To begin with, huge apologies for not having posted for such a long time. To be honest, I’m not sure really, where to start with this post, as it’s been one that I’ve started a few times over the last couple of months, only for life to take another lurch, in a slightly different direction and for me to stop, press delete and start again.
Don’t get me wrong, we really are living the dream. We live in the most beautiful little corner of Provence
We have a little house that is finally starting to look just as we hoped it would look….
The scrubby patches of concrete and rough ground that were our terraces, are now a magical little garden, filled with scent and colour (just one year after we planted it)….
We spend our days pottering on the bikes….
Or going to do the shopping in Fifi, our aged, but very glamorous, 2CV, taking the long way home….
And if anyone were to ask, I would (hand on heart) say that ‘La vie est belle’
But over this last few months, living the dream has been rather interrupted by life, and if I’m honest, we have got to the end of May, wondering where the last five months have gone, just hoping that (at some point) everything will start to settle down again.
Once again, we have got to know even more about the french health system, with a first experience of admission to hospital. Happily, it wasn’t anything serious, but an operation on my leg, which needed to be done, in the hope that this would be ‘third-time lucky’ in actually sorting the problem. The problem being, an annoying lump nicknamed Nigel, which just didn’t understand that it wasn’t wanted any more!
It’s always daunting, going into hospital, but walking into the corridors of ‘Hopital Nord’ at Marseille, negotiating the checking in process and getting to grips with the different processes here, was a very steep learning curve.
I had only heard excellent reports about the hospital and to be honest, it was just as it had been described to me. Efficient, helpful staff and surgeons, with a reputation for superb results and state of the art operating theatres, but there were still some things that were incredibly different to my previous experiences in the UK.
I had to arrive the day before my operation, rather than early on the day itself, and here, I found myself in a room with just two beds and its own bathroom, a big change to the 6 or 8 bed open wards, I have experienced before.
Of course, the beds were just as uncomfortable and although I had been told to take my own towel, no-one had suggested a pillow, so I was relieved when one of the nurses helped me to fold the long single bolster and put it in a square case, making it more comfortable.
Then there was the betadine, three plastic phials of an iodine-style antiseptic that I had to use in the shower to wash my hair and body, the evening before the operation, and my body again on the day. Friends had warned me that this would be the case, so when the phials were presented, I knew what they were and was happy that I knew, what I was expected to do with them.
I suppose the biggest worry was always that my french would fail at a critical moment, as stress is never low, when anaesthetics, needles, blood and scalpels are involved. And when I’m stressed, (like most people) my ability to readily speak a second language goes out of the window. I needn’t have worried though, as everyone ensured that I understood every stage of the process, and even whilst waiting to go into the theatre, the anaesthetist chatted about gentle aspects of life, in light, easy to follow french.
Then just as we started going into theatre, he smiled and carried on in perfect, almost unaccented english, saying that he wanted me now to not worry about french and to tell me how I felt in english, as he didn’t want me to worry about finding the right words, if I was feeling pain or was feeling sick. The important thing was for me to let him know, and as he knew all the necessary english terms, he would feel happier if I would speak english.
Normally, I would have said ‘No, it’s fine, it’s important that I speak french’, but on this occasion, I could have cried, as my stress levels were taking over every bit of space in my brain, leaving very little room for anything else at all. So english it was, and as my stress levels settled, I drifted off into the oblivion of a general anaesthetic.
I left hospital the following day, with a prescription for everything from painkillers and crutches, to daily anti-coagulant injections and also for a nurse to come to the house, to give the injections and change the dressings too.
By the time we left the car park, I had spoken to the nurse (who had come to the house when Andy had sliced his hand last year) and everything was in place for her to come the following day to give me the first injection. An incredible system, and one that left me feeling reassured that the wound would be checked regularly and any potential problems would be highlighted as soon as they arose.
The box of medication and dressings that we collected from the pharmacy just about fitted on the front seat of the car and I was set up for my recovery.
Ten days later, things were going well. I was able to get downstairs to spend the days in the living room and Andy felt able to get on again with the kitchen, which we had finally started fitting, just before my operation took place. The basic units were fitted along one side of the room and I finally could see what the room was going to look like, so the time had come to fit the sink.
Our youngest son was over for a week, so it seemed an ideal opportunity for him to become Andy’s right-hand man, to help him remove the old sink that had been a ‘temporary-fix’ for the last 18 months, before fitting the new one and cutting in the oak worksurfaces too. It seemed the perfect plan.
But the way life has been going this year, we really should have known better and shortly after Andy started removing the old (already broken) ceramic sink, I heard him call calmly from the kitchen ‘Julie, could you come here a second’. There was no urgency to his request, no panic, nothing to suggest that anything was wrong at all, so I hauled myself to my feet and hobbled towards the kitchen, which as you can imagine was not a quick, or elegant process.
What I found, when I walked through the door, was something like a set from a performance of Sweeney Todd, with Andy clasping his arm, wrapped in a blood-soaked tea-towel and spatters of blood across the old sink unit, floor and wall.
All he said was ‘I think I need to go to hospital’, which if I’m honest, seemed to be rather a statement of the ‘bleeding obvious’
It appeared that although he had been wearing heavy gauntlets, a shard of the ceramic sink had got in by his wrist and sliced his arm, with the first thing he knew, being the sight of blood across the floor. It wasn’t exactly the slow start to the Sunday that we had expected and was even more of a rough awakening for our son, who was called from bed, much earlier than he had expected, to be asked to drive Andy to Urgences, in Apt.
