I wrote this last night.
It was intended as an e-mail to a good friend, but dork that I am, I don’t have my e-mail password with me…. I have my computer, but no wi-fi connection.
Today I have discovered a computer I can have access to for a few minutes, so whether you like it or not (I’m still in a bolshie mood!) it’s going up on the blog.
Because it’s my blog.
Because I’ve just walked down three flights of stairs carrying my intravenous trolley and my laptop, because I’ve got to get back up those stairs again.
Because its pissing with rain and blowing a hooley in Bordeaux.
Because it’s the other side of this huge site.
Because I can.
Because doing so is Anna’s challenge for the day and it’s good for my spirit!
If you don’t like it, or think it’s not what you expect to read on a political blog – stuff you, read elsewhere, or forgive me my self-indulgence – it’s done me the world of good achieving the noble art of pressing ‘publish’.
I ain’t quit yet!
I had thought I had seen off all the surgical horrors; all that remained was the chemotherapy. A few minor details to attend to before I presented myself back at Bordeaux.
An ‘Echographie‘ – got that one, that’s just the man with the slimey, slithery stethoscope, now’t to worry about there.
Another ‘analyse‘ – I have a loyalty card for the local blood vampire now, know the routine backwards.
A ‘bon de transport‘ – payment for the taxi service, to be collected from our friendly local doctor; Comprende la Francaise is a doddle really if you listen carefully.
Oh, and a ‘petit intervention‘, the Doctor patted her shoulder in a cheerful manner. I looked puzzled. ‘For the injection’ she proudly said in English.
Ahh, got you ma’am, had one of those before, after the operation, just a big needle really, yeah OK, put me down for one of those too.
I saw the local surgeon, for the ‘petit intervention’.
“Locale ou generale pour le petit intervention?”, he asked, flashing me a winning smile.
Well, Good God, I’m English! Me heap big tough nut OK?
Me Anna Raccoon.
Me got house full of interesting guests to go home to.
‘Locale of course’, I said nonchalantly, it’s only a big needle.
“Donc, 10.00am Mercredi“
This French lark is a doddle, I tell you.
Pride before the fall, et al.
Tuesday they rang me again;
(fast French is a lot harder to understand on the phone!)
babble, babble, changez, rendezvous,
oui, oui, got that, sept heure et demi, yep got that, 7.30 not 10.00, douche dans le soir
(gosh it’s amazing how much French I understand now)
yep, slap that disgusting stuff all over my hair the night before, and see you at 7.30, a bientot, I even sound as though I understand perfectly these days.
Arrive at local hospital on dot of 7.30am. Vouz-avez le douche dernier soir?
Oui Madame. Et encore ce matin … er non …
Panic stations; willing hands propelled me towards the douche, pulling my clothes off my back as we went. Only a few yards, but the colleague already had the water running as we entered and blasted me from head to foot, no time to wait for dim witted English woman to shower in peace.
Covered in disgusting stuff once more, hair and all, and rinsed off … ‘her with the bureaucracy’ was shouting out questions to me from the doorway.
Towel, paper bag over wet hair, on trolley, moving fast – exactly nine minutes after I arrived I was wheeled into theatre … worthy of a formula one pit stop.
Er, I think I was supposed to arrive in time to be prepared for 7.30am … these little details go missing in the translation sometimes! And now we come to mention it, what was I doing in the operating theatre? I’m only here for a little injection; a ‘petit intervention‘ aren’t I?
No one to ask! Strange places, operating theatres. Very workmanlike. Functional. No mystery to the people who work there, they see it all every day, but riveting to the rare patient who arrives fully conscious.
For a start no one meets your eye, they are simply not used to patients being conscious.
Patients are slabs of meat who arrive on trolleys, they don’t speak, and you don’t speak to them.
I’m not complaining, but it’s a weird atmosphere after the excellent care on the wards.
Trolleys bearing other comatose persons are parked next to you in the narrow hallway. You look into their eyes, they say nothing … they said ‘generale’ when asked.
Hands snatch the cloth from underneath you and lift you into the air – no one says ‘we’re about to move you to another trolley, one so narrow you will spend most of your time wondering if you will hurt yourself when you fall off’ – they just pick you up, dump you on another trolley, and off you go again. ..further into the surgeons lair.
You arrive under a light some four feet across.
Ye God’s! I’m in the operating theatre! How big is this needle?
Workmanlike hands support you as they roll you to the left … guess they must be pulling that cloth from under me … but no, as they roll you to the right, you realise – too late – they have skilfully wrapped your arms in the cloth and used your own body weight to make sure you can’t escape.
Not happy about this at all. Where’s that nice surgeon with the winning smile? Nowhere to be seen, that’s where.
Now trapped in a mummified cocoon, a man approaches with what appears to be blood dripping off a foot long pair of forceps.
I think he’s a man, I can only see his eyes between the mask and the hat.
I’m sure about the blood red liquid though, it’s dripping down my neck and my face…..and I can’t wipe it away, my arms are trapped.
He pulls away the paltry covering that is the paper party dress I am wearing for the occasion, and exposes one breast – and proceeds to paint that too.
You’re wondering why I didn’t say something, aren’t you?
Lots of reasons really: stunned shock for one thing, an old fashioned convention that you meet someone’s eyes before speaking, and no one, but no one had looked at me … and a definite absence of useful French phrases for the occasion.
I couldn’t even manage ‘I’m only here for an injection‘ by this time!
Meanwhile, more deft hands were attaching wires to my legs, my arms, my back, my front … my heart beat was pinging away like a good’un on a monitor.
