Back home

My first three days home are a bit of a blur, dominated by the heat, my fatigue and the need to prepare regular but unappetising meals. 

While I was in hospital the strange monsoon weather we have had all spring was replaced abruptly by an equally relentless summer heat. Afternoon temperatures soar to the mid thirties. All that tropical green vegetation is turning brown overnight. 

My house, with all its big windows, does not keep out the heat as efficiently as old Cévenol farmhouses. I spend the day opening and closing shutters and windows, as the sun passes round the house.  Poppy is also overcome by the heat and is happy to doze alongside me in the afternoon. 

I’m definitely on the mend, though regular twinges around my rib cage – amongst other things – remind me that the doctor predicted three months to recover. 

The biggest challenge is making my three meals a day. Breakfast is OK. Coffee is sadly replaced by a worthy tisane, and I eat my toast with jam but no butter.

But lunch and supper, c’est une autre histoire. I eat out of duty rather than pleasure. 

I regard the job of producing tasteless baby food – no fat, no raw vegetables, nothing acid, and virtually no spices – as a major challenge, especially for someone like me with no interest or aptitude for cooking. 

To divert myself I have bought a steamer. So far I have cooked meals based on rice or pasta with steamed fish or burger (tasteless) and carrots.  I cook enough for the two meals to avoid a repeat performance in the evening, when I am more tired. Next challenge: to make a sauce using yoghurt and mild spices. Pudding continues to be fruit purées, but thank goodness I am no longer restricted to the apple purée I had in hospital. 

I am trying to resume normal activities – the Tuesday market (too early-I was exhausted), a short trip to Intermarché, a haircut, and a couple of lengthy sits in my favourite cafe. On Tuesday night I went to hear my fellow cellists play at the end of term concert – for which I had been preparing Mendelssohn’s Song without Words. Frustrating to have not been able to perform it eventually

Today has turned into a medical day – a trip to the pharmacy, on to Charlotte, my physio, and now a very long wait in the waiting room of Maëlle, my doctor – enough to write all this! 

Out of Les Chataigniers

It was probably a good thing I did not leave on Friday, as I wanted, as I could concentrate on my shoulder recovering over the weekend. It is still slightly painful, but I’m confident there is no lasting damage.

On Monday morning I went round saying some goodbyes.  Apart from my new friend Marie-France (also leaving, but to stay with her daughter till her foot is out of plaster) and a couple of rather eccentric elderly gentlemen, from Blandas and le Vigan, there is nobody I will miss. Surprisingly, some of the old ladies whose wheelchairs I have pushed to the lift, in the absence of enough staff, were quite upset I was leaving.

I am particularly glad to be free of the sounds from the second floor (where the more handicapped and iller patients reside) which were sad and uncomfortable reminders of the state of some patients.  There was one man who every afternoon called out in a quavering voice: “Il y a quelqu’un là?  Il y a quelqu’un là? ” Worse still was the occasional cry further down the corridor: “Maman. Maman. Maman. Papa…”.

Les Chataigniers is in a great location – only a few kilometres from my house and set in a garden with some lovely views.  The staff are on the whole friendly and willing, so it makes it an ideal place to recover (apart from the beds…). This time, with temperatures daily reaching the mid 30s, the rooms did get a bit hot.

However, I feel that the cracks in the system were more apparent than in my stay last year.  First of course, the wonderful physio, Eric, is still off on sick leave, following a very painful knee operation, and his replacement does not impress.  The nurses and most aides soignant are very nice, but there are clearly staff shortages, particularly at the weekends, resulting in long waits for help or medication. The kitchen/dining staff are more of a mixed bag, with certain ones who plonk plates down with maximum noise and minimum eye contact or smiles.

The doctors are another weak link.  There is one excellent one (sadly I was not allocated to her) and two others.  I saw one of these on arrival and he asked me what my diet regime should be. I saw the other when I fell and was not impressed.  He even prescribed diclofenac on departure, which I did not need and despite the surgeon in Ganges having written in capitals NO MORE ANTI INFLAMMATORIES on her notes.

