Wednesday, April 24, 2019

I've Got Something You're Going to Love

After 38 days in the hospital and 40 in rehab, Patrick came home on April 8, a Monday, to a place he had never lived in before. A couple of Polish workers were tiling the bathroom, and there was a hotplate in the kitchen where the stove should be. The stove was on order from Castorama.

We were sitting at the kitchen table when I began doodling on an envelope. One thing led to another, and pretty soon I had made a collage. The next day I made another. And another.

Ever since, I've been cutting up milk cartons and yogurt containers and turning them into collages. Every collage is made out of household debris, mostly packaging for mundane items like laundry soap and toilet paper. No glue—I just lay the pieces on a flat surface, take a picture with my iPhone, and then sweep up the bits and toss them into the recycling bin. Today I made my 13th collage in 13 days.

Patrick thinks this is a perfectly normal thing to do. I know because I checked. "Do you think I'm crazy?" I asked him. "Absolutely not," he said. Then he added, "No more than I am."

The other day, he approached me with his hands behind his back. "I have something you're gonna love," he said. Then he presented me with—ta-dah!—a warning label for a German egg beater. Today it was a circle of sticky blue paper that he had peeled off a bottle of spring water.

It has been 17 days since he came home and I still cannot believe my good fortune.

Some of you have seen the pictures of collages 1–13 on social media and asked me why. I have been asking myself the same question. Here are some of reasons I've come up with so far:

1) Because I want time to slow down.

2) Because on the tombstone of my friend Dolly McKinney are written the words "Don't forget to play."

3) Because I loved everything we did in Mrs. Tormey's art class, but I especially loved collage. (I also happen to love making patchwork quilts, which is a similar process. I would probably like building stone walls, too, if I were given the opportunity.)

4) Because scientists say art makes us smarter and more tolerant. I often wish I were both of these things.

5) Because I have become hyperaware that we throw away too much stuff. Don't ask me how turning milk cartons into works of art that have a lifespan of less than five minutes is going to fix that. Something to do with mindfulness, maybe.

6) Because everybody has a little artist inside them, right?

The little artist inside me woke up from a deep sleep as I sat with my husband on one of his first mornings home. I have a hard time just sitting, my hands like to be busy, but I wanted to stretch out that moment, which was one of complete happiness. So while my husband just sat, enjoying the feeling of being alive and being home, I picked up a pen and started doodling. And then I picked up some scissors and started cutting.

And that's how it began.

Above: Collage #13, "Askari." Styrofoam, paper, cardboard, foil, and transparent molded plastic.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Oh Joyous Day, Oh Stuffed Tomato, Oh Car That Beeps, Oh Joy

Figure by Marion Lent (paper clay, 18 cm) 

Yesterday Patrick left the rehab center for his second dose of fun and recreation since he was taken in an ambulance to the ER on January 27. Yes! A month ago, he could barely walk with the help of a walker. Yesterday he not only walked, with a cane, into his favorite bistro but he even drove himself there in his new car.

This is the almost brand-new car that he bought for a very good price just before all hell broke loose. It's white and shiny, don't ask me the make, and it beeps when you are going to back into a tree.

The Smile is a five-minute walk from our old apartment. Normally, Patrick goes there three times a week to have a beer with his friend Pascal. The people who work there are our friends. When we walked in, Marie’s face lit up. I, being me, started to get all weepy. Jeremy came out of the kitchen in his white apron and tocque and squeezed us before rushing back to make sure nothing was burning.

I ordered a stuffed tomato; Patrick ordered the steak and a tiny glass of St. Omar. For dessert he had fromage blanc with caramel and I had the crême brulée. Everything tasted divine.

We then drove to our new apartment in Butte Montceau, where Mr. Tyminski’s guys were banging on walls and drilling holes. Patrick lay down on the living room sofa and fell asleep.

I lowered our brand-new very expensive blinds to keep the sun from shining in his eyes.

Just before he began napping in earnest, Mr. T popped in to check on his crew. “Patrick is here!” I said. The two Mr. T’s discussed toilet seats.

Mr. Tyminski—Luc—had a stent put in last year; he knows something about emergency surgery.

After the nap, we sat in the kitchen, peeling carrots. Then we drove down the hill to the rehab center. We had dinner in Patrick’s room, and then I walked back home.

