Idyll Interrupted: Gascony and Toulouse, France

20 May

The blue dot on the map is the location of last week’s rental property, L’Ancien Presbytere in Luc-Armau.

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Luc-Armau is a tiny farming village north of Tarbes between the thriving market towns of Maubourguet and Lembeye.

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The Presbytere is a former priest’s home, a substantial, ivy covered stone house, standing in a large plot of land with a well tended garden full of spring flowers and a swimming pool.

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The upstairs view takes in fields, woods and the snow capped Pyrenees on a fine day.

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We flew out early Saturday from Heathrow with dear friends of over three and a half decades standing, Charles and Anne, anticipating a quiet week of walks, eating, drinking, sightseeing and a bit of golf for the chaps.

The weekend passed happily before the wheels fell off that plan. I’d been experiencing an increasing level of inexplicable abdominal pain since Saturday night and by Monday morning I needed a doctor. The young, female GP in Lembeye couldn’t be sure what was causing the pain so wrote a referral letter for the Pau Hospital emergency depeartment 40 minutes drive away. After seven hours in A&E, three doctors, several tests and a contrast scan, at 8:30pm my definitive diagnosis was announced. Primary omental torsion. Google the term by all menas but be prepared for the gory photos.

In simple terms, a seven centimetre section of the protective, fatty sheath covering my abdominal organs had twisted on itself cutting off its blood supply and causing the stabbing pain in my guts. I joined a rare breed of around 250 recorded cases worldwide.

The gastrointestinal surgical specialist gave me that good news and said since I had no fever/infection he recommended conservative treatment, i.e. rest, intravenous hydration and pain relief with the expectation it would resolve itself. He also advised me to stay in hospital for 24-48 hours for observation. In the days before scans the only way to be sure what was going on was to perform a laparoscopy and if they found omental torsion unconnected with any secondary disease/cause, they would resect it. These days they take the wait and see approach and in most cases it somehow fixes itself over 8 to 10 days.

I was relieved to know I’d be going to a ward to get pain relief and something to drink and possibly eat as I had been nil by mouth since 8am for the scan and in case I needed an operation. Twelve hours is a long time between drinks even with an IV in! Stu gave me his water bottle and I grabbed the protein bar I carry in my hand for just such emergencies and consumed both gratefully. Just as well as no nurse came near me for the next three hours.

I understand hospitals, I did my A&E nursing rotation and specialised in coronary and intensive care. I get that nursing staff are always moving on to the next most urgent case but where these nurses fell short was in their compassion for their patients. I’m not talking about me. Sure I was pissed off at having to wait on the trolley bed in a corridor until 11:45pm to be taken to a ward, but I knew I was going to be okay.

What I can’t forgive them for is this man.

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He was in the trolley in front of me. I heard the registrar tell him he had had a stroke. Not one nurse or orderly ever tried to make him comfortable, talk to him encouragingly or do up his hospital robe. The man had been alone when he registered at the front desk at the same time as me. No friends or relative came to see him in the ten hours he was in the emergency unit. He was finally taken to the ward only a few minutes before me. The nursing staff weren’t busy, they were more interested in socialising with each other and the doctors than in patient care. I saw it all, I was ashamed of them and I felt for him.

By midnight I was in a two-person room in the gastrointestinal surgery ward with pain relief dripping through the IV, a jug of water and in a comfy bed.

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Only problem now was how to get to sleep as the other occupant was groaning in post-operative pain and the smell from her colostomy nauseated me. No sleeping meds were ordered so I was on my own again. I carry everything in my handbag, including sleeping pills. I downed one and it was lights out for six hours!

Next morning the faecal odour was even worse. I was starting to be able to move without doubling up in pain so after the same specialist checked me out on his rounds at 8:30am and said I could go home at 11am I started to plan my escape. Unfortunately his orders didn’t get translated to the nursing staff so at 11am they were telling me I had to wait to be cleared to leave. This is when I had to get medieval on them. I removed my drip and went down to the office to tell them I had been told I could go and all I required was the discharge summary and a digital copy of the scan. Finally the registrar sorted it out and by midday I was released. The only treatment was Panadol and rest. I looked eight months pregnant and moved at a snail’s pace but I was free!

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There was the small matter of settling the 1600 euro bill (the flat fee for a one day hospital stay) but that is being done by our travel insurers.

To take advantage of the clear weather and our proximity to the mountains Charles and Anne had prepared a picnic so we drove up to the Col D’Aubisque. The pass had been opened the day before so there were few vehicles and just the ocasional cyclist.

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It felt so good to stand on the mountain ridge amongst the snow, breathe big lungfuls of cold, clean air and look at the majestic black basalt range painted with snow. A brandy with hot water in the bar was quite medicinal too.

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On the way back we bought fish for the omnivores’ dinner straight out of the water at the trout farm. I know I was not the only one discomfited by the sound of them struggling in the plastic bag as they expired. If you eat meat I think it right that you experience the animal’s suffering. Most consumers are comfortably removed from the killing process.

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The rest of the week was very quiet for me as my innards healed themselves. I received prompt second and third medical opinions from Australian medico and radiology specialist friends who concurred with the French surgeon’s conservative treatment. This gave us more confidence that we would be able to continue our travels. Thank you Charles and Neil!

Stuart and Charles spent much of the time devising games involving balls; working their way through table tennis, boules, soccer goal shot, and garden golf. Thankfully Anne was content with her ipad Bridge, books, outings to obtain provisions and preparing for her company’s AGM the following week. We spent some time listening and trying to identify birdsong in the garden. Yes, there is an app for that too.

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First task was to finish the assembly of the ping pong table – easier said than done!

