Although it was Tuesday, I woke this morning feeling warm and cosy, with a sleepy kind of Sunday feeling. Not a care in the world and nothing on the agenda.
It wasn’t until I rolled over thinking; I can sleep a little more if I like and then OUCH!
That was when I remembered that I had stubbed my toe last night and the pain was more than I expected.
Getting out of bed and placing my feet on the floor. No, let me rephrase that, trying to put both feet on the floor, I realised I had a problem.
Damn, that really hurts. Really hurts.
The top of my foot had some slight bruising and given the knock I gave it last night, I wasn’t surprised.
Poking around trying to figure out what part hurt the most, I noticed my little toe was flacid. Hmm…. that looks broken but I have never had a broken bone before, so therefore, what would I know.
The pain was excruciating and I couldn’t walk. Hopping will have to do until, it comes good, I thought.
I called the French Historian, he will tell me what to do, where to go.
Call an ambulance he advises, you will need someone to get you down the stairs, this way, they can take you to the emergency centre of the hospital but be aware, the doctors are on strike.
Of course they are. The French love their protests and strikes and I admire them for this but did it have to be today.
He gives me two numbers, call this one first.
I try, bonjour, I think that I have – that was as far as I got. I don’t know the word for broken, stubbed, knocked, I searched my slightly shocked brain. Nope, ok, I give in, I will go for the English. vous parlez anglais?, non says the voice at the other end of the phone.
Hmmm. Now I remember what my trusty Michel Thomas French CD’s taught me, ‘is there anyone who speaks English’. Wow! Where did I dig that up out of my brain. Non, repeats the voice on the other end of the phone and hangs up!
Great, thank goodness I am not having a heart attack. Turns out, I had called the Pompier, the fire brigade but this is how it works.
I try the other number, between her broken English and my terrible French, we arrive at the end with an ambulance is on it’s way.
As with emergency services around the world, they want your name, age and address, my name was easy, thank goodness I still remembered my name, I had forgotten my age, searching my brain, when was my last birthday, oh what does that matter, next the address, that was probably the easiest question, but my accent was not understandable until about three attempts but how to explain about the courtyard.
They will never find me I thought.
Gathering money, getting dressed, pulling my dirty hair into a pony-tail, I opened the window to watch out or hear for that familiar siren.
I will need to hop down the two flights of stairs.
The pain was excruciating. Verging on tears, with my coat flapping about, hindering my decent. Wincing, huffing and puffing, I made it.
Next I had to negotiate the courtyard and onto the passage. By this time, I was almost frantic thinking that they wouldn’t find me and leave without me.
The massive, heavy front door saps almost all the energy that I have left, dragging it open but I see a small mini-van style vehicle with the blue symbol that I notice is the ambulance with no one inside.
As I guessed, they had climbed the wrong flight of stairs. Their expression to see me sweating, exhausted with one leg cocked in the air, gave them the signal that I was the one they were looking for.
Puh! A little head nodding as if to say; you made us climb those stairs for nothing and here you are.
Ignoring all of that, all I could think of was, my saviours.
Here they were to rescue me. The older of the two, unfolds a collapsable wheel chair, shoves me back towards him, which frightens the daylights out of me, all the while telling me, its good its good and off we go.
Do I want to lie down or sit up? I want to sit up.
They hoiked me up, one at either side of me with my foot hooked up and told me to hop up from the pavement onto the step and then into the ambulance, I am polite, mini-van.
Seriously, do I have to do everything!
The younger man, puts a peg on my finger to take my temperature and I sit in the seat, exhausted and relieved that I will be cared for catching my breath. Help is at hand.
But then they stand around on their mobile phones, presumably calling the hospitals to see who can take me, remembering The French Historian had told me that the doctors were on strike.
Then the issue of money comes up. Now slightly calmer, nursing my sock clad foot, how much, I ask.
They shrug, look to one another, and type it onto their phone. 60 euros if I bail, 101.00 euros if I go.
What choice do I have, wait on the street for a taxi, with my foot cocked in the air. I call a friend. He translates, a half hour later we are on the way.
Thank goodness for that, now I can breath. We are going to Saint Antoine, not far from me, although the hospital near the Notre Dame is closer, this one will obviously take me.
We stop, crouching my head to look out of the mini-van window, I don’t see anything resembling a hospital.
The older of the two slides open the side door with a thud. Voilà, he says and points to an ATM machine.
At this stage I am still on the phone to my ‘call a friend’ and burst out laughing. Are they serious, I ask him. Yes, he replies they want to make sure you have money to pay for the ride.
This would have entailed me hopping down and out of the mini-van and across the street to the ATM. Crap! I have money, I flash euros and a credit card, they smile and we are on our way again.
