Charles and Pierre came this morning, laden with a bottle of champagne and a host of tasty nibbles. We basked in the sun outside, which indoors the ramoneur was cleaning my chimney (wood gets delivered next week).

In the evening Joceline (my physio) arrived with a tasty meal of pilau rice and dahl, washed down by a good Minervois. Joceline is quite relaxed about me trying to drive the car to le Vigan (but no further) but was concerned that whatever happens I should not fall – no walks in the rain, take up Persian rugs, and be careful of spilt water in the kitchen and bathroom.


I have been surprised at how drained I feel and how difficult I was finding it to walk around the house. As well as the new hip, the right knee and shoulder are reminding me they are next in the queue to be replaced. It was wonderful being in my luxurious bed although I did not sleep well that first night. So I spent much of the day resting and reading.

Going home day

This turned out to be exhausting. After finishing packing (one accumulates so much stuff after two months, passing from summer to winter), I had to make my first trip outside the hospital, a couple of hundred yards down the road to the bank to withdraw money to pay various people (I was down to five euros).

Then, after presenting presents to the nurses and physics and lots of handshaking and bises, I was driven home by a friend.

How wonderful to be back. It was a glorious sunny day and I saw for the first time the additional work Jacky has done on the area between the bassin and the house, in particular a wonderful schiste wall with seating built into it. There has been virtually no rain for several weeks, but the increased humidity in the air means that the grass seed Jacky sowed is sprouting up already.

The first photo is a view of the bassin as it was in the summer, then one as it is now, with the new stone wall visually linking the bassin area and the house. The bassin area can now be seen from any place on the house terrace, which will be lovely in summer.

Home tomorrow

That’s it. All staff have given the green light that I go home tomorrow at 1pm.

Deborah left this morning and now I can’t wait to leave this theatre, where already the characters are fading away as I look forward to stepping back into reality. I’m sitting here, with Bach playing on my computer, to shut out the stage outside.

It has been a salutary experience. Sad, funny, maddening and worrying (for the prospect of the future of health care).

I have just completed a questionnaire – lots of boxes to rate services and a tiny space for free comment, in which I wrote the following:

Commentaires et suggestions

• tout le personnel (infirmiers, aides soignantes, agents, kinés) gentil et accueillant; le meilleur des 4 étab de santé que j’ai fréquenté dans un an.
• bonne équipe kiné (merci en particulier à Mireille et Rosalyn)
• insuffisance de personnel, surtout chez les kinés, par rapport aux genre de patients (beaucoup avec des problèmes mentaux ou/et physiques) .
• pas d’emails sur mon Mac, non plus skype (essentiel pour ma famille et amis de loin)
les repas ne me plaisaient pas- des légumes surcuites, sans goût, pas de nutrition
• manque de communication de la direction. Pas de réponse ni à notre pétition, ni à mon courrier. Pas correcte

Just some minor irritations for my last days here:-

I gave Margaret my bank card to get some cash for me and the number didnt work. I must have failed to update my records and of course I have not used it for over two months. I’m going home via the bank in the hope that my fingers will find the right one. If not I will have to go inside to get money and order a new number (which takes ages to come). Irritating, as here I use the card for all shopping except the market.

This morning a three-tooth bridge has also come out (another regular…) The dentist is away this week and given that 11 November is a public holiday here, I fear I could be eating soft food for some time. I am not allowed to do anything other than cement back a bridge until December, for fear of causing an infection in the bone graft and prothèse.

And my central heating system is so complicated that I have ended up asking the plumber to come and switch it on asap (a friend having failed to do so). The weather has suddenly cooled, the chimney gets swept on Friday, so until then I may have to rely on my – very efficient – paraffin heater.

I want out of here

Back upstairs after the afternoon physio I felt the first floor has got even madder than ever. We now hae the three lost wanderers: Madame 114, the fat lady who never stops talking, and the man who accosted Mme Lacombe. I have now seen him: he, weirdly, wears a cap, and unfortunately, unlike the other two is not confined to a wheelchair. Other people have now told me he has walked into their rooms too and I think there was an incident in the night where the staff had to firmly take him back to his own room. These are all medical rather than post-op patients, and we people coping with our knees, hips and arms would rather they were not around. At the same time, it is good that they are given the freedom. I would not like to think of them shut in a room.

But this, the poor food, the shortage of physio staff and my sudden leap forward make me want to get out of here sooner than the scheduled date, the 12th November. I’ve had enough. I need to get back to the real world. I’ve got cleaners doing the house tomorrow, and a friend turning on the heating and ready to collect me when I want.

