Shoulder – waiting game

I have a scan booked for Friday and then I revisit the surgeon some time after she gets back from holiday next week.  In the meantime all ‘active’ rééducation has been suspended: I have a session of gentle manipulation by the kiné and two daily visits to the pool, where I let my arm float in various directions rather than actively moving it back and forth. Using, as my favourite kiné, Marina, says, Archimedes Principle.

I have little pain if immobile and have to avoid the sharp pain I get without warning when stretching my arm forward or trying to raise it horizontally. I’m not convinced we are not simply talking about a badly damaged tendon, but I respect the doctor’s decision to err on the side of caution.

It is frustrating to see other shoulder, knee and hip replacement patients come and go. But I’m humbled by the fortitude and patience of the significant number of spine repair and vehicle action patients whose recovery schedule may stretch into yeas rather than months.

After yesterday’s evening session eating yummy crepes (diet starts next week…) I found myself talking to Cathérine the maths teacher (already here for 18 months), Marie Laure (nearly a year) and a loud, angry man, whose name I don’t know. He has fought to be transferred to another centre because he wants more hours of kiné than they give here (Maguelone follows a gentle programme avoiding excessive pain). His description of his months of acute pain and successive operations including bone and skin grafts and cutting through layers of adhesions following 22 bones broken made me question whether I will ever drive with nonchalance again. Interestingly he ended paying tribute to Catherine for the way she is handling endless delays (next op – postponed by mysterious outbreak of ecszma – now scheduled for 31 January).

Earlier in the day I chatted with two women wearing the distinctive plastic body corslets, evidence of major back surgery, invariably replacing or fixing vertebrae the length of the spine. This is all done by computers using the scanner and amazingly the risk factor is only about one or two percent. There is  a big shot surgeon in the Clinique du Parc, but his additional fees mean this is not a universal option. A parent,y this extra fee is because there is a team of other surgeons each working on different bits of the spine. Glad to say the dramatic injection I had before Christmas seems to have calmed my dicopathy symptoms. Another place I don’t really want to go yet!

Christmas Bah Humbug

Silence is the only way to record a dreary Christmas. The meals were particularly dismal with a much reduced in quantity and quality clientele. Lunchtime food was quite good and at least we did not descend to the false bonhomie of paper hats and crackers.

The only bright moments of the day were my FaceTime sessions with the family, watching the children open stockings and presents and letting off steam in the “secret garden”, the wonderful wild space opposite Jude and Ed’s house. It was lovely seeing their anticipation (and occasional disappointment when presents needed charging or assembling).

It must be the perfect year when the older three all wrote (many) letters to Santa. Willow even left him a present, because it was not fair that he just gave presents. Ella looked so tall and mature as the oldest (sometimes it’s hard to remember she is only just seven), Otto very handsome in his James Bond outfit, and Willow and Maddie dashing round with noisy excitement. Noise? Prize goes to Maddie…. lots of asserting herself to keep up with the older three.

it was good getting cards and emails from friends  thank you all!

Here we went straight back to the usual routine (no Boxing Day in France), but the two families are still on holiday. This morning I watched Jude and family’s plane take off for Marrakech. Yes, another geeky iPhone app. One day I will get to Morocco.

German Christmas Eve

Germans celebrate this evening, so an appropriate time to raise my glass (of water) to Margaret and Hans and to thank them for being such good friends. Poppy thanks them too, for a second home where she is truly indulged. She and Margaret found time for a brief visit yesterday, which was lovely.

Christmas Eve in new room

Four in the afternoon and I have just spent two hours asleep. Why? Because yesterday I moved to a new room and am reveling in the calm. I have been needing rest.

My old room on the first floor was opposite the lift – and the natural place for people to go up and down to congregate, next to the dirty linen cupboard and the room with washing machine and ice making machine, and immediately above the smokers outside. And it had absolutely no view or balcony.

