Recovered

It took me ore days than exected to stop feeling ill. But now I have completely got over it and feel energetic and smiley. It makes me realise that even before last Friday’s crise, in fact since the operation, I have not been feeling right. Unfortunately one of the side effects of no longer taking these painkillers is that I have recovered my appetite… Also I feel more pain, but as the doctor said, this is probably a good thing as now I am starting to gently put some weight on the left side, I get warning signs if I do too much. (Unfortunately these are often several hours later. (Ive just been ling flat on my back for an hour to get rid of pain caused by yesterday’s physio session.)

Anyhow it is gloriously sunny – back to summer weather – and, as the French say, ‘j’ai le morale’. Just as well as Debora is now gong through a black patch and it is up to me to make her laugh.

YesterdayI dragged her out to the garden where all the old dears from the retirement home sit. This is not easy as – incredibly- there is an unmanageable slope between the hospital exit and the path down to the garden. I have still not dared try it unassisted. We sat there, surrounded by smokers and a weird man in a wheelchair oblivious to the world around him. ‘What do we do?’ cried Deborah. ‘No problem,’ I replied, we just wait for the first handsome young man to pass – well, at least young…” It’s a bit like hitching, I explained, you have to scrutinise the passers-by to check if they are suitable before making eye contact. We turned down a couple of offers on the grounds they were too old, and then at last waylayed a young man on his way to visit his girlfriend.

It was worth it: it was the first time that Deborah had been outside and she really enjoyed it. Until her leg started hurting too much. I ws surprised that she was quite shocked when I stopped another man, on his way to visit his parents in the retirement home, and asked him to push Deborah’s chair up the slope first. She said today that she is surprised at how anxious she has become since her accident, especially since she has ridden and skied all her life.

Long weekends

The weekends stretch on interminably without the destraction of physio sessions. Luckily yesterday was sunny, I was beginning to feel better and able to appreciate visits, especially Tom and Chantal.

Today it rained non-stop and I was still recovering, so had no energy. There was not the usual stream of visitors, as families from beyond Le Vigan did not dare risk getting stranded in the storms. But they all phoned, and given the Cévenole tendency to shout and a large number of deaf neighbours, I was able to participate. I’m particularly fond of the deaf old dear opposite, who is going to live with her daughter and family when she gets out next week. I listened to her talking to the family this morning. Lots of ‘eh’s as they had to repeat themselves, but she so clearly loved being told about the antics of the dog by her grandson.

That made me remember a sad story Margaret told me about the old woman sharing a room with her after her accident. The son or son-in-law visited just as she had received her food bill from the hospital. Evidentally she had been too poor to pay for a mutuelle, as most of us do. The man who was going to have to pay the bill went on and on, as if it was her fault, querying the price and exclaiming ‘We don’t eat pate at home, we don’t’. The old lady said nothing. After they left, she cried.

Yesterday another son-in-law asked a nurse, in my presence, to help persuade his mother in law, recently arrived, possibly after a fall, that a particular retirement home he had found would be more sensible than living alone – even though I gather she lived on the floor below him.

Two old women who have not got the loving families of the old dear across the way.

Alerte Rouge

That means: do NOT travel unless absolutely necessary. Yet more torrential storms expected. This applies to the whole of the departements of the Gard and Hérault. The scale of damage after several weeks is than in Cornwall last year. The rebuilding cost is going to be enormous. We are talking about bridges and bits of road swept away, buildings flooded often irretrievably, walls and hillsides collapsed. Mud and rock everywhere it should not be.

Amazingly my guests, Tom and Chantal, made it to Nimes Airport without major problems. I think they were luckily because bits of the route will undoubtedly be flooded today if the rain continues.

They were perfect guests: unphased by staying in a house that has not been cleaned for over two months (and therefore has a huge spider colony), clearly enjoying local toddles and even swimming in the nearby river. The weather didn’t seem to bother them and luckily there were one or two days of sun, including an exceptionally fine day yesterday, when they went to the weekly market and lunched out.

Their departure has been super-efficient: toys returned to neighbours’ basement, bed laundry washed and hung up, everything packed. And all this with a baby and two-year-old and thunderstorms outside.

Sick – hopefully one day only

I slept about two hours last night, not helped by a three hour thunderstorm at the start, then an old man in a room nearby shouting, failure to take sleeping pills (discovered this in the morning) and a queasy tum.

By morning I was feeling distinctly sorry for myself, and after managing to get dressed, was sick. I’ve spent the day back in bed and feel marginally better this evening.