It was an excellent day. There is so much more that I could tell you, and I will, but not now. Now I must edit four chapters of “Myths of the Tribe,” second edition. The World’s Most Patient Writer has been waiting for me to finish this job since last fall.

Love, Sadie

PS The figure above is by the artist Marion Lent. You can see more of her work on her website, It is one of many works of art, including several by Vermont artists, that will make our new apartment a special place. I named this one "Lulu." Here he is standing on the microwave in our kitchen. He moves around a lot.

Monday, March 25, 2019

And Then Angels Appeared

Today I woke up in fear because I had to go to Castorama to buy bathroom tile. I am not a good shopper under the best of circumstances. If I had to rate myself as a shopper, I would give myself a D-minus. I get buyer's remorse before I even buy anything. The idea that I might regret my purchase as soon as I get home is petrifying. And bathroom tile is pretty hard to return. You don't want to buy a bunch of bathroom tile and decide you made the wrong choice. I also had to buy kitchen appliances.

Factor in that I am a lifelong renter. Renters do not make home improvements. If a renter wants to improve her home, she moves.

Factor in, too, that these renovations are being financed by my husband, who is still recovering from a catastrophic illness and unable to participate in the shopping spree. So while I hope my decorating decisions will meet with his approval, I can't be sure. But since this is the first home he has ever owned, and he is really looking forward to living in it, I really really want to get it right.

The first bit of advice Patrick gave me, way back in early February, was that he didn't have a budget. I had no idea how much money he expected me to spend, or what he expected me to spend it on, besides a stove, a couple of kitchen cabinets, and some paint. I decided to wait.

While I was waiting for him to revive enough to take an interest in the new flat, I fixed it up so that it was comfortable. The kitchen didn't have an oven yet, but that was okay. We lived without an oven for two years in Arusha, and for one year in Westfield. I barely noticed that we didn't have one.

I was just getting settled when Helene popped in to hurry things along. "But Helene," I said, "there is really no hurry. If we start now, Patrick will come home to a big mess. I want his homecoming to be restful. We can do the renovations later." The next thing I knew, I was picking out bathroom tile with Mr. Timinsky, our Polish contractor, and two friends.

Mr. T kinda of shook his head when he saw us coming, three women to do the job of one. No doubt he figured we would discuss floor tiles for the rest of the afternoon. But Mary and DeeDee were brilliant. They knew all about bathroom tiles, kitchen stoves, and whatnot. They whipped up and down the aisles, explaining to me what I would or wouldn't like. I barely even had to think. Never once did I consider throwing myself onto the parquet and crying, "Enough! You decide! Anything but Hospital White or Cemetery Gray!" I actually had fun. 

Sometimes miracles happen.

Oddly, my cell phone died as soon as I entered the store. I managed to send Patrick one little photo of a piece of parquet flottant before it quit.

Above: DeeDee and Mary discuss flooring with Mr. Timinsky, our contractor.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Second Meltdown

Sometimes I write “I’ll tell you all about it in my next post” and then I forget. This time I remembered.

Patrick was in the hospital for 38 days. He spent 15 of those days in the ICU, 9 of them on a respirator. When he got demoted to the cardiovascular surgery unit, we were ecstatic. Little did we know the nightmare that awaited.

There was the roommate who smoked e-cigarettes and watched car racing on the TV (the subject of my first battle with the nurses). His cell phone ring tone sounded like the charge of the light brigade.

There was the night nurse who complained, “What? Again?” whenever she was asked to bring the bedpan.

There was the doctor who ordered me out of the room, in front of an entourage of medical interns, when I made a special effort to arrive before visiting hours so that I could get, first-hand, an update on my husband’s medical condition when the doctor made her rounds. (The cause of the first meltdown.)

There was the doctor who said, “We don’t do rehab in the hospital because we don’t have a physical therapist; I know it’s bizarre.”

There was the absence of even the most basic physical therapy equipment, such as one of those cheap plastic devices for clearing your lungs after surgery. Such as a walker. Such as a wheelchair with foot supports and arm rests.

And then there was the moment that I said I would write about, the one that precipitated the second meltdown.

I was in the waiting room, only partially recovered from the first meltdown, when my sister-in-law arrived with a lawyer in tow. The lawyer’s job was to get Patrick and me to sign a bunch of papers giving Helene power of attorney for an event that was looming: the closing of the sale of their mother’s apartment, the one where Patrick and Tom and I have been living. Helene would also have power of attorney for the buying of the new flat, the one where we would be living after the first flat was sold to a retired diplomat from Nice. Giving my sister-in-law POA was judged by all to be a good move because my comprehension in French of legal matters is roughly that of a four-year-old.