Now -at my request for a quieter place – I’m up on the second floor, where there are far fewer rooms and much less traffic.  Once again I’m opposite the lift! But it is somehow angled that I hear it less, and it stops here much less often. I can’t say I have a magnificent view, particularly at waist height given I cannot raise my right arm taking the photo. But you see the sky and I can step outside. In a few minutes the afternoon sun is going to come round the corner.

Im facing west, towards the road and a water tower in the distance (if you could see beyond the ridiculous horizontal concrete bar).  To the east of this building is the garden of the adjacent centre for people with Alzheimer’s (next port of call?) which has an enclosure with peacocks.  I’ve heard them but not yet seen them. At least I know from the notice on my bedroom door that I must not feed them.

Seasonal staff shortages

Here we are not immune to the double challenge of winter holidays and sickness. There is a general feeling of staff ratios being stretched to the limit.

My surgeon is away till January. My physio, Audrey, has been on holiday this week and replaced by the very nice but young Charles. The ergo-thérapeute, Delphine, is off next week and no replacement found (much to the frustration of the doctor as well as me, as this is perhaps the branch of physiotherapy most important for shoulders.

the nursing side is visibly stretched ny staff illness, with a rather grumpy head of nursing on active duty at the medicine trolley yesterday, and the charming and polite night n’use leaving his trolley to out on my compression stockings, usually the job of an aide soignant . He is staying on duty for an extra few hours but says it is no penalty because he loves his job


Shoulder news – continuing uncertainty

I had a rather depressing interview with Dr Belhassen yesterday afternoon. I had geared up the courage to suggest the surgeon should be brought be brought back into the loop. I did not need to: he ad heard reports from nurses and physics, examined my shoulder and the latest X-rays, and picked up the phone to the surgeon, Marion Bertrand.

She goes on holiday for a week today, but will see me early January. Meanwhile I’m to have a scan next week. Dr Belhassen is exploring possible bone displacement or even fracture before considering tendon damage.

One way or another, my status as short-term patient has definitely been replaced by mid-term. This is in contrast to the general trend here which is towards shorter and shorter stays for post-replacement patients. France’s rééducation programme has been too good to be true and is now facing the cold light of financial reality.

Unlikely friends

Who would have thought I could have become so attached to a loud, extrovert, flirtatious man with a gold medallion round his neck, earrings and lashings of aftershave – and who had worked in the nuclear industry? Yet Bernard has turned out to be kind and good-humoured (essential when surrounded by ailing people), attentive to old ladies (older than me), intelligent, and above all highly entertaining.

He was of course the star of our karaoke evening (yes….I was there!), congratulated by all from director to cleaners. It was a stroke of luck when I somehow suggested he ate at our table. He brought laughs to Marie-Laure, back after a morphine filled week, has the devotion of a gentle, lovely somewhat handicapped man now looking forward to being visited in his residential home, was the only one to draw a solitary, somewhat unhappy musician out of his lonely contemplation of man’s intolerance – and of course rescued me from the Jehovah’s Witness.

He is going home today, to his very nice wife, Muriel. Shall we trip him up, people asked, so he stays a week longer?

Like kids in a boarding school, Marie-Laure, Bernard and I slipped discreetly outside last night to drink an illicit glass or two of champagne (goes down well with morphine and codeine) celebrating Marie-Laure’s re-emergence from her room and saying au revoir to Bernard.

This is us – with Poppy – taken by Margaret, as always generously finding time to drive to Montpellier to see me.


Bigger ouch

Its becoming increasingly clear to me that it is not the usual aches and pains of recovering muscles and tendons causing me trouble, but a sudden, violent shooting pain where the biceps meets the shoulder.  The only way to describe is like a giant elastic band that twangs – painfully. It is difficult to predict when I get it, so all my movements are excessively cautious.  And I can scarcely raise my arm higher than horizontally in front of me.