All the staff have been very nice (though I could have done without seemingly never ending visits). The doctor and I agree I could be reacting against the powerful painkiller I have been taking (topalgic), so now I’m going to see if paracetamol suffices.

Marthine, the physio whose contract we failed to get extended, came to see me and gave me physio exercises and a massage. She had no scruples about telling two aides soignantes who popped in about the petition and the director’s false accusations. They were not surprised. It’s a crying shame.

We are now having another thunderstorm. It seems to be passing quicker than yesterday’ shut the rain is very heavy. I don’t know whether readers outside France have registered that the south of France and now Genoa in Italy, has been having extraordinary weather. Montpellier has been seriously flooded twice (in the first storm, half a year’s rain fell in half a day) and in the Cėvennes we have now had four stormy episodes, with some serious flooding on the hills to the south of Le Vigan. Saint Laurent le Minier, where Ed and Jude like swimming, was particularly badly hit, with the Main Street transformed into a muddy torrent, the school and Mairie devastated, at least two of the old stone bridges collapsing, and one man drowned.

Our poor friends Tom and Chantal and their two little children are having a week’s holiday in my house. They are remarkably cheery and positive. If only it had been the previous week, which was warm and sunny.

New stage in rehabilitation

This morning I had a rendezvous with my surgeon, Mme Bertrand, in Montpellier. I had a pleasant journey down – insofar as one can when lying horizontal in the back of an ambulance. The driver was called Bruno, his dad who was sitting beside me is the older brother of a friend, Daniel Thiebault. The Thiebauts are an old Serres family, so we exchanged jolly gossip about local characters.

As we approached Montpellier we discovered the local hospital hadn’t said where the rendezvous was. I rang her office and was told it was in her cabinet. And oh, by the way, the lift is broken. Like the Cevennes, the Montpellier area has had two dramatic periods of torrential rain (see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2775273/Natural-disaster-forces-4-000-people-evacuate-Montpellier-half-annual-rainfall-hits-popular-French-tourist-spot-hours.html ) so it is virtually impossible to get anything repaired.

Not to worry, said Bruno and his dad (who must be at least 65). I protested unsuccessfully that I was not a little Cévenol and I didn’t want to be responsible for them collapsing. The trolley was left at the foot of the stairs and I was transferred to a minimalist chair. ‘Let’s hope they are decent straight up stairs,’ said Bruno. No such luck. Behind a heavy fire door (difficult for them to keep open while carrying me) was a narrow winding staircase. Even though we were only going to the first floor it seemed to take an age and I felt vulnerable – though not half as vulnerable as I felt on the way down. (Pity this wretched hospital wifi won’t let me put up my photo of the descent.)

The actual consultation was very short. Mme Bertrand was pleased with the progress as shown in the x-Rays and said I could now start putting weight down on the left side.

That was the good news. The bad news is that this is a careful, progressive stage which will take another month – longer if there is any pain. Then Mme Bertrand will look at scans of the hip and graft. And then presumably I will need at least a week or two of standard rehab. So we could be well into November before I get out.

I suppose I have to just grin and bear it, as the alternative would probably be life in a wheelchair. I think it is this prospect which made me over anxious when this afternoon I put my left foot down for the first time in five weeks. That is, I stood on the toes of the left foot, but most of my weight was borne by my arms, holding onto the parallel bars.

And one angry patient

It’s my granddaughter Willow’s third birthday today. I would have so liked to have seen her by Skype or FaceTime. I suspect that engaging with Monsieur Le Directeur over the more serious matter of messing up rehab services means I may not be in a good position to take him on over firewalls preventing Skype, facetime and email to most servers except Google and French ones like Orange. (I don’t think Apple is the only target.)

Militant patients

Well, I have opened a can of worms today.

Scene: the physio room where some 15 patients do their rééducation every morning and afternoon. This is a mixture of exercises supervised by one of the two physiotherapists and working on various machines to do things like strengthen muscles, helped either by the kinés or their (unqualified but delightful and wise) assistant, Roselyne.

The two kinés are normally Didier and Mireille. But first Mireille was off with a bad back and now Didier is on holiday. The hole in the team has been filled by Martine, a kiné with over 40 years experience, now retired except when temping like here. Everyone has come to realise that Martine is outstanding; you see people visibly making progress after ten minutes of working with her.

There was general consternation when we learned that Martine’s contract comes to an end on Friday, despite the fact that Didier is not back for two more weeks. I sounded people out on sending a patients’ petition to the hospital director. General agreement, so I drafted the following, getting my friend Sylvia to correct my French. For the benefit of those who don’t read French, it basically asks for Mireille’s contract to continue until Didier gets back and stresses the central role played by professional physios (ie don’t fill the hole with unqualified staff).

