Sunday, 16 January 2022

Misty Frosty Mornings

The fourth morning in the row we wake to minus five and mist.

Normally Sunday mornings are a walk along the ridge.  These days, to save Vita's back legs I drive them to the entrance to Monsieur F's farm, drop them off and they walk back.  It's flat and then downhill all the way.

Twenty minutes of defrosting the car, putting on layer upon layer, wrapping Vita in a tartan jacket, getting kitted out with hats and gloves and Vita gets as far as the now-warm car and stops.  She very determinedly heads back towards the house for breakfast. Tod sets out with Bertie.  Two minutes later, they too are back at the kitchen door.

No walk today.  Can't say we mind too much.

A single shot from a hunter somewhere in the field up behind us sends Bertie racing back out to set the world to rights. Heaven only knows what the hunter thinks he can see in this weather.


Friday, 14 January 2022

C'est Chouette!

 For those of a nervous disposition, who are inclined to faint at other people's descriptions of their operations, rest assured this is the last time I will be talking about my pacemaker op.

As an aside, for a time I lived in Brazil with my then boyfriend.  He was of a nervous disposition when it came to details of operations.  Part of his job was shepherding visiting American management round the local chemical plants.  On one such trip the visiting elderly American was enthusiastically describing his quadruple by-pass operation over dinner.  Said boyfriend fainted at the table and had to be helped from the dining-room by elderly American and nearby waiter. 

Anyway, I digress.

Part of the impeccable National Health Service in France includes post-operative care by nurses every two days to check all is progressing well with healing and to clean and replace the dressing.  So this is what I have had for the last two weeks.

Every nurse who has peeled back the dressing has exclaimed when they have seen the work of the surgeon.  I think I have the best operation scar in France.  It is immaculate.  It has been described as "jolie", "impeccable", "magnifique" and my favourite: "chouette" which literally means "owl".  

So I have an owly scar! Of which I am very proud. And the surgeon should be too. I will tell him when I see him in three months time.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

Done and Dusted

 Well, I have it!  My new pacemaker!  That and a somewhat battered left side to my chest.  

I have strict instructions from the cardiologist not to drive or garden for two weeks (what am I going to do with my time?) and not to raise my left elbow above my shoulder. No hanging washing out on the line or reaching up to get a mixing bowl from the top shelf (or even the middle shelf).  

I'm learning just how much I lead with my left hand and arm - the first to reach for the heavy swing door or to open the boot of the car or to lift a kettle full of water. The NHS website advises putting a phone to the ear furthest from the pacemaker. Answering the phone with my right hand and putting it to my right ear feels very strange - almost as if I cannot hear properly.

Being at the hospital on the eve before New Year's Eve, I feel I have the place to myself - empty waiting rooms and wards, a radiologist standing ready for me as I am wheeled to the X-ray department, an orderly who arrives in a trice to wheel my bed back to my room when the op is done, nursing staff who are chatty and friendly and have time to gossip (including the one who has been at a language school in Brighton and wants to practise her English). When Tod picks me up, the large car park, normally packed to the gills, has half a dozen vehicles. I begin to wonder whether the cardiologist has come in specially, just to "do" me?

My paperwork includes a prescription for a nurse to come to our house and change my dressing every two days. Doctors who live in the centre of towns don't realise just how onerous such an instruction is for community nurses in the country. I phone Vero and we agree I will come to her "cabinet" in town on Sunday - even that feels unkind at New Year, but she reassures me "c'est normal". Tod will have to drive me - I'm not used to this.

And among the papers there is also a small blue booklet which I must have with me at all times, twenty-seven pages of instructions and details about me, my pacemaker, my doctors (GP and cardiologist), tables to be filled in each time I have a check-up and from now onwards to be waved under the noses of the border police so I don't go through a body scanner. A friend in the UK says he has "a bit of paper" to show. The French do not do these things by halves.

Celebrations are foregone this year and we are all in bed by ten-thirty and asleep soon after. I wake briefly at midnight to hear distant fireworks from our neighbours up the hill behind us.  The dogs don't even stir.

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

I get back at nine am ...

 ... and head for the loo, followed by both dogs, who stand waiting mournfully for me outside the door.

They have been fed, but they are reporting back they are not too happy with the quantities provided by the sous-chef and that additional rations are in order.

I'm feeling like them, having departed early for the local laboratory "à jeun" (on an empty stomach).

It takes twenty minutes to sort out the paperwork for the three prescriptions provided by the cardiologist - two sets of blood tests and a PCR test for COVID. 

The time required is not helped by the fact that my chosen "identity paper" is my passport, which is in my maiden name.  Whereas the three prescriptions are in my married name.  So we opt for my "carte de sejour" - my residency permit - which usefully has both my maiden and my married names.  This, duly, is photocopied and attached to the paperwork.

All seems well, until I get to see the assiduous young doctor (nurse?) who somewhat sternly informs me that I need a comma between my first and second Christian names, otherwise I have a double-barrelled first name.  Well that's a first in the fourteen years I've been here.  Things deteriorate further when he asks me my birthday (as a security check) and notices that the date on my residency permit says the fourth and not the fourteen, as I said.  So, I find my passport again, which confirms the fourteenth.  This requires him to disappear back to reception in order for the passport to be photocopied as well.

By now, I am beginning to feel faint with hunger.

