Monday, June 30, 2014

Count down to surgery

English terminology

The surgeon had told me that I had broken two bones in my ankle.  On the operation notes it says a fracture of the" Pilon Tibial and of the malleable externe" which is at the bottom of the Perone, the skinny ankle bone we call the Fibula.  
French terminology

  There would need to be metal pins and maybe even a plate put into my foot.  We both hoped it was just the pins and not more.    He would see what he could do.   

The anesthesiologist,  Dr Marcou, was a bluff and exacting guy and I liked him.   When I didn't know my height in centimeters, he calculated it with no hesitation from inches and feet.  He wanted to know if I wanted partial anesthesia from the waist down, or to be "knocked out" completely. 

 I thought, it might be interesting to see what was going on during the surgery but then I thought about the sound of the drill and decided that being asleep would be even better.  And anyway he said I would have to lie still for three hours if I had the partial!  Forget it. 

Sunday morning, after taking a shower, I was expected to rub a bottle of Betadine over my whole body and use it as a shampoo.   I was a smelly, yellow tinged customer.   I got in my gurney which was my bed too and got rolled away by one of the guys there whose only job is rolling those big beds around.   He was pretty fit and a flirt.   I didn't mind.  
All  I remember about the surgery room is that it was spacious,  modern and clean and that every nurse I encountered was friendly and efficient.  I felt completely calm. " Let's get this show on the road."

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Standard Procedure

Photo found online showing a room with the same orientation as mine at La Palmos, with trees to look at, like my room 

When you check into La Palmosa hospital,  off goes your wedding ring , your jewelry,  your cash,  and your credit cards to keep in the safe until you check out. 

Then they take away your clothes,  remove any nail or toe polish  and give you an exquisite flowered frock to wear sans "culottes " for the rest of your stay…. standard practice.    And in all the confusion I didn't have my make-up bag either so that meant no special shampoo or conditioner, brush, toothpaste or toothbrush and no make-up.

  Without your trappings, you and your roommate are both suddenly reduced to  your personalities, your language ability and whatever humor you can muster.  Dignity, modesty and vanity are  checked at the door .  

Surprisingly, this was a reassuring feeling for me.  

  Although my roommate came in just after I did,  we just had enough time to get our "iv" and then it was " lights out".   

  And then there was the bedpan.  Using one for the first time that night was a lesson in faith.  I was sure that I would somehow miss it and pee in the bed…. the first test of modesty too as there are male nurses as well as female.  

 I never had good sleep the whole time in the hospital, often being awakened to have my blood pressure monitored and my temperature taken ( in the ear !)  but there would be lots of time to nap during the day so it hardly mattered.

Now tomorrow is the operation so " good night". 


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Centre hospitalier: La Palmosa

Emergency rooms in hospitals ( "Urgences" we say here) are probably pretty much alike the world over.  Some are staffed better than others perhaps … but how would one predict how many people in our vast population will injure themselves on any given day.   

I arrived by ambulance to the French town of Menton which is the biggest town next to the French/ Italian border.  It was the closest  hospital with an X-ray they told me.   The road was bumpy and rustic but I was comfortable.    At the emergency entrance, the "pompiers" gently deposited me on a gurney.  Their job was done.   

 I was then rolled into an examining room of what looked like a small, modern hospital with a lovely grounds.  It turned out to be La Palmosa, the only hospital in the city of Menton.  

  I thought I had had a bad sprain and so did the young male nurse( doctor? )who examined me first.  I thought I would get an ace bandage and be on my way.    

Waiting for an x-ray and not too uncomfortable,  I passed the time talking to the other "passengers" and with my friend Jeanne who followed soon after with my clothes and things from  Brea.  She wanted to get me a room for the night in Menton thinking that I would be out in a few hours and then she could pick me up the next morning.  She left to go back to Brea to secure a room for me online and phone me later, but alas it was the weekend of the Grand Prix and the whole area was booked up solid. 

  Besides the X-ray and scan changed all of these plans. 

" Cassee, bien cassee" said the young doctor appearing for a few embarrassed  moments to tell me the verdict.  We had both got it wrong. 

  And then began the long wait to receive a temporary cast and wait for a surgeon to see me.    

So I waited and waited….eight hours in all , in fact.   
I was by this time famished, dehydrated and left alone under the glaring lights in a heavily trafficked corridor.    I was allowed a small drink when I asked but the idea of a meal or piece of fruit was scoffed at rudely by a passing nurse.   She was too busy she claimed and they had long since stopped serving food.  I dug into my sack for a bite of "pain Begnat"  that Jeanne had left me from her lunch.  The few bites I had before it came apart into a soggy mess were well worth it. 

