Lost souls

Most of my fellow residents are just older than me, some are very deaf, one blind, and many have limited conversation skills. But a couple remind me of my surreal stay four years ago in the Hôpital du Vigan. Especially, my 85-year-old neighbour Monsieur L – the former school directeur, now a proselytiser for a world without money.

Sometimes we can have quite a lucid conversation, provided I can steer him off his obsessional desire to abolish money. You can tell these good moments, as he appears for meals, tall, clearly elegant in the past, though now the clothes (apparently supplied by the clinic) hangi off his gaunt frame, and his hair is combed.  On the bad days, his hair stands on end, his expression is one of lost panic, and his trousers (or pyjamas) are only just held up.

Monsieur L is here following some sort of urethra surgery – I have to keep stopping him from giving me details. I think long before this surgery health has been an obsession. He told me that he was born a sickly baby, much fussed over and given special diets, predominantly vegetarian, and never good at sport like his older brother.  In fact, he said, he was the odd one out in the family, ‘un original’ . (The Cévennes seems full of these somewhat unusual eccentric originals.). With my total lack of any professional expertise I would say that this childhood has been an important factor in his obsessions with what he eats and medicines, and that perhaps also he is somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum.

M. L sits next to me (when he arrives – invariably late) and so daily I hear him interrogate the kitchen staff on the food we are about to eat and telling them to remove all sauces from his meat – and then cleans his plate.  Then the nurse passes with our medications.  Again, an intensive interrogation on his various pills and powders, some of which he subsequently loses or drops on the floor. Minutes after the nurse moves onto the next table, he is up, shambling after her, for more interrogations about his medication.

This goes on when he is back in his room (opposite me) – or rather, outside it, looking for someone to explain missing drugs, his need for postage stamps, or whatever the latest thing is to make him anxious. From time to time he has vertigo, which means he has to accompanied to the dining room. And he is convinced that someone takes things from his room.  What sorts of things, I ask? Yesterday it was his toothbrush. Then of course there is his conviction there are cockroaches in his room.

At meals he asks me anxiously if he is getting Alzheimer’s.  I reply that I don’t think so, but that he is evidently suffering from much anxiety.  I’m afraid when he gets worked up and frustrated I apply the same technique I have offered my grandson: count slowly up to ten and smile – the aim being to remove thoughts of what it is that is annoying you and to think positive again.

He has formed a certain attachment to me, so I can never afford to have my door open and often march off on some mysterious errand rather than be waylaid, although I have helped him work his new phone and radio. Yesterday he knocked and entered when I was lying resting on my bed (for me to show him again how to turn off his radio). Minutes later an aide rushed in to ask if I was all right and did I want to get my room changed.  (I said I was OK as I only have days left here.

Monsieur L’s latest drama is that while I was face-timing with the family he fell in the corridor outside my door (I found it difficult to concentrate as I could hear the panic of staff stopping him getting up unassisted.)  This morning he has an impressive black eye.

Yesterday I also had an encounter with the other lost soul here, Monsieur T. Here is a younger man, a resident on the second floor (those needing more surveillance) and visibly in a confused state. He walked into my room and said he recognised me, he had seen me on the Paris to Evreux train.  “Mais non, monsieur,” I said, “vous vous êtes trempé.” I tried to remind him he was on the wrong floor and encouraged him towards the lift.  As he tried to enter all the doors between me and the lift, I steered him more firmly towards the lift, and then thankfully heard aides from all directions in a panic, looking for him.  I gather that sadly he is normally in some way attached to stop him wandering. I fear his ultimate destination might be somewhere like the psychiatric centre in Sumène.

There are several here with little or no speech, usually following a stroke.  This is the case of the blind man, Monsieur P. His wife, who comes all the way from Valleraugue to visit him daily, is definitely not lacking in words; she is a delightful, strong minded Cévenol character whom I got to know last year. Yesterday I bought her a copy of the French version of ‘Divided Loyalties’, the book by Janet Teissier de Cros, describing the wartime in Valleraugue.  She deserves it, she is carrying a great burden looking after a totally handicapped husband – not easy in your eighties – and I’m glad to say she was thrilled with the present.

 

Chris

It is ten years today since Chris died. I try not to think of his miserable last few days but instead the fortitude with which he faced ill health over the previous two years, and above all our splendid adventures over 40 years together.

I wish he were here to see his daughters continue to grow in wisdom and kindness and to know his four grandchildren (He would have been a lovely grandpa.) In fact I just wish he was here.

