Recovery Stage Two

Today I added a session in the pool to my daily routine. I was surprisingly anxious before: one becomes so dependent on the thoraco to hold the arm and shoulder in place that the idea of taking it off is scary.

First my usual thoraco was replaced by a plastic one. I stepped gingerly into the – very nice – pool, and as soon as my shoulder was under water, the physio took off the thoraco and I had just a ring to hold up the forearm. I then had to do 20 minutes of gentle exercises, mainly pushing the arm forward in the water. But this is the first time in a month that I have moved my arm, as opposed to having it moved by the physio.

Perhaps even more stressful than the time in the pool was the challenge of getting dressed and undressed, albeit with help. It brought back those times at school when I always seemed one of the last to get dressed after our swimming class. There was a horrible moment when I had to support my arm myself while the aide soignante went to look for my thoraco. And then, struggling with one hand and not quite dry legs, I got into a tangle with my trousers and was rescued by two friends a bit more adept than me!

In the afternoon physio session I also moved my arm and shoulder on my own, this time on dry land.

All rather exhausting, but good to move forwards.

Carols Carribean style

The notice said carols in le salon at 4pm. I suppose I was expecting something like a well-meaning church group. But the clinic administrator (responsible for anything not medical) is Carribean and this was a Martinique-style event. He had invited half a dozen of his friends to provide the entertainment, led by a singer who clearly knew his stuff. The three girls were unfortunately almost drowned out by the energetic drummers. It was a loud, cheerful event with lots of carols which had clearly acquired a Carribean character over the years (shame the sound system could not be got to work and nobody thought to turn off the TV…).

This is the weekend, with many of the younger or more able bodied residents back home till Sunday evening, leaving a superfluity of elderly wheelchair occupants who did not exactly join in. however, I sat next to a pleasant man, recovering from a pelvis op, who did his best to belt out the refrains. And even I joined in with gusto for the last number: albeit singing in French is a completely different experience, with alien stresses and phrasing, I did at least know the tune: Glora in excelsis.

French Carribean is similar to but oh so different from ex-British West Indies. The inhabitants of Guadeloupe and Martinique are French citizens – the islands are French departments with parliamentary representation. This handsome, jolly group were different but at the same time, very French.

My nonagenarian friends

Yesterday my 92-year-old lunch companion went home; tomorrow her 94 year old room mate leaves also. I don’t even know their names but I will miss them. It has been a humbling experience observing them tackling adversity with positivity and courage. Their main problem is not immobility or illness: it’s loneliness and family insensitivity

Over our post lunch coffee today my 94-year-old friend poured out all her worries and sadness. She is clear-minded, but softly spoken with a broad dialect, so I struggled to understand at times. She had referred to her family before, so I knew there were problems about inheritance (how French), a hostile daughter in law, a suicidal grandson, and children and grandchildren who made no effort to visit or telephone. Now I learnt more.

Her husband had a modest job – I think he was a primary school teacher – but they struggled together to buy two hectares of land in Florensac (in the department of Hérault), built a little house on it and spent many happy days there. But later the source of much of the grief. After her husband died, my friend found the costs of maintaining this property too much. The youngest of her three sons offered to buy it ‘en viager’. This is a procedure in France where you buy a property from someone to release capital – paying them either a lump sum or a regular income – but you don’t own the property until the seller dies.

[Zut. les ordinateurs! I’ve just seen the last save didn’t work and I have to redo the end of this post.]

The rest of the family were against this transaction, particularly her daughter in law but at the same time were not prepared to help with the costs. This has torn apart the family, the two surviving brothers are hardly on speaking terms. Just before the third brother died of cancer he asked his mother to take him toFlorensac one last time. I think the brother with the hostile wife must have been living at Florensac, as my friend had to battle for them to allow the dying son to visit.

Then there are the grandchildren who cause her anguish. One, now aged 32, has suffered from depression for five years, since his girlfriend left him, and recently attempted suicide for the fourth time. Another was born with learning difficulties, was very late talking, can hardly read and is angry and frustrated by his difficulties which are in obvious contrast to his sister, who despite their modest means has made it to the equivalent of tax inspector. He faces a life mainly in institutions because he is prone to be violent.

Phew, that was a lot of sadness to take in this afternoon. And most unusual, since she puts on a cheerful, uncomplaining face in public. How lovely it would be if her sons and grandchildren could find a way to see her, or at least talk t her, ore often. She, however, is too proud to ask them.

