My first room – with Malika

This is what I wrote to the family soon after arrival

Finally got to st clement. Grandiose but dated. But clearly very efficient staff even if a bit like a boarding school.

Horror. I’m sharing room with a very friendly Moroccan woman who is on the phone with her family NONSTOP. I can’t hear myself think. And when not on the phone she wants to chat.

Things got more stressful in the days that followed. Malika is a sweet, kind woman, eager to be friendly. But for someone sleeping as badly as me sharing was already a nightmare – I would like to turn on the light, move around, listen to the radio.
I was still very tired and dosed up with morphine, and needed to sleep, but couldn’t because when her large family is not there (on Sunday 24th from 10am to 3pm!) she is on the phone to her daughter. Loud Arabic with curious abrupt phrasing, put paid to rest. Conversation is also tiring because her French is difficult to follow.

Margaret visited during this period and we had to escape to the salon. the girls found face tome sessions virtually impossible.

My mutuelle pays for a single room, but there are none available so I have to wait till people leave.

Clinique de Rééducation du Docteur Ster, St Clément de Rivière

This is a foretaste of what will come in th UK. This, the Clinique St Jean and the Ganges clinic where I had my hip replaced ten years ago are all private enterprises carrying out services on behalf the state.

At first sight this clinic is large, slightly run-down looking, with the most hideous garish yellow doors and windows everywhere. Everything is very impersonal looking- functional chairs and not a picture to be seen anywhere. The centre of our social life, if you can call it that, are a cavernous large dining room (there are about 75 residential patients) and ‘sitting’ room with television and drinks machine. Both have giant picture windows looking onto the quite attractive garden where I imagine you spend most of your time when not in the depths of a prematurely cold winter.

Down on the ground floor are all the administrative and medical offices. Our reeducation takes place in a number of rooms, including a large and well equipped gym. Later I will also have sessions in the warm pool.

Well, that’s the buildings; not beautiful or welcoming, but functional. But this is an extremely well run place and the staff – nurses, physios, nursing aides, kitchen and cleaning staff are almost all incredibly friendly and helpful (the woman on reception being a bit of an exception).

Leaving St Jean

The only time I left my room was to be taken for an x-Ray. So I was more than ready to leave St Jean.

First I had to go down to the offices to collect my discharge papers and – mauvaise surprise – pay a cheque for 1000 euros! This is the amount by which my surgeon’s fees exceeded what is covered by the French health system (CPAM). I said my mutuelle had said it would be picking up this tab. But apparently it is up to me to settle the bill and then send the papers to the mutuelle in order to be reimbursed! What a crazy system. Luckily I had the cash in my account, transferred to pay for installation of my new kitchen.

A trip of about 15 km in ambulance and I arrived in my new ‘home’, Le Centre de Réeducation du Docteur Ster, at St Clément de Rivière. This is a tiny cluster of buildings – two clinics, a lycée and a restaurant, in the garrigue north of Montpellier. I’m sure that in the next decade the garrigue will be replaced by housing developments as Montpellier keeps on growing.

Disgusting food

I know that morphine and anesthetics make you lose your sense of taste and appetite. But honestly this is some of the most disgusting hospital food I have ever eaten. The vegetable soup, for example, looked and tasted like dirty dishwater.

At this rate I should lose some weight 🙂

One arm handicap

This is what I wrote to The family the day after the op

The arm and shoulder are held high in air all the time.
Going The arm and shoulder are held high in air all the time.
Going to the loo is a challenge. I keep forgetting to get loo paper which is on the left before I sit down. Putting on pants is very difficult. Try it.

Just dozing off nicely when a nurse arrived to take me X-ray. Impressive. The prothese is like a corkscrew or bed spring.

Ten days later I can confirm that pulling my pants up is still a problem. I lurk in the corridor in search of someone -staff or fellow patient (female) to help.


Pain relief – or not

It’s quite scary waking up to find you are quite immobile. I live in a hefty corset with my left arm stretched out and up in front of me. Initially I could not budge from my lying position: flat on my back with the left side wedged up with a giant triangular cushion.