We all trooped down the corridor to Patrick’s bedside. He was sitting in a chair beside the bed, dressed in his hospital shift. For the occasion, he had donned a pair of navy blue undies. He had not shaved, nor had he been shaved, in over a month. He looked like the survivor of a mining accident.

The nurses’ station was just across the hall. The lawyer approached it and asked if there was a table we could use. “Don’t ask them for anything,” I said. “It’s futile.” I was thinking of the bedpan. Not to mention the walker, the wheelchair, and the breathing device.

I wheeled Patrick to the lobby, followed by the lawyer and Helene. The lawyer began explaining what we were about to sign. After a few minutes, Patrick needed to lie down. We went back to his room. I helped him into bed.

For days, I had suspected that he was losing the will to live. No, I was sure. This is why I had come to see the doctor. The doctor who refused to speak with me.

The lawyer talked on and on. I tried to listen and understand, but I was exhausted and extremely worried—scared, in fact—and not in the mood to sign legal documents in French.

The lawyer turned to me. It seemed there were a lot of details in the document that he wanted to make sure I understood. Important details, since the document concerned the “residence conjugale.” The place I was meant to live, presumably for the rest of my life.

Suddenly, everything got very complicated. I had to make a choice: Would our marriage contract be subject to Tanzanian law, American law, or French law?

The lawyer began to explain the substantial differences in U.S. and French property law governing married couples. He admitted that he didn’t know much, or indeed anything, about Tanzanian law. I made a quick assumption that Tanzanian law wouldn’t be all that favorable to me, the wife, in my present or future circumstances. Under Tanzanian law, I might be married off straight away to some other family member should I suddenly become a widow.

In other words, the choice I was suddenly being asked to make concerned the death of a spouse. My spouse.

The lawyer went on and on, explaining the differences between French and American law regarding marital property rights. His explanation was half in English and half in French. The English part was, for me, barely more intelligible than the French. I really had no idea what he was saying.

I looked from the lawyer, to the sheaf of papers he was holding, to my husband, who was lying on his back with his eyes closed. And then I burst into tears.

The poor lawyer became extremely flustered. He was young and very clean, very correct. He offered to leave and come back another time. I wiped my tears, straightened my spine, and said, “That will not be necessary. I will pull myself together.” And I did.

Patrick's eyes were now open, but he was too tired to react to the hubbub. He hadn’t slept much for days, he could barely eat (“Everything tastes like cardboard”) and he couldn’t stand on his own. One night, when the mean night nurse was on duty, he tried to get to the toilet by himself, but his legs wouldn’t hold him and he ended up on the floor. He had to crawl back to bed. No wonder he thought he would be better off dead.

“What should I do, darling?” I asked.

“Just sign it,” he said.

And our business was finished.

Later that day, I asked him: “Do you know why I was crying?”

“Oh, yes.”

“He was talking about what would happen to me if you die.”

“I know.”

“And do you think I made my point with that awful doctor, despite my poor French?”

“You made your point. You were very clear.”

“I slammed the door.”

“You spoke for both of us.”

“I was good, wasn’t I?”

“You were good.”

Today, March 24, is Tom’s birthday. He is coming from Paris to see us; we will gather at the rehab center down the hill from our new flat, where Patrick is temporarily living. We have all been through hell since January 27, and the next few weeks are going to be difficult. Tom has to open a new restaurant on Wednesday, a restaurant that is not ready to open. I have to supervise the renovations on our new flat, and I am nowhere near ready for that type of chaos, mentally or physically. Patrick has to gain enough strength to climb the 16 stairs to our new front door. The day he climbs those 16 stairs, I am going to shower him with confetti. I’m going to stand at the top of the stairs with a glass of IPA in one hand and a plate of oysters in the other. Above our front door will be the little sign that reads “Texier Household, est. 1999,” given to us as a wedding present, if I can figure out which packing carton I put it in. The flat has three bedrooms, a big living room, a small balcony, and a good-sized kitchen with a breakfast nook. It has good natural light all day long. It is steps away from a forest with woodland trails, one of which runs along the Seine. It is across the street from an auto school, where I can get my French driving permit, and a halal butcher shop and a good boulangerie, and a Turkish joint that sells kebabs. There’s even a lab where Patrick can get his blood tested. It is the first home that he has ever owned, and I want his homecoming to be nice.

