Christmas Dinner

i think we had this early yesterday, partly because many patients are going home for a few days next week, but more importantly because our main chef goes on holidays for two weeks. Oh dear.

it was a loud jolly affair. Staff – including nurses, aide soignants and the director himself sat at tables at one end. Many of the nurses were unrecognisable out of uniform: glamorous party clothes and hair let down.  Virtually all the patients, including some in wheelchairs we had never seen before, were at the main tables. I was with Bernard but unfortunately we were opposite two young lads in wheelchairs who spent their time playing billiards on their phones or nip pli get out for another fag (or something else). Certainly they were not up to conversation.

Patients are all on medication and were limited to a couple of glasses of wine, plus champagne at the end. I spotted the odd bottle on the nurses’ tables. Certainly the level of gaiety increased as the meal progressed…..

Entertainment was karaoke.  I groaned at the prospect but it was really quite good, with the music chosen more retrospective and tending towards Georges Brassens friends and ccontemporaries. Some contributionsere awful, but two or three were very good, including Raymond, the aide soignant who hums opera.  The star of the show was my friend, Bernard (he of the nuclear power stations). Dressed on the vegged of vulgar he was a natural at the mike, sang really well and thanked the kitchen staff and servers with grace and authority as if he was the organiser. He told us at supper today that the director had come across to congratulate him. Attention, I said, you might be asked to come back next year.

i slept better than usual.  Clearly champagne and codeine are a good mix.

No pulmonary embolism

after a morning spent in the scanner department (two hours waiting for the doctor to sign) I got he results and, peeking inside the envelope on my way back in the  VSL, read there was no embolism. I don’t feel any sense of relief because I never really thought I had one.


there seem to be other things wrong with my lungs, but I’ll leave them to another day, especially as I don’t understand the results.

Back at Maguelone a doctor signed the OK for me to restart the reeducation. Pity I have missed so many pool and ergo sessions.


Pulmonary embolism saga continues

Last week was supposed to have been the start of the real rééducation, when I begin to remove the support to my shoulder and to move the shoulder myself. I can’t say  I made great progress, as I can hardly move the right arm unaided and it hurts more than with the first shoulder. But I really appreciate Delphine, the young but serious and knowledgeable ergo kiné. Frustrating,y I could not start work in the pool as the doctor had failed to sign the authorisation.

Then came the Friday with my malaise scare, followed by a halt to all kiné. On Monday I was supposed to go for the Doppler scan, but again the doctor had not told the secretary. So Monday :no Doppler and no kiné or pool. The doctor rearranged the Doppler for Wednesday.

Yesterday was my checkup day with my surgeon in Clinique St Roch. I was taken there in a VSL (véhicule sanitaire léger – a taxi paid for by the health system) . As usual it was a pleasure to see my surgeon, who did not seem particularly interested in my progress, or lack of (she had already had a phone all from Dr Belhassen at Maguelone). Rather she was sympathetic about the time I was losing in pool work. She picked up the phone and got me an appointment immediately with a cardiologue at the Clinique St Rich.  A case of the old girls’ network, I think, as the cardiologue turned out to be a young (as always good looking) woman (with North African name and looks). She did the Doppler scan, which showed no signs of  a pulmonary embolism Back I went to Maguelone, where I was met by Behassen, who gave me the go ahead to restart kiné.

Then this morning , during a session with the kiné (with some movements which were quite painful) I had to admit that for two seconds my head turned ( j’ai la tête qui tourne), which I hope is the correct translation of ‘I feel dizzy’. We stopped the movements even though I insisted the moment had passed and I beetled off to my next session –  my first go in the pool – before anyone could stop me.

Moving in the pool is brilliant. The water supports much of the weight of the body, making it possible to relax and do the movements required with greater ease. I shared the pool with two others (a back and a knee) and had the exclusive attention of one of the two kinés, who finished the session with a brilliant massage by a powerful jet of water on my back.

After the pool session I was on my way to the next activity when I was waylaid by Dr Belhassen and Delphine, the ergo.  Audrey had reported the second very brief malaise. So a detailed examination of my movements followed. Good, because I have learnt indirectly they have extended my possible stay here) but also Dr Belhassen wants more tests to ensure there is no pulmonary embolism. So, once again, all kiné is halted.