The medical profession is somewhat flummoxed.  Dr Belhassen’s reaction is to up the painkilling medication – I got another dose of mésothérapie yesterday and I was sent for more X-rays this morning.  The trouble is when I went for my checkup with the surgeons, Mme Bertrand, everybody was obsessed by the possible embolism and she did not have much time for other I ntensive movement checks.

now I’m caught in the Christmas period: this week there have been no pool sessions and my kiné, Audrey is on holiday, replaced by a young kiné, Charles (whom I prefer); next week the ergothérapeute, Delphine, is away, leaving just her young student, Florence.  Both Florence and Charles are trying to do their best to understand the pain, and both reckon something is sticking round the shoulder area, but I’m not sure if they have the authority to talk to the doctor. Charles thinks I need another échographie to look at  the muscles in this area. After Christmas I think i will ring my surgeon and bring her back in the loop.

Meanwhile I’m seeing lots of patients leaving at the end of their two/three/four week stay, depending on the particular replacement, in varying states of fitness. I’m relieved to say that in my case the despatch date required by the protocol seems to have been quietly dropped while they try to decide what is going on.

Apart from these shooting pains, which only occur during movement, I have far less general pain, gently growing movement and my hand is now moving better and no longer has pins and needles.  And last night I slept better.  Only just over five hours, but four of them were on a nonstop stretch.

Minor ouches

 Just had a rather surreal 24 hours, dealing with two minor irritants: the spasms in my leg caused by arthritis in my spine  and a continuing infected ingrowing toenail.

Dr Belhahassen could not manually inject the base of my spine because of too much scarring to be accurate. So instead this was to be done in or under a scan (not really clear what exactly would happen).   Anyhow  yesterday he told me that when I returned from the scan I was to lie down for three hours in a special position. When I asked what that was he said the nurse would explain.

Off I went this morning in a VSL to the Clinique St Jean, not one of my favourites (my other shoulder was done there) but with a high reputation. The woman who “looked after me” in the scanner department  was very disagreeable. She couldn’t be bothered to say bonjour to me, just ordered me to go into a cubicle and undress. When I approached the scanner  she told me to lie on my front on the usual narrow, hard couch. I hesitated, horrified, unsure whether this was bad for my shoulder or not. If you can’t get onto the bed she said you can’t have the scan.   somehow I managed to get onto the bed with the help of a radiographer who emerged from his room and found me a cushion for my shoulder. Then the woman told me to put my hands above my head. Wwhen I said I couldn’t the radiographer instantly said, no problem, put them down by your sides.  It’s only going to be about 5 to 10 minutes he reassured me. What he didn’t mention was all the time preparing. By the end I was in agony.

 When it was over the woman had disappeared, given up on me no doubt, and the man kindly  helped me, like a beached whale, get off the bed – though I did have to stop him twice from trying to support me on my shoulder and arm! I sort of sidled sideways, managed to get my left leg over the side, got him to lower the bed so I could flounder on the floor, release my left hand to take the weight, got him to raise the bed a bit so I could kneel and then stand using only my left hand.  All the time concentrating on Twisting the right shoulder too much or reaching out with my right hand to balance. Never mind humiliating, not an experience to be repeated soon.

 Back at the ranch it was lunchtime, and the stand-in nurse knew nothing about what I should be doing . When I finally got hold of the usual nurse I discovered the special position was to stick my feet up n the air – the doctor could have to me yesterday. Belhassen woke me after 45 minutes, huffed and puffed about the series of incompetences, hinted it might affect the outcome of the infiltration, and sent me off to continue my rééducation.

And , no sooner had I got back to my room to recover from this,  than in walked the very nice pedicurist whom I had rang earlier in the day,  to have another go at trying to get rid of the extremely recalcitrant infected ingrown toenail.  She said it was a pity she did not have the right to apply a local anaesthetic and gave me permission to yell. I’m proud to say I didn’t. But… … I  also plan to avoid that experience for a little while.

The problem,she said, is always the compression stockings, and I should go back to having ones with open toes. Tomorrow I’m going to order some, even though they cost much more.

But I felt much better , wWendy  down to supper smiling, and managed in the nicest possible way, but firmly, to ask the man opposite me to please stop trying to talk about religion or God to me.  As I said this I was quietly digging into Bernard beside me in case I needed reinforcements. He told me later he had turned and given the man a “look”.  Maybe this helped as the man stopped trying to convert me and agreed these subjects would be off limits. We all shook hands and Bernard and I escaped – him for a last cigarette outside and me for my evening hot drink from the machine.

