Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

The Long and Winding Road

long-roadIt has been a while since I have had the energy, motivation, and time to set foot on this blog. If you have followed along so far, you know that I have been presented with some major medical challenges. Ironically, this made my mission this year almost impossible (see previous post). Trying to teach middle school while battling severe anemia which caused incredible fatigue and shortness of breath was no small feat. I gave it my all and tried to keep up my enthusiasm and standards both for myself and my students. Thanks to my husband who drove me to and from work every day and did everything else for us, I managed to pull it off but not without running into a lot of bumps, potholes, and detours along the way. Eventually, there came a point where I realized that trying to make it all the way to June 2017 which was always the original plan for retirement was just not going to be a reality. So, much to the disappointment of my students, their parents, and myself, I planned to end my mission this month. It has turned out to be the best decision ever.

The road to January and retirement has been long with many twists and turns in the form of test after test and procedure after procedure producing few results and no answers. It has been incredibly frustrating to say the least. On the Monday after Thanksgiving, I ended up in the emergency room due to severe pain in my left side. The doctors checked for all the major traumas and found no indication of any. By this time they had been leaning toward some type of autoimmune disease as the cause of all my ailments as they had (thankfully) ruled out everything else. So, even though they could still not specifically identify the disease, they decided I was sick enough to finally prescribe a steroid (Prednisone) to contradict my symptoms. It worked like magic and overnight I began to regain some of my energy and feel a little more like myself again constantly improving every day.

While in emergency, the doctors noticed some inflammation in my lungs. Time for one more procedure — a bronchoscopy where they use a scope to look into your lungs and take a small biopsy. Finally, they found a clue! There was evidence of previous arterial hemorrhaging. After a careful study of the results and a few more blood tests, we finally received a diagnosis two days before Christmas — a strange but welcome gift. I have Microscopic Polyangiitis, a rare autoimmune disease and form of vasculitis which causes inflammation of the blood vessels. It can affect various organs — in my case, my lungs. It can be fatal if ignored. However, there is a reasonable treatment plan which involves four weeks of lengthy infusions, one per week, of a drug that will zap the heck out of my apparently overactive immune system. Of course, the drug (Rituxan) has numerous side effects though many patients report they experience none and the doctors do their best to mediate the potential for any throughout the process. Fortunately, this drug which has only been available for the past couple of years is much less taxing on your body than the one that has previously been used for so long.

Now I am completely and officially retired. While I was not able to complete my mission in its entirety, I know that this alone will contribute to guiding me on my road to recovery. I am scheduled to begin my treatment next week. Assuming all goes well and I don’t have any adverse reactions, I will continue afterwards by tapering off the Prednisone and moving on with a maintenance medication lasting for quite some time. Lifetime management is part of the big picture with remission as a goal.

This may not be the happiest post (though I am happy to finally have some answers), but I felt I needed to wrap up this chapter before beginning the next — Retirement and Plan B which I will talk about in my following posts — all fun and exciting stuff!!

Thanks to so many of you for your care, concern, and support along this rough road. Time to get on to the next! Let’s get moving…

Back in the Saddle Again

It’s time to get back in the saddle again and return to work. After all I have been through this summer, I’m hoping I’ll be up to it.

Every year the administration chooses a theme. Just before school begins, we receive a cleverly designed invitation, ticket, or other item along with a thematically written letter describing the details of the days to come as we gather together again to prepare for our students. Admittedly, some themes play out better than others. Though this may sound like fun, I’m not necessarily a big fan of this approach. I have often been accused of being too serious so perhaps that’s my problem. It’s really difficult to play along when the theme is one that you’re not very excited about like sports which I don’t follow at all. One more reference to the Golden State Warriors or Stephen Curry and I was about ready to scream last year. My apologies sports fans, but it’s just not me. This year, however, it seems I’m getting my redemption.

Cue the Mission: Impossible theme song and picture Peter Graves, Greg Morris, and Martin Landau, or Tom Cruise if you must, getting ready for their next assignment. The inspiration for this year’s theme is our school’s new mission statement*. So we’re all set to launch “Mission: Possible” with a year full of education analogies based on my absolute favorite genre — mystery, espionage, and intrigue. Now THAT’S a theme I can get behind! You know how it starts… “Your mission should you choose to accept it…” But, in our case, it becomes “Your mission… Which we know you’ll choose to accept”. That seems fair since Jim Phelps and his team always accepted their missions and, of course, they always succeeded despite a few challenges along the way — extremely appropriate as teaching goes. It appears that it will definitely be an exciting year.

As I head out tomorrow to meet up with the rest of the agents on my team, I’m looking forward to embarking on my last mission ever. Wish me luck!