I had a standard heart checkup – one of those sessions when they stick electrodes everywhere – and whilst discussing Brexit (une connerie – a bloody stupid thing) the cardiologue said he could see no sign of a pulmonary embolism. Nevertheless, I have an appoint to go to the Clinique du Parc tomorrow morning for some sort of scan. This time everything is organised and I have the doctor’s letter and the ‘Bon de transport’ for he VSL.

since I’m convinced that I have no embolism and that somehow I’m reacting badly to pain., I feel somewhat frustrated: I’m missing out on kiné sessions and in particular, the pool which closes for ten days on Friday evening. Still, I suppose I should be impressed with the rigour of their precautions.


My father told me the story of a friend who was wounded during the war. He was in an Italian hospital surrounded by Italian soldiers, also wounded, who groaned and shouted all night. The nurses rushed to give them comfort. The Englishman, public school educated, gritted his teeth and endured his pain silently, stiff upper lip.
In the morning the doctor saw him and exclaiming at his wounds, asked why he had said nothing about his pain.

That is the view here too. I am constantly told ‘tell us if you have any pain’.

How do you measure pain? Here they ask you how great is the pain in the scale 1 to 10. I find that an impossible question. I know if you have a pain which makes you want to scream out or double up in agmony it must be nearing 10. But what about the lower level pain constantly there, which makes it difficult to sleep or to concentrate? I have tended to give a score under five. My fellow patients say no no, always say your pain is more than five. Otherwise you wont get the medication you want or need.

Then there is the problem of describing your pain. The kiné often asks where my shoulder had been hurting since she last saw me. All I can remember is it hurt and i have forgotten exactly where. But I am getting better at describing the pain the more I begin to understand the anatomy of the muscles that have been cut or damaged during the surgery.
During physio there is the added problem of distinguishing between pain to avoid – stopping the activity – and acceptable pain associated with trying to move the shoulder a little further.
Sometimes I ask if the pain level is normal for the stage i have reached, but don’t really get an answer.
It’s difficult to compare with the other shoulder where I was completely immobile for two months. This time I have had four weeks of passive movement (the kiné moves my arm, not me) and one week of active. I think it hurts more, but then pain memories recede rapidly.
Nothing hurts at present, so long as I don’t move my right arm. But then I’m floating on the after effects of the last dose of codeine, which also makes me sleepy.
Time for a little rest.

Another mind-blowing life story

I’ve just come back from supper.  We were joined by a man who is usually holding forth at the next table. I asked him about his work. Management in the nuclear industry he said.  Ah well, I replied, I’m on the other side of this debate, but we can find things to talk about other than the nuclear industry.

I did mention Chernobyl and recalled how a friend working in a government research unit on cows warned us not to believe any government propaganda: the cloud was passing over Scotland, especially the south west and we should drink no milk for a  few weeks .

he told how he and the others in the nuclear centre were sent to a bunker which had enough supplies for a year  nobody was allowed any contact with the outside world in order to avoid panic.  He wept when he thought of his wife and stepdaughter, but comforted himself that he had drummed into them that if they could not contact him they must take precautions. Sure enough his wife had taped over the windows of their house

I think this iswhat changed him. A bit later on he said, you know I’m not so far from your position after what happen to me a few years after this.

He was working in the centre which made France’s nuclear bombs. One night was doing the rounds and at one point he was alone with a young man who suddenly said he had made a dreadful mistake and opened the wrong tap. My friend (must find out his name) told the young man to get out quickly and sound the alarm (it seemed one of them needed to stay by the tap) . By the time he was rescued he had breathed in or swallowed or been touched by enough contaminated matter to make him blind for a year and to permanently damages his lungs etc.  He has emphysema and soon will have to live with oxygen. For how long he does not know.  But he is a gregarious individual and determined to enjoy himself while he can. (He is here after a spine operation – nothing to do with the nuclear contamination.

He then described how the government bought his silence.  He was visited by a group of men who sent his family out of the room and said he would be well provided for as would his wife and stepdaughter on condition they did not talk to the press or politicians. (I think he accepted the deal because he is worried about his wife, but I can’t be sure.)

Mini Drama

The day started off normally; i had slept slightly better so felt optimistic. As I sat outside one of the physiotherapist ‘boxes’ (curious use of an English word for the physio treatment rooms), I thought I still felt slightly sleepy, a bit distant from the world.

Audrey’s replacement for the morning did some of the movements with my arm, which seemed to hurt more than usual. Then she asked me to do a standard exercise making my ‘good’ arm gently raise the other. I said I might not do it very well as I felt a little strange.

