May 16, 2009

The Saga of the Broken Arm - Part II - Days of Wine and Needles

So there we were, driving around Lézignan-Corbières on a dark and stormy August night, trying to find the hospital. After a few wrong turns, and the help of some locals, we finally found it. Pain relief was on its way!

One thing to remember: It was August. The month for holidays in France.
If you don't know, August is the month when cities become ghost towns because the bulk of the population leaves to go on vacation and the beaches are wall-to-wall sweaty bodies soaking up the sun. And the hospitals are understaffed.
It was August and it was a Friday night in a small town hospital in rural France. Oh dear.

Not surprisingly, it was very quiet when we arrived, so thankfully we were helped immediately. But the first thing they did was take X-rays, not administer pain relief! Then they had to draw blood and the nurse couldn't find a single vein in my arm from which to do it. She kept jabbing and stabbing until husband found the doctor on duty, grabbed him, and asked for help. One quick jab and success! What a relief.
Only then did they give me some pain killers.

The X-Ray did indeed show that my arm was broken. In two places. I would have to go to the hospital in Narbonne for surgery and the next available ambulance to take me there wouldn't be available for at least 2 hours. Thanks, but no thanks. We grabbed my X-rays and drove there ourselves.

I finally got checked into a room about three in the morning and was told that I would be having surgery the next day. I slept a blissful, drug induced sleep until the evil, needle-bearing nurses arrived the next morning to inject me with more medication and to get me ready for surgery. "Getting ready" required a full body, and I mean every nook and cranny, scouring.
As they were vigorously scrubbing me up and down in the bathroom, with both the door to my room and door to the hallway wide open I might add, they told me that the anesthesiologist would be arriving soon to discuss her role in the procedure. La voilà, there she is! Ready to have our little chat while I'm standing there in all my naked glory, being buffed and cleansed.

It is rather humiliating to try to discuss medical terminology in a foreign language while high on painkillers and totally naked while having all of your bits washed. I don't recommend it.
I know the doctors and nurses are used to seeing people naked. To them it's no big deal. C'est normal. I, however, am not used to it.

So I was trying to ignore my humiliation and focus on what the anesthesiologist had to say. Something about putting the IV in my neck, straight into my jugular vein? I assumed that I had somehow misunderstood her. I mean, that sounds barbaric!

I didn't misunderstand her.

When they finally took me downstairs to knock me out before surgery, we had a bit of a problem. They couldn't get the needle into the right spot. Here they were, two trained anesthesiologists, standing over me with this long needle, jabbing me over and over in my neck, unable to find the exact angle or something. What I remember most is that I felt like a lab rat being experimented on. Complete and utter hell.
I finally begged them to stop. And that I didn't want them to administer the painkillers through my jugular. They would have to go through a vein in my arm.
They were quite unhappy with me and told me in rather disgusted voices that the drugs would take much longer to work that way, did it anyway, then said they were going to lunch.
And left me lying in a cold room with only a thin sheet to cover me. I was freezing.

Thankfully that is all I remember until after the surgery.

When I woke up husband was sitting in my room with an ice cold can of Coke, thinking that it would taste good and refreshing after not having anything to eat or drink in more than 24 hours. The nurses told him, "absolutely not!" I was only allowed a bit of water dabbed onto my lips. No Coca Cola!
Ok, fine.

Friends started arriving and family started calling from America. The hotel operator knew me as l'Américaine, and as soon as she heard an English voice, she transferred the call to my room. It was great to see and hear from so many people.
I was in a complete morphine induced fog, so didn't remember until much later that when our neighbors came by with their 13 year old daughter to say hello, there was nothing covering my upper body, leaving my left breast totally exposed. My right arm was all wrapped up against my torso so I couldn't put a shirt on, and nobody had bothered to cover me up with a sheet or a blanket when they arrived.

So now our neighbors know what my boobs look like. Great.
Hell, half the hospital had seen me naked by this point so I guess it really shouldn't matter.
When I later asked husband why he didn't bother covering me up he responded, "It's ok, they didn't mind."
Um, Hello?
I did!
To this day, I'm still stunned that he didn't think it was a big deal
. Especially after he made such a fuss about me leaving the house the night before with no clothing on.

The next day they brought the lunch menu and asked if I wanted beer or wine with lunch. I pointed at my IV and said, "but I'm on morphine." No problem! It was medicinal! Besides, I would only be served a small bottle.
Who was I to argue with doctor's orders?

In the end it took several days in the hospital, lots of drugs, six months of physical therapy, many follow-up visits to the surgeon, a lot of frustration and tears, and endless patience on husband's part. But now my arm is completely healed.
And even with the overuse generous use of needles (did I happen to mention that I have a phobia of needles) and inability to find my shy veins, in my experience the medical system in France is excellent. The doctors and nurses are friendly and helpful, they take their time with you and they are thorough.

But I never, ever want to have to go to the hospital again. The wine may have been good, but it wasn't that good. Pin It
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