*Our Mission: To inspire and empower all students to be curious and resilient problem solvers, compassionate and constructive contributors, and lifelong learners during their individual and collective journey of academic and personal growth.

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Merci Beaucoup!!

BC SailboatMost of my life has been smooth sailing. Except for having to move almost every year all through elementary school and make new friends which was really difficult for an introvert like me, my first 18 years were pretty much bliss. I went to school which I loved, did my homework, got good grades, and my mom did everything else while my dad worked 12-hour days. Yes, I was spoiled. However, my mom passed on some valuable lessons which have served me well. She taught me to be tough, learn to live with difficult situations, and not complain or cry about things. One of her favorite expressions was “This too shall pass”. It drove me crazy when I was young, but I have experienced the truth of it many times as an adult.

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My mom, Laury

There are bound to be some choppy seas in your life. For me they have been things like going back to work after 6 weeks following both of my C-sections, divorce, and two major surgeries to name just a few. Sometimes you encounter gale force winds and even hurricanes. Such was the case at the beginning of this summer. Fortunately by now things have settled into a rather moderate breeze. However, I would never have been able to navigate the rough waters without the help, care, and concern of so many people.

First and foremost is my wonderful husband, Norman. Until just recently, he has had to do absolutely everything for us the entire summer. He has done it all without complaint making me feel comfortable and safe at all times… making sure I got the care I needed. It hasn’t been easy. Over the past 22 years, he has guided me through many storms. He has been the captain of our ship and I have been his first mate. He has always managed to keep our morale up and help me stay in good spirits despite the difficulty or uncertainty of the situation. I never could have survived any of it without him.

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Norman Sailing

Our son, Lorenzo, made his first trip to Europe this summer. The original plan was for him to spend several days with us in France. We were really excited about having the opportunity to share with him the France we love. However, we had to return home before he even arrived. In the end, he probably had more fun without us adding Barcelona to his London and Paris itinerary with the change of plans. Throughout his overly busy Apple work life and his exciting European adventure, he has made a point of checking in with me to see how I’m doing. That has meant the world to me.

Lorenzo & mom

Our son, Lorenzo

We have also been fortunate to have some British friends in France we met while staying in their gîtes on previous trips who helped us chart our course. They offered assistance and advice, checked in with us from time to time, visited, and made us feel a little less lost at sea so far away from home.

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Philippa & Paul

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John & Penny

Then there’s the wonderful Pérez crew — all nine siblings plus their spouses, nieces and nephews — many of whom have sent e-mails and get well cards, telephoned, and just generally stayed in touch the whole time to find out how I’m doing. It has been so uplifting to have that kind of support.

Siblings With Spouses

La Familia Pérez

My side of the family is rather small, but I have had a dedicated crew in them as well. They have made a point of checking in on a regular basis and it has been very much appreciated.

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Cousins, Leslie, Cathy & Robin

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Cousin, Danielle

I am fortunate to count among my friends many very special shipmates who followed my progress, helped me conquer my fears of some of the big waves, and encouraged me to stay onboard.

Berenice & me 5

Berenice, Surrogate Daughter #1

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Kim, Surrogate Daughter #2

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Susan, Friend & Meditation Mentor

Donna & me

Donna, BFF

Norma & me

Norma, Long-time Friend from High School

For now, I’m happy to report that we seem to be heading back on course and looking forward to more smooth sailing very soon. I’m hoping to stay on an even keel for this last year teaching. I cannot thank everyone enough for all the little things you have done to make this journey more bearable. You float my boat!

Don’t Call Us…

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My room was peachy!

The main goal of our trips to France along with all the reading and studying we have been doing is to make sure we are very familiar with life in France and, as much as possible, the French language. The idea is that, if we decide to move there permanently, we will really know what to expect and limit the inevitable culture shock. Through our travels we have been able to explore many facets of daily French life. We have experienced shopping at traditional farmers’ markets, local shops, and big box stores like Auchan. Norman has had a lot of practice driving on all kinds of country roads and city streets and negotiating those incessant roundabouts. Staying in gîtes and vacation homes instead of hotels for extended periods, we have lived more or less like you would if you owned your own home there — cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, etc. But there’s one important thing you can’t intentionally explore and that’s French healthcare. It’s not like you could just show up at a French hospital and ask if you could be admitted for a couple of days so you can check it out. So, if there’s one redeeming quality to our most recent experience, it’s that we got to find out what it’s like to see a doctor and go to a hospital in France. Here’s our very personal take…

It’s much less expensive. Studies show that the average cost of a visit to a primary care doctor in the U.S. is around $160 as opposed to the regulated price of €23 ($25) in France. In California where we live, the average cost of a hospital stay is $2800 a day. While in France, I had two doctor visits, spent five days in the hospital, and had several tests and procedures for a total of $2600. The hospital room itself was just $20 a day. Amazing!

