Fifty Shades in Hospital

One of my two dads, Papa Le Bike (so, the one who taught me to ride a bike), was in hospital in April and I dashed back to the UK to see him. Despite sounding like he was on death’s door over the phone, when I turned up he was surprisingly cheerful. I spent the next two days visiting him in hospital and I noticed he had the literary classic “Fifty Shades of Grey” on his bedside table. I asked him who had given him that to read and he said a nurse had. Could this be the latest NHS way of perking patients up? He said he’d flicked through it but it didn’t grab his interest so he was leaving it for the next patient to stay in the bed he was in. He slipped it up on the little shelf behind the bed, next to the bible.

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I like to imagine the next patient being a devout Christian, reaching up to the shelf to get the bible and instead grabbing Fifty Shades of Grey, opening it up for a calming dose of spirituality and morality and instead getting a hit of Christian Grey shoving lychees up Anastasia’s bottom.

The next day, at Luton airport on my way back to France, I noticed the Daily Mirror front page …

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Needless to say, I didn’t send this to Papa Le Bike. In any case, he survived his stay in hospital and went home a couple of days later. Without his copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.

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The Pirate Returns

At last. He escaped. Captain Tommy Sparrow, or Pirate Peg-Leg as he is now known, managed to flee the clutches of Le Hospital and swim back to his own ship. He got away the day before yesterday and is still hopping around the house ship, bravely battling on, never giving up, despite foul poison being poured down his throat twice a day by the dreaded Captain Mummy.

We have warned Pirate Peg-Leg that we are planning on selling our house ship but nothing phases him now. He is looking forward to making new pirate friends on strange seas. Plus there’s a castle in the town we’d like to move to. With treasure hidden in one of the walls. I know this because when we visited it a few weeks ago, when Pirate Peg-Leg still had two fully working legs, I found him scraping at a 400 year old wall with a stick. I had to hide a fifty pence piece of eight in the grounds of the castle so that he could find some treasure before we left the castle, to avoid him bringing a turret down.

He is still limping and hopping and regularly falling over, yet doggedly continues his pirate cutlass training. His sister is simultaneously thrilled to have him home and also a wee bit jealous of all the attention he is getting. She has taken to opera screeching in order to remind us that she is still here. She is even letting me put pretty dresses on her rather than refusing to wear anything but her “My Pop is Da Bomb” t-shirt (a hand-me-down from 23 cousins) as she knows we will coo and aaahh every time she walks into the room. I took the opportunity to take a photo but she continued her opera squealing.

(NB: the dress is from Heavens-to-Betsy in case you were wondering.)

Hospital Still

(NB: I wrote this yesterday morning…)

We’re still here. It’s been 9 days. We have hit saturation point. Tommy screams if the nurses so much as approach him with a sticky anaesthetic patch, he sucks his thumb from morning to night and barely talks to anyone. He just wants the telly on which shuts him off even more. His major fear is having another blood test but to be allowed to go home the doctors need to check that the infection marker has gone back down, which means, yes, another blood test. His antibiotics are administered via a drip into a little sonde inserted in the back of his hand. The sonde stays there all day, they just hook him up when it’s time for the antibiotics, but he screams each time and says it really hurts. He yells his head off and everyone else in the room just wants to run. The nurses get stressed, I get stressed, Tommy is definitely very stressed. So they might have to put a new sonde in which means sticking yet another needle in. He is grumpy and ungrateful and I understand why he’s in such a foul mood but it doesn’t make it any easier for me. My eyes sting from the air-conditioning, my skin feels dry, I am absolutely exhausted from 19 months of non-sleeping baby and now the broken nights here. I have the eyes of a 75 year old. The summer is half gone and so far it has been utter shite. Give me rain but healthy kids anyday.

Yesterday when Tommy fell asleep after lunch I drove off to the neighbouring town, Vals-les-Bains, known for its thermal cures and healing water. Not that I can afford to go and bathe in their magical waters. Instead I went to the swimming pool, recommended by one of the nurses for its beautiful setting and 50m of length. It was just what I needed.

A very effective (but short-term) cure for hospital overdose. Bottoms, beware of the sun.