My relief to see only three people in the out patients almost brought me to tears of joy, but I hold them back.
The ambulance guys, sorry mini-van drivers aren’t going anywhere, they need ID, they need money. Checked in and money passes hands.
They smile and leave with a have a good day.
This is where my six hours of waiting began.
Still trying to get my head around the whole situation and the consequences of how this would impact on my holiday, froze in time when I saw the tall handsome doctor enter the waiting room.
Now I get it! This was meant to happen for a reason, I think positively. I was meant to hurt myself, so I could have a cute French doctor tend to me.
The story will go like this.
How did you guys meet, people will ask. Well, I would begin, as I flick a loose strand of hair, in a nonchalant kind of way, with one of those gleeful grins, that is only reserved for people in love, and I would continue; I broke my toe and Henri (I would pronounce perfectly because now, my French is fluent and accent free; on-reee) came to my rescue, my knight in shining armour. He took me back to his apartment. Hand feed me French Onion soup while I watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle from his bedroom window, and he nursed me back to health.
Ouch! another stab of pain slapped me back into reality.
He wheeled in the second person. My calculations make this that the next person will be seen by the female doctor and then it is me and him.
Nope – Madame Paris Adèle the woman calls out, yeah, deflated that is me. C’est moi.
Her English is as bad as my French but she managed to give me a glass of water and a couple of capsules, that was triage.
I am wheeled into the ‘real waiting room’ to join a tired looking bunch at their wits end.
The drugs made me dozy, but I am starving, I haven’t eaten in hours. In the distance I can see a vending machine, squinting, I try to work out what could be in it. Baguettes, freshly stocked each morning with ham and cheese.
I release the brake on the wheel chair. It won’t be possible to try to walk it over, guided by one foot and there is no large wheels to operate it by hand.
Hours pass and the vending machine fades in and out of focus.
I’m up and try to walk. Hobble, ouch, pain, I grimace. I can do this but it is too painful.
I hop, hop, hop but there is nothing to hang on to. I stop, tears are starting to form but I am not going to cry like a baby in front of these people. I just have a sore foot, these people are probably dying from something.
I have gone too far to go back now.
Two steps, the pain is unbearable, I opt to hop a bit more but with each hop the pain throbs into the hanging foot. The weight of my coat is hindering me but I have no choice.
Finally, out of breath with the sharp flashes of pain travelling up my leg. I made it.
Snickers or crisps. If I don’t have the right change in my pocket, I will fall down and cry but I do, one snickers bar swiftly dispensed.
Now I have to get back to the wheel chair. If I look on the positive side, at least this occupied part of my six hour wait.
There was no holding back with the tears anymore. I plonked down into the wheel chair, unable to eat the chocolate bar partly from being upset, partly from being exhausted but mostly from the pain.
Finally, a bright smiling woman calls my name.
Joyfully a ‘oui’ popped out of my mouth!
Unlike a lot of visitors to Paris, I don’t expect or assume that Parisians speak English, and I know a lot can’t, but I guess I did expect that in a hospital, most, would speak English. Not the case.
I try to explain in French but I don’t know the word for broke, broken. I can do the first bit; ‘I think that perhaps, I may have —- I make a snapping sound with my tongue and a motion with my hands.
She understands, I sheepishly pull off the sock to reveal the small amount of bruising. I iced it, I tell her proudly. She nods, she prods around. Ok, she says.
I am wheeled to another section of the hospital.
And to steal my friend’s expression; this was theatre. Not the theatre room but what comes next was as good as theatre.
The hospital is stark, resembling something I would imagine from the 50’s. Brown and white tiles, white painted, probably asbestos walls. No wall hangings, no decoration, the only thing of note was the lighting, in the shape of crosses, that seemed to flicker now and then to light up a certain section of the cross.
When you have hours on your hands and nothing else to look at, this can become fascinating.
She leaves me sitting at the crossroads of four corridors.
Behind me are at least 6 people on hospital beds. All lined up, for what?
The first I notice is a body, presumably dead with the sheet over her head. I shake my head and wonder if this is really happening or I am having a bad nightmare. Why on earth would they put me here amongst dead people.
The body, the skin yellow, covered in tattoos, a woman with leather trousers, moves – phew, she is alive.
A 100 year old woman, sitting up on a hospital bed, in a hospital gown, covered in sores, a cough wakes her from her sleep and she starts chewing something in her mouth.
A man, perhaps 60, with a thick grey beard, wearing a large heavy black coat and tapping his walking stick as he paces up and down, complaining about a lost phone.
Back and forth he goes in front of me, every now and then, pauses to let me know his problem, catches the attention of a passing nurse, but no one cares about his missing phone. I wonder if he is a little bit crazy. He probably never had a phone in the first place.