That’s all. I’m not going to attempt to reflect at length here on this clever but complex man, capable of showing scorn or anger when faced by bureaucratic incompetence or academic pretension, capable of being an old grump in the house, but intrinsically kind, generous and principled, loving the good things in life, especially happy here in France, smiling jovially at his guests and many friends, and above all, loving his family.

Later in the day

I dont have my photo collection while in hospital. But here are three memories. Well, the first – a newspaper cutting from 1962 –  is not a memory, since I didn’t know Chris then. But I remember very well how often he said his involvement with the American Civil Rights Movement changed his life.

The two photos that follow are taken from Jude’s reposting on Facebook today. I took the picture of Chris in Paradise Square, Oxford (a charming but  insalubrious area since sadly replaced by concrete nothingness) during our first years together. The second photo was Chris in a typically happy mood at the table with his family.

Oh. I’ve just realised that of course I have more photos of Chris on my site.

Vanity

I have never paid much attention to my appearance, preferring comfortable to smart clothes and wearing my hair in a fashionably dishevelled style.

Suddenly this has all changed. For the past couple of months I have been losing quite a lot of hair .  Stress, said some people, loss of vitamins because of your strange diet, said others. Now, despite being back on a normal diet, it seems to be getting worse. Whereas before I hardly looked in the mirror as I gave my hair a perfunctory comb, now I gaze in horror at this balding hag in the mirror (made worse by the ultra short cut I had before going into hospital).

I have always taken my thick hair for granted, even though it is thinner than when I was young.  And I have rather revelled in the hairdresser’s : “Vous avez des beaux cheveux”.

Now it is dawning on me how much one’s hair is part of one’s identity.  I understand better the distress of those going bald after chemotherapy. But at least they expect theirs to grow back. Not sure about mine. Silly, I know, to fixate on this, rather than my aches and pains.

Overdid it

Mindful of Dr Glaise’s instructions, I have been stepping up my daily exercise. Yesterday I walked six kilometres:  two along the corridor before breakfast, two along the streets of Cavaillac later in the morning, and two strolling along the river road that leads to what must be the loveliest setting for a municipal rubbish dump.

On the way back I felt the odd twinge and was glad when I saw Les Châtaigniers. Later in the evening my guts began to churn, the pain increased, and I spent a horrible, sleepless night. I was gripped with anxiety.  Had I damaged the patch? Was there another occlusion? I was often on the point of pressing the bell for help, but was reluctant to precipitate a trip to Urgences in the night.

At about five the pain eased, but I felt washed out. The morning nurse was solicitous, although stressing I should have rung help. Later an elderly doctor (a replacement) came and examined me. He reassured me there was no damage and no occlusion – I had simply taken too much exercise. I hope he is right. (I don’t have great confidence in the medical expertise here.)

I’ve spent a quiet day, trying to catch up on sleep, despite the relentless cheery noise in the corridor outside, and feel better, though not entirely recovered. The nurse has just come by and made me promise not to hesitate, and to ring the bell if I had any problems in the night.

Tomorrow 8 will resume exercise – with a short, gentle stroll. Let’s hope there are no more setbacks, with less tpainful Han a week before I go home.

Poppy en pension

As usual my friends Hans and Margaret have been looking after Poppy; she absolutely loves being with them, getting lots of attention and walks, and having village life to entertain her. Indeed she is getting somewhat proprietorial about her patch – the paths in front of the house.

All that changed on Sunday. Hans and Margaret were about to go on holiday. First Margaret took Poppy to a woman in St Maurice de Navacelles, who looks after dogs. Several people had recommended Mme Hilsdorff and Margaret and I were reassured when visiting her three weeks ago.

Even so, Margaret, like me, was somewhat anxious when leaving her.  She texted me: “ This time the dogs there where friendly and well behaved they just sniffed bums and wagged tails, but Poppy not quite sure as they where all very large.She quickly realised if she sat under a chair they couldn’t get down to sniff her bum.!! Mme H. picked her up and carried her around and was rewarded with a licked face, so I left feeling not too bad.“

Just as I wrote this, Mme Hilsdorff rang to give me news. Poppy is fine, she puts up with the big dogs (there are five dogs en pension plus her own), seems happy with the three daily walks, continues to have too healthy an appetite and sleeps well.

Mme Hilsdorff is clearly smitten by her. She says that with her easy temperament she quickly transfers her affection, albeit temporarily, and so does not languish. The first night she made Poppy sleep downstairs with the other dogs. Last night Poppy made it quite clear she wanted to spend the night in Mme H’s bedroom. And so she did. I think the pension rules have been waived.