Above: Patrick at the rehab center, talking on the phone with Helene.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Things Are Looking Up

Today, a miracle happened: I woke up in our new flat, stepped into the living room, the guest bedroom, and the study, and did not see a SINGLE cardboard box. Then I walked into the kitchen and saw . . . approximately 89 mostly flattened cartons jammed into the space between the wall and the refrigerator. 

So now you know how I spent my weekend.

But wait (I hear you thinking), how did we get from Patrick’s near-death experience to packing cartons?

In brief: On Sunday, January 27, Patrick had emergency surgery for an aortic dissection in Paris. He spent 38 days in the hospital, 15 of them in intensive care, and 11 of those on a respirator. What can I say? It was sheer hell. On March 5, he was transferred to a rehab facility near our house. That’s where he is now.

Meanwhile, we moved to a new flat.

Not to whine, but I haven’t had a lot of time to write blog posts. Now that we are more or less settled, and P is on the mend, all that is going to change. And when P comes home, which could be next week, I am going to not only write blog posts, but also finish editing David Rich’s revised edition of Myths of the Tribe, edit one or two other books, spray the corners of our new flat with a product called Bang, redo the shower to prevent falls, resume water aerobics, comb my hair more often, reglue several wooden chairs, and cook nourishing meals in our new kitchen.

The kitchen isn’t really a kitchen yet, but it does have a two-burner hotplate and a microwave, which is more than our kitchen in Arusha had.

Meanwhile, I have spoken with a Mr. Tyminsky about bathroom showers and kitchen stoves, and I have even been to a kitchen and bathroom store with my friend Mary, who knows way more about renovating a domicile than I do.

Henny Plunkett, from the Crossroads choral group, is coming to take the cardboard boxes this afternoon because she is moving back to England.

Spring is coming, the magnolias are blooming, and things are looking up.

Love, Sadie
PS: Tom drew the little elephant in the photo, many years ago, and made the frame out of a piece of cardboard from a Tanzanian brewery (Ndovu) and bits of pasta. Patricia Tobaldo, the Argentinean painter mentioned in Our House in Arusha, painted the big elephant and friends.

Friday, March 1, 2019

How to Ignore an Annoying Hospital Patient

If you, dear reader, should ever land in a French hospital, there is something you should know: The French health-care system, though one of the best in the world, is stretched very thin in places. One of those places is hospital staffing. So while you would undoubtedly be better off in a Parisian hospital than in, say, Bangladesh, you still might not get a bedpan when you need one. You might lie in bed, for hours, wondering if the frigging doctors and nurses even care whether you’re dead or alive.

One day I arrived at Chambre 44 to learn that my husband, who is very observant (he was a spy during the Cold War), had made a study of the ways in which French hospital personnel deal with this staffing shortage. The etiquette of ignoring a bedridden patient in France goes something like this:

Method No. 1: Avert your eyes. If you must pass by the open door of a patient who wants your attention (a patient who is not actually dying), keep your eyes focused firmly on your notepad or, if your notepad isn’t handy, your shoes. Walk quickly and purposefully, eyes down, until you are safely past the open door.

Method No. 2: If you can’t escape an encounter with a needy patient, explain that you have an even more urgent matter to attend to and promise to return in 10 minutes. Then go about your business and return when you can. Remember, time is meaningless to a hospital patient.

Method No. 3: Explain to the hospitalized person, in your sternest voice, that he is not your only patient. There are other patients who also have urgent needs. He must wait his turn.

Method No. 4: Be nice. Let him think that you are his friend, the only nice person in the entire unit. Do not tell him that you are only being nice because you have rented a vacation villa in Martinique for two weeks, you leave tomorrow, and you are hoping he will be gone by the time you get back.

This is why, after being the wife of a hospital patient for four weeks, I finally blew my stack.

I did not blow my stack at the nurses. I could see they were doing their best and that, were I in their position, the patient might not survive. I mean, it would be him or me. If I were the last nurse in the universe, and I were in charge of that hospital unit, anyone who couldn’t fire me would go straight to hell. That would be my approach to the situation. Starting with my husband’s horrible roommate, who shouted into his cell phone at 1 a.m., smoked e-cigarettes, and stuck blobs of chewing gum under the bedside table for the nurses to remove.

