Home!

Affectionate farewells from staff – I was after all one of the long term residents! – and lots of ‘Bon courages’, particularly from fellow shoulder sufferers.

I had chosen an ambulance firm – Thiébaut – with local Serres connections. The driver was a charming girl, Candice, who turned out to be the great grand daughter of Mme Thiébaut, the formidable 93 year old who until last year worked on her land in Serres with fierce energy, producing enough fruit and veg for the entire thiebault clan and more. (She only gave up because her son, Daniel, downed tools and said he wanted to do other things in his retirement than be her labourer.)

Apparently about the time of my operation Mme Thiebault decided to climb a ladder to collect her figs, the ladder slipped and she fell and broke her shoulder! Typically as the family took her to the Ganges Clinique her main concern was who was going to feed her chickens and rabbits. Anyhow, she too was given a shoulder replacement, after a week in the Clinique, transferred to the Le Vigan local hospital for reeducation. A well known local figure, plus her daughter works there, so she was treated like royalty. And now she is at home, albeit probably not very mobile. A salutary lesson to me of the value of Cevenole determination and no nonsense (and obstinacy….).

The sun was shining for my return and Poppy greated me with satisfying enthusiasm. I was able to admire progress on the pool, which is going to look great, my new kitchen – irritatingly not quite finished – and the transformation my new bed has made to the bedroom.

Hans and Margaret have been working away to make my homecoming pleasant and easy and Margaret made us a delicious meal.

Despite an afternoon rest I’m feeling pretty drained and realise that sorting the mountain of stuff to go back in the kitchen, plus sundry boxes of possessions Richard brought back from England has to be done slowly.

My last week in hospital!

After nearly 11 weeks, suddenly the end is in sight. I completed a questionnaire, chosen the taxi-ambulance firm to take me home and joined the ‘collectif’ – the class for those preparing for autonomy at home.

In fact the collectif is more or less the same exercises as we do in the pool, but ten times more difficult on dry land. There are four of us in our class and I am far and way the least able. I know everybody keeps saying we should not make comparisons, and that my shoulder was particularly bad. But it is quite hard being the dunce of the class 🙂

My particular bête-noires are raising my arms straight up and joining hands – or in my case trying to – behind my back. But my kine Lucie has been most encouraging, saying that I have made good progress in this extra week and that I have the volonté – the will – to achieve much more in the coming months, even though I will never achieve the 100 per cent mobility that younger and fitter patients will. Part of the problem is that the other shoulder holds me back. Just at the moment I would rather not think about that!

I cant wait for Friday – departure day – to come. I have been here too long, I’ve watched too many people arrive after me and then depart. And now my last remaining friends are leaving.

In particular there are two whose motor bike accidents, resulting in injuries including broken pelvises, which have left them trapped in wheelchairs for months, are leaving. Tchek went today. He will attend the other big clinic, Fontfroide (where I went after my hip op), on a daily basis. Fred goes in a day or two and will also attend a local clinic near his home in Avignon. And Christiane, my only remaining shoulder contemporary, will start being a day patient here on Friday.

I think to have stayed on without them would have been miserable, even though I have met one or two others who are pleasant enough. Being at a meal table with three people with whom I have nothing in common has added to my impatience to leave!
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Since my two meal companions Pierre and Anne have left, mealtimes have been particularly trying……

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Sunday lunch out

Un weekend chargé!

I invited Margaret for lunch at the excellent restaurant at St Gely du Fesc – Clos des Oliviers – where I went with Yves and Sylvia.  A modest thank you for her incredible generosity.  She has trekked down to visit every week, collecting my laundry, collecting medication….  And all this on top of all that Hans and Margaret have done sorting out problems in my house .

I was too greedy to have time to take photos of Margaret’s meal. Mine was foie gras (with chocolate), taureau and a chocolate dessert, which we both agreed was outstanding.

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In the evening I was reminded with a vengeance that I had spent rather too many hours over the weekend without giving my shoulder a restorative session in the thoraco!