The 100 year old woman coughs and chews again. Another woman is brought in on foot, her glasses broken, a bandage on her head and blood on her sleeve, she sits quietly moaning.
The man in black, who was in the waiting room with me earlier, sporting a pair of furry ear muffs is curled up in a foetal position, crammed between the arm rests of the chairs that are bolted to the floor.
Stylish looking nurses and doctors whizz passed, chatting away to one another as if they were glamorous extras on a film set.
More patients are wheeled in and lined up, like a parking lot.
The 100 year old woman, coughs and chews again, which encourages me to turn around and stare. She is looking down the front of her blue disposable hospital gown and before I know it, she has stripped bared naked.
But the bearded coat guy grabs my attention again, he is still pacing up and down on the brown and white tiles and has managed to get the attention of a nurse. Incredible he keeps saying and looks over to me for encouragement. He spreads his arms wide, shakes his head, feels his pockets, searching for the missing phone and paces again.
I crane my neck to see how the 100 year old naked woman is getting on. She has nothing but stockings and note, I didn’t say pantyhose but stockings and she is busy adjusting them, as if she was ready to go out somewhere special.
She flips her legs to the side of the hospital bed. Now, at this point, if I could move, I would have ran to her side. Put her gown back on and encouraged her to stay but what am I to do.
A nurse, hurriedly passes me at the crossroads, MONSIEUR I call out to him and point to the 100 year old naked lady with the stockings.
She struggles with him, she is out of here and I don’t blame her.
Madame so and so, calls out a stunningly beautiful young blonde woman, in a white coat. One of the dead people sit up, and on their best behaviour and say ‘oui madame, c’est moi’.
I have lost it, I bring my hands to my shaking head and roar with laughter. This can’t be happening.
The dead people on the stretches are so incredibly polite, awaking from their comas as their names are called out and are as bright as buttons.
The bearded coat guy is off again. Incredible, the portable phone, he had it when he arrived so where it is, he asks anyone who will listen.
Finally, a friendly but harrassed looking nurse asks him what is the number of the phone. Why didn’t I think of that, we all freeze, waiting for his pockets to jingle. Nothing. She walks away and slips through a doorway that is constantly guarded by a handsome, skinny policeman, who looks like he is 15 years of age.
He is off again, the bearded man. Pacing up and down, talking to me but I don’t understand.
A male doctor appears from the guarded door with a bright shiny white iphone with headphones attached.
The bearded man’s face breaks out into a huge smile. The doctor hands it to him and rushes off. I nod and give him the thumbs up.
Right in my face, I mean right in my face, he starts to rant at me, I can feel his breath on my cheek.
With my eyes and ears wide open, I try to understand. It’s exhausting, I still don’t understand anymore than I did, that he arrived with a phone, it went missing and it is incredible.
I sink back into my wheel chair and drop my shoulders and tell him, Je suis désolé mais je ne comprends pas – I am sorry but I don’t understand and pull a face. I feel like a fake, he has been confiding in me and now I have to let him know that I didn’t understand.
Do you speak English he asks me with perfect English. Yes, then he explains his troubles, he is not crazy after all, just crazy mad that they had lost his phone. He is literally dragged out of the hospital down one of the crossroads.
Hearing my name was like music to my ears.
The beautiful blonde woman, introduces herself. Lines my foot on the brown and white tiled floor, runs behind the safety screen to take my x-ray and all the time, casually chatting away to her colleague as if they were discussing what movie they were going to watch this evening.
She wheels me back, out to the cross-roads with a merci et au revoir.
Hang on a minute, hang on a minute, what do you mean, thank you and goodbye!
Now what do I do?
The 100 year old naked woman with stockings coughs and chews again.
Two nurses run in and shake the man in black in the foetal position, monsieur, monsieur they say louder and louder as they shake the living daylights out him.
Great now he is dead, I think to myself but no, he wakes up adjusts his furry ear muffs and says he wants a cigarette.
I am starting to wonder if I am in the right hospital.
Madame, I catch the beautiful blonde x-ray girl. Must I stay here (thank you Michel Thomas for these phrases, they have been invaluable). Yes madame, she politely nods with a smile.
The waiting game begins again but at least at the cross roads it is more entertaining, although I was starting to miss my bearded guy.
Finally my doctor arrives, lovely woman, big smile on her face and we are off to her office. Hooray.
She shows me the x-ray, yep it is definitely broken, I can see that but she doesn’t know how to tell me. She tutts and disappears.
Sitting in her office, I note her handbag, wide open with an ipad or some such thing poking out and think that this is a silly thing to do. There are a lot of people wandering around. Maybe it is just me, because my bag was stolen last year.