‘Paddles’ were laid out beside me (I’ve seen Emergency Ward 10! I know what they are – how big is this effing needle?)
No one spoke – not to me anyway, they chatted amongst themselves, the menu for Sunday lunch, the new rota – normal working life conversation. All in French, naturally.
As they chatted, I watched with interest a huge green paper cloth being unfolded. Gummed down one side, it was fastened to the side of my chest, down over my body, and secured underneath the trolley. Probably some health and safety requirement for the surgeon.
Another one unfurled, and the process was repeated on the other side. Probably for the theatre nurse I thought.
Yet another one appeared and was glued down at right angles, covering the rest of my body. Blimey, they’re thorough, I thought!
Then ‘Me heap big tough nut’ heard the unmistakable sound of yet another paper cloth being snapped open.
Over my head it came; snap, snap, snap – and that was me vanished forever, locked in a vast green paper sack and I never saw it coming.
I was but a six inch square of bright red exposed flesh; I had no arms, no legs, no voice.
‘Get it off, get it off‘, I cried, but no one answered. I had, apparently ,volunteered for a non-speaking role in a French horror movie.
‘I’m only here for the injection‘, I said. But they knew better.
They were French. They knew what a ‘petit intervention’ was.
I felt a cloth rolled out across my stomach.
Sensed instruments laid on it – cheeky blighters I thought, this isn’t one of your common or garden unconscious patients you can treat as a workbench. Tried to wriggle to dislodge the cloth and prove I was still wide – very wide! – awake in my paper bag.
Zilch, they’d done a good job on me. I couldn’t move an inch. 15, 18, 20 – I counted the instruments as they were laid out – how many did he need for one poxy injection? I was getting seriously concerned now. Anyone in my head know the French for I’m still bloody conscious here? No? Nobody did.
Do you know those trolleys are so narrow you can tell whether it’s a man or a woman leaning over you? Bet you didn’t know that.
You’ve probably had the good sense never to put yourself in danger of finding out. God knows what he found so exciting. Th’robin’red breast? These little things occupy the mind as unbridled panic gives way to galloping hysteria.
A muffled voice came from the corner. ‘C’est une catastrophe, non, non, non‘.
I don’t know about you, but catastrophe to me means ‘we just injected the patient with elephant anaesthetic‘ or something similar, (and I left the antidote in my other jeans).
Maybe the Japanese nuclear disaster would qualify, but definitely of that order.
At the same time the heart machine started pinging wildly. (No surprise there!) A hand reached under the cloth and yanked my head violently to the left; no ‘by your leave’, nowt.
It held it there as another hand grabbed my hand and pulled it firmly downwards, muttering the fatal words …
‘Detache le bras.‘
Pure unadulterated, unfiltered fear distorted my face; a tide of crimson rode up past my neck until it enveloped my ears, my eyes, and my forehead.
I had never allowed myself pure fear before.
A streak of self preservation had always filtered it as being too destructive, too navel gazing, too self indulgent.
This latest comment had over ridden all the self imposed security devices, run roughshod over years of being unemotional in public, torn a path through buried angst, and emerged with bared talons dripping with venom, ready to cut a swathe of revenge through every last person in that room.
‘I’m not here to have my effing arm taken off, let me out’ … I yelled from inside the paper bag.
They didn’t understand of course. French weren’t they?
But then a new voice entered the room, I recognised it. It belonged to the winning smile that had seduced me into this charade. Miraculously it seemed to have mastered English since our last meeting!
‘Good Morning Ms Raccoon, This is your surgeon, I can see you are stressed, I am going to give you a locale anaesthetic now, just try to relax.’
Possibly the best words in the English language.
What followed was a two hour operation to implant what seems to be a ping pong ball in my chest. It really didn’t hurt at all, but I understand now why they pinned my arms to my sides – every time he poked around inside me and nicked a nerve, my arm made an involuntary attempt to ruin his chances of fatherhood for all time.
Methinks they’ve done this before.
Everyone at Bordeaux likes my ping pong ball very much, they’ve got three bags of God knows what hooked into it already, and they’re queuing up for a go with it – who needs to find a vein? Just stab the ping pong ball.
Just remember, a ‘petit intervention‘ is not French for a bigger injection than the other 70 you’ve already had, it’s quite literally a different ‘ball’ game, no matter how nicely they smile.
The correct response is ‘generale, definiment‘ – loud and clear!
Still, an hour later I was sitting on a sunlit terrace enjoying an excellent five course lunch with the inimitable Ms Smudd and Smuddlett, so it wasn’t all bad.
The operation has definitely surpassed the time I went white water rafting in Nepal to celebrate my 50th birthday – I’d always quoted that as the ultimate nightmare. Now in second place. Come to think of it, that was me playing little ms tough nut that got me into that scrape.
Just a quick recap of other excellent English words.
On arriving at Bordeaux, I met the ‘Oncologist’ – she spoke a little English she said. That turned out to amount to:
‘I have a lot of questions to ask you.’
‘Do you smoke?’
‘Oui’ … (here we go!)
‘Ow many chaque jour‘ … (are we coming to the end of the English? Maybe the lecture in French is not so bad!)
‘Hmmmn, 20 or so’ … (takes deep breath and braces self)
‘Would you rather sit in zee petit jardin so you can haff a zigarette while I demand the questions…?’
-and with that she poured out two coffees and carried them to a seat in the garden and smiled benevolently as I lit up!
Wowee! These people are human!
Post photo credit: Fresh air and Fresh Food.