A mad day out

Five of the seven people in this photo have recently had major shoulder surgery!
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The exceptions are the two husbands on the left, Alain and Harry

The others, all fellow patients before Christmas, used to squeeze in long walks before their afternoon reeducation sessions.

Today was Francine, Christiane and Danielle had their major checkup visit with the surgeon. They very kindly invited me to join their reunion ion lunch. Sadly Danielle could not join us, but Yves (centre right), one of the key walkers (but operated on by Montpellier’s other big shoulder surgeon) could.

After a morning in the clinic, chumming the three who were seeing the surgeon, We had a very jolly and good quality lunch in a central Montpellier restaurant. Yves lives on a boat in Palavas and the proprietor is a neighbour, so we were treated well.

Then Yves invited us back to his boat. This is where the fun began. Palavas is a not particularly attractive seaside resort, six kilometres from Montpellier. But its redeeming charm is it lies between two huge étangs with flamingoes, a river flows through centre and it is beside the sea. Yves’ boat is in a sort of gated marina, which includes a small group of boats lived in all the year.The most scary part was getting onto his boat by walking along a short plank with no supports! I’ve never been good at walking along planks since way back in the school gym. But knowing I could not reach out with my left arm finished any semblance of balance, and I had to be aided by several arms (some of which I suspect we’re not much stronger than mine…).

Once in the boat I was more at ease than Christiane, who visibly flinched every time the boat rocked and exclaimed in horror at Yves’ tiny but snug bedroom below deck.

Yves then announced he was taking us on a tour of Palavas in his even smaller open fishing boat.

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We chugged along the river, through the little harbour and out to sea!

boat-tripOnce out of the harbour Yves pulled out the throttle and we bounced over the faintly choppy water, suddenly facing a stiff easterly breeze and lots of spray! I would have loved the experience so much more had it not been January and cold! I look forward to returning properly clad later in the year.
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Afterward the seven of us sat codify, in the relative warmth of Yves’ main boat, thawing out (but still distinctly damp) over hot drinks. They are a very pleasant and kind group of friends. It was thanks to Christiane, who used to be at my meal table, that I got to know the others, who are all incredibly welcoming. I have had several solicitous phone calls from them since they left. Yves was always perhaps the centre of jollity, as an energetic, outward reaching man. It was good to know him better in his ‘home’ background.
One spring comes we plan further reunions.

Bizarre French territorial system

Chatting to the nice, much tattooed, man next to me in the pool, I discovered he comes from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. This is apparently a tiny collection of islands off the coast of Newfoundland. Too small to be one of the DOMs, it is a collectivité territoriale.

Don’t ask me to explain the exact status, but it means that the population of about 6000 have French citizenship, send a deputy to the French parliament and Senate and are in the euro zone!

This strange state of affairs is, unsurprisingly the result of Britain and France battling over a couple of centuries for Canada and Islands like this, and at one stage the French lost out, but got to keep Saint Pierre and Miquelon. A bit like the Falklands it appears to be a harsh, difficult place to make a living, particularly with the demise of fishing, and no doubt benefits from French subsidies.

My pool friend, Yannick, works in a marine rescue team. As a French citizen, he came to Paris to have his shoulder op, is here for reeducation because no places were available in Paris, and will return to St Pierre shortly.

A step – or shoulder – forward

I have now had two nights not wearing the thoraco. Yeah! I’m not sleeping any better yet, but it is such a relief to rid myself of this cage.

The other long-term shoulder patient, Christiane, is at the same stage, and she described today how she carefully positions herself in bed, with a pillow supporting her arm at the same angle as the thoraco, and then she tries not to move an inch till morning.

Sadly I’m too restless to achieve this, partly because it is such a strain lying in one position on one’s back all night. But I too had developed a system of cushioning on the left side, plus another pillow under my right shoulder in order to avoid this, the ‘good’ shoulder from waking me up.