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They even managed to walk a little of the Camino de Santiago which ran across the lane beside our house.

By Friday I was ready for solid food at a celebratory dinner for Anne’s birthday in Restaurant La Tour, Lembeye, just doors down from the doctor’s clinic.

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We relocated to Toulouse early on Saturday, in time to wander down to the Basilique St Sernin (Saturnin). It’s a magnificent cathedral founded to commemorate Saint Sernin (Saturnin), the local bishop accidentally killed in 250AD by a sacrifical bull and declared a martyred saint. The pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela from the most southerly route, Arles, began to stop at the basilica and by 11th century a much larger construction was needed to accommodated them. The current cathedral was completed in the 16th century.

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This is the picturesque town of Vic en Bigorre en route to Toulouse.

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Next stop Victor Hugo Market. This is the best kind of market, large quantities of fresh food, excellent cheese shops and several cafe/bars. We gravitated to a corner wine vendor where locals were standing around barrels drinking rose wine from bottles in large buckets of ice. Before you could say ‘Sante!’ We had our own glasses of the pink stuff and some slices of Beaufort cheese from the shop opposite.

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Our hotel receptionist recommended lunch at one of the second floor gallery restaurants. It was packed to the gills with diners but we spied an opening, grabbed a table as a party was readying to leave, and settled in for Le Menu and some white wines.

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But Anne and Charles’ 5pm flight back to London loomed so it was back to the hotel for fond farewells and into a taxi for them. I owe them a great debt of gratitude for their help and support during my medical event. Amongst other things Charles did all the driving and Anne the navigating and logistics.

Our final day in Toulouse was spent back at the market for a late breakfast and buying our dinner at the Indian food stall run by Jose Paul Anthilad, meandering amongst jolly, young men who had made a night of it (one gave me a parting kiss on the cheek), along the river, through the Capitole, lunch at a Tibetan-Nepalese restaurant and a screening of ‘Mud’ in a local cinema.

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With the river on one side and the tree lined Canal du Midi on the other Toulouse is well and truly on my list of cities to return to but for now our sights are set on Rome and the Amalfi Coast!

And the message I took from this experience?

At the risk of repeating myself I believe there are three essentials in this peripatetic life besides the wherewithal to fund it; one is good health, the second is good friends and family and the third is good travel insurance! I am blessed with all three.

10 Responses to “Idyll Interrupted: Gascony and Toulouse, France”

  1. Chevalier May 20, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    You are such a strong woman Sharon ! I am so sad to hear this bad hospital story. It looks like the Pau hospital was still at the middle age ! I hope you feel better now.
    I can’t believe it coasts you 1600€, that’s amazing for one night at hospital and some medical treatments.!! Was it a public hospital or a private clinic?
    I wish you a good stay in Rome. You will have to wait too in Rome… but for pleasure not for doctors…To visit the Colosseum don’t go on the week end it’s too busy. To visit the Vatican ask information before to go because it was closed one day last week, they host pilgrims. San Pietro Basilic was closed too, I don’t know why…
    Rome is such a beautiful place and we had a very sunny weather so it was wonderful.
    I hope it will be the same for you.
    Have a nice day, see you soon in Paris.
    Maryse

    • Sharon Tickle May 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      Greetings from Roma Maryse!

      We just have the one day here and we need to go shopping for clothes for Stuart, he looks like a vagrant in his worn trousers! Happy to sit in cafes and people watch as we have done the tourist stuff before. Meeting my Italian friend for dinner tonight to see eat in her favourite Roma restaurant.

      Pau is a government hospital. I don’t know how they reached that daily figure, I guess it is an average f daily of costs? Who knows?

      See you soon.

      Sxx

  2. Michelle Noble May 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Wow! Sharon…another huge medical adventure for you. Do hope you’re feeling a lot better. And you’ve had plenty of cuddles from Stu.
    I love Rome, there are historical buildings at every turn. Fabulous coffee. Chaotic traffic – just go with the flow. Make sure your Garmin is up to date cos maps are hopeless. And be nice to the chaps who volunteer to keep an eye on your car…it’s worth the odd euro just to be sure.
    I’m back to France end of next week…if you are coming by be sure to let us know. Would love to see you. Love to you both. Michelle and Bryan.xx

    • Sharon Tickle May 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

      Hi Michelle, I am pleased to report cuddles are forthcoming and that we do not have any kind of vehicle for the next six weeks! All on foot and public transport for us. So far Roma is treating us well, sunshine galore!

      Hope you had a good time back in the UK.

      Sxx

  3. Merryl May 21, 2013 at 6:46 am #

    What a story! So glad you’re ok Sharon. Take care xo

    • Sharon Tickle May 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

      Grazie Merryl! Been doing some walking here in Rome and no ill effects so fingers crossed.

      Sxx

  4. Heather Watt May 21, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    So glad you are feeling better Sharon and hope it continues. Just watching the Gira Italia and the weather has been quite terrible but they are in the north of Italy so let;’s hope it is better in central Italy for you. Take care and don’t overdue it (as the Dr said).
    George and Heather
    xx

    • Sharon Tickle May 21, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

      Hi Heather and George, Sunshine alternating with light showers in Rome. Strange weather. Hope it is fine for our time with Marion, John and Marg on Amalfi Coast. Love, S&Sxx

  5. Julie Kempnich May 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    Dear Sharon So pleased your amazing tale had a happy ending, for you, if not the poor man and the trout. Hope that marks the end of the Tickle/Elliot medical woes for this decade at least! Take care Julie xx

    Sent from my iPad

    • Sharon Tickle May 23, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

      So far so good in Italy Julie. Now in Nocelle with friends. Picture perfect. Sxx

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