I swam up and down up and down up and down and when I got bored I got out and read my book* and when I got too hot I went back to swimming up and down up and down up and down. Mindless swimming, perfect. I did that for a couple of hours and then drove back to the hospital feeling slightly cheerier.

Sitting with Tommy in his bed playing cards I realised the backs of my legs were all prickly. Strange. And my back also felt odd. My bottom too. Ah. A fine case of sunburn. I wonder at what age my brain will actually register the fact that water doesn’t protect skin from the sun’s rays. I make this mistake pretty much every year. So now I have a sharply defined white triangle on my bottom and even the tangled strings of my bikini drawn on my back. And it’s not very comfortable sitting down. Which isn’t great when you’re in a hospital all day with your little boy. The doctor will be round soon, I think it’s the one I don’t like, the one who talks to me like I’m a piece of of balsa wood. Extremely condescending and highly superior. Well, I feel like a fight today so he’s welcome to come and visit us. It will relieve the boredom of being here and I can lash all my sunburnt fury at him. I just hope they’ll let Tommy go home tomorrow.

(I just read this back and realised that for the parents of children who are hospitalised for much more serious ailments and much longer stretches of time, this may well seem quite trivial. And they are right, it is quite trivial – Tommy has nothing seriously wrong with him, he’ll be fine in a week or two, and one spoiled summer is nothing compared to a life of illness. I’m just feeling selfishly pissed off and over-tired, and having a blog means I can write it all down and feel marginally better.)

* “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett – ’tis FAB.

Transient Synovitis or Septic Hip? Yikes.

I spent the night and this morning at hospital with Tommy and finally understood what he has/might have/might not have. I also found the English terms.
… which is a viral illness involving inflammation and pain around the hip and which clears up on its own with time and rest …
… which is serious and could cause permanent damage to the cartilege. It’s an infection within the hip joint – bacteria accumulates as pus, becomes very painful and requires surgery and strong antibiotics.
The thing with Tommy is that his symptoms were somewhere in-between the two. His blood tests showed he had an infection somewhere that was getting worse, he was in awful pain when anyone touched his hip or leg, yet he didn’t have much of a fever (it came and went but was never too high), he had a good appetite and was quite perky and ‘himself’. The MRI scan showed there was an accumulation of fluid on the hip so after consulting various other childrens’ wards in Lyon and Avignon, they decided to operate, extract the fluid, clean out the hip joint and put him on antibiotics just to ensure that if it is a case of septic hip there will be no permanent damage to his hip joint. He has to stay in hospital at least until Tuesday as the antibiotics are on a drip. Also they want to keep an eye on him to see how his hip pain evolves.
So there you go. It’s my turn at home with Léonie tonight, tomorrow I’ll put her down for her nap, Lorenzo will arrive home from the hospital, we’ll have a coffee and exchange news and then I’ll drive off to the hospital for the night to do a Tommy shift while Lorenzo takes over the Léonie shift.
It’s an odd sort of summer holiday.
He’s not ‘poorly’ in this photo, just having a peaceful nap. It’s the only time he’s not chatting away/playing on my iphone/watching Octonauts and saying all their lines before they do/buzzing the nurses to come and see him.
Not a very jolly post but I’m whamming it up here anyway in case one day another parent comes searching for ‘transient synovitis of the hip’ or ‘septic hip’. Should make my Google search terms more diverse.

Back in the saddle again.

Quite sheepishly, here I am again. Having announced in a typically actressy dramatic fashion that THAT WAS IT, it was all over, finished, done with, through, I would no longer be writing my blog, may you all weep and mourn me for weeks and months to come… here I am, a mere ten days later.

I can’t seem to stick at anything, not even being depressed. I tried my hardest, I lay on the sofa crying, I hated myself with a vengeance, I concentrated my hardest on thinking gloomy thoughts, but then our first load of summer visitors arrived and having a house full of people jolted me sharpishly out of feeling sorry for myself. You just can’t be depressed with a ton of friends around, smiling and pouring you a glass of wine and saying how they love your house and how adorable your kids are and isn’t your man handsome and funny and how gorgeous the weather is and aren’t you lucky. I started to feel quite selfish and even a little stupid about feeling so down.