Departure date fixed

Today I had a visit from the Assistante Sociale (the social worker) to discuss when I should go home and what support I would need.

We agreed on 2 October as the date for the sortie. There is a clear assumption I must put no strain on the abdomen – no lifting or bending.

I am going to get my cleaner, Edith, to come once a week rather than fortnight and the social worker will arrange for delivery of lunch for a week (though since I don’t have a French pension, I will pay). I will get twice a day visits from the nurses to put on and take off my compression stockings. (Silly, really, when anybody could do this – but that’s the system.) Interestingly the rules have changed recently and the state no longer pays for such visits, except when you have 100% cover, which in my case I have for anything connected with my cancer treatment.

Today the physio, Eric, who treated shoulder in the winter, returned from six months leave following painful knee surgery. I have great respect for him and am sorry he cannot treat my back while I’m here. I asked him when he thought I could drive my little car (which I know he finds a bit of a joke) and he made it clear that he thought it would be unwise before the end of the month. I suppose he is right, but I cannot wait to climb into what for me is my symbol of liberty.

Weather

This has been a beautiful September. What a waste to spend it in clinics and maisons de repos.

I think it may have rained a couple of times; otherwise we have had day after day of blue skies. It’s hot in the afternoon, but not with that crippling heat we had in July – although yesterday’s 32 degrees made me turn back from the walk up the road.

Today it is breezier. The wind is coming from the north and although the sky is still blue, it is distinctly cooler. And I see the leaves on the lovely line tree in the garden have started to fall . But still no rain is forecast till 6th October and I see that the temperature will bec31 again on Friday. I fear all my plants like geraniums will be toasted crisp by now.

Exercise

“Il faut marcher, marcher, marcher,” said my surgeon. So that is what I am trying to do.

If I can manage to get a nurse to come and put on my compression stockings and adjust my horrible corset in time, I try to march up and down the long corridor as often as possible before breakfast arrives.

I normally try to go up and down 20 times, but often forget how much I have done.  This morning I realised rather belatedly that I can simply record my progress on my Apple Watch.

So I now know that about 20 lengths there and back is roughly three kilometres and that I took nearly 45 minutes to do this – including a stop to have my blood pressure taken and be given my medication.

The trouble with the grounds surrounding the clinic is that only one side is inspiring – the lovely little garden – while the others are dreary – carpark etc – and often not easy to walk steadily.  In theory I am not supposed to go beyond the gates without signing out, but I have done so two or three times.  Again, this means walking along a rather busy road, but at least one escapes the hospital environment.

On all other visits my day has been taken up with physio, but this time the ban on anything which puts a strain on my  abdomen muscles means I cannot even have treatment for the sciatica in my back.  So my nights are not good: I wake about every hour, have to get up and walk around before trying to get back to sleep, so I have to waste part of the afternoon catching up on sleep.

 

 

 

Eileen

Meeting Eileen has brought a dramatic realisation that carrying an EHIC card when travelling in Europe is not sufficient.

I first met Eileen at the clinic in Ganges – the nurses told me there was an elderly English woman who spoke almost no French in a nearby room.  Eileen and her husband had just arrived in the Cévennes to stay with their friend, John. While the two men were out in the garden, she went down to the kitchen, miscalculated the number of steep Cévenol steps and went hurtling to the floor, breaking her femur badly.

After ten days of traction, an operation to put a metal rod into the thigh, and a few days recovery, she was transferred to Les Chataigniers.  And there she is, three doors away from me. After a couple of days her husband drove back to England with the friend, and she is very much alone.

The very nice Romanian nurse on duty when I arrived asked me if I could go along and cheer her up and help generally with the communication problem.  Eileen is 84 but clearly used to being active and independent and is completely thrown by this disaster. Unable to communicate effectively she feels scared and lonely.

So I have become rather involved in her care, acting as interpreter in meeting with, for example, the doctor, and passing on her requests and questions to other staff.

Sitting alone for much of the day, Eileen has too much time on her hands to get anxious about her treatment, how long she will have to stay here and how much it is all going to cost.

She had wanted to take out holiday insurance but her husband had insisted that the EHIC card was sufficient. Since I am totally covered by my combination of the French health cover (my carte vitale) and my private insurance (mutuelle), I don’t really have the sums at my fingertips and have been making enquiries for her.