Overall, I think the problem is poor management and communication at the top and not enough staff. I hope this will change: Les Chataigniers and the Ganges clinic have both been taken over by a group of medical establishments in the Languedoc region and are supposed to be expanding to meet the needs of this vast rural area along the southern slopes of the Cevennes, stretching from the A75 to the west to St Hippolyte to the east.




A minor setback: I fell out of bed last night!

In order to make my problem right shoulder comfortable I have to leave enough room when lying on my side for my right arm to be stretched out.  And to do this I align myself along one edge of this particularly narrow bed.

normally I wake, see what side I am on, and manoeuvre back to the middle. This time I awoke from a dream – and bumph, I toppled out of bed, jamming my right shoulder between bed and chair.

I took ten minutes to extricate my arm and sit up. Then I was stuck. I realised I had not broken anything but the arm and shoulder were too painful to use to get up, and the bell was on the other bed. No option but to bottom-shuffle round the bed to ring for help. Fifteen minutes later the night aide soignant rescued me, checking I could still move my arm in all directions.

Later, another aide soignant told me that when he was in hospital last year he was so afraid of falling out that he had the barriers up. I will certainly put up one side tonight.

Meanwhile I dozed this morning to get over the shock and hopefully the only damage is some bruised muscles, which Charlotte will see to when I see her next week.

The physio who is standing in for the excellent Eric, recovering from a painful knee operation, is useless. He is chatty and friendly, but just puts people to work on the various machines. No question of individual massages. Two hours later: I take it all back. He has just massaged the shoulder and says I’ve probably strained a few muscles because of the awkward way I landed  I should get someone to rub in anti- inflammatory cream several times daily

All very annoying, as I have been getting better every day and will be going home on Monday.


In our last year of primary school, my friend Christine and I had an exceptional and unusual teacher.

Mr Stokes had been in a tanker regiment in Egypt during the war and we now realised had been profoundly affected, perhaps damaged, by this experience. Certainly some parents would have been horrified by stories he told us – His memories still fresh, less than a decade after the war ended.

I remember him as inspiring: drawing out of us impassioned renderings of Tennyson, teaching us to love a good story, as we sat where we liked (Christine and I sat under his desk…), while he read us every Friday afternoon.

All the class were devoted to him, whether or not academically able, and he drew unknown talents out of children. I remember when we laid on ‘Toad of Toad Hall’, all the usual suspects (including me) hoped to be Toad. Instead he chose a barely literate boy, called Alan. Somehow he drew out of  Alan, an overweight but aimable character, a quite remarkable performance. This must have been such a high point in Alan’s school life, and I think taught us humility. All of that in a class of 52.

I found myself thinking of Mr Stokes after a teatime conversation today. My companion, a little younger than me, had grown up in poor banlieu of Paris. He started to tell me about a special, very idiosyncratic teacher he had had, insisting on a vivid portrait of the blue (what sounded like boiler) suit he wore

This teacher kept a fridge in his classroom, and at 10.30 made a little ‘pause goûters’ – a snack because he knew many had not eaten before coming .

He interrogated my table companion as to why he kept falling asleep. The answer was the two sister had the second bedroom, while the two boys had to wait till their dad finished watching tv before turning the sofa into their bed. The next day the teacher went to see the father – who ended up buying a second telly for his bedroom.

In class he often played classical music while they worked and took the kids on a trip to some huge museum in Paris about which my companion waxed enthusiastic. He placed his desk at the back of the classroom, to better survey his pupils, and when he set them maths, he introduced the practice that when a boy had finished, he could go out to play even though it was not playtime – thus increasing determination to finish

Needless to say, the school director saw to it that this teacher did not survive after the end of the year .



Baby food

Today I knew my appetite had really come back when I looked enviously at the others being served generous portions of tagliatelle and beef daube (good apparently) topped with grated Parmesan, followed by a good cheese not the usual plastic covered affair) and a tasty looking chocolate pudding.

