Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

Archive for the month “July, 2016”

The Gift of Time

Infinity time spiral 15267876

I’m sure many people are thinking… How terrible it must be to spend a year planning an 8-week trip to France that involves renting a house, leasing a car, and purchasing expensive summer airfare and then have to walk away from it all. For a minute we felt that way. We were really dismayed and disappointed that this should occur. But then our priorities forcefully changed and all of that compared to my health seemed rather insignificant. We have not regretted our choice to return home for a second. There is something to be said for that timeless wisdom, “There’s no place like home”. We should all be able to click our heels and return home instantly when we most need it.

Time is an illusion. We talk about not having enough time, things taking too much time, trying to find more time in our day. When we fly to France, we lose time. We usually leave mid-day and arrive there in the afternoon the following day — excited about our trip but with the usual jet lag sinking in due to the nine hour adjustment. On our return trip, we are happy to gain the nine hours back. In reality, however, there’s a finite amount of time in any given day. We have no power to change it, but we can definitely choose how we use it.

At work whenever a meeting has to be unexpectedly canceled for one reason or another, the administration usually informs us at the last minute and tells us they’re giving us “the gift of time”. Suddenly, you have an hour of time free that you hadn’t planned. Generally, I have a long list of things I need to do so I will launch into one or two of them and check them off my endless list. I never have any trouble using this time productively. Being productive is always my focus so I try never to waste time even when I am at home. This approach to life has its pros and cons. You certainly get a lot of things done every day, but you rarely stop and just enjoy the moment.

When we departed prematurely from France, I realized that we had unknowingly given ourselves the gift of time. Of course, our main objective was to have plenty of time to see doctors and follow up on resolving my severe anemia, but that alone wouldn’t occupy every minute of every day. So, despite the fact that I had very little energy or ability to do much of anything, I instinctively thought about what I would do with the rest of my time. Then, fortunately, I stopped myself and thought… What we had planned for this time is off the table and I don’t need to replace it with anything else. I don’t have to plan any projects (as I am so prone to do). It’s time to just be in the moment, take care of yourself, and get well. That was an amazing realization. The fact that my brain accepted it was even more amazing.

We have enjoyed just spending this time together without any resentment of what happened in the recent past (having to leave France) or pressure to worry about what will happen in the near future (being ready to return to work). It has been wonderful to appreciate all the small moments, which frankly, given the gravity of what occurred, we feel lucky to have.

Next time I receive the gift of time, I’m going to think twice before I decide what I will do with it because sometimes doing nothing is something… something you need to do.

Getting My Mind Right

Enlightenment in nature

As I nervously contemplated the various challenges with which I would be faced in resolving my current medical issues, including that dreaded aforementioned MRI, I began to try to reason with myself and think of ways that would make the whole experience more bearable. I had to find something that would reduce my anxieties and calm me down so I could cope with it all as best as possible. For some reason, the first thing that came to mind was my friend, Susan.

Susan practices yoga, meditation, and all that zen stuff many of us remember was so popular in the 70’s and she has been doing so for a very long time. I am such a realist that I have never put much stock in any of these approaches to mental and physical well-being. But here I was in what was at one point, the most desperate of situations, and this is where my mind landed. So I would just think to myself, “Susan — relax” because I associated that feeling with her name. I felt that’s what she would tell me and help me do if she were present. Ironically, those of us who know Susan are well aware that even she, with all her faithful practice, is not always relaxed. But maybe that’s the point. It’s not an inherited trait, magic, or automatic. You have to know how to get yourself there and she does. I know she has helped many people through her yoga and meditation teachings.

I began communicating with Susan long distance from France and continued when I got home. She provided me with some great resources to embark on my exploration of meditation. Coincidentally, she pointed out that the current issue of the Oprah magazine featured an entire spread on meditation for beginners. That seemed like fate. She also recommended some excellent apps like Headspace and Insight Timer that contain literally thousands of guided meditations. I jumped right on the bandwagon and began to read and experiment even going so far a as purchasing an Oprah-Deepak Chopra collaboration of meditations titled “Getting Unstuck”. These are all things I never would have considered doing before I was pushed to the brink. What I love most about Susan is that she is not preachy about the things she believes in — a habit many “believers” have that usually just turns people off. Instead, she quietly waits in the wings until you are ready and then she is totally there for you when you realize you need to tap into her wisdom.

Eventually Susan and I were able to connect in person. She guided me through a simple meditation and shared several books with me on meditation, mindfulness, and living happy. For me, there’s nothing particularly earth-shattering in anything I’ve read or learned so far. I see it more as an affirmation of thoughts and ideas I have had but maybe not practiced as much as I should. For example, the idea that positive habits and attitudes fuel well-being is merely common sense though not necessarily easily accomplished. And I could certainly use this approach to life now more than ever.