Didier said he could see no problem. But now I have to go through the administrative hoops. I have apparently to make the request to a nurse tomorrow morning, who will in turn pass it on to the doctor. One complication is the payment for the ambulance in ten days, scheduled to take me first for scans and then to see the surgeon in Montpellier and then home. I don’t want to have to pay for this out of my pocket as it is a huge amount.

I also need to get some bits of equipment, like a lavatory frame and elevated seat, and a second grabber, for when I’ve dropped my first grabber. I remember this as being essential last time round and, given that this time round my right knee is knackered, following the usual routine for bending at the non-operated side knee and stretching the operated side leg behind won’t work. I’ll order the equipment tomorrow.

Almost there

As from today I can put 100% weight on the left leg. It’s quite difficult not compensating by leaning too much on the crutches. And then, during the morning the crutches were replaced by my walking stick. I felt a tinge of panic at not having support on both sides, but I’m getting the hang of it now. My hip feels heavy and tired and aches rather than being painful, although I find it helpful to sit on an ice pack by the evvening (as I’m doing at this moment!). I somehow think walking without a stick is going to take longer this time round.

Today I have also walked up and down some stairs (hanging onto the rail), stepped over some obstacles (to show I could lift my feet up), stood on tiptoe on a foam cushion (no hands), done the usual hour on pulleys (various movements of the left leg, suspended in the air by weights), and 45 minutes on an exercise bike!

But — I hesitated to ask for the usual five minutes on my left knee because I could see that many of the other 14 patients were more needy and there is yet again only one physio: Didier. Now it’s Mireille’s turn to be on leave and, guess what, no replacement.

In fact Didier found the five minutes, and while he worked, I expressed my opinion that the rééducation side of the hospital was too small to cope with covering absences (illness or holidays) not just of the physios but also the nursing staff upstairs. He agreed and said that the plans for a major development of the site above the existing hospital seemed to suggest that in future it would be just for old people, whether to some extent autonomous or whether actually requiring medical care. He had seen no indications of physiotherapy in the plans.

He reckons that in future the only rééducation centres will be in the big cities, and post-op physio will be much reduced, with greater reliance on people getting sessions with a local physiotherapist (as I do at present, with Joceline).

He presents a pessimistic picture of future health care in France which sounds scarily like the NHS system I left behind 13 years ago.

Des personnes désorientées

And so it goes on…

The latest drama was that the woman who has been asking for gendarmes or advice on hotels fell out of bed. The pompiers collected her in the middle of the night and took her to Ganges for x-rays. Apparently nothing more is broken and she is back in her bed here – hopefully this time with the barriers up!

There is a new member of cast: a large woman in a superior wheelchair (her own), clearly a regular here, who wheels her chair up and down the corridor pinning down unsuspecting victims (me) in conversation, mostly about her ailments. She is not as dotty as some but she is driving us mad by the non-stop talking, which stopped both Deborah and me from sleeping this afternoon. Worse still, she is in the room opposite Deborah, so I’m expecting fireworks tomorrow, unless she is moved to the medical corridor which is apparently where she should be.

I asked Didier today what happens in the long term to patients who are disorientated or physically unable to live on their own and have no families. He said that many ended up in the retirement home in Sumènes (just the other side of Ganges). And indeed the website describes this place as receiving people “en perte d’autonomie et/ou désorientées”. It goes on to describe itself as having an enclosed garden (ie locked) suitable for people with Alzheimers etc.

Son environnement sécurisé (jardin clôturé) lui permet de recevoir un public pouvant présenter des maladies type Alzheimer (au stade de déambulation) ou toute autre personne présentant des risques de fugue liés à d’autres pathologies (vasculaires, dégénératives, psychoses déficitaires…)

Sounds pretty gloomy, eh? This was confirmed for me this afternoon when I overheard a visitor complaining that her relative was getting very confused and perhaps he would be better off moving on to Sumènes. Oh, he’s not ready for that yet, replied the nurse.

I asked Didier if Michel, the guy who comes down with his zimmer to drink coffee in the physio room (and who complained about the lack of homosexual partners here), would end up in Sumènes. He replied no, he had already been there and for some reason (perhaps I can guess what) was referred back to le Vigan. Didier found him wasting away in a bed on the second floor, unable to use one leg and insisted he be allowed to come down for physio. He is clearly proud of the result: Michel walks with alarming rapidity with his zimmer and has as much autonomy as an apparently permanent resident here can have.