No, no, I blew my stack at one of the doctors. Not the nice one who brought Patrick a beat-up old wheelchair so he could escape his room for a few minutes, but the mean, nasty one who insisted that I leave the room when she came through with her tribe on their medical rounds.

“But I came to hear your report about my husband’s condition,” I explained, in my best French, which is pretty awful but not completely unintelligible.

“Madame, visiting hours begin at one.” The time was a little past noon.

“But I am here now.”

“You must leave.”

I turned to the patient. “Darling, do you want me to leave?” Patrick shook his head.

I turned back to the evil doctor. “He wants me to stay.”

“Madame Texier.” There followed more talk, in a very stern voice, about hospital regulations regarding visiting hours.

Well, I just refused to back down. As the argument continued, the five people trailing the mean doctor stared into space with their eyes unfocused, looking rather frightened. Finally, Patrick literally writhed, turning onto his side as if he were going to jump out of bed and try to escape, and cried, “Darling, it’s useless! It’s useless to try to talk to these people!”

Whereupon I left.

Later that day, I got an apology from the nice doctor on behalf of her colleague, and a much-needed change in the medical plan. The next day, the patient got his first shower in weeks. He perked up.

Right now, this minute, I have to start packing up the kitchen, and I don’t actually have time to finish this post. Let’s just say that I had another meltdown later that day, and then things started to get better. More to come . . .

Love, Sadie
PS The photograph shows an American Red Cross Hospital in Paris, I'm guessing World War I. No time to write a proper caption or credit or even figure out what the hell it is. The one Patrick's in is more modern.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Just in Case Your Aorta Cracks While You Are Living in France

Valerie trimming her father's beard in Marseille, a couple of years ago.

Let us hope that you never hear the words “aortic dissection” (“dissection de l’aorte”) spoken by anyone in the medical profession, but if you do, you should know that a crack in the aorta is a life-threatening condition; it must be addressed immediately if not sooner. The first thing to do, if you’re in France, is to call SAMU (pronounced “Samoo”) the French equivalent of 911. The French medical system will take it from there.

This is what Patrick did on January 25. I was in Vermont. The nurse who answered the phone when I called the hospital the next day reported that his condition was  “extremement grave.” Meaning “Look, lady, I don’t know where you are but you need to get here now.”

I was on a plane to France the next day.

I arrived to find my husband unconscious and hooked up to an astonishing number of machines. Beeps and blips and blinking lights and screens and tubes everywhere, and in the middle of it all, a puffy, funny-colored individual that I understood to be my husband.

Don’t ask me what the surgeons did to him; it is too complicated to explain. It involved lots of prosthetic bits and pieces, many arteries, several vital organs, and an incision that stretches across the patient’s entire abdomen and wraps around his side. It took seven hours. Closing the incision required some 200 staples. As Patrick himself said, many days later, “They almost cut me in two.”

The recovery unit’s chief honcho called the surgery miraculous. All of the doctors I spoke with seemed very impressed with themselves. I tried to show my appreciation, but it wasn’t easy. The patient himself, when he started to revive, did not seem the least bit appreciative. He seemed to be in agony.

Patrick was in the ICU for 19 days. He was then transferred to the cardiovascular surgery unit, where he has been for the past two weeks. Today he will be transferred again, to the nephrology unit. He has been lying on his back for almost 5 weeks, and his back is killing him. He is skin and bones. I do believe I could pick him up and carry him out of the hospital if I wanted to, and the irrational part of me (which is a rather large part of me at this point), would really like to do that. The irrational part of me would just like to wrap my arms around his frail little body and bring him home.  

Eventually, when the hospital is finished tinkering with him, he will go to a rehab center. I hope it is close to home. The daily round-trip to the hospital takes three hours, minimum. I keep thinking I’ll use the time to write, but instead I just stare out the window or fall asleep.

Two days ago a kind doctor rustled up an old wheelchair and Patrick was able to leave his hospital room without being on his back for the first time in 30 days. I wheeled him to the cafeteria where he ordered a ham-and-cheese sandwich and a bottle of San Pelligrino. The next day I wheeled him to the hospital beauty salon for a haircut and a shave.

Do not try to call him. If you want to follow his progress, email me or check back here. I am in the middle of moving us to a new flat, surrounded by packing boxes, but I will do my best to keep you posted.

Love, Sadie