I meanwhile had a rather dry beef burger – no sauce – and the, mainly carrot, vegetable dish. I did at least persuade the server to give me a few strands of pasta (which had had butter added and was hence verboten). And then of course, the inevitable little tub of apple purée. 

The first four or five days after arriving in hospital I ate nothing and wanted nothing. Then I was put on a diet of mainly thin beef stew with little vermicelles, apple purée and yoghurt. I was still not hungry and struggled to get a few mouthfuls down.

Next thing I knew the hospital diététicien arrived to say I was not eating enough. Moi?!

She then went on to say what my diet should be for at least the next three months. The aim is to give the stomach the minimum of work while it recovers.

No  fat, dairy or sugar – or very little indeed

So, for example, no lamb, no charcuterie, just chicken (without skin) or fish, preferably steamed… the barbecue is a no-no as it adds more indigestible elements

All vegetables must be cooked (with skin of tomatoes etc peeled) and nothing raw – so no salads (and no dressings)

No creamy sauces.

Pasta is fine, but cooked in water without adding butter   Read, flour and rice should all be white.

Fruit should be mainly cooked – hence my regular apple purée – though it is ok if absolutely raw, not acidic, and not crunchy like apples.

No grains and no nuts (so no muesli, for example).

I have still to get a clear message on spices, which I adore. Obviously the paprika/chilli end of the spectrum is off the menu, ginger is apparently ok if cooked. I still need to ask someone about black pepper and mustard. 

Bread, flour and rice are ok, provided they are white.

Luckily I have my friend Sara visiting shortly. I will set her the challenge of how I organise a summer regime, avoiding my standard staple, barbecue plus salad! 

Memento mori

Today I was pushing the wheelchair of an old lady down to lunch (lack of aides) when a nurse suddenly closed the doors from our corridor, saying urgently, it was only temporary. 

I managed to nip out, knowing that the wheelchair would now be handled by staff. Only a few had reached the dining room – and I saw that now even the dining doors were closed behind me.

One of the kitchen staff explained there had been a death and the body needed to be transferred to the funeral parlour, the hearse was waiting outside. There is only one lift and this is the busiest hour of the day. It was over quite quickly and efficiently. We only lost 20 minutes waiting, but they were sobering minutes.

We hoped it was someone who had been suffering and was ready to go, not someone the victim of a heart attack. I’m on the first floor, where people are more autonomous; the second floor houses the very old and/or sick.

Maybe this was a reason the lunch was a calmer affair than the day before!

‘Social life’ of Les Chataigniers

Mealtimes in the dining room at les Châtaigniers are disorganised, faintly anarchic affairs, especially at lunch, when the kitchen staff help the aides soignants bring down the most handicapped inmates. 

That means they are not around to sort out who sits where – apparently their job. Things are complicated by the determination of certain patients to retain their evening places, thus disrupting all plans. 

Today was particularly bizarre. It took twenty minutes before the two kitchen staff – with a complete absence of smiles or courtesy – had bullied people to where they should be. 

Then, in a slightly charged atmosphere, they served, plonking down the dishes. At our table the monsieur beside me objected to this, saying he hadn’t been presented with what is on offer. One serveuse lost the plot and snatched his plate away. The other then said the dish was pork, broccoli and potatoes. Yes please, he said – and was given a second, identical plate. 

Meanwhile the woman opposite me – my new friend – said nothing. But I know she has asked for a meeting with the directrice and this will be added to the list of issues she wants to raise.

It was quite a relief to leave this febrile atmosphere of clashing plates and cutlery. 

I met my new friend – I must find out her name – at dinner last night. (Dinners are calmer. The older and more disabled eat in their rooms.). She lives down in the village at the bottom of the wonderful  Cirque de Navacelles. When she and her husband arrived several decades ago, the village had five elderly inhabitants and was mostly in ruins. They rebuilt – and opened – the auberge and bought and restored several houses. Now there are 35 households living permanently in the village, plus some old Navacelles families who come back to the family house for holidays. 