I understand it was an interesting drive, which may have seen them on the wrong side of the road at one point, but they did make it there intact, which was a relief all-round
To be honest, having the local hospital is superb, although with the number of visits we have already had to the Emergency Department, I have a feeling they will soon have a chair with our name on it. Either that or there will simply be a rush to put down the shutters, whenever they hear Fifi pull up outside. From a broken collar bone, to bee stings and sliced hands, we’ve certainly been there rather a lot, but always the service is excellent.
A couple of hours later, Andy was collected, arm stitched back together and a prescription for the nurse, who when we told her, just laughed and said Andy must have been jealous of the attention I’d been getting from them and just wanted them to call on him too.
So we then had the pair of us, pretty-much incapacitated, with our youngest helping us out, where possible, which proved to be a far cry from the break he had expected, having enjoyable days, helping Andy to finish the kitchen, which was now on hold again.
In the following couple of weeks, the nurses came in every two days, dealing with both of us at the same time, like a bizarre ‘Buy One Whitmarsh, Get One Free’ offer, but they were lovely, efficient, kind and never made us feel as if we were being a bother. Eventually leaving us, stitch-free to get on with life again.
Life then saw us on a couple of mad dashes back to the UK for one reason or another, in between trying to finish the kitchen, which had rather been on hold, since the Sunday morning blood-spattering. Happily though, Andy managed to build the units, fit the sink and with the help of a friend, haul the heavy oak worksurfaces into place and cut them to fit.
Finally we found the perfect tiles and the kitchen started to look like the room, we had imagined, over two years ago, when it was just a windowless utility room, filled with junk. Our long-held dream of being able to walk from the kitchen onto a the terrace, with a view of Caseneuve had, at last, fallen into place and all the hard work had been worth it. It really is my perfect little space.
Perhaps things were looking up?
Well, perhaps they were. Apart from facing having to finally replace our old Honda, which had so many warning lights flashing at us and was driving everywhere on half-power due to a blocked catalytic converter that was going to cost over 3000 euros to replace. This old car has been with us for eleven years (we don’t get excited about cars), it moved us to Provence, it was the perfect car for tip runs, and was filled with memories of family holidays and boys covered in mud after rugby matches.
Unfortunately it was going to cost more to fix, than it was worth, so we had to accept that her days with us were over, consign her to the great scrap-heap and replace her with something new. It’s never something that fills us with joy, but we managed to find a nice Citroen, with the key search-criteria being ‘Can we fit 2 bikes in the back, without taking the wheels off?’ and then watched more money disappear from the ever-dwindling bank account….. But needs must (and all that) and at least we can now overtake tractors and have some degree of confidence that we may actually get to our destination without having to call for a recovery lorry.
Finally we could start to relax…..
Alas no …. as when we returned from the latest quick dash to the UK, we noticed Pusscat had a sore eye, so popped her to the vet just to get it looked at. They kept her in, gave her an anaesthetic and checked it carefully, sending her home with eye drops, to be administered four times a day. Unfortunately a couple of days later, it was worse and we had a worried drive to a specialist vet in Robion, only for the vet there to say that she was going to have to lose the eye, keeping her in to carry out the operation there and then.
This affectionate little cat, has been with us for over eleven years, after being found as a stray and has become such a part of our family, as happily settled into her life in France as we are. We were devastated at the thought of her losing such an important part of herself, how would she cope, in fact would she be able to cope at all?
The operation went well and we picked her up later that afternoon, wearing the ‘cone of shame’ and still totally ‘stoned’ from the anaesthetic. She looked strange without the eye, but it was a neat scar and all things considered, she seemed OK.
She was less impressed at not being allowed out, spending her time in a soft, covered enclosure that we had borrowed from friends, which our eldest quickly nicknamed ‘Al-Cat-Raz, Pusscat’s Prison’, which was taken outside on the nice days, so she could enjoy some fresh air. Although, I have a feeling that she was probably more frustrated at not being able to chase the grasshoppers and lizards that seemed to flaunt themselves in front of the mesh windows, as if they knew they were just out of reach.
She’s now out of the ‘cone of shame’, the stitches have been removed and she’s coming to terms with life with one eye. She still misses her landings sometimes and isn’t as confident as she was, occasionally having little cuts on the side of her head, where she has bumped into something, but she’s adapting well and hasn’t lost any of her affection or zest for life, which is so lovely to see.
Surely that had to be it now, but no. Once again the dice of life fell awkwardly and after an emergency dental visit last week, Andy now on antibiotics, has to have what will be rather expensive dental work done, starting this week. So just when we thought we may have been emerging from a period of chaos, we have had to take stock and realise we’re not quite there yet.
Of course, it’s just life and it happens wherever you are and we’re just happy to be able to walk out onto the terrace after the latest madness, sit in the seats surrounded by the roses and jasmine that have just come into flower and watch the sky turn pink at the end of the day, listening to the birds singing their last song of the day, before settling down for the night.
We knew there would be times when life would get in the way of the dream, but it probably would have been a little easier to manage, if life hadn’t happened all at once!
P.S. Had just finished typing this, bit into a piece of very crusty baguette and a piece of a tooth came away …… so here we go again …. My turn to call the dentist tomorrow!
Stop the world, I need to get off for a while!