A BODY PART IN FRANCE
We pick our story up after a kick-save ending to the hardcore “Prom-a” that had unfolded around the “ask” to my daughter’s senior prom (see previous blog). Crisis averted. My work there was done.
A day and a half of shopping in Paris with friends; walking and eating, photos, smiles. The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Left Bank, you get the picture. We were good. And we had the VAT receipts to prove it. I’d eaten enough crepes and croissants to sculpt a third leg with the carbs. And then? The stomachache. Not mine– my daughters.
We’ll leave out the vomiting parts and missing the last night of dinner with our friends before they took off, but suffice it to say that I was not concerned at first. There is a lot of low level whining that accompanies teenagers, lots of phantom aches, fatigue and growing pains to navigate. Even women’s prison-guard-hard me (“you don’t know real pain till you’ve birthed a child or had your head blown off in a war like your father”) sensed storm clouds gathering on the horizon.
We’ve all heard the stories about people whose appendix burst. It’s one of those perennial parent fears along with meningitis when your kids are babies. These are clear “go-to” maladies, but then again, no one wants a burst appendix on Air France for Pete’s sake (read prior blog about airline’s level of emotional involvement). A daughter with gut pains in Paris was no time to decide to “make a run for it” home. We’d see how the night fared.
We both went to bed, me with my fingers and toes crossed that this was just a stomach bug. But deep in my gut, my maternal sixth sense was on simmer. The next morning the stomachache had turned into specific pain on the right side. This is where I really, really wished I had called Verizon and figured the international calling thing BEFORE I left. Suddenly being unplugged didn’t seem so wonderful, bon vivant and important for our mother-daughter bonding. My friend Kerri was boarding a train to London with the only cell phone we’d had. Our umbilical cord was being cut.
But for those of you who believe in divine intervention, the day of the acute stomach pain was the very day we’d planned to see my high school friend Nancy. Her life is a made-for-TV movie.
She lives in Paris: blonde, beautiful and stylish, fluent in French with two adorable little girls and … wait for it… married to a doctor.
And guess what? Nancy assured me, enthusiastically, that shepherding two stressed out (one grimacing) Americans through the French public health system on a sunny Parisian afternoon was JUST what she wanted to do on a Saturday. This is a real friend.
We dropped our bags in her apartment, had a quick bite and headed to the North Drugstore and then to the French emergency room. I was feeling more confident about a stomach virus and began to envision hitting a French bistro for dinner and making our flight the next morning. I was dead —D-E-D wrong.
Suffice it to say that the next 12 hours in the emergency room and then finally, thank God, the surgery produced some of the most roller coastery events I’ve been through in a compressed period. First a possible bladder infection, then a blood test showed a spike in something, then two hours later, as ambulances kept unloading people on gurneys, and a restrained mental patient was screaming “Seeeeeee vooooy plaaaaaaay” at the top of her lungs, it was confirmed. Appendicitis.
She’d never had surgery before, never had a medical procedure more invasive than a shot. I had no idea how she’d react to anesthesia. She had three AP exams scheduled for that week and on top of that, I smelled smells. Bad smells. A French ER after a Friday night reeks of the Mad Dog 20/20 bottling factory. Blood, sweat and tears, complete with vomitorium. Some other folks clearly had a lot more serious issues in this queue.
All of this raced through my head in addition to the fact that I don’t speak French. Every time I tried to think of a French word as simple as “good morning,” lame high school Spanish floated mysteriously up to the surface of my brain like a magic eight ball reading. “Si” I kept answering everyone. “Gracias.”
God bless Nancy. I don’t know how I would have navigated this whole mess without her. And thank goodness for those French doctors and nurses, eye candy each and every one of those residents. Some of them trotted out their high school English, albeit sheepishly, but it was head and shoulders over my two-phrase Fren-Spanglish.
But what I realized, about halfway into my game of charades with the residents, is that parents can communicate all the important stuff with body language, with their eyes and their fears. Sometimes, you simply don’t need words—the heart has an international language of its own.
At this point Nancy’s surgeon husband got on the phone and tried take the bull by the proverbial horns. They listened, they nodded, he talked, they reacted. Yes, we can operate, no, sorry, now we don’t have a bed, you have to transfer to another hospital, no we can hold you here—maybe surgery tonight now, no, sorry, tomorrow. The hours ticked by. I physically began to shrink. I got weepy. I wanted my husband. And I felt kinda helpless. OK, really helpless.
Now let me just say as an aside that I’ve had my fill of medical situations. I consider myself a pretty tough customer after going through all Bob’s medical nightmare with a head injury in military hospitals. It takes a lot to rattle me. And I was well aware that we could have been in a foreign ER for much more serious circumstances; a car accident, a head injury, two broken legs. This was minor. But when it’s your child, it’s a whole different landscape of fear and internal God-whispering.
Sometime after midnight they finally wheeled her into surgery. Nancy and I (who I’d pictured would be strolling around her trendy neighborhood with baguettes and maybe a beret for good measure, playing with her girls at the park and going out for a wonderful last local meal of snails) were now curled up in hard plastic chairs in a dark hallway. We were the only two people left in the waiting area. It was the last surgery of the day or the first of the next day- depending on how you looked at it.
And nothing like a little medical crisis to bring two old friends back together. The calming shawl of the hushed hospital, the day’s spent adrenaline and that sub-consciously comforting 1978 connection of attending East Aurora high in our multi-colored Levis corduroys with curling ironed Farah wings, all instantly re-bonded us. Everything coalesced into one of those memorable intimate girlfriend conversations that hopefully happens more than a few times a year if you are blessed enough to have friends like Nancy.
And then she was out of surgery. It was done. All good. I could come in the recovery room. It was 1:45 in the morning. And I got weepy again. Like embarrassingly, wet noodle weepy. Like leaving-Saigon-by-rooftop helicopter-evacuation weepy. I was throwing my arms around doctors and nurses, telling them this was my little baby girl. I’m sure my breath alone at that point could have stood in for anesthesia. I hadn’t eaten. My teeth were wearing peds. But those health care professionals were all gracious, or perhaps they were simply appalled. But they hugged back.
And when I touched her hair and kissed her freckles, she groggily squeezed my hand and I was just so grateful we’d had the surgery; that we hadn’t had to wait one more night. I told her what I thought she’d want to hear…what a champ she’d been, how proud I was of her. “This will make a great story someday, honey,” I murmured. “You left a body part in Paris.”
She smiled and then opened her mouth. I waited, eyes misty, to receive her thanks, to hear how much she loved me back.
“Thank God it happened after the shopping,” she said, “I love that purple dress.” And that one utterance took all her effort. She gave me one last blissful smile before she surrendered to the shroud of IV painkillers and post–anesthesia.
And everything I had smiled back.
Next Up —Dad to the rescue, Boones Farm Wine and a mysterious gas…….