Monsieur le Directeur
Nous, patients en rééducation a l’hôpital du Vigan, voudrions que le contrat de Martine soit prolongé jusqu’au retour de Didier.

D’abord c’est une kinésithérapeute extrêmement compétente et dont nous apprécions les qualités. Mais on voit aussi qu’il y trop de travail pour Mireille, même avec le bon soutien de Roselyne. On a besoin des spécialistes qui nous aident pas seulement avec des appareils mais aussi avec leurs conseils et leur aide professionnelle.

On apprécie toutes les bonnes qualités de cet établissement et nous sommes conscients des contraintes financières. Mais nous avons besoin de cette aide professionnelle pour profiter au mieux de notre convalescence et ainsi mieux récupérer.

I expected some signatures, but was taken aback when literally everyone except three handicapped patients, signed. A 93 year old who was not feeling well sent a request for someone to bring the petition to her room.

I delivered the petition to the director’s secretary. A few hours later: disaster. We learnt that the director had completely lost his temper, summoned Mireille to his room and accused her – shouting- of having organised the petition and then called in Martine and reprimanded them both for unprofessional conduct in talking about staff matters with patients. Mireille has been given a bad note on her dossier – I’m not sure whether this has financial cosequences but I could see she was upset by her future weakened position vis a vis the management team (the head of nursing was present but appears to side with management.

I wanted to be released from my machine so I could go straight to the director and explain that I had drafted the petition, the patients were acting on their own and we had not told Mireille what we were doing. Martine and Mireille thanked us all but said there was no point talking to the director in his present mood.

People are outraged but not sure what to do next. Personally I think it is too late to save Martine’s job (bad news for me as I might be able to start standing on my left leg in a few days and that’s when I will need expert help). But I’m trying to think of some way the general plight of the physio section and in particular Mireille’s position can be improved. The mayor of Le Vigan – a good man – is head of the governing board. Somehow he has to become involved.
Tomorrow morning there is a management meeting which could be crucial. I won’t get to hear till later what happens as I am going to Montpellier for the surgeon to review the state of my hip and bone graft.

One month on

Daily routine
It’s amazing how quickly one becomes institutionalised. I am now conditioned, for example, to get up soon after 6.30 (helped by the noise of deliveries and the arrival of the day staff outside my window). After a morning of physio, lunch comes round at midday. Then a siesta (which I look forward to as I’m permanently tiredd). More physio and then a couple of hours ‘free’ before supper. The weather has been so lovely – sunny and warm- that I invariably sit out in the garden (trying not to get depressed by all the poor old souls from the maison de retraite (old peoples home) opposite.

Supper is at seven and then everybody is supposed to be in bed by eight. I struggle to stay awake until the night staff do their tour at ten, as if I’m woken up after an hour’s sleep, I’m awake for the rest of the night.

It’s now a month since the operation. I never dreamt I would still be in hospital this long. On Monday I go to Ganges clinic for x-Rays and on Wednesday I go to Montpellier to see the surgeon for a report on the bone graft and whether I can start putting weight on that leg.
I’m in discomfort rather than huge pain, though sufficiently so to add to my sleep problems.

The continuing flow of visitors cheers me up. In the last three days Margaret has visited (I am forever grateful for Hans and Margaret’s support). Christine Capieu and Pierre Paolicchi (two of my musician friends) sat out in the sun with me. Today Christiane Gerbal called by, and then Dessa came with a Thai carry out lunch (much to the bemusement of ladies across the corridor, with whom I’ve become quite friendly. They cannot understand anyone eating anything but French food).

Wheelchairs
I’m now on my fourth wheelchair. The first two were too small and the third very comfy to sit in but very heavy and hell to get around. My arthritic shoulder has been playing up as a result of this (plus having to lie on my back). The fourth is easier to manoeuvre but not brilliantly comfy, so I take frequent rests on my bed. The staff are doing their best but we all agree I need one purpose built – my legs are longer than the Cévenols.

The most difficult manoeuvre is undoubtedly going to the loo. First I have to negotiate the bathroom door, which is particularly badly positioned. Then I push the wheelchair up to the loo, parking at right angles. Then I have to heave myself up on my good leg (but bad knee!) and pivot myself round 90 degrees, taking care all the time not to put my left foot down. I think my one legged balance is improving, though my knee is not!

If only this wifi service would allow photos I would be able to