Climbing the mountain – slowly

Yesterday I had a bad day. I have been making progress, thanks to my daily four hours of hard work and prolonged physio sessions. But then Eric, the kiné, did some movements to try and increase my arm’s mobility sideways and rotating the arm and it was not only painful when I opened my eyes and glanced sideways I saw how far I still have to go to stretch my arm out in all directions. And I still cannot do basic moves like put my hand on my head.

The rest of the day continued to be painful and demoralising. Finally Eric said stop for the day, handed me ice packs for my shoulder and said that yes, indeed I did need extra time in the Chataigniers. I reckon I could be here  until Christmas. This is what I want. This is the last chance to get this shoulder working, and I have so much more confidence in Eric than any other kiné I have seen.

I asked if I could not be a daily patient – ambulatoire – living at home but coming in for sessions here. I had touched a raw nerve which made Eric laugh in irony. Did I want to take him to an early grave? Because of course then he could have yet another patient en rééducation as well as me.

Surely I asked, there was a fixed number of beds for rééducation and the rest were medical cases (people needing rest after leaving hospital etc). But no, it appears there are no fixed ratios and one could in theory at least have 50 patients needing Eric’s attention. Once again, there so clearly needs to be a second if not indeed a third kiné post here.

Meanwhile I am grateful to him for having devoted extra time on me yesterday.

Computers again

Last week was a period of technological frustration. Yes, I know I am a geek glued to my computer. But thank god for computers and tablets and the internet to replace former activities if one  has reduced mobility.

Last week I was hit by two problems, the first entirely of my own making. Some of you may recall that quite a few years back I wrote a database to help my friend, Rose, in the management of the production of a dictionary of Scottish women, with  multiple authors to coordinate. This is now approaching the final stages of the second edition, when its task will be  to export a variety of things, including several indexes to the women and their areas of activity

Rose and I both use Macs and the database is written using a natty programme called Filemaker, which we have not bothered to pay to upgrade for several years now.  Last week I blithely updated my Mac to the latest version of its system software, and then discovered to my horror that Filemaker 12 was  too old to run on it. So I have had to buy two copies of Filemaker 16 (luckily on a limited buy one and get one free offer).

In between sessions of physio, I did my best to check that our database was happy when run with the new version of Filemaker – and then I had to convince Rose it was safe to switch .  Fingers  crossed we have got over this blip, albeit at a cost. Now Rose’s aim is to deliver the dictionary and its indexes to Edinburgh University Press by Christmas!

Downloading the new software and communicating with Rose in Edinburgh was hindered by the WiFi service for patients inexplicably breaking down for two days.  I tried not to be too demanding and managed to restrict myself to just two visits to the clinic administration.

The experience underlined how pathetically dependent I am on the internet,  not just for this dictionary work, but for all forms of information and entertainment – and even to download the next book on my kindle.

Anyhow, normal service has been resumed. I am once again happily wired up. Wirelessly.


No internet


I have had no internet since yesterday morning and it is driving me mad.
No newspapers, radio or television. No consulting wiki whenever Madame Bavarde comes up with irrefutable facts.
I’m putting this up via my iphone which of course has 3G as well as WiFi, but a limited amount – as I know to my cost after the Istanbul trip (where we were all using our phones’ GPS to find our way around).
I reported the WiFi wasn’t working and learnt it is managed by a business in Montpellier, but I was told not to hold my breath for immediate action. At supper I learnt that my newly arrived neighbour also could not connect to the internet, and I’ve urged her to report this. I suspect we are the only two patients to use the internet!

Home for the weekend

With no physiotherapy at the weekend, and thanks to friends who ferried me back and forth, I again had a wonderful peaceful weekend at home.

The best part was sleeping in my own splendidly comfortable bed. What a contrast to the substandard and too small hospital bed. And no chiming lift, ringing of bell, trundling past of medical trolleys and voices of night staff handing over at 5.30 in the morning. (As usual I have drawn the short straw with a bedroom under the patient bell system, opposite the lift and stairwell.)