And then there was a circus festival down the road where I saw a ton of shows, seething with jealousy at the performers on stage and willing one of them to break their ankle so that I could leap up and cry “Have no fear! I can replace him/her/it! I’m a multi-talented actress/dancer/accordion player/juggler/trapeze artist/bareback horse rider/acrobatic horse!” (the last five are lies but I was ready to try). I also really enjoyed the shows and swore to steal as many ideas as possible and make my own one woman show, with which I am planning to tour the world, be knighted for cheering whole continents up and conquer the universe. All that by next year. So I was already feeling a lot more cheery and was considering maybe writing a post or two, and then my sister (Sister 2) went and created her own blog for her homemade kids’ clothes line, Heavens-to-Betsy. Well, not only did it look a lot better than my blog, which I hadn’t updated visuals-wise since 1977, but by her 4th day she already had 94 readers. My utter maximum in a day is 144. There is nothing better than sibling rivalry to give you a wake-up call in the form of a slap round the face. Which is why I am sitting on our sofa right now, ignoring the glorious sunshine outside (no, I don’t live in the UK) and making my blog at least look a bit better, even if the content is still waffly and largely incoherent.

The other thing that stopped my down-in-the-dumpsiness in its tracks was having to rush Tommy to emergency ward on Sunday afternoon. His right leg just stopped working. He couldn’t walk, stand up or even move it without screaming with pain. I drove him to the hospital where they did x-rays, scans and blood tests and slept overnight with him on a camp bed. L’Homme took over yesterday and I came home to look after Léonie. This morning they operated on Tommy. They extracted the fluid that was in his hip and sent it off to be tested. We’ll know more about what he’s got in a couple of days when we get the results. It’s either a benign “rhume de hanche” (“hip cold” which I had never heard of) or it’s something more serious, maybe treatable with antibiotics, maybe not. I drove Léonie and I to the hospital this morning to be there when he woke up from his anaesthetic. His leg was in a traction thing with a weight on the end to try and straighten it out. He has a small incision on his left hip. He was all grumpy and upset and worried that he would always have a weight attached to his ankle. “It’s there forever Mummy? Oh no Mummy!” I reassured him that he would be up and about in a couple of days but the doctors reckon they’re keeping him in at least another 3 or 4 days. They need to be sure it’s not anything serious and they need the blood tests to show the infection marker going down, rather than up, which is what it has been doing until now.

Just a few days ago I remarked out loud how lovely it is in the summer because the kids are never ill.

All this makes me wonder whether I should put off going back to acting and performing for another year or so. The kids are still so little and still so prone to dodgy illnesses which land them in hospital. With L’Homme on the road 8 months out of every 12 I’m usually the only one here to look after them, although this time we are lucky it has happened while L’Homme is home.

Ironic really. We had put this week aside to “spend time together” – ie. put the kids to bed early and stay up late sipping wine in the sunset. Instead we’ll be seeing each other fleetingly at the hospital as the other one takes over, swapping car keys and nappy bag and Léonie. But at least all this has put life into perspective and hoisted me back into the saddle again (even if I do have a bit of chafing saddle sore).

I’m just crossing my fingers and praying to Zeus (or whatever god will listen to me), that Tommy’s leg problem is nothing serious and that he’ll be back on his bike soon.

The Audition !

