Emergency – Ward 7


Well, on Tuesday I nearly claimed on Malcolm’s life insurance.  We had a very scary day at the end of which Mal was in intensive care in hospital in Toulouse:  so the first thing to say is that he’s now OK, in the sense of being back at home, functioning and cheerful, and no longer quite literally at death’s door.

He’d complained of feeling peculiar after breakfast, but put it down to a caffeine OD.  He worked like stink all morning, knocking mortar from an old wall, and much more difficult than it sounds, as it wasn’t so much mortar as ancient concrete.  So he was tired at lunchtime, but then complained of chest pains, and sweat poured from him.  I started checking up my fears on the internet, and rang 118, as well as some friends, who hurtled over immediately, even though it was the sacred French lunch break.  Though I’d been worried, I wasn’t unduly, but Francis later told me he was really scared at the concretey colour of Mal’s face and his description of his symptoms.

The sapeurs pompiers came (ambulance and fire is a sort of joint service here.  As in English rural areas, it’s staffed by on-call volunteers), as did the local community constable, and they crashed around the living room making lots of noise and asking questions as they pulled out all their equipment and gave him oxygen.  I didn’t realise at the time they were doing anything really useful, but in fact they saved his life, and were much praised by the specialists in Toulouse who looked after him later.  All the same, in their zeal, they gave him a a bit of a slap in the kisser as they strapped him with great gusto into his stretcher, and, as I later discovered, carefully removed a (wide) door off its hinges in their efforts to manoeuvre him  outside the house.

Not Mal's ambulance: you didn't think I'd be out there taking photos, surely?

They were supposed to await the doctor and nurse coming from Foix, but decided to save time by getting him into the ambulance (bright red!) and starting off.  Luckily the doctor and nurse arrived just then, in gleaming white operating theatre type garb. It was the doctor’s job to decide where to send him, and I was a bit shocked when he decided not for our local hospital in Lavelanet, not even for the big departmental one in Foix, but for one in Toulouse, the Polyclinique du Parc.  After, I learnt that it is practice to go for the centre of excellence as first choice, rather than somewhere that may not prove to be quite state-of-the-art enough.  At the time, I found it a scary decision.

This team was with Mal throughout his journey.  Emergency siren blaring, driving at full speed, they nevertheless took their turn and joined quite a queue to get through the motorway toll – so French.

He was overwhelmed with specialist care on his arrival, and indeed throughout his stay.  He had a blood clot blocking a main artery, and so they operated immediately, removed the clot, scaping clean the artery walls and permanently enlarging the artery with a stent.  He was conscious throughout and watched with interest as they manoeuvred a tube inside his arm from his wrist to his chest.  The various sensations he experienced – hot, cold, discomfort, were never painful, he said.

Later, Francis and I got to see him in his rather luxurious quarters with en-suite bathroom (Room 07, in fact): he was wired up to all kinds of equipment, his body an artwork of electrodes and patches, but looking much more like his normal self. He remained like this, his body mechanisms monitored and tested every second of the day and night, until the moment he left on Thursday morning.  He wasn’t allowed to leave until he’d read two booklets and passed a test on whether he’d understood the contents.  All in French, of course.  Do you know the English for ‘infarctus du myocarde’?   No, thought not – put your hand down now Kalba.

The just-vacated hospital bed

So….it’s been a bit of an unlooked for insight into French health care.  It confirmed all the positive things we’d heard, apart from one thing.  The food was, how to put it gently, somewhat mediocre.  But he’s happy to return in September, to go through it all again with Artery Number Two.

14 thoughts on “Emergency – Ward 7

  1. Well, this is the famous Kalba in the (virtual) flesh, hand still up. But seriously, I just wanted to add one thing about language – not for you, Margaret, because you’ll know this already, but for anyone else who’s reading this and might one day need to know.

    It’s this. If you’re ever in France and you think you or someone else might be having a myocardial infarction (sorry, but I just had to get it in somewhere …), do not, under any circumstances – and quite possibly under pain of death – tell the emergency services that you feel ‘mal au coeur’. It might sound right to you, but they’ll just think you’re feeling sick. If you can’t get your head round ‘infarctus du myocarde’ (and who can?) the phrase you’re looking for is ‘crise cardiaque’. It could just save a life.

    Delighted that Mal’s back home so quickly. (Now that IS unusual for the French health service ….).


    1. Thanks for that Kalba. And yes, I’ll second that piece of info. I only tried out the ‘mal au coeur’ thing once, to a neighbour who was watching as Mal was bundled into the ambulance. She gave me a very old fashioned look, as she’d guessed he was neither merely a bit off colour, nor suffering from a love affair turned sour. I’ve settled for ‘infarctus’, because that’s what all the health professionals who surrounded us seemed to go for. On the whole, it’s the kind of vocabulary I’d be happier not needing.


  2. Hi

    I am so pleased to hear that Malcolm is now OK it must have been quite an ordeal for you both.

    Obviously the French Health care system is as good as I had been told.


    1. Yes, it was just brilliant. But listen, you two, that doesn’t mean you both ought to try it out too.

      Hope ARCH and France are still doing well!


  3. Hi,

    Really glad to hear that Mal is now OK and hope that he soon gets back to his normal self.

    Please pass on our best wishes.

    Malcolm & Pam


    1. Well, he’s still doing all kinds of DIY if that’s what you mean. Only thing is, I shout at him a bit more to stop him doing daft things like lifting. We’ll see you again in just over a week, all being well. Thanks for your good wishes.


  4. I’m glad to hear that your husband made it through his attack and that he got good treatment. I wish him (and you) a speedy recovery.


    1. Thanks so much. He seems incredibly fine. We’re both waiting for all the promised gloom and doom and hoping it doesn’t arrive….


  5. I am so glad to hear this turned out so well. Please give Malcolm our best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery and a good, full glass of wine for yourself to relax after that much worry. Hopefully something as good as that lovely bottle of wine you gave us a while back. Red isn’t usually my favorite but that was WONDERFUL. Take care of each other and keep in touch.


    1. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed keeping up with all your final days in the UK, and especially the party at Darley. Lots of memories, eh? I’ll be thinking of you as you travel back to the States, and hope your next years will be as interesting as the last few seem to have been


  6. OMG!!!!! Love your witty perspective on things in retrospect but must have been very scary at the time, for both of you. A reminder of how fragile our health – and life itself – really is … xxx


    1. Indeed. I was as it turned out, not scared enough, but Mal wasn’t really concerned at all. Just uncomfortable. And the care was excellent. Hope it’s onward and upward, really….. xxxx


  7. What a relief that he’s on the mend and that you were in France not back in blighty! Big hugs all round.


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