I’m writing this after eight in the evening. Normally by this stage I’m beginning to dread the night and am in discomfort from now on. This evening, miraculously, I’m writing this and am not really in pain.

I’m just praying this is a new stage and not a temporary relief. The kinés have been pleased with my progress over the past few days and both agree it was a good idea for me to stay an extra week. Let’s not exaggerate though: I’m still pretty much a dunce at putting my hand on my head or raising my arm straight up in the air. And putting your hand behind your back is something most people don’t achieve for some time.

My hand continues to worry me, though staff here all seem optimistic it will recover. I will discuss this with my GP when I get home.

I now have the discharge papers – for 31 January.

6.30 am postscript
Shouldn’t have been so damned positive. Bad night with both shoulders hurting. Rrrrrr!

Physiotherapists and occupational therapists

Kinésithérapeutes et Ergothérapeutes

The ‘kinés’ and ‘ergos’ are at the heart of a Clinique de rééducation like this and France has a lot to be proud of.  

But the signs of strain on the system are all too visible: electrode equipment in short supply and not always working, changing rooms for the pool badly needing renovation (the shower chez les femmes is out of action and for the past week we have showered chez les hommes) and staff visibly overworked. Their day is chunked into 20 minute sessions. A broken machine or accompanying a patient to the doctor throws this out of sync.

Once again today I heard the ergos giving vent to their frustration with the administration. One of them had just been refused two weeks holiday in the summer, when her children are on holiday. There are only five ergos, there always has to be at least one on duty, and there appears to be no cash to hire temp cover. An additional problem seems to be that there is some national policy to cease funding stagiaires – trainee staff – over the summer.

The surgeons of course take their holidays, thus stopping the flow of patients to the Clinique, but nobody knows in advance when this will be. And there is no coordination between surgery units and rehabilitation.

Result: demoralised and alienated staff. It all sounds sadly familiar.

Turned the corner

Things are poking up today. Had a bad night, with shoulder pain till after midnight. Then this morning I woke up feeling OK again. It must have just been lots of muscles protesting at the work I have done.

This morning I saw the doctor and he agrees there is still work to be done- he was visibly impressed by my inability to raise my arm very high – and the departure date has been put back to 31st January.

There is still not as much interest as I would like to see in the rehabilitation of my hand and wrist; people seem to think it is just a question of time and usage before they get back to normal. However I have abandoned the bain écossais as Brigitte thought the icy bit might not be good for my arthritis. Instead I started a paraffin wax treatment this morning. Basically I plug my hand into warm wax for a couple of minutes and when it hardens into a warm glove, they wrap some sheeting round my hand and I set for ten minutes, allowing the warmth to gently permeate the fingers.

According to Arthritis Research UK:
“The aims of wax bath therapy are to provide pain relief and comfort, to assist with muscle relaxation and to relieve stiffness and help improve movement before exercise.”

Low ebb

Hopefully I shall look back on this weekend as a minor blip.  Maybe the non-stop rainy, grey weather is not helping, but I’m finding it long and difficult.

I’m reaching the end of my first week of sevrage, when I should be able to take off the thoraco for increasing periods.  Instead I can only last an hour or two before putting it back on.  And I’m never comfortable – with or without it.

This weekend my operated on (left) shoulder has been giving me nonstop low level pain.  Add to this the continuing immobility of my left hand, the fact that every time I try to sleep the right shoulder becomes very painful (a nasty reminder of more surgery ahead) and that At night I struggle to get more than three or four hours sleep, and you can see why I’m feeling rather sorry for myself.

i suppose it is not just about coping with current pain and discomfort, but reflection on what the future holds.  Got a funny but sad email from a close friend (of my age) listing all the reasons she feels very low at present.  One of them is “I hate January”.  So maybe in ten days we will both start to feel better.

Evening

I’m feeling a little more positive now. It’s still raining, my left hand is still not working, but is managed an hour’s sleep this afternoon, and did another stint repairing broken links on my website following the change of service provider last October. My North India trip in 2005 is now more or less back in shape.