Everyone has insurance. For most of my career, my employer’s insurance has covered my entire family and I have paid little to nothing for healthcare. I have been lucky in that regard because this is not the case for many Americans. My current employer only covers the employee so we have to pay $750 monthly for my husband’s coverage. In France, healthcare is extended to every citizen or resident. It covers about 80% of all costs. You can pay the balance or purchase a very low cost supplemental plan to cover the rest.

The focus is on solutions. One of the things we noticed in France was that the approach to care was very different. The French doctors seemed to be very focused on finding a solution to the problem. It’s possible that being unencumbered by insurance companies and exorbitant costs, they have much more liberty to pursue a solution or perhaps it’s just how they have been trained. American doctors seem more focused on relieving symptoms and you don’t always get answers as to the cause of your problem.

Hospital stays are common. French doctors will admit you to the hospital for very basic procedures that would be done as an outpatient in the U.S. and keep you there as long as necessary even though you might otherwise be healthy and able to take care of yourself. I was actually allowed to go home for a day during one of my stays, but my room was reserved for me and I just walked back in the next day. Had I stayed in France to complete my care, I’m sure I would have been in the hospital much longer. On the contrary, a patient is never admitted to a hospital in the U.S. unless absolutely necessary.

The doctor is the boss. French doctors are totally in charge of every aspect of your care. They make all the decisions without consulting the patient. They are the experts and the patient is expected to follow along with whatever they recommend which they seem to always claim is “easy” no matter the procedure — endoscopy without anesthesia, MRI for the severely claustrophobic, etc. I’ve deemed this the “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” approach. At times, I waited for hours in the hospital without seeing the doctor or knowing what was going to happen next. American doctors work with the patient from the onset. They ask many questions, make recommendations, provide options, and then ask how you want to proceed. By the same token, you can make suggestions and requests. When you have a medical issue, it becomes a mutual effort in finding a cure.

You need to speak French! Many assume that well-trained doctors and other medical professionals would very likely speak English. It’s true that many medical terms are very similar or almost the same in French as they are in English so there is a certain amount of mutual understanding. However, that doesn’t serve to help you express or understand the details of your health issue. When a doctor is asking you specific questions about previous treatment experiences or allergies before he puts you under, you’d better be able to understand and answer correctly. We only encountered one doctor, a young intern in emergency, who spoke fairly fluent English. With everyone else we were at the mercy of our limited skills in French. Throughout the Kaiser medical facilities we use there are signs offering to provide a translator for umpteen different languages if necessary. We saw none of that in France.

Our decision to return home was not out of concern for the cost or quality of my care. It was extremely affordable and the doctors were doing their very best, but things were getting complicated and we had no idea how long it might take to figure it all out. In addition, we felt we needed to be able to communicate more accurately. And, of course, there’s a lot to be said for recuperating in the comfort of familiar surroundings. Nevertheless, now we have a much better understanding of French healthcare and will be more prepared to deal with it if and when there is a next time.

 

#61

imageIt’s just a number, right? That’s what we often say about age, but you have admit there are some important ones you can’t wait to turn… 16 so you can drive, 18 so you can vote, 21 so you can drink — legally, because you’ve been doing it for a while anyway. Early in your life, you are in such a hurry to reach these landmarks. Then we slow down a little and start marking the time in our lives by decades… 30 when I left a great job and many great friends in the Seattle area and moved back to California for what I thought would be a better life; 40 when I got divorced and eventually remarried a few years later and actually started a new and better life; 50 when I lost my dad and moved to San Jose (where he was born and raised) and started a new and even better teaching assignment. Then last year I had the best decade birthday ever spending the summer in France and celebrating 60 on a dinner cruise in Bordeaux.

At this point, I think you’re supposed to start counting significant birthdays by five’s because, well, you never know just how long you have. You don’t want to miss an excuse to have a stellar celebration. So this year, turning 61, I had what might be considered an “uneventful” birthday. I don’t think you’ll find a birthday card with “61” on it. However, I am a little spoiled. My husband always makes my birthday an event even if it is a small, intimate one which actually I prefer. I am much better at celebrating other people than being the center of attention myself at some grand event. And I am really grateful that I got to reach this landmark because, for a minute, I thought it might not come to pass.

For me getting older has had sort of a unique quality because I was always the baby on either side of the family minus one cousin who’s just a year younger. Early on I didn’t appreciate this because I was “too young” to do this, that, or the other that everyone else seemed to be doing. Today, of course, I’m in no hurry. In my mind I am still young which is not a bad self perspective. So, while 61 is just a number, just another year, I am happy to have had the opportunity to celebrate it.

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Celebrating at our Special Table at our Favorite Restaurant

 

The Gift of Time

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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

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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! 

Karma

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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