Latest shoulder x-ray

Ive just collected a cd with last week’s x-ray. Impressive isn’t it?
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The physio commented what a neat job the surgeon had done, with implant neatly placed in bone. I wasn’t so impressed last night, which wasn’t too good. but the problem is more the discomfort of the thoraco rather than the implant.

The stitches were removed a couple of days ag, or rather the knots, as the thread itself dissolves I think. Anyhow the scar is impressively small, thanks to the wonders of modern surgery/plumbing, and the skin is healing fast.

I saw the doctor yesterday and he said that next week I should proceed cautiously ti the next stage: a daily session in the pool. i gather that the idea is that the water takes the weight of the arm rather than the thoraco, allowing me to start using the tendons, immobilised for the last three weeks.

Walking in the garrigue

The clinic is in a zac (zone d’activités) on the outskirts of St Clément de Rivière, which protrudes into the wild garrigue, the splendid limestone scrub and trees which covers so much of the Mediterranean hinterland.

A group of my fellow shoulder patients have taken to walking for up to two hours every afternoon. Sadly my arthritis plus a different physio timetable has meant i have not been able to accompany them. But this weekend I have had two (shorter) walks, Yesterday my le Vigan physio and friend, Jocelyn, visited with her dog, Alto. We went up the hill, skirting behind the neighbouring lycée, through lovely unspoilt woodland and garrigue to a viewpoint, from where we could see a panorama stretching from Pic St Loup eastwards towards st Matthieu. Lovely! Today I did the same walk, this time with Margaret and Poppy! It was so good to see her again. She is looking splendid, and Margaret has groomed her fit for a show!

Of course what absolutely makes these walks is the superb weather. I dont think there has been a cloud in the sky since my operation three weeks ago. And it is so warm one doesn’t need a jacket.

After our walk Margaret and I gorged ourselves on tasty cream cakes, bought by Hans from my favourite boulangerie in le Vigan at ny request. I needed a break from all this fruit and yoghurt!

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Dental disaster – again

Throughout the Sunday expedition I was aware of the fact that my latest crown,sitting on an implant, was about to come out. I kept surreptitiously pushing it back in, cursing because as usual it is a weekend. I sent a message to my dentist asking if it was ok to go to a local dentist. But he said it was imperative that I came to him. So I had to hire an ambulance taxi which cost me €150 for the return trip!

The driver, a Moroccan, turned out to be very pleasant. We got on very well and talked politics most of the way there. This is refreshing from me because nobody in the Clinique ever talks about current affairs. He was clearly an intelligent and well read man who had travelled extensively, including in the Middle East, where he mourned that Jews and Arabs could no longer live harmoniously side by side, as they had in the past. He is a member of a French Palestinian support group and I told him that I belong to an English equivalent.

My dentist was most concerned the tooth had come out, in this case probably as a result of the operation, and as usual refused to charge me anything. He’s printed out a paper and I’m going to try and get I taxi fair reimbursed by my health insurance policy.

Lunch in La Grande Motte

On hearing that I had no visitors for the weekend, I was invited out for lunch by Jaklin, a woman from a neighbouring meal table. Touched by her spontaneous gesture, I accepted. Jacky warned me that her husband Guy was a man of few words and not to be put off. He seemed pleasant but indeed silent! Off we went in his swish Mercedes to La Grande Motte.

It must be over 30 years since I was last there, but much as my love affair with concrete is long over, I was still struck by the elegant beauty created by Corbusier. I love the fanciful white pyramids, marred only by the more recent Hotel Mercury – a tasteless box shape.

We had an excellent lunch in a restaurant beside the harbour. True to character I quizzed Guy about his work. He had been a computer software development engineer who has clearly made a packet writing bespoke software for public bodies. After lunch we strolled along the seafront. We must have looked a strange ensemble, with Jaklin on onside of Guy, elegant in a fur coat, but struggling along on crutches, and me on the other, less elegant, with a motley collection of shawls barely covering my bizarre thoraco.

Afterwards we went back to their home in St Gely. It is ultra-modern, white, with expensive fittings and of course a swimming pool, but curiously lacking in warmth and personality. In one corner Jacky showed me her paintings which are really quite good, which made it even stranger that she had been unable to impose her personality on this blank canvas. But the more I got to know her, the more I realised that this poor woman is actually precariously on the verge of a serious depression.

It’s not just her hip replacement, I think she doesn’t really know what to do with her life. Her husband is wrapped up in whatever does in his study, their daughter, also a computer scientist, lives in Madrid and has her own life. Her mother is alone, no longer with a role. I’ve promised when I get out of the Clinique I will go to concerts in Montpellier with her.

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.