minutes with my physio in a large, well equipped gym, surrounded by other patient/physio couples. (There is a second gym area I’ve never been in, exclusively for the sports injuries.) My kiné, Lucie, is a young woman whom I did not take to at first, but I’m warming to her. She takes off my thoraco and, supporting my arm, performs a series of gentle stretching movement to get the new joint moving. For the time being absolutely no demands are made on the tendons, damaged by the operation. I have to concentrate on letting Lucie make all the movements and on relaxing my tensed up shoulder. Lucie also massages the muscles round my neck, which are very knotted or ‘tendus’.

Then I spend 20 minutes on a machine which gently raises and lowers my stretched out left arm. As time progresses the machine will be set to raise the arm higher and higher.

I finish with the 20 minutes of ice pack.

The afternoon session follows more or less the same routine, except instead of seeing the kiné Lucie, I’m with Brigitte, an ergothérapeute. The movements are similar but I think the sessions are supposed to be more focussed on developing the movements one needs in daily life. Brigitte is older than Lucie and exudes an air of reassuring authority.

After the final ice pack session, my reéducations comes to an end. In a few weeks I will also have sessions in the warm pool.
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Room on my own

A last I have been given a room to myself. It’s at the vry end of a long corridor, next to the linen cupboards, facing north, looking out onto the car park – but I’m on my own. The room is exactly the same as the one I left, except there is no second bed, thank goodness.

The freedom to be able to sleep when I wan, to be able to read to have the light on when I want, to listen to the radio when I can’t sleep, to use my computer day or night……all this changes my life.

Even so I had a bad tonight on the night of the 26 and ended up having to take morphine again, but it was worth it because I had a really good day on the 27th and from now on it has been much better.

Night encounter

Three o’clock in the morning. I gave up trying to sleep and decided to go to the salon. Never a particularly welcoming place, in the middle of the night it was lit spookily by the giant coffee vending machine i took a coffee and sat down with my ipad. Then I heard the sound of a wheelchair coming in. A man took a coffee and we said ‘bonsoir’. All I could see in the dark was a shadowy profile. We started to talk. I asked if he was in for a knee operation. No, he said, he’d had a car accident, was initially in a coma for several weeks. When he finally woke up he could remember nothing from before the accident, in August 2012. His bones were now mended, but he could not walk; it was if the connection between brain and legs had been cut. For him life still started in August 2012. He knows he had a wife (couldn’t work out if they were divorced before or after the accident) and a daughter. Now he keeps a diary, hoping this will help him regain his memory.

I murmured something about how awful. On the contrary, he replied, he knew that before the accident he had not been a very good man (a bit obsessed by his passion for driving big construction machines, and by inference, neglecting his family) and now it was like having a second chance at life, and try to be a different person. What a strange and sad story. We bid goodbye and he wheeled off. We bump into each other from time to time, and say ‘bonjour’ like people who know each other a bit.

The salon is indeed a place where I make acquaintances – usually in daytime – despite it unwelcoming ambience. About the same time I got talking to young woman in a wheelchair, who was puffing away at an e-cigarette. We were joined by a man – an amputee in wheelchair, and we had an animated conversation about smoking, and addictions in general.

Bit by bit my circle of acquaintances grows. Not surprisingly I seem drawn to the slightly more unusual inmates!

My first room – with Malika

This is what I wrote to the family soon after arrival

Finally got to st clement. Grandiose but dated. But clearly very efficient staff even if a bit like a boarding school.

Horror. I’m sharing room with a very friendly Moroccan woman who is on the phone with her family NONSTOP. I can’t hear myself think. And when not on the phone she wants to chat.

Things got more stressful in the days that followed. Malika is a sweet, kind woman, eager to be friendly. But for someone sleeping as badly as me sharing was already a nightmare – I would like to turn on the light, move around, listen to the radio.
I was still very tired and dosed up with morphine, and needed to sleep, but couldn’t because when her large family is not there (on Sunday 24th from 10am to 3pm!) she is on the phone to her daughter. Loud Arabic with curious abrupt phrasing, put paid to rest. Conversation is also tiring because her French is difficult to follow.

Margaret visited during this period and we had to escape to the salon. the girls found face tome sessions virtually impossible.

My mutuelle pays for a single room, but there are none available so I have to wait till people leave.
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Clinique de Rééducation du Docteur Ster, St Clément de Rivière

This is a foretaste of what will come in th UK. This, the Clinique St Jean and the Ganges clinic where I had my hip replaced ten years ago are all private enterprises carrying out services on behalf the state.

At first sight this clinic is large, slightly run-down looking, with the most hideous garish yellow doors and windows everywhere. Everything is very impersonal looking- functional chairs and not a picture to be seen anywhere. The centre of our social life, if you can call it that, are a cavernous large dining room (there are about 75 residential patients) and ‘sitting’ room with television and drinks machine. Both have giant picture windows looking onto the quite attractive garden where I imagine you spend most of your time when not in the depths of a prematurely cold winter.

Down on the ground floor are all the administrative and medical offices. Our reeducation takes place in a number of rooms, including a large and well equipped gym. Later I will also have sessions in the warm pool.

Well, that’s the buildings; not beautiful or welcoming, but functional. But this is an extremely well run place and the staff – nurses, physios, nursing aides, kitchen and cleaning staff are almost all incredibly friendly and helpful (the woman on reception being a bit of an exception).

Leaving St Jean

The only time I left my room was to be taken for an x-Ray. So I was more than ready to leave St Jean.

First I had to go down to the offices to collect my discharge papers and – mauvaise surprise – pay a cheque for 1000 euros! This is the amount by which my surgeon’s fees exceeded what is covered by the French health system (CPAM). I said my mutuelle had said it would be picking up this tab. But apparently it is up to me to settle the bill and then send the papers to the mutuelle in order to be reimbursed! What a crazy system. Luckily I had the cash in my account, transferred to pay for installation of my new kitchen.

A trip of about 15 km in ambulance and I arrived in my new ‘home’, Le Centre de Réeducation du Docteur Ster, at St Clément de Rivière. This is a tiny cluster of buildings – two clinics, a lycée and a restaurant, in the garrigue north of Montpellier. I’m sure that in the next decade the garrigue will be replaced by housing developments as Montpellier keeps on growing.

Disgusting food

I know that morphine and anesthetics make you lose your sense of taste and appetite. But honestly this is some of the most disgusting hospital food I have ever eaten. The vegetable soup, for example, looked and tasted like dirty dishwater.

At this rate I should lose some weight 🙂