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.
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.
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.