Suddenly i couldn’t breathe. I was crying out “je ne peux pas respirer, je ne peux pas respirer” in a loud voice, gasping for breath, in a total panic.  Soon I was surrounded by about four physios (and one rather frightened student) and then a doctor, who managed to calm me so I started breathing again while she did a thorough examination. She admitted she was perplexed and needed to look at my notes and examine the latest blood results.  I was taken back to my room to rest.

I felt better in the afternoon and went back to physio. One of the kinés, Marina (with whom I’ve become quite friendly), asked me why I had not come for my first session in the pool. When I told her, she exclaimed “so it was you the cause of all the noise outside the piscine!”  But she and all the other kinés have been most solicitous. Audrey, back from her morning off, told me to stop all activities until I saw my own doctor later in the afternoon.

when I saw my doctor we exchanged the usual pleasantries – I said I had thought up another ploy for seeing him (yes, I find him quite handsome) . He carried out a thorough examination and also admitted to being baffled. He said it was ‘soit pas du tout grave soit très grave’. Either it was something odd which would not repeat, or it could be an embolism . He said was almost certain it wasn’t but wanted to discount this before deciding what to do next. So on Monday morning I’m going to the Clinique du Parc for a doppler examination   Meanwhile I am being given anti-coagulants and told to rest this weekend (har har – what else?).

Change to a related subject: this is definitely the best centre de rééducation or repos that I have been in,  and believe me I’m becoming quite an expert.

My surgeon was right, the treatment is good, plenty of kinés and a really good ergo-therapist. I’ve now had three days with the ergo and appreciate the calm, methodical way she is trying to build on my (painfully inadequate) movements.

All the staff – doctors, nurses, aide soignants, cleaners and kitchen staff – are friendly, attentive, helpful and polite. (Even the one grumpy person, the woman at reception, actually smiled at me today. Obviously you have to pass the one-month post for her.) This makes such a difference and is another sign of a well managed clinic.

And believe it or not, the meals (apart from overcooked veg) are OK.


I go forwards – sort of.
The nights are still difficult. After the bad night Sunday-Monday, I thought I had cracked it: last night I slept for an hour without medication, took the painkillers and slept two more hours, then took the sleeping pills and slept two hours again. But then I woke with a bad pain in my shoulder, took the breakfast codeine and am sitting up, waiting for it to take effect. One good thing about tonight is that mysteriously I have no back trouble.
This is hopefully just a blip.
I saw the doctor on Monday and he increased my pain medication and plans an x-ray (which I had yesterday) and possibly a scan before injecting my spine. He  has given the go ahead for me to start the active stage: that is, progressively take off the shoulder support and with supervision make movements myself. I can also start rééducation in the pool.
Yesterday I saw the ergothérapist, Delphine, and her very shy student, Florence. They did a – sometimes painful – study of my current mobility and will from now on be doing daily sessions to help me use my shoulder in normal life. They start today by assisting me in my shower and dressing to help me do this autonomously.
All in all, I’m again impressed by the care – but must stop now as the pain has eased off and I want to try for a final hours sleep.

‘Les Arabes’

Waiting for my next physio session, I sat outside in the sunshine (wearing just my t shirt and shawl) chatting to a fellow patient. Somehow the subject of Brexit came up. What was my view?

“Complètement contre!” I replied, adding it made me physically sick and depressed every time I thought of it.  Whereupon the man sitting on the other side of the woman joined in.  They approved of my reacbtion and we shared ideas about what had caused it. We moved on to Trump of course. Similar expressions of amazement and concern.

And then we turned to France. Did they think Le Pen might win?  Mais non, said the woman. The French will stop short of that. ‘Attention’, warned the man, you cannot be so sure: that same wave of discontented and disaffected people might put her there.  It was an interesting discussion because there was a genuine reflection on different positions rather than the usual passionate declaiming.

Until the subject of ‘les Arabes’ was raised.  I was quite surprised to hear the woman refer to the North African Moslems like this.  She had told me that she was a pied noir – she had left Algeria, aged 14, with her family who had been there for seven generations. There were just too many Arabs here, she said, and she was fed up with this.  The man joined in: he was not a racist , he said, but he was fed up with all the concessions made for them. I couldn’t interrupt him in full flow to ask what concessions, other than special meals in the school canteen.

He went on to say the problem was not the first generation of Maghrebains coming here, but their children, born in France, French citizens but more aggressively extreme Moslems than their parents . The woman agreed, and added they kept one foot in their country of origin .  I raised the subject of recent incidents of Moslem women’s garb being banned in public places andasked if this did not exacerbate things. They were interested to learn that in Britain there was not quite as strong a position against the cultural/religious garb of other people.  I Mentioned the row over Sikh headgear years ago which had ended with them being allowed to wear their turbans hwhen working.