Finally, a very sympathetic looking man arrived on the scene.  His name was Dr Eric Merola and he is one of two traumatology surgeons at Menton . 
 He is a calm breeze in a chaotic storm and when he suggested I could go to Nice if I wished,  I reached out and grabbed him like a drowning sailor…. NO",  I said, "I want you to do it!"   

And he got on his "cell" with the anesthesiologist to schedule surgery for the following morning  …. Sunday:  Father's Day.   I was almost certain he was a benevolent dad to some lucky kids but he would not be spending the morning with them.  

Another hour or two dragged by after I saw Dr. Merola.  I was exhausted.  I had been there since 15h20 and it was now past ten at night.  Nurses were going off there shifts , changing into their street clothes and flirting with the firemen.   And there I stayed in the brightly lit hallway with no new patients coming in.   Finally, in desperation,  I called to the next promising nurse coming on his shift.  He took pity on me and called for someone to come down and wheel me up to the second floor. 

 Six out of Ten points for the emergency room at La Palmosa because no one could be bothered to get me up to my room even when things were slow.  But, ok,  make that a seven….as mostly everyone was helpful .  

 And I had to remember…that this was not a private hospital but quite a clean, attractive small public hospital.    

 Maybe , I ventured,  as I ate my apple compote for dinner,  that landing in this hospital was a "lucky break". 

Friday, June 27, 2014

The delicate flowers, (like me) that I encountered on my hike

This particular succulent is found only in this place in Europe…maybe on earth…but it is very rare. 

Really, these are only just my good pictures . We encountered about 100 species within an hour, all of them blooming at the same time.  There were a few orchids but they had already past blooming.   The variety was really remarkable. 

 In this last picture we had lunch at that table,  sharing a melon with the young mom from Tende and her 7 year old and then we started down the mountain.  We had only been going for about 10 minutes when I went down on my bum.  Alas. 

A first hand look at the French health system

I haven't been keeping my blog for a variety of reasons but lack of insight and ideas is not one of them.  I supposed I go through periods of  existential " who cares, why am I writing this blog anyway?"….  but really it's for me isn't it,  it's my diary and if a few of you come along, that's good too.  I really enjoy your participation. 

Lately I have had an intimate glimpse at the public health system in France and that is worth noting down before I forget all the details of a quite insightful journey.    

It was a little over a month ago now, that I was hiking in the mountains near Brea sur Roya with a guide. It was the weekend of the Fete de Nature and Jeanne and I had signed up for two hikes.  Our Saturday guide was showing the four of us eager hikers the quite remarkable variety of spring flowering plants to be seen in and about the Parc de Mercantour,  when I slipped on the trail.

The top of the hike just minutes away from my fall, overlooking the valley of the Roya River

  Perhaps it wasn't the best idea to be going down a trail completely uprooted by wild boar, but that is what the ranger had realized when we started the descent and the group followed him without giving it much thought.  After all we are all pretty used to loose shale and were being very careful, or so I thought.

And perhaps,  not checking ones hiking boots before setting out is a bad idea , a "no excuse" excuse.   For some reason, my very expensive pair of boots had badly deteriorated and halfway through the hike I had two soles flapping like "gossips in a washhouse. "  I could barely proceed so I decided after lunch to rip the bottom part of the soles away and walk on the remaining soft foam surface.  Mistake number two.

The remaining shoe that made it home with me, even with the sole ripped off

There were probably a few more factors in the mix, like using a hiking stick found by the trail that the ranger had handed me when he found out my shoes were faulty.  Maybe the stick broke and I fell, or maybe I fell and then the stick broke.  In any case when I went down, I knew I wasn't getting back down the mountain on my own two pins.  My head was spinning and no amount of trying could get me into my boots again.  

But not to worry, within a half hour I had been given the choice of a helicopter or 4 able bodied fireman to carry me down the mountain in a litter.  Luckily the ranger had his cell phone all charged and ready with the numbers.  Lesson number three! 

  As exciting as the helicopter sounded , I hardly thought I had a broken leg or needed the expense of such an exit so I asked for the firemen ( Pompiers) to come up from Brea to fetch me down.

I have to say that I couldn't have been more pleased by the handsome lot of young men who made it up the mountain ten minutes later; secured me in the litter (without touching my injured foot) and safely carried me down.  In the end, the four were joined by the "grimper" team who usually are called only for expert climbers in trouble.  

 So I had eight strong, competent and amusing fellows at my side, never a cause for complaint.   It was a bit scary to open my eyes and see the slope and distance to the valley below, so in the end I kept my eyes closed and was gently escorted to base camp which seemed like a long ways away.   

  The ambulance was waiting in Brea.  I protested that a local doctor would do but they wouldn't hear of it so off I went with still another sterling volunteer firefighter, native of Brea, who kept me company and comfortable all the way to Menton, the nearest hospital.   

  So far 10 out of 10 for the French system.  Stay with me…and we will follow this saga to the end.