A day in Casualty

Three weeks ago I wrote about a miserable night with abdominal pains .  Well, it happened again, but this time I did go to Casualty.

I was on my morning walk with Poppy, had just crossed the bridge to Serres when the pain started.  By the time I reached Margaret’s house I could scarcely walk. My doctor doesn’t work on Fridays and her colleague was on holiday (!), so Margaret drove me to Urgences, in the clinique in Ganges.  I had a bag packed, sure that I would be kept in.  (Remember Margaret and I had made the ‘expert’ diagnosis, based on her experience and our surfing of the web, that I had gallstones.)

It is the first time in France I have had an experience no dissimilar to those in Britain: I arrived at 11am and left five hours later! A rather rudimentary triage took place and I was obviously on the list of non-urgent ‘urgences’.

Fair enough and I was quite ready to watch children being put at the front of the queue. But when I finally got through the door between the waiting room and the casualty area – nearly three hours after arriving -I realised that there were still many hoops to go through. There were quite a lot of nurses around but I think there was only one doctor on duty, and I reckon the whole operation could have been better managed with a more obvious ‘boss’ progress chasing cases.

In the waiting room I had been curled up with continuing pain (though not as severe as in January).  When I progressed to a small room and was put on a drip (a precautionary measure in case I needed medication – it took three attempts, two nurses and two sizes of needles, given my useless veins!) the pain had started to ease off.

I had expected an echographie (the machine was beside me) but instead I was transferred to another room, and waited and waited, by now with no pain.  Eventually I went out of the room, waylaid a passing nurse and said I wanted to go home as I was no longer in pain and no longer needed emergency treatment.  I was politely told to go back to my room and wait my turn (I thought of my daughter, Kate, waiting for hours behind her curtains for somebody to attend to her).  If I had not been attached to a drip I think I would have walked out.

More attempts to escape and then finally a rather harassed doctor came, with many apologies, saying she had been waiting for the results of the echographie as the trigger to see me.  I had come armed with a prescription from the doctor and this had resulted on me being put on the standard waiting list for echographies rather than the emergency list, and somehow I had been forgotten! (Moral of the story: don’t take prescriptions or ordonnances to Urgences.).

So at last I got the echographie, which showed that I did not have gallstones (at least, not visible on the echographie).  I had no temperature, but a high blood pressure (in contrast to the too low pressure a month ago) and signs of blood in the urine.

The doctor said she suspected a kidney rather than gallbladder problem and gave me the name of the doctor in the clinique to contact.  This is the same person my physio recommended, so I will be making an appointment on Monday.

I’m trying not to look at internet pages on blood in urine and to eat cautiously to give my poor system a chance to recover.  I’m convinced that this is a post-op and radiotherapy problem, but we will wait and see.

Meanwhile, poor Margaret waited for five hours in the poky waiting room.  Luckily I had given her the book I had brought to read but not felt up to – Alan Johnson’s autobiography.  I tried to ring her to tell her to go home, but she is such a technophobe that she did not know how to answer her phone, recently passed on to her by Hans!

If there is a next time I think I will ring the pompiers (the combined fire and emergency service) rather than bother friends.

Centenary of mother’s birth

Our mother would have been 100 today.  She was a strong and energetic woman, a role model  not just for us, her three children, but for her two granddaughters.


She was born six months before our grandfather, a professional soldier, was killed on the Somme.  Later her mother, Tish, remarried and it was probably her stepfather’s ruling that prohibited her taking up her university place in the thirties (education wasted on women…). She never ceased to regret and resent this – but made up for it in later years by determined self-improvement – courses in carpentry (we had the best built henhouse in town), geology, botany, and German.

The selection of photos below show her strong character, clearly a very handsome young woman, and then – with few photos taken after the war – evidence that bringing up three children with too little money and lots of illness took their toll on her.

The war enabled Mum to assume a role of responsibility in MI6, which she relished – and then had to abandon when she married and had me. She didn’t enjoy being a stay at home mum, though she insisted on maintaining our huge Edwardian house to a standard commensurate with the comfort of staff employed in her family in the years gone by.  On top of running the house, she enjoyed working as the secretary to an MP, a family friend, making the journey from Richmond to Westminster on her ancient bicycle. Later she earned a modest revenue translating history and archaeology books from German, and for several years worked as secretary for the British Institute in East Africa. All this was done because she needed the cash (our father had charm and academic and political interests rather than skill as a breadwinner) but she also relished outlets for her formidable skills.

Even when arthritis gave her pain and restricted her movement, Mum threw herself into serious local history research, providing an outlet for that wish all her adult life to do more significant work.

I’m so glad that she lived long enough to see our two daughters grow up and flourish, but sad that the fall on her 80th birthday resulted in nearly two years of suffering at the end of her life.

Here is the tribute that we paid at her funeral.