I had my audition on Monday morning, in La Timone children’s hospital, Marseille. For those of you not tuned in to my every breath and burp, here’s what I’m on about (Hopi-clowns), and for those who are, IT WENT WELL. It went really well. I arrived well on time via the Marseille metro, losing about a kilo at every stop from sheer nervousness, or should I say shit-scared stagefright. Not that there was to be any sort of stage in sight; I was to be clowning in the hospital corridors, bedrooms, entrance hall, lifts, everywhere and anywhere, but not on a stage. As I drank coffee with Caroline Simonds (the lovely Big Boss) and her soft-hearted assistant J-L in the hospital café, I could feel myself breaking into a cold sweat as the minutes ticked by and the moment to get up and get auditioning approached. One huge comfort was that I knew the two clowns accompanying me, Alfredo and Molette, although Alfredo walked in and said “Wow! You’re all skinny now! With short hair! I hardly recognise you!” Molette reminded him that the last time we met it had been during a crazed pasta cabaret when we were playing an Italian family, getting the entire audience (100 people) to make tagliatelle with 5 pasta machines, and I was 8 months pregnant, running about in fishnet tights, heeled boots and a pink dress that made me look like a blancmange. I even did the splits, repeatedly, which may be why Léonie was born 2 weeks early. Once Alfredo had been acquainted with the after-effects of giving birth (losing the huge belly, hair falling out forcing you to hack it all off) I realised he was talking to my tits when he adressed me, which wasn’t surprising, as it had been over 18 hours since I had fed Léonie. I had driven down to Marseille and slept over at a friend’s house, thinking “oh, Léonie is 15 months old now, she’s feeding less, my breasts will be fine without her for a day.” Alas, I was wrong. I had woken up that morning with huge tits, firm and full of milk. If only they could look like that all the time. But I am side-tracking … back to the hospital cafeteria and me with the physical problem of very possibly squirting a doctor in the eye with milk or at least having a “special effect” costume which ends up soaking wet from the waist up. As I got changed in the little Rire Médecin dressing room I discovered I couldn’t even do my dress up. I was going to have to put this problem to the back of my mind and concentrate on being a crazy little clown, rather than a lactating Mummy.

While we were changing and putting our make-up on we messed about and the boys told me to keep things simple, to take their lead in the beginning, and bit by bit they would let me take more initiative and start up games and songs. “Ready?” “Erm … yes … I mean no, I mean yes, okay, let’s go.” We opened the door to the dressing room and tumbled out into the corridor, and that was it, we were off, non-stop for two hours of clowning in the children’s oncology ward (cancer ward), the day hospital and all the lifts and corridors linking the two. It went by in a flash. We began by singing La Llega Crescera in harmony with Alfredo on the ukelele, which was great because it filled me with confidence and got us messing about until we knew who was the boss (Molette) and who were the total idiots. I can’t remember what order things happened in but I do know we went from playing musical red-nose puppets in a doorway for a one year old with Down’s Syndrome to me blasting out an improvised rap in French for a teenaged lad with a broken arm. We tried to steal a little girl’s crisps, we rocked out with a four year old who had his own little guitar, we managed to persuade a moody 17 year old cancer patient to let us in his room and mess about until he got his phone out and started filming us, Alfredo tried to start a fight with a bloke eight times his size, Molette kept us singing and dancing and moving on to the next room (and washing our hands every five minutes), a little girl ran up to me to tell me I looked like Little Red Riding Hood which was BRILLIANT because I had a Red Riding Hood puppet in my basket which changed into granny and the wolf, we blew bubbles and sang ‘Pirouette Cacahuète’ for another little baby, leaving his mummy wearing a foam red nose, we sang “When the Saints come Marching in” in 12 different languages, we bounced up and down past the rooms with high windows … we kept going, full of energy, and all of a sudden we were back at the Rire Médecin dressing room door and it was all over. We piled in, along with Caroline and J-L, thirsty and laughing. I felt very happy.

As we got changed back into our everyday clothes they gave me a ton of feedback. Apparently it had gone really well for me and they were very pleased with what I had done. But there were 7 more people to audition over the next four days, and they were all great candidates for the job. Today is Thursday – the last of the hopefuls finished their audition this afternoon. Tomorrow all the clowns who accompanied we “learners” will sit down around a table with Caroline and J-L and choose two of us to join the company. Apparently there was another girl the day after me who was also great and another bloke auditioning today who has already done a year of Rire Médecin school … so I’m feeling less sure of myself now. I wake up in the middle of the night sweating from dreams where I am chosen/not chosen/fly out of the window wearing nothing but a red nose. I think about the outcome every 4 seconds (that’s more then a teenaged boy thinks about sex). I CANNOT WAIT to find out but I am going to have to wait … until tomorrow evening.

Oh readers, please pray to the Clown Gods for me and cross your fingers and everything crossable (toes, legs, eyes, bra straps) that they choose me. I so want to do this job, I know I would be really good at it, I would be so motivated and so happy to join the crazy band of generous hopi-clowns that makes up Le Rire Médecin. KEEP IT ALL CROSSED. GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES AND OFFER UP OFFERINGS – chocolate, beetles, goats – whatever makes those gods feel like consenting to my wishes. At least until tomorrow, when I will let you know if your efforts have reaped ripe rosy-nosed fruits.