And there are fourteen sticky barcode labels up the sleeve of his white coat as he proceeds to take seven phials of blood from my left arm, reminding me of Tony Hancock in the Blood Donor:  "A pint! That's very nearly an armful!". 

The receptionist returns with yet more papers - apparently the permit / passport double photocopying requires a different set of code numbers.  Paper is now spread all over the consulting room.  And in the confusion, the young man tells me I can go.  Reluctantly, I remind him I need a PCR test - my first.  Without it they will not let me into the hospital on Thursday for my pacemaker op.

He enthusiastically shoves the long Q-tip up my left nostril and twists it around saying "just five seconds".  Hopefully I won't need to have that happen too often! 

And hopefully all the paperwork will mean I can check the results online this evening.  The French are nothing if not efficient and thorough when it comes to medical stuff.

In the meantime, the dogs and I have breakfast - their second, my first.


Friday, 24 December 2021

A Happy, Healthy Christmas to One and All

 Thank you to those of you who read this blog.  

May this year end in happiness and good health for all and may 2022 be all that you hope.

Friday, 17 December 2021

The GP Asks Me if I Hunt

Well, that's a question that comes out of left field and certainly not one that our GP back in leafy Surrey fourteen or more years ago would have thought to ask.

We're talking pacemakers. Inserted just below the collar bone, right where the stock of a shotgun nestles. Apparently, depending on which side the hunter holds his firearm, the surgeon will choose the other side to operate.

That's a piece of information I would have hoped never to need to know!

Specifically, we are talking MY soon-to-be pacemaker.  To be fitted, assuming I test negative for COVID, on December 30th.  A late Christmas present, just in time for New Year celebrations.

Who would have thought that mild heart palpitations which started in October and might have been dismissed as nothing more than slight pandemic anxiety, should lead to this.

When the French health service swings into action, it doesn't hang about.

Saturday, 4 December 2021

Not a Mask among Them!

We were in Bordeaux on Thursday, for an appointment at the eye clinic.

Blue eyes and strong South West France sun don't go well together and so cataracts have slowly been forming over the years.  Still some way to go before an op, but these days the very young ophthalmologist has decided he wants me to have a regular check-up.

The clinic is new, cutting edge and full of young things in white coats doing lots of tests that involve drops in the eyes and flashing lights.  All of this takes time and when we finally emerged it was gone twelve - lunchtime.  

We don't get out much these days and being in Bordeaux, it seemed a good excuse to find a local eatery. Not only is the clinic new, but the whole area is being redeveloped, including what looks like a tram bridge being built across the Garonne, so we relied on Google and Tripadvisor to find us somewhere.  The place was well-reviewed.

With the new Omicron variant on the loose France has tightened up its regulations - masks to be worn in all public places.  So suitably masked, with our health certificates on the screens of our phones ready to be zapped, we pushed open the restaurant door.  The place was heaving with masculinity.  Jam-packed full of large, sweaty workers from the surrounding building sites. All cheek by jowl and not a mask among them.  Even Le Patron was maskless.  Mind you, I defy anyone to tell that lot that Macron requires masks to be worn when out.

Normally, in the interests of social distancing, we would have fled.  But we were hungry and slightly light-headed from a morning of being managed by the French health service in all its glory.  So we entered into the spirit of the moment, trusted our booster jabs to protect us and relished our ample "menu de jour": buffet starter, choice of two main courses, cheese, dessert, coffee and a bottle of red wine left open on the table to help yourself.  Fourteen euros each.

It almost felt like the good old days. How our world has grown small, when a simple lunch in a worker's café in Bordeaux can make us, for a while, feel like we are on holiday!

Saturday, 13 November 2021

The Rescued Dipladenia

 Our Indian summer has slipped away.  Toussaint has come and gone. All the plastic flowers, large pots of chrysanthemums and the detritus of Halloween have disappeared from the shops and Christmas (annoyingly early, but less early than we were used to in the UK) has arrived.  Shelf after shelf is piled high with seasonal chocolate boxes at the entrance to Leclerc's.

The misty mornings and bright afternoons of the last few weeks have enabled us to make a serious assault on the overgrown and much neglected used-to-be-cowshed down at the cottage.  It offers the potential to be a "proper" storage area and at the moment it's just a jumbled mess with encroaching brambles and saplings and a tumble-down back wall that fell over in one winter storm.  So we clear and carry and make journeys to our favourite council tip - the one where there is space to drive up and drive straight out without the challenge of reversing a recalcitrant trailer that insists on jack-knifing. 

During one of those trips to the tip in October, a council lorry pulled in behind us, piled high with flowers, all to be discarded.  On closer inspection the flowers proved to be plastic.  Toussaint is that time of year when France visits its deceased relatives, cleans graveyards and throws out last year's plastic bouquets.  Large pots of fresh chrysanthemums and new, elaborate plastic arrangements (for when the fresh flowers are gone over) are purchased to place round polished and swept tombstones.

As we were about to leave the tip, I headed past the lorry with the flowers one last time with a flattened cardboard carton destined for the skip back near the entrance.  When there it was!  A living, breathing large bright pink dipladenia among all the plastic. A word with the driver of the lorry and the dipladenia, rescued from certain death, came home with us.  

Repotted, it has pride of place on the terrace, just outside the kitchen door.  Full of blooms and buds, it is a splash of summer colour to lift the spirits on a drizzly November afternoon.