During this period when much of my time is being spent waiting between one appointment or procedure to the next, exploring this new field of thought has been at the very least a great diversion. Even just a small effort has paid off. Whenever I need to set aside fears and concerns about my health, I put on my headphones and tune in to one or another meditation. I’m never sure if I am doing it right or wrong, but I don’t think that really matters. Any attempt at creating some peace in my mind is beneficial.

So, as you can see, just like Cool Hand Luke, I’m getting my mind right… or trying to anyway. I have yet to face that MRI, but I am hoping when I do that I can achieve some level of calm to help me get through it. On a larger scale, I am definitely finding that using my down time (from doctors, tests, etc.) to expand my knowledge, understanding, and practice of meditation and other eastern wisdoms is helping me follow a much more positive path than I otherwise might have through this difficult part of my journey in life.

On the Brink


Niagara Falls 2003

Sometimes life presents challenges you didn’t expect — challenges you didn’t sign up for. If you’re a control type person, someone who thinks things out and plans all the time like me, you’re thinking, “No way was that on my list!” You’re even indignant about it because, after all, you are supposed to be the one who’s in control. Right? Well, apparently, not all the time.

Fortunately in my life, I haven’t had too many traumatic, unexpected experiences, but I have had a few. Getting divorced… yep, didn’t plan for that. Finding out my daughter got married and didn’t tell us… uh, not in my ideal life picture. And now, getting terribly sick to such a degree that I am very limited in what I can do until I get some answers and solve the problem. I can tell you that was definitely not part of my plan. These kinds of things can push you to the brink. How you handle them can make all the difference in whether or not you are going over the edge.

The way I see it, you have two choices. Either give in and succumb to whatever comes next, or take charge and take control back. This, of course, is easier said than done. At the onset of the traumatic event, you don’t always make the right choices. It can be sad or scary or both and typically you just react with your gut feelings. Nothing wrong with that necessarily. We all have emotions and they are bound to drag us around from time to time. But once you get your wits about you a little, can distance yourself from the situation and reflect, you can at least try to see alternatives.

In my mind, I imagine something like standing on the edge of Niagara Falls as a metaphor for being on the brink. I realize that the inevitable prospect of going over the edge is actually worse than facing the challenge itself. So if I can just turn around and face it, deal with it in some logical way, I can get through it and it won’t be so bad. I am always impatient and I know it will take time, but eventually I resolve to do it… because being on the brink just doesn’t feel very good.

If you handle your challenging circumstances carefully, you might even learn or try something new that you never would have envisioned for yourself. This is the case with my current situation. At first, I was just really scared. I thought it was the end. Then I sort of peacefully resigned myself to the possibility of it being the end. Finally, I decided it just wasn’t time for the end. I came to the conclusion that in some way I had to get my mind right. I just had to figure out how to do this. The realization is easy, doing it is another thing altogether. When this all started five weeks ago, my anxiety was heighten by having to communicate as accurately as possible in French regarding my health and having to face all kinds of invasive tests some of which like an MRI played right into my irrational claustrophobic fears. The reality was and is that I have to deal with these things to get past this challenging time in my life and move forward.

I realize this doesn’t sound very much like a topic for “Paris and Beyond”. The “beyond” has always been intended as a physical place. However, I think a mental or spiritual place could be implied as well. Some have referred to my current situation as a “journey” so I suppose I could see it as a different kind of travel — traveling through my life to a new and better place. Since there are a certain number of readers following this journey, I thought I would continue with the next few chapters so as not to leave anyone hanging. Because, of course, we wouldn’t want that! 


imageHave you ever wondered why things happen? Perhaps it’s because of the choices one makes, or choices someone makes for someone else. Or, others believe that everything might be predestined, sometimes entirely out of one’s own hands. Or perhaps you’re just part of a bigger picture, in a universe that is so interconnected that when something happens, a long string of events unfolds and eventually you become part of it.

Whatever your belief, the one constant is that things do happen. As well-rehearsed or planned as some things may be, at times a diversion is created on the path you take.

Life is like that…..for everyone. Good things, not so good things. We’ve mentioned previously that travel (off the beaten path) can yield a treasure trove of wonderful experiences and even when those experiences turn out to be difficult, there are still things one can learn from them. You can choose to run away from them or bury your head in the sand when the going gets tough or……do the best that you can with what you have and work your way through it.

As it turns out, we are going down one of those difficult paths. It is very difficult to face reality especially when it involves the person closest to you, the one you love the most. It feels as if your world is suddenly and inexplicably crumbling around you……and it can make you feel helpless because the only thing on your mind is the health and safety of that loved one. The reality is that life is a circle. And from beginning until life’s circle closes, there will be difficulties and challenges to overcome.

