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Tempête

After something like five weeks without rain, the weather started to change last Wednesday. There were still periods of fine weather – like on Saturday when Dessa and I lunched outside after the market.  But the clouds were gathering.

Then the rain came, with a vengeance. It rained hard, relentlessly, violently, all yesterday, throughout the night and all today.  We are catching the edge of la tempête Leslie, which battered Portugal and is now passing eastwards along the Mediterranean coast.

What a contrast to the dry, dry weather we have had.  It is rare to be able to look down at my land from above (photo taken by a friend’s drone) and see all the terraces still brown – no grass has grown since the summer.

That should change dramatically now.  Our local river is thundering down the valley, and my bassin, which had been half empty a week ago, is ready to overflow.

As I write I have just discovered a leak in my roof – just weeks after the ten-year guarantee finished.

I’ve left a message on the builder’s answerphone, but given there must be a queue,  I don’t expect a prompt reply.  And more rain is expected  until Friday, when hopefully normal sunshine will return.

Thumbs up from surgeon

Yesterday was my one month check-up with my surgeon, Dr Glaise, after the hernias/éventrations op.

It is always a pleasure to see Dr Glaise – such a splendid combination of friendly empathy and at the same time a sense of competence and authority.

She listened to my prepared list of questions and concerns and then looked at my tummy. “Oh, that’s very good,” she said.   “Yes, apparently I have a surgeon with an excellent reputation”, I replied.  She laughed, and said she had not been fishing for compliments, but was simply pleased that the scar had healed well. (I no longer need dressings – just some protection to prevent rubbing by the dreaded corset.)

She said it was now OK to drive, bend down, put on my compression stockings myself – do most things, provided I am cautious.  Only a few negatives:  for the next six months I must carry on wearing the corset and, most important of all, I must simply not lift or carry anything weighing more than two kilos, including rucksacks, she said, looking accusingly at the lightweight rucksack I had brought containing my medical records and xrays.

More long term, unfortunately, I must continue taking the prescribed laxatives indefinitely. Dr Glaise said that the damage to my gut following the cancer and its treatment, and now the occlusion and hernias, was unfortunately permanent. Hmm.  Without going into details I have to review my plans to return to India or, failing that, to take further trips out of Europe: the medical component of my luggage continues to grow.

At eight and a half weeks pregnant, Dr Glaise looks wonderful, but is approaching her last day in surgery. I asked her, apologising if it was indiscreet, whether she would be returning to Ganges after maternity leave.  No, she said.  She had been offered a once in a lifetime opportunity: to set up a gastroenterology unit at the Clinique St Roch in Montpellier.  This is the clinic where my other female surgeon, Marion Bertrand, has performed three operations, a second left hip replacement , a right shoulder replacement and subsequent surgery to deal with tendon and adherence pain in this shoulder.. So, even if I don’t like the commercial-industrial feel of the building, this clinic is one of Montpellier’s best.  It confirms my earlier gut (sorry) feeling that Dr Glaise is a high-class surgeon.

Since saying goodbye to her, I have reclaimed my car (now in pristine condition following the insurance job on the two bashes earlier this year), done my first supermarket shop (involving putting things one by one from the trolley into my car and at the other end, reversing this laborious process – pity we don’t have home deliveries in the country, and I have notified the nice nurses that I no longer need them to deal with my compression stockings.  I think I will keep on the meals on wheels for another week, rather than rushing into shopping and cooking, though tomorrow Odile and I are going to do a joint shop/cook to fill my freezer with more soup for the evenings.

 

Charles and Pierre marry

On Saturday I attended a joyful and moving wedding, that of Charles and Pierre, my good friends with whom I have played much music over the years.

They have been together since 1972, when they met singing Renaissance and Baroque music.  Pierre, formerly a tenor, no longer sings; instead he has played the recorder in our baroque music trio.  Charles has continued to sing baritone until quite recently, but mainly played the harpsichord in our trio.

They are an unusual and entertaining couple.  I think the French use of the word “original” is perhaps appropriate: full of opinions and strong sentiments, slightly removed from the modern world, and always full of energy remarkable for friends who are, shall we say, a little older than I am.

The ceremony reminded me of Jude and Ed’s wedding, in the same local Mairie ten years ago, though now there is a better room, thankfully on the ground floor given the average age of the 60+ guests.

The same mayor, Alain Durand, performed the ceremony – his first with a gay couple, although fellow councillors have already conducted two other gay marriages in our tiny commune. It was all quite lighthearted and everyone laughed when Alain included the usual text from the French Civil Code about the couple’s duties when bringing  any eventual children arising from the union.

The couple followed the formal proceedings by each giving a speech.  Pierre’s was eloquent and, as usual, floral.  He referred to landmarks in France’s history such as women’s right to vote, the abolition of capital punishment, the introduction of gay marriage….. and now a new date, his marriage with Charles, after over 40 years together.  And of course he could not resist ending with a poem.

Charles, visibly more nervous, mentioned his happiness when teaching at the Sorbonne and then an allusion to his feeling of not being accepted here for the first couple of years. Then he played a selection of, mainly French, recordings. As he said to me afterwards, he wanted people to listen to the music,  rather than it being pleasant wallpaper in the background.  What stands out for me was hearing again an absolutely beautiful old recording of a song by the French Renaissance composer, Claude Lejeun, exquisitely sung by Charles and Pierre and their friends at the Sorbonne.

Then out of the Mairie – passing through the traditional tossing of rice, and we all walked up the hill to their beautiful house, Le Caladon (where Jude and Ed also had their wedding party). It turned out that the reception was in the courtyard, with an excellent buffet, and despite turning a little chilly by nine, the threatened rain stayed off until 11 in the evening (by which time Hans, Margaret, who was driving me home, and I were well tucked up in bed).

Back home

I have just spent my first full day at home.  What a contrast.  The silence – no sounds of cars, of nurses and their trolleys, or conversations with deaf patients or lost souls.

I was busy on the day before my departure helping Eileen, the English patient, make arrangements for her journey back to England.  I have negotiated a good price with my favourite ambulance-taxi firm to take her to the airport, checked that EasyJet does indeed have a wheelchair at the airport, and booked her ticket to Gatwick.  I have also been acting as translator for instructions from the doctor and physiotherapist. Eileen is more confident now about coping with life in Les Chataigniers, and after all, she now has less than a week to go.

Autumn – or rather winter – came suddenly and brutally on Monday: the temperature plummeted and yesterday there was a bitter north wind.  Today we were back to lovely sunny weather.  I did a two kilometre stroll up to the village of Mars and back, wearing just a t-shirt again.

The leaves on most trees have not yet turned colour, but they are looking tired.  A whole month with just one brief shower has left everything looking parched.

Apart from a daily walk I am trying not to overdo it. The district nurses call by in the morning, to put on my compression stockings, and return in the evening to take them off.  Every two days the dressings have to be done, but not for much longer.  The nurses are quite insistent that I should not try to manage the stockings by myself, and that I should heed the surgeon’s instructions not to put any stress on my stomach muscles (those that I still have!), regardless of whether or not I have any pain.

I have the equivalent of meals on wheels delivering an (unappetising) lunch each day, so I only have to fish something simple out of the freezer for supper. I’m trying hard not to lift up anything  that weighs much more than a  kilo or (until I see the surgeon next week) to bend too much. I fear that I have to wear the dreaded corset for several months.

 

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.