Luckily I was sufficiently drugged during the evening to be in not too much pain. But as the night advanced it became, as the French say, ‘insupportable’. I gritted my teeth, trying to display some strength of mind over matter. Eventually the grit turned into tears and I rang for help. The nurse was kind, reproved me for not ringing earlier, gave me some morphine and said it would have worked better had I not waited. She was right. It was not just my shoulder which hurt, but all my arthritic back, which did not like being trapped in one position. A night I try to forget.

The following night I was determined not to make the same mistake and rang as soon as the pain increased. An aide appeared and said the nurse would be there shortly. Eighty minutes later she arrived to find me in tears again. The aide had not passed on the message and she was only there because she wanted to check up on me. She muttered about poor standards of training these days and reassured me it would be better the third night when the drains taking blood out of the shoulder would be removed.

She was right. The pain was less and has remained at manageable levels, thanks to morphine. In fact my main problems now are not really the shoulder, but all the aches and pains pre-existing the op, exacerbated by this immobility.

What this experience shows is that the disadvantage of being on one’s own is that there is no passing nurse seeing you are having problems. It is up to the patient to be assertive.

Day of the op

Clearly this was written much later!

Oh dear. I was told that the morning is reserved for less important shoulder ops and mine would be in the afternoon, wch meant waiting.
All the usual rituals – another disinfectant shower, dressing up in the usual ridiculous paper gown and panties… And finally it was time to go down to the operating floor.
There I saw more clearly that this was a production line. My bed was parked beside three others and we lay semi awake for what turned out in my case to be an hour.
I awoke feeling I was choking, struggling for breath. Very panicky. Two hours in recovery room and then back to my room

Clinique St Jean

After a delightful lunch, Charles and Pierre drove me to the Clinique in Montpellier.
I have become used now to the incredible formality of French health administration and the fact that here you, the patient, are keeper of all records and responsible for decisions on medical treatment needed.
I opened my bag and presented my weighty pile of X-rays, blood report, heart report, endless forms I had filled, including consent form, and all the details of my mutuelle (the more or less compulsory complementary private insurance – in my case. Following the custom of my mother I had prepared a sheet with the answer to all the questions I thought they might ask: dob, marriage, children, height, weight, childhood illnesses, the ever growing list of medication….. The only thing I did not know was my blood group. Much to my relief nobody seemed to care.
Eventually I arrived in my chamber particuliere – the cost met by my mutuelle.
Then followed the usual pr-op routines: visits by the surgeon (whom I do not warm to) and the anesthetist (who is charming) and the first of the disinfectant showers.

Days before hospital

As if life was not hectic enough – buying seven weeks worth of dog food for Poppy, packing cases, checking the heating was off, redirecting post…… – I had to remove all the contents of my kitchen and store them in the study, in preparation for my new Ikea kitchen, to be installed in my absence. And there were several very pleasant exchanges with Jacjy, the guy who is designing and building by natural pool (water circulating through plants and waterfalls rather than using chemicals). He worked hard to prepare the foundations before my departure, so that I could understand what he would be doing. All quite mad on my part, financially, but very exciting.

At the same time I was rushing around Ganges and Le Vigan getting X-rays, blood tests and heart checkup. I discovered days before entry that I should have a carte groupe sanguin – an official card giving my blood group – and I have no idea what it is! The local laboratory said it would take ten days, the surgeons secretary muttered in helpfully that if all my papers were not in order I risked having the op postponed till end February. But then finally, thank goodness, the anesthetics department said it was not necessary. Phew!

Then it was time to take Poppy to her holiday home, chez Hans and Margaret. Without them I would be lost.

Technical hitches

What a time to have technical problems which have resulted in my website, including this blog, falling over and email appearing erratically. It all started when my website, which uses something called wordpress got its knickers in a twist. My friend, Tim from whom I have subcontracted we space for a derisory sum, was not able to help. Further, his work has changed, so he clearly wanted shot of ‘tenants’ like me. I am most grateful for his generosity, but it is time to move on.

So I found an Internet Service Provider, Greengeeks, based in California, who offers unlimited space (necessary for my photos) for an affordable price. Scary to try to transfer all my stuff in the week before going into hospital. But I couldn’t do it before, as I had a worrying virus for nearly three weeks.

In fact the work was not completed in time; the transfer was not completed before my op. At the actual time of writing this- 28 November, the menus are still in a mess.

The entries for the next ten days or so are therefore written retrospectively.