Deborah visits

i had a lovely visit from my sister, Deborah, who came despite my protestations that she did not need to. I’m glad she ignored me. She spent much of Friday on the train from London (changing just oncc at Lille);, and now she is back on the seven hour trip home.  It’s still nicer than the plane; she just reads or talks to fellow passengers – yes, this is a family trait.

On Saturday we just pootled around, shopping for some necessities for me, and then strolling round the old city, enjoying the beauty of the old city, enhanced by the bright sunshine.  There were some essential stops at cafes, of course, to give my shoulder a rest (it is only now that I appreciate that even the shoulder moves when you walk). At one cafe we met Chloe, the daughter of a friend from my choir days.  Le monde est petit en effet.  Lunch – again sitting outside -was at Alain Villard’s restaurant. Alain spent about six months in my Brighton flat. He also stayed a weekend at Deb’s and was pleased to see her.

On Saturday we taxied out to Palavas, a popular seaside resort just outside Montpellier. We were supposed to have a rendezvous with my old friends Charles and Pierre. Inevitably we managed to miss them and they had both left their phones behind… … Half an hour later we decided to choose a restaurant before all the tables went – and there by chance they were.

The meal that followed was coloured by classic Charles and Pierre theatre.  They too have stayed at Deborah’s and laughed when they heard that the lavatory light still does not work -seven years later. Conversation was as lively and opiniated as ever. We passed through the painful Brexit themes of course (they were approving of my decision to seek French nationality) and moved on to the forthcoming French presidential elections. All agreed that Le Pen would probably, hopefully, not win, but that Fillon was also bad news.

Things got more heated when I told them that almost every one I talked to in the clinic produced variants of “I’m not racist but ……  the Arabs are taking over”.  As I expected Charles launched into his passionate ‘we must protect our wonderful French culture.  It must not be diluted’. And Pierre followed with his ‘we must respect that we are a laïque state’ ( somehow seems clearer in French than the English ‘secular’). You have to ,know Charles and Pierre to imagine how physically animated such conversations can be – much declaiming and much waving around of hands. Difficult for us to get a word in edgeways, pleading for tolerance of differences in culture, but Deborah (whose French is amazing since it dates mainly from our schooldays) definitely scored a point by chipping in with a reference to Voltaire.  By this time, nearly three hours after our arrival, we were ready to go and Pierre had become friends with the waiters.

We walked back along the harbour  front. In the morning Deborah and I had already done this walk, playing my usual game of deciding which boat I would like to own. The game had started when I was eight and fired with a passion for boats by Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons.  Sadly these days I go for more realistic motor launches rather than sailing boats. But they don’t have the same aesthetic appeal.

we drove back to Montpellier in Charles’ beloved Alfa Romeo. Another classic C & P performance.  I don’t think Deborah had ever been driven by Charles so this was a new, unnerving experience. Much switching lanes at the last moment, sudden accelerations, verbal impatience with all other drivers, a quick pull in beside a busy road so that both men could find (with difficulty) a bush to pee behind , a lengthy detour so we could see the flamingoes, and a final dramatic parking in the IKEA underground car park. I had said could he let me out before going into a tight space. He remembered when half in – so reversed, only just missing the car behind him, whose driver, along with the four drivers behind were honking horns. (I don’t think Charles likes the rear mirror.) While they and the driver engaged in an animated exchange, Deborah helped me out of the car.

After many sffectionate farewells (I am fond of this couple, who have been good friends over the years), we left them to face IKEA – on the Sunday afternoon before Christmas!- and took the nearby tram back to Deborah’s hotel (between the station and Place de la Comédie -a good discovery).

i was a bit apologetic that so much of the day had been shared by Charles and Pierre’s visit. But Deb too had found the whole day entertaining.

Good to have seen Deb, the sun, the sea, and Charles and Pierre.  But now back in the clinic and its daily routines.