But when not luxuriating in my bed, I wandered round outside, taking pleasure in the beautiful weather and the hillsides still in their autumn coats. I was less pleased to see the sangliers (wild boar) had continued to be very active, mainly round my young olive trees. The grass, killed off by the prolongued heat and drought, has not come back yet. Instead I saw wild spring onion sprouting everywhere.

The jacuzzi is being dismantled because it hasn’t worked for a year and finding an engineer and parts to fix it proved an uphill expensive job  ( I bought the jacuzzi some years ago from a UK company and now the French representative of Canadian Spas claimed it was not a model they knew about and refused to send an engineer). It is sad not to have the jacuzzi, particularly when the family comes in the spring, but at least now there is the pool in the summer.  The terrace, already suffering from subsidence will have to be rebuilt.

The one thing missing was Poppy. As usual she is in her holiday home with Hans and Margaret. We agreed it was less confusing for her not to be trundled back and forth between her two homes .  The house is silent without her funny little ways .

Now I’m back in the centre. While writing this, the night nurse who speaks English – and is clearly eager to practise it, came by .  He ended up sitting down on the spare chair and holding forth about the failings of the world (in not always comprehensible English) .

He is a Protestant – his grandfather was pasteur  in the village of Molières, above this centre – and he was saddened by how few people attended the temples  (the protestant  churches), but even more by how lacking in charity protestants were. He seemed to understand my reiteration of one of my favourite views, that Fraternité was very much the poor relative of the three values of French democracy .

It turns out he is a political activist campaigning for nurses and midwives . He works nights but often travels by day for meetings.

We somehow got onto the subject of caring for the elderly and dying. He says he has been a midwife for much of his life, bringing beings into the world  now he thinks more towards the other end: helping people at the end of their journey.  It must be hard working on the second floor (where the illest are), I said. Yes it was tough, he agreed. What  distressed him was when the system failed to prescribe enough painkillers to help dying patients. As a Protestant, he said, he was not in favour of euthanasia,  but he saw no problem about issuing terminally ill patients enough medication to ease pain. Just as when a midwife he occasionally was at odds with colleagues when he did not strive to keep alive when the baby had multiple problems.

Now he has gone. Time  for bed.


Hospital views

This is the view from my bedroom in Les Chataigniers. The blue sky and hills make up for the undistinguished villas of Cavaillac.

One day I should make a collection of hospital bedroom views. The list is growing.

Two wheels

You have got to hand it to Madame Bavarde: she keeps us entertained. Yesterday at supper she reminisced (in her usual cheerful booming tones) about the wonderful times she and her husband spent on a motor bike.

They explored the whole of France, sometimes on their own, sometimes with five other biker friends. When it was fine they slept in their tent, when it rained they tried to find a barn or sometimes a hotel. When she described their camping it brought back my memories of the Fifties and Sixties. Her tent, like ours, had no built in ground sheet, and wet nights were a struggle to stop those trickles advancing towards your sleeping bag.

When she first married, in 1946, they went on camping trips on their pedal bikes. Her husband carried the tent, while she carried their cat – a risky business she said, as he tended to swerve out to glare at passing cars.

After six years they moved on to become bikers – ‘motards’. How long were they motards, I asked. She did not say when but described why they stopped,  with relish. She somehow fell off the back of the bike, landed on her bottom, where the skin was completely removed. She described in detail – as we ate our chicken – how the doctor spent hours picking gravel and tar out of her fesses (buttocks), and how she shocked all present with the range of swear words in her repertoire. A Parisian originally, and from another age, there is a cheerful vulgarity in her language. The doctor, obviously of the same ilk, and sizing up his patient, finished by saying be careful that nobody groped her in the metro, as she would no doubt turn round and beat him Up.

C’est la France

Today was a wonderful warm, sunny day. As there is no physio on Wednesday afternoons, I went for a walk. I decided to track down the site proposed for the hapless hardware store, Monsieur Bricolage, burnt down by vandals a year ago.

Last month I recounted the tortuous and unjust story of their abortive attempts to rebuild on the existing site. Today I thought I would go and look at the alternative site suggested by the mayor of Molières Cavaillac, not far from my centre.

