I wrote this last night.
It was intended as an e-mail to a good friend, but dork that I am, I donât have my e-mail password with meâ¦. 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 (Iâm still in a bolshie mood!) itâs going up on the blog.
Because itâs my blog.
Because Iâve just walked down three flights of stairs carrying my intravenous trolley and my laptop, because Iâve got to get back up those stairs again.
Because its pissing with rain and blowing a hooley in Bordeaux.
Because itâs the other side of this huge site.
Because I can.
Because doing so is Annaâs challenge for the day and itâs good for my spirit!
If you donât like it, or think itâs not what you expect to read on a political blog â stuff you, read elsewhere, or forgive me my self-indulgence â itâs done me the world of good achieving the noble art of pressing âpublishâ.
I ainât 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 âEchographieâ â got that one, thatâs just the man with the slimey, slithery stethoscope, nowât to worry about there.
Another âanalyseâ â I have a loyalty card for the local blood vampire now, know the routine backwards.
A âbon de transportâ â 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 âpetit interventionâ, the Doctor patted her shoulder in a cheerful manner. I looked puzzled. âFor the injectionâ she proudly said in English.
Ahh, got you maâam, 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 âpetit interventionâ.
âLocale ou generale pour le petit intervention?â, he asked, flashing me a winning smile.
Well, Good God, Iâm English! Me heap big tough nut OK?
Me Anna Raccoon.
Me got house full of interesting guests to go home to.
âLocale of courseâ, I said nonchalantly, itâs only a big needle.
âDonc, 10.00am Mercrediâ
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 itâs 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 â¦ er non â¦
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 â¦ âher with the bureaucracyâ was shouting out questions to me from the doorway.
Towel, paper bag over wet hair, on trolley, moving fast â exactly nine minutes after I arrived I was wheeled into theatre â¦ worthy of a formula one pit stop.
Er, I think I was supposed to arrive in time to be prepared for 7.30am â¦ these little details go missing in the translation sometimes! And now we come to mention it, what was I doing in the operating theatre? Iâm only here for a little injection; a âpetit interventionâ arenât 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 donât speak, and you donât speak to them.
Iâm not complaining, but itâs 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 â¦ they said âgeneraleâ when asked.
Hands snatch the cloth from underneath you and lift you into the air â no one says âweâre 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 offâ â 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 Godâs! Iâm in the operating theatre! How big is this needle?
Workmanlike hands support you as they roll you to the left â¦ guess they must be pulling that cloth from under me â¦ but no, as they roll you to the right, you realise â too late â they have skilfully wrapped your arms in the cloth and used your own body weight to make sure you canât escape.
Not happy about this at all. Whereâs that nice surgeon with the winning smile? Nowhere to be seen, thatâs 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 heâs a man, I can only see his eyes between the mask and the hat.
Iâm sure about the blood red liquid though, itâs dripping down my neck and my faceâ¦..and I canât 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 â and proceeds to paint that too.
Youâre wondering why I didnât say something, arenât you?
Lots of reasons really: stunned shock for one thing, an old fashioned convention that you meet someoneâs eyes before speaking, and no one, but no one had looked at me â¦ and a definite absence of useful French phrases for the occasion.
I couldnât even manage âIâm only here for an injectionâ by this time!
Meanwhile, more deft hands were attaching wires to my legs, my arms, my back, my front â¦ my heart beat was pinging away like a goodâun on a monitor.
âPaddlesâ were laid out beside me (Iâve seen Emergency Ward 10! I know what they are â how big is this effing needle?)
No one spoke â not to me anyway, they chatted amongst themselves, the menu for Sunday lunch, the new rota â 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, theyâre thorough, I thought!
Then âMe heap big tough nutâ heard the unmistakable sound of yet another paper cloth being snapped open.
Over my head it came; snap, snap, snap â 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.
âGet it off, get it offâ, I cried, but no one answered. I had, apparently ,volunteered for a non-speaking role in a French horror movie.
âIâm only here for the injectionâ, I said. But they knew better.
They were French. They knew what a âpetit interventionâ was.
I felt a cloth rolled out across my stomach.
Sensed instruments laid on it â cheeky blighters I thought, this isnât 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 â very wide! â awake in my paper bag.
Zilch, theyâd done a good job on me. I couldnât move an inch. 15, 18, 20 â I counted the instruments as they were laid out â how many did he need for one poxy injection? I was getting seriously concerned now. Anyone in my head know the French for Iâm still bloody conscious here? No? Nobody did.
Do you know those trolleys are so narrow you can tell whether itâs a man or a woman leaning over you? Bet you didnât know that.
Youâve probably had the good sense never to put yourself in danger of finding out. God knows what he found so exciting. Thârobinâred breast? These little things occupy the mind as unbridled panic gives way to galloping hysteria.
A muffled voice came from the corner. âCâest une catastrophe, non, non, nonâ.
I donât know about you, but catastrophe to me means âwe just injected the patient with elephant anaestheticâ 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 âby your leaveâ, nowt.
It held it there as another hand grabbed my hand and pulled it firmly downwards, muttering the fatal words â¦
âDetache le bras.â
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.
âIâm not here to have my effing arm taken off, let me outâ â¦ I yelled from inside the paper bag.
They didnât understand of course. French werenât 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!
âGood 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.â
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 didnât hurt at all, but I understand now why they pinned my arms to my sides â 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 theyâve done this before.
Everyone at Bordeaux likes my ping pong ball very much, theyâve got three bags of God knows what hooked into it already, and theyâre queuing up for a go with it â who needs to find a vein? Just stab the ping pong ball.
Just remember, a âpetit interventionâ is not French for a bigger injection than the other 70 youâve already had, itâs quite literally a different âballâ game, no matter how nicely they smile.
The correct response is âgenerale, definimentâ â 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 wasnât all bad.
The operation has definitely surpassed the time I went white water rafting in Nepal to celebrate my 50th birthday â Iâd 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 âOncologistâ â she spoke a little English she said. That turned out to amount to:
âI have a lot of questions to ask you.â
âDo you smoke?â
âOuiâ â¦ (here we go!)
âOw many chaque jourâ â¦ (are we coming to the end of the English? Maybe the lecture in French is not so bad!)
âHmmmn, 20 or soâ â¦ (takes deep breath and braces self)
âWould you rather sit in zee petit jardin so you can haff a zigarette while I demand the questionsâ¦?â
-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.