One of the wonderful things that we have rediscovered during this time is how sympathetic, generous, helpful, and kind people are. Even though at the moment our path is rough, we have and are learning good things about the people around us, people we have never met before and about ourselves. It is heartening to feel that despite the turbulence that at the moment seems to engulf you, people come to your aide. If you’re a pessimist, it will restore you’re faith in humanity; if you’re an optimist, it re-enforces it.

For us, it is a time to take stock, reassess our priorities, and take action to rebalance those things that are the most urgent and important in our lives. It will take time as such things sometimes do, but it is our hope that we will succeed and get back on the path we see for ourselves and determine the karma of our lives.

Coup de Main

imageThere’s nothing worse than getting sick or becoming ill when you are away from home. Additionally, if you happen to be in another country, especially one where you have a limited command of the language, it’s all the more difficult. You begin to feel very isolated and even a little homesick perhaps. Suddenly, nothing you had planned for your visit even matters and you just want to go home.

Unfortunately, our first three weeks in France have definitely not turned out as planned. Although I didn’t know it at the time, only a few days after our arrival, my health was starting to deteriorate. So we decided to try to find a “local” English-speaking doctor we could see as soon as possible.The day following my initial doctor visit, I went to a local lab as directed for a full battery of blood tests. I was supposed to get the results and return to the doctor with them on the same day. Everyone at the lab was more than courteous as we struggled through with our French. When we returned to pick up the paperwork, one of the lab workers whose sister lives in Florida struck up quite the conversation with us about his experience traveling to San Francisco for a conference of biologists, expressing how much he enjoyed himself.

Because of the results of my blood tests, our local doctor made an appointment for a abdominal procedure to check my condition further. It would be three weeks, however, before that could be done. So he directed us to the main hospital in Périgueux for what was supposed to be a simple and quick procedure. He provided us with a letter which we presumed was an explanation of my condition. With letter in hand and anticipating a quick visit, we headed out to the hospital the next morning. We were impressed by how quickly one could see a doctor. We were able to see our local doctor on the same day without an appointment and we were expecting the same quick response at the hospital. Upon arrival, the hospital admissions told us that we had to go to emergency care in another part of the hospital. So off we went, explaining ourselves and providing the necessary information to the emergency room admissions staff whose command of English was naturally very limited. At this point, we had no idea if our healthcare coverage in the U.S. would cover our expenses so it was quite tense. Nevertheless, everyone was very accommodating and we managed to complete the required paperwork.

The letter we presented from the local doctor requesting the procedure seemed to put us at the head of the line. We felt fortunate in that so many other people had obviously been waiting for a while. I was immediately whisked into the emergency care area where I awaited the expected abdominal exam. All of the healthcare workers I encountered were more than pleasant. Once they realized I didn’t speak French well, they were happy to slow down, explain carefully, and have a little fun practicing their English even making jokes when possible. Fortunately, the resident doctor who attended me throughout the day spoke rather good English so I was able to understand what was going on fairly well. As it turned out, my ”short and simple” exam evolved into a long 10-hour day culminating in a transfer to the main hospital.

Eventually, I found myself in a hospital room preparing for an overnight stay. At this point, I had been wheeled back and forth for various tests but still had not had the recommended procedure. As you might imagine, I was getting more than a little frustrated. However, the friendly and positive attitude of the nurses and aides I dealt with helped me come to accept my fate. I just had to wait for tomorrow. Meanwhile, my French was improving rapidly under these circumstances. While stressful, it was probably the best immersion program ever.

The next day, a different procedure superseded the original one. Due to the fact that no anesthesia was used, I couldn’t tolerate it — and so I was returned to my hospital room. We were becoming increasingly concerned about my health. We felt it best for me if we returned to the U.S. where I could continue treatment with my own doctor, and if need be, stay in our own hospital in familiar surroundings where all the costs for my treatment would be covered under our insurance plan. We insisted I be released that day which did not go over well with the presiding doctor but our wishes prevailed. Back at our rental home, it was time to regroup and figure out the next move. This involved making a lot of phone calls both in English and French. My husband took care of most of this and though it was very taxing, by the end of the day, the cooperation and goodwill of others were almost overwhelming. Our healthcare plan would cover all of our expenses. The American Embassy in Paris would provide translators as necessary. The hospital agreed to re-admit me the following week for further tests and to complete the required procedure — this time with anesthesia. Kindly, our British acquaintances from previous trips pitched in as well. The wife of one couple, a former nurse who speaks French, even made calls to secure some facts and make sure we understood everything. Just before going to bed, we received a call from the gentleman in charge of care for our rental house who offered the name and number of an American woman who could translate for us as well. As the day came to a close, we were heartened by the realization that so many people reached out to help us in such a difficult time even when we were so far from home.

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