Walking along a  narrow lane, I asked a man passing by with his dog which was the field for the new M Bricolage. He pointed it out and then implied that the question was very much if rather than when the store would be built.  I said knew  that they have to raise 200,000 € to buy the land.

Ah, added the man, but then to build they will have to have the agreement of  the commune, the communautë de communes, the département, le sous préfet … He shrugged his shoulders and said, with an air of resignation: “C’est la France”.

And what a shame that the convoluted laws and devious local practises might mean that either the cash can’t be raised and a dozen people will lose their jobs, or that another pastoral enclave will disappear, rather than rebuild on the old site next to the supermarket.


Letter from Willow

I was deeply touched when I received this letter from my granddaughter, Willow, last week.

She might indeed have been prompted by an adult to write*, but I know Willow. The execution of this letter (and a drawing that came with it) would have been entirely her work on her own.  Turned six last month, she has an impressive ability to see a task through, and with her lovely handwriting (not inherited from me…) is now discovering the pleasure of writing.

At first it was lists – things to do, presents she wanted. I suppose you could count this as a list, but more adventurous. Yes, I miss you and the three other grandchildren, Willow. I will try to visit you early in 2018

* correction from Mummy. “Not just her own work – her idea, me not allowed to see!”

The social life of Les Chataigniers

One week in this centre and I have slipped into the routines of institutional life, one of which is learning to live with the fellow inmates.

Les Châtaigniers is primarily a place for convalescence and repos (people at home who need a break – or their families do). One or two are slightly younger – my next door neighbour, for example, an emaciated chain smoker. But most seem old and decrepit. I see them only at mealtimes, when those fit enough to come down, sit silently through the meal. After, there is a line of wheelchairs queued in front of the only lift, many of the occupants now dozing.

I do find this sight distressing, both because life is not much fun for these poor souls but also because it is a brutal reminder of what might be round the corner. As someone who always makes plans for the future, refusing to dwell on diminishing capabilities, this is disconcerting.

The minority, maybe about 20, who like me are in re-education after surgery, are on the whole slightly younger and in better shape. Even here I find it distressing watching two aides patiently propping up an old man while trying to get him to put his left foot forward.

I imagine that he, like other older patients, is here after a fall. That is what happened to the 90 year old who sits at my table for meals. She is called Madame Bavarde by the kitchen assistant and true to her nick-name she never stops talking. We are told daily that she is 90 years old and that her husband was a ‘brave type’ -a good guy – is who had never hit her, and that she had ‘connu la guerre’ – lived through the war.

She is also full of intriguing stories. We knew that she came from a family of tailors and had learnt her craft at an early age at home. When her mother died , in 1942, she started work in a large Parisian textile factory.
A year later the Germans requisitioned the factory and they were put to work producing uniforms for the German army. All girls of about 15-17, they had a military escort to and from their digs.

Madame Bavarde said the German put in charge knew his craft and was a decent employer. Towards the end of the war he was sent to the Russian front. A bad end for a decent man.

Sometimes Madame Bavarde can be irritatingly dogmatic, like when she insisted that Malta was a French speaking dependency of France at the end of the war. She can also be very rude. There is a very fat man in re-education and she keeps saying – in a loud voice – that he should eat less and if he was her husband she would divorce him.

The other two at my table are pleasant, and manage to add their tuppenceworth to the conversation. One lives locally, on her own in a remote hamlet, and as she does not drive I can’t begin to understand how she manages.

The other lives on the seventh floor of an HLM (council house). )I asked her if she had noise problems from the neighbours, but she replied the whole block is occupied by retired people. This is not really in the rules, but Alès, the big town where she lives, quietly fiddles allocation procedures to achieve this.

Our table of four is definitely the most animated and the last to leave the table. An elderly retired primary school teacher at the next table compared this, wistfully, with his inability to engage anyone at his table in conversation.

The other place one meets fellow patients is of course in the salle de re-education. There are usually about six people there at a time and it is small enough for conversation to sometimes become generalized – and for Eric to keep an eye on all activities.
I’ll talk about that another time!

Dan’s birthday

Today would have been my brother Dan’s 70th birthday. He died two years ago and now I really must read the Facebook documentation to understand what I should do with his account.