My friend, who comes from the north of France, has to face the same resistance from locally born as I do. “Vous n’êtes pas d’ici “ said one from Montpellier, up for the weekend, to which Madame replied she had lived longer in Navacelles than the lady born there. 

Our fellow table companion – he who had complained about the lack of information about our main course – is a genial soul, originally from Lyons (again, he is not from here). He lives in Blandas, the village at the top of the Cirque. 

Ah, I said, I so enjoy eating at the restaurant there (most recently with Sally). He replied yes, the couple who run it were good friends of his, and the only humans in the village. ….

I mentioned the description by the anthropologist, Adrienne Durand-Tullou, of her first arrival as a young school mistress in Rogues, a village near Blandas. The single village street seemed closed, but she sensed eyes behind the shutters, watching her. 

Both table companions had read this book “Le pays des Asphodèles” and they shared with her a passion for the antiquities and flowers of the Causses. As do I. So now we are amis.

Les Châtaigniers

This is now my third stay at Les Châtaigniers, a 50-bed convalescent home, and a mere seven minutes drive from my house.

It carries the wordy title “Centre de soins de suite et de réadaptation polyvalent pour adulte en hospitalisation complète”. In other words it is primarily for people coming out of hospital, needing convalescence, including, as with my shoulder last year, ‘rééducation’ but also, just rest and time to recover.  Lots of the patients are elderly and fragile, and it gives time to sort out arrangements for a safer return to their homes.

i was greeted with smiles and greetings by the staff – after all, it is less than six months since I was last here! In fact the friendliness more than makes up for sometimes shambolic services. In particular there are clearly not enough aide soignantes, so bells are unanswered fuor too long. It takes time before normal medications reach the nurses’ trolley. And there is a lack of coordination and communication of information that existed at Ganges.

The bedrooms are mainly one-bed, with some doubles.  My mutuelle – the complementary health insurance I pay into (now the best part of 200€ a month – but I get my money’s worth!) pays the extra daily 20€ for a single room.

This time I have a perfect room. All the rooms here are spacious and airy. Mine is at the end of the corridor, far from the noise of lifts and trolleys, and, for the first time, I am facing the hillside rather than road.

Here is my fabulous view (in chunks rather than  one panoramic)




Ganges chapter ends

My last couple of days at Ganges were a mixture of discomfort as I confronted my misbehaving abdomen, but pleasure at meeting up with Stanley, an American I knew slightly.

We wont go into the problem with the gazes. Suffice to say that 20 trips up and down the corridor plus several medical and other treatments had no effect. Just like after my cancer op, my innards are slow to resume normal life.

Stanley, who grows on further acquaintance, and I are not the only foreigners to come to this little hospital, according to a chatty aide, as she put on my compression stockings. They regularly have English, Dutch, Germans, Italians and Spaniards. Quite a few staff in other parts of the hospital help out if really needed, but mainly they get by with sign language.

The trickiest case was that of a Chinese man who appeared to speak nothing but Chinese. Eventually a solution was found – quite against the protocols, said the aide. They found one of the workers in the kitchens who spoke Chinese, and helped get this poor guy repatriated to China.

Yesterday was an irritating day, all packed and ready to go, but no sign of Doctor Glaise. Stanley and his young roommate, a pompier, were in the same position and we spent the day pacing up and down the corridor (sure sign we were patients of Dr  Glaise). Bruno, the ambulancier whom I know of old, arrived at one and we finally left two hours later.

Good to move on to the next stage.


The last of five drips over a week was taken out this afternoon. It had finally stopped working.

Clearly i had advanced to the stage when a drip in the neck was overkill, so now I am continuing the medication with a cocktail of pills.

I celebrated my new freedom; I abandoned my habitual corridor pacing and ventured into the outside world. The hospital is on the banks of the River Hérault (and turns its back to it) and next to a lovely old bridge. The first photo shows the view from a window near my room. The second is of the old mills across the river.

I strolled across the bridge and back, felt quite wobbly, so returned to my room. Just shows I have some way to go to recover.