This post is going up in the interest of transparency - I feel a little reluctant, but it's a good story...
Avignon was on our list of day trips from St Remy, and we got there, but not to see any places we had planned - we ended up in the emergency department of the Centre Hospitalier.
The night before we decided to look at all our research on the places we wanted to see and to spread the expeditions out on our calendar for the two weeks remaining here in St Remy. The more we see, the more Peter has to paint so the experiences are piling up, and some of it has been unplanned, so we wanted to be sure we dont miss anything. We decided to go to Pont du Gard, the Roman aqueduct, the next day and were getting ready for bed when an alarm sounded. A little puzzling, because it wasn’t any of our five devices, and we had heard it briefly the night before as well.
Suddenly Peter said, loudly enough to give me a fright, “It’s you!” Now we have been through this before and been similarly bewildered by this alarm
- it is my pacemaker/defibrillator! It is most strange when a technology sound comes from within your own body, but that was what it was doing and I couldn’t figure out what direction it was coming from! So that was the end of Pont du Gard for now.
My implanted device is programmed to make the alert sound if the device has malfunctioned, or if my dodgy heart has, and it has to be downloaded and tested to determine the cause. On reflection, I knew that I had been feeling extremely tired for a couple of days after having got stronger since we arrived and recovered from the travel. So I had my suspicions.
But what to do and where to go? How do we start to penetrate the French hospital system? We knew we would have to decide between Marseilles and Avignon, but the former is huge and busy and we have avoided driving there. The latter is just a regional town, but closer. It is extraordinarily hard to make a big decision like that in the early hours of the morning when all information is in another language! We searched expat sites, checked our vocabulary, texted
with my cardiologist, spoke on the phone with my technician in Australia, and spoke to our travel insurance hotline.
Eventually we made our decision - we would pack a bag, get a few hours sleep and then head for Avignon. So we did, successfully finding the Centre Hospitalier, but not so successfully finding how to get in. At one stage we followed the Urgences sign up a ramp and found ourselves in an ambulance bay with no way out except to reverse! A couple of lifts later and we found the inconspicuous entrance to the ED, where there was only one other person waiting! Imagine that in Australian hospital ED's! The girls at reception were comparing nail jobs and had no English at all, but handed us a form with English at the top. At this stage I was praying fervently that we hadn’t wasted our time and that we would get the help we needed. We can only do our due diligence and trust God to guide us and protect us from things we don’t know.
That was when I started to use Google translate, and typed in my problem (defibrillator alarms are not every day French
words, although I did know from my DuoLingo lessons that saying “Crisis cardiaque” will generally get some attention!).
From then on, I have to say that I received excellent care. They did all the right tests very efficiently and told me that I would go to the Cardiac unit for the download I needed. It was tricky to know exactly when I was admitted while staying in touch with the travel insurers to ensure all would be covered, but very quickly I was all hooked up and monitored and the download promised. So began a long day and a longer night. I was not allowed to get out of bed and if Peter had not stayed most of the time I would have found it difficult to manage.
The meals were interesting and not unenjoyable. Everything was in a separate container which had been heated— plain pasta, a piece of meat, beans, lettuce etc, always a bread roll and cheese, and fruit. A bowl of coffee for breakfast but no cuppas or snacks in between!
I was surprised that there was very little English amongst the staff. Two of the doctors spoke some English, and I was able to phone my cardiologist and hand it to the French doctor to speak to him. The nurses ranged from not wanting to come near me, to those who wanted to try their English. One pair were particularly funny: I heard them practising outside the door, “How do you do?” And then peals of laughter before they pushed one another in to try it with me.
I, for my part, prepared with Google translate: I would like ... I need to ... may I have...when is the doctor coming.... The problem with that approach is that being able to say the question does not help you understand the answer, so most of the time I was none the wiser.
They got braver, and we began to talk. They asked about our holiday, where we stayed, where we come from, what we do, our family, and which iPhone I had. It was the best language learning opportunity I could have. When one nurse heard that I am a retired school principal, she took a step back, and then told me the other nurse has no English because she is an “agriculturice” - a farmer (said with a deprecating hand sign!).
Having established that the cause setting off the alarm is a bout of atrial fibrillation and having adjusted my medications, they were satisfied that I could come home today, which was a great relief. I was beginning to think I would have to do what they do in the movies - grab a doctor's coat and walk out the door... You don’t want to know what a night in a cardiac unit cost - we need our travel insurance to come through or our budget is truly blown! On the other hand, a box of tablets that would cost $40-50 without PBS in Australia, was only 9 euros. I’d say we pay too much for pharmaceuticals!
So we have been to Avignon, but will have to return to dance on the ancient bridge: “Sur le pont, d'Avignon, on y danse, tous en rond.” In a few days, when my heart slows a bit more.
Meanwhile, Peter finished his painting of our neighbour Sami's dog, and gave it to him as a thank you present. He was totally blown away and said “Tres magnifique” several times, while showing it to the miniature fluffy dog. I suspect it will be framed on his wall very soon. I picked up a reference to death in this conversation, and he finished with “C'est la vie”, but we weren’t sure how to respond. Later on Gaby, his wife told us that Sami's brother (88) had died, so although we don't have all the right words, we hope the little gift was a comfort for him. This trip is turning out to be not just all about galleries and monuments, but like life generally, it is about people. We’re having to learn how to reach out with a limited vocabulary, and just to pray for those with whom we cross paths.
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