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.

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.

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.

Operation over

A very familiar scene: after a long wait I was wheeled to the operation bloc by the same young man as a fortnight ago – he with a girlfriend who is a world class scramble biker. And then I was met by Michel, the anaesthetist that had to use an ecograph  machine to put in the last of my drips in July.

I don’t know what was in the drip, but i came round feeling quite normal and the cocktail saw me pretty painlessly through the first twelve hours or so. The only time I had -have – pain is when I have to move, especially getting in and out of bed to go to the loo. Now I have no drip or drain and feel mentally OK.

This morning my friend, Dessa, texted me to say her friend’s daughter, who works in accounts here, said my op had gone fine! Such is the relaxed rural network. Later my surgeon, Dr Glaise (now seven and a half months pregnant) confirmed  the same thing. She said there were two éventrations, but she managed to deal with them both using the largest size prothèse or mesh -8×6 cm. And there had been no adhesions.

She talked of me possibly going to the Chataigniers as early as tomorrow! Meanwhile I have my orders to ‘marcher, marcher, marcher’. I have already been back and forth down the all too familiar corridor and no signs of the ‘gases’ everybody asks me about. Surely my system should work faster,  as this time I’m not on a nil by mouth routine and so continue my thrice daily laxative doses (to prevent further occlusions).

I am also officially back on normal food after three months of regime, not that hospital food is a good way to celebrate this. I can’t blame the food for my bad episode at lunch – I had hardly started it. I was gazing unenthiastically at a plate of over cooked meat, clearly tinned vegetables and  pasta, when I came over all sweaty and started to faint. I managed to lie down and ring for a nurse. My blood pressure had plummeted from a too high 15/11 this morning to 10/6. Not catastrophic and not the first time this has happened to me in recent years when experience sharp pains.

The blood pressure is still low, but I feel fine. It’s the afternoon ‘gouté’ time. Out of habit I have chosen tisane rather than tea or coffee, but have been give two madeleines to eat.  And it’s not much more than two hours before I get to see what delicacy we have for dinner.

Ready for op

Here I am, dressed up in the elegant blue garb without back, the ensemble complete with new white compression stockings and one of my horrible corsets.

I’ve just had the second of my two Betadine showers. At least this time I didn’t have to wash my hair in the stuff – yesterday evening’s ablutions have left me with hair (cut short in anticipation of weeks’ incarceration) standing up on end.

This is my third stay here this summer, so I have become a bit of a fixture. On se connaît – we know each other. The nurse who has just put my stockings on is also one of the four who visited me at home in July. She works two days in the clinic and the rest of the week as infirmière à domicile.

In theory I go to the ‘bloc’ at 11. I regret not being one of the first, not least because Dr Glaise must now be about seven months pregnant and so 8 trust there are no complications – for her sake, and mine!

Preparing for hospital

Why have I been writing about the pyrale du buis?  Because it means I can put off what I should be doing this afternoon: getting ready to go to hospital tomorrow.

I don’t know how long I will be away – one month? two?  At any rate, I have had to make sure fridges are emptied, bins put out, the pool furniture stored for the winter, various garden tasks completed, Edith – the cleaning lady – ready to look after the inside in my absence, the bathroom and clothes tiedied up so Margaret can, as usual, track down things like clothes, if and when the present summer weather becomes autumnal.

This morning we did the most important task: Margaret and I drove for an hour, over the winding roads of the Causses, to St Maurice de Navacelles, to meet the woman who will look after Poppy for the ten days when Margaret and Hans are on holiday. She comes on the commendation of two people and we saw immediately that she is devoted to animals – there are goats as well as the three dogs she is currently looking after (one an English dog, appositely called Scruffy).

Poppy was clearly not impressed by the sight of a room filled with dog beds and some rather enthusiastic occupants.  I think she sensed something was afoot and on the journey home resisted going into the back of the car.  Needs must, sadly.  I have not found anyone nearer able to give a home to Poppy at this time.  Then I took Poppy and her bed to Margaret and Hans. She was more interested in playing with her new rubber ball than saying goodbye to me.

Tomorrow I drive to Ganges and report to the now all too familiar surgical wing on the first floor. Dr Glaise will be operating on the éventration on Tuesday.  I don’t yet have a sense of how long I will be in the clinic in Ganges and then the maison de repos, Les Chataigniers.  But I reckon I will not be home for at least a month.

Health tests continue

On Friday I was back in the Ganges Clinique for day surgery: to have an endoscopy and colonoscopy.

This is not particularly pleasant, in particular the 24 hours preparation before (constrained diet and dramatic laxatives – I lost 1.5 kg overnight!) and I felt quite unwell for a day after the general anaesthetic.  But child’s play compared with what I have had in the past and I fear will have next week.

The results were not bad: no signs of stomach ulcers (though samples were taken for biopsy) and the intestines were not great (the doctor removed the largert of the polyps and diverticula) but nothing really serious seen.

As usual my gut is taking some time to recover from these intrusions, but I’m doing my best to eat carefully to avoid another occlusion in the run-up to surgery.