They were interested in this and the conversation would have gone on but I was late for kiné, just as now I am late for supper


La politesse

If you discount impatient drivers and lack of queuing, I find the French generally more polite than the English.
Once I got used to it, I like the way everybody kisses or shakes hands on arrival or meeting each other. There should be another word for the kissing, incidentally, as it is really a light touching of cheek to cheek, varying according to where you live (in my area three times).
Some of my French friends are getting impatient with the ‘bise’ and i have to confess it can be a bit irritating, not to mention physically challenging, when you join a table of six friends in a cafe. Of course for a Brit there is the added  anxiety of not knowing when you should cross the boundary from shaking hands to the bise (and when to tutoyer – to use tu rather than vous).
I like the more frequent use of ‘Bonjour’ when you pass people in the road – particularly in the countryside. I like the way quite small children I don’t really know greet me with ‘Bonjour Madame’, with no sign of inhibition or lack of ease.
When meeting people there is never that mumbled grunt or failure to look at the other person that happens so often in Britain.
On leaving there is a vast choice of phrases other than the ‘au revoir, learnt at school – à tout à l’heure, à bientôt, bonne soirée, bonne continuation, bon voyage … … etc. But I have to admit that I too yield to the modern trend to use a casual ‘bye’ or ‘ciao’ amongst friends.
All this politeness seems very superficial, but as I used to say to my children, good manners creates a structure of consideration for others. I cringe, for example,  at the countless times i have failed to write a thank you note after a good meal or visit – acknowledging their effort and kindness.
All form, i know, but another way of bonding with our friends, showing our appreciation. Sometimes, indeed a greeting may be followed by little more than a ‘ca va?’ (OK?) or ‘il fait beau’ (fine weather) But greetings are a message that you like the other person, a way of communicating without any necessary real content.
I’ll always remember listening to night watchmen in Nigeria greeting each other saying with a whole series of stock phrases – ‘salam a lakum’, ‘sannu da ya wa’, ‘Lafiya’, ‘barka da yamma, etc – each with the other side giving the appropriate response, and often starting all over again. And then, without any actual conversation, going through the same lengthy ritual saying ‘goodbye’. A statement of friendship and mutual respect.
Enough rambling. It is now 4.30am and I must try again to go to sleep.

Kate and Jude visit

Kate and Jude arrived Friday evening for what turned out to be a lovely but all too short visit.

Kate in particular was a bit shaken by the reality of a lengthy stay in a rééducation centre – the spacious but sparse bedroom, the institutional public spaces and the prospect of mealtimes surrounded by wheelchairs and mainly uninteresting fellow patients. I pointed  out that this was an exceptionally well run and equipped centre and  that I was really lucky to be looked after in a way that simply does not exist in the public sector in Britain.  I have to admit that our supper was particularly unappetizing – the main chef does not work at the weekends.

Saturday passed  delightfully. The start was bizarre: their hotel was bang next to the place declaComedie, which was closed off with armed police. The Miss France final was this afternoon and the twelve finalists were due to be presented to the crowd in front of l’Opera. We had to explain we were in the hotel to get through the barricades.

We headed for our favorite toy shop and spent nearly 2 hours  choosing presents for the  children, including my presents presents and lots of little things for that stockings.  Lunch was good, but a mixed success, as I am learning that Kate really doesn’t like French food, in particular the concentration on meat for the main dish.  In the afternoon we did a pleasant meandering walk through the Older parts of Montpellier, ending up with the Promenade du Peyrou, just as the sun set over the panoramic view. Surprisingly neither daughter had been there before.

We ended up with a visit to the splendid Montpellier Christmas market – a huge line of enticing stalls along Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. It turned out a bit of a disaster as it was packed, the girls were excessively worried my shoulder was going to be damaged and I was running out of steam  so, after a not particularly successful dinner (apart from the glass of champagne…) we called it a day and taxied back to the clinique

Inevitably the girls returned to the market in the morning, and with fewer people around and without me to worry about, did more shopping. After another lunch with me at the clinique they set off for the airport with hand luggage completely stuffed with goodies and paper carrier bags which they intended to pass off as handbags.

A lovely visit and good to talk to them for once not surrounded by children – though we did do some very jolly FaceTime sessions with both sets of kids who were visibly anxious that Mummy should come home soon.