If Sumènes sounds bad,there is apparently another grimmer one in St Hippolyte, Deborah claims. Her former doctor, who went off the rails and attempted suicide after a series of awful events, now lives there.

What happens to all these poor souls in other countries, and in particular in Britain, I wonder. I have to hope that things have improved since my childhood, when my friend Christine and I played with a classmate called Denis, whose parents ran the old people’s home in a vast old Victorian building nearby. I vaguely remember playing hide and seek, running through a long ward lined with the beds of old people.

More surreal patient events

Today we said goodbye to Mme Lacombe, a quiet but very pleasant woman, who was born in Serres but now lives near Ganges. She is the one who was visibly shocked by the guy who complained there were no homosexuals to be found in the hospital (post three days ago). Well, she had a worse shock two nights ago. A male patient (at that time in the bedroom opposite hers) entered her room and said, in an aggressive way: “I know you. Why are you not at home looking after your children rather than lying in bed here?” And he then wet his pants standing in front of her bed. Mme Lacombe freaked out, rang for help and couldnt be reassured that he would not come back, and had a difficult night awaiting more dramas. Deborah’s advice to her was to brandish her crutch at him and shout for help – and she would come to the rescue (her room is next door). But I somehow don’t think this is quite Mme Lacombe’s style.

The patient was in fact moved to a bedroom at the other end of our floor, far from her room. And later, an aide explained to her that this man, who suffers from confusion (I love the French phrase ‘il n’a pas la tête’) was in fact looking for a loo, not realising there was one in his own bedroom. His family were apparently away for a few days and he gets dumped in the hospital on these occasions. Not usually on the orthopaedic side!

Another patient who arrived confused (see four days ago), disappeared back to Ganges, and is back with us, almost as confused as before, but no longer aggressive. Yesterday she sat in the salle de kiné (the physio room) and said, to nobody in particular: “Je cherche……” A young man who works mainly with the old in the retirement home asked what she was looking for. “Je cherche…… un gendarme.” Why, he asked. Because somebody has taken my handbag and all my possessions, she replied. The young man sat down beside her and gently explained she had broken her shoulder, had had an operation and was now in this hospital to help get her shoulder better, and that all her belongings were safe in her room upstairs.

How often over the past two days I have heard her lost, asking where she is and why, and I have heard people patiently explain the same story to her again and again. Today she was sitting next to Deborah and me and she asked us – most politely – if we could kindly tell her if there was a good hotel nearby where she might find a room.

12th November is THE day

In the morning I will go to the scanner in Ganges, at lunch-time I will see the surgeon in Montpellier and at tea-time the ambulance will take me home!

I had the weekly review with the doctor here today. She is pleased with the mobility of the hip and agrees that from Monday I will be able to put 100% weight on it. That means I no longer need to use the crutches to take part of the weight, which will greatly help my shoulders. I aim to be walking with just a stick (as a safety measure) before I leave.

More good news, the doctor reckons I can drive shortly after – whenever I feel up to it. Luckily as it is the left hip, I only need it for the clutch. At the worst I can crawl down to the supermarket using just second and third gears!

At first I was disappointed that somehow my departure is taking a week longer than I expected, but actually it is probably a good thing in the long run. I’ll have just over a week to improve my walking, get my knee into a better state and generally get fitter with daily sessions on the pulleys and exercise bike.

Escape date recedes

November 3rd is the magic date when I have the right to put 100% on the left side, so I should be able to start reducing dependence on crutches. I was expecting the trip to Ganges for the scans and then to Montpellier to get the all clear from the surgeon a couple of days after. But on asking about dates yesterday I was told these two trips are set for the 12th November!

Can I hang on for yet another week? On the plus side this gives me time to do the kinds of muscle strengthening exercises that people usually do on arrival, and I can practise going up stairs, which I may not do at present, and discuss practical household needs with the ergonomic staff. But Deborah leaves on the 5th, so I will have no company, and it prolongs evven further the time Margaret and Hans spend dealing with my laundry and shopping requests. I suppose one possibility is to leave on Friday 7th and then get an ambulance to take me to Ganges and Montpellier the following week, but I’m not sure if I have the right to leave before the surgeon sees me. I’ll discuss all this with the hospital doctor on Wednesday.

I suspect the delay is not only because somebody probably didn’t ring up soon enough (the scanner is apparently very busy) but also that this is half-term time here, plus Toussaint next Monday, so lots of people are on holiday.