It turns out that the Ganges clinic has sent her papers to some national body which deals with transactions between different European countries and her bill for the fortnight there will eventually be sent to England.  Here at the Chataigniers I think her daily charges will be 20€ (for meals etc) and a 50€ supplement for a single room (which is definitely not covered by the EHIC). Even if I am right, that is nearly 500€ a week.

The European Health Insurance Card covers your health treatment when in France, but you may have to contribute to the costs.  I have tried to reassure her the Ganges bill should not be exorbitant: from what I have read on the internet the maximum patient contribution should be 20% of the costs plus 20€ for each day in hospital. She is worried about the bill for the traction and operation in Ganges.  I have no idea what these cost, but I have tried to reassure her that the prices in Ganges are reasonable and I would be surprised if she had to pay more than a few hundred euros at the most. I hope I’m right! It would be nice if there was a helpline one could ring to get a clearer explanation of possible charges (and their limits) in a particular situation.

Mealtimes are another challenge.  The dining staff, who know me well of course, have put me at a table with her so we can speak in English.  For the past few evenings we have been joined by a woman who lives in Valleraugue (with a house in Ganges and flat in Montpellier). She and her husband spent seven years in Algeria (he was in the army, she was a nurse) and I’m afraid her view of the world reflects that of many French who lived and worked in Algeria. I have already had to remain silent when she talks about immigrants.

That first evening, she turned to us and asked in an accusing voice why we were not speaking French in France. I repeated (politely…) my explanation of Eileen’s circumstances, asked her to excuse us, and break off at intervals to explain what we are discussing (so she doesn’t think we are talking about her!). But the subject keeps coming up again and yesterday she turned to Eileen and said it was impolite to not talk in French at a mealtime in France.  I had had enough and this time refused to let her insulting behaviour go unchallenged (particularly as I could see Eileen wilting under the onslaught).  Luckily the very old gentleman who has joined us at the table took over and said firmly but courteously that her position was not acceptable and her language could have been better nuanced.  Madame deflated under this double onslaught, changed her position and at one stage even turned to Eileen and said she hoped she had not inadvertently offended her. Fortunately Eileen gave a little smile and put her arm on Madame’s arm.

After our first meal with her, when Eileen was crumpling also under Madame’s ‘informed’ opinion that the femur would take three to six months to heal, we fortunately bumped into another resident – Monique – with whom I had already have several friendly encounters.  She tried her few words of English and expressed sympathy with Eileen.  She had apparently overheard the first exchange and the next day told me she had slept badly she was so angry with Madame.

Typical of Monique is that she talks to all, especially those that others do not talk to, such as the chain smoker with long straggly hair and a hacking cough, and the black woman who wanders around like a lost soul (she can never remember what room she is in or where she comes from, but turns out to otherwise be very coherent in her conversations). The friendly woman lives in le Vigan so I am sure I will come across her in the future.

The future?  I have no idea how long I will stay here.  I have recovered remarkably well from the operation and each day feel more like myself. Yes, the stomach is uncomfortable, but not as bad as my sciatic nerve problem, which – with enforced lying on my back – prevents me from sleeping at night. It is just hard to remember that I must not bend down or try to pick anything up.

In theory I reckon I could go home soon, with daily visits from a nurse to put on my compression stockings and beastly corset, and either eating out of the freezer or getting meals delivered.

If I did not live on my own, that is certainly what would happen.  I’ll wait a few days more before discussing departure date with the doctor.

Footnote

As I pressed published, the gentleman from the dinner table yesterday evening passed my door and entered to say bonjour.  His eyes lit up when he saw my computer and said he must get his out when he feels better tomorrow.  He showed me his website, which is all about his work since abandoning his job as head of a school for children with learning difficulties or behavioural problems: from what I can see, his goal is to persuade the world to abandon money! I’ll have to return to read his works.

 

Opium

Hurrah for opium. It is getting me through these first rather difficult days.

After some confusion as to whether I was booked into Les Chataigniers or not, suddenly it was all stations go, and i transferred here yesterday. Again I was greeted by smiles of welcome by the staff who all recognised me as an old hand. And the fellow patients look as old and lost as ever.

Sadly I have a room looking on the road rather than hillside this time. But just at present I don’t really mind. This is still only three days after the op and my main preoccupation is how difficult it is to do anything without using the abdominal muscles. Despite asking for a lesson from the physio, I still find the most painful manoeuvre is getting in and out of bed. Hence the decision not to resist the thrice daily painkillers. I know from past experience not to worry. I will turn them down once through this stage.