This is a photo of me, as Teapot, in our shower. It’s the only place in our home where you can take flattering photos. Pardon. Did I say flattering?

(As for the milk-laden booby bother, I found an unexpected solution whilst visiting friends at lunchtime. To be continued …)

Interview, tick… next step: The Audition.

The title of this post rather gives away my latest news. Which means this will be another short post – yippee for me and my new decision to be in bed by half past nine every evening until Léonie starts bloody well sleeping through the night.

I dropped Tommy off at school at half past eight Wednesday morning just in time for him to bundle himself into a coach with his suitcase and wave goodbye to me through a steamed-up window; one of 40 little noses pressed up against the coach windows. It was his first school trip, his first time away from home for two nights without being able to phone Mummy or Daddy, and he was perfectly happy about it all. I had spent the night before writing T.O.M.M.Y. on his clothes/shoes/toothbrush/Dog & Donkey and tagging up his various bags with mini postcards of his grinning face. It took absolutely ages – precious time I should have been using to a/ prepare myself for the interview, and b/ sleep. But it meant Tommy left equipped to the hilt, and I didn’t get any of those stomach-lurching jolts when you realise, “oh damn, I forgot to pack him any pants.” I had been planning to drive down to Marseille later that morning, but having slept just 5 hours in bits the night before with a poorly-yet-wriggly baby in my bed, I went home and straight back to bed as Léonie crashed out in my arms. We ended up driving to Marseille late in the afternoon with me wondering how my exhausted brain was going to react in an interview the next day. Slowly, probably. Stupidly, no doubt.

I slept at a friend’s house. With Léonie in my bed again. And thus, another five hours of broken sleep, a 6:30 am start, and a double shot of paracetamol with 3 expressos. The interview was at 3 o’clock. I dropped Léonie off with another friend who was meant to be painting her workshop but was quite happy to have an excuse to take a break and push a baby around Marseille in the sunshine. I got the tram to the children’s hospital and was amazed at how huge it was. It is gigantic. I found my way in through the A&E entrance and got into one of four big lifts. I looked at the buttons. 16 floors. I pressed 9 and got out on the orthopaedics floor. I wandered out, looking for the meeting room and ended up doing a circuit of the ward. Again, enormous. I am used to small town hospitals with cosy little children’s wards. This was all long, long corridors and neon strip lighting. It was too hot. Or maybe that was just me sweating in anticipation of the looming interview. I found the salle de réunion and just then the door opened and a very smart, tall, bald man in a white suit and a pink shirt came out, grinning. Another candidate for the job. He looked like a very professional actor with perfect qualities for playing a clown. Damn. And he was grinning. His interview had gone well. Double damn. But then Caroline Simonds came out and gave me a wide, welcoming smile. “Ah, you must be the very lovely, very British ‘Teapot’!”

“Erm, yes.”I stammered.

“My, did you put those big blue eyes on to match your t-shirt?” she asked. I was so nervous my sense of wit failed me , and I just blurted out, “erm, no, I mean, yes, I mean …” but she saved me, by explaining they needed a few minutes to make notes about the last bloke, so did I mind waiting? “Don’t get lost!” she called. So I didn’t go far. I just went a bit further along the corridor so I couldn’t hear them talking. I listened to the noises in the ward : various footsteps, a bleeping machine, a child crying out “Maman, Maaaamaaaaan” over and over again, two nurses exchanging notes, a small family chattering as they walked down to a room at the end of the corridor. I looked out through one of the bedrooms which was empty, and gazed at the view – Marseille rooves and behind them, rocky hills topped with blue sky. I smiled at a couple of nurses and visitors who came past. It was hot. I wondered if I wanted to work here.

Then the door to the meeting room opened again and Jean-Louis welcomed me in. I sat down with my bag on my lap as protection but didn’t actually need any protection, as the two of them immediately made me feel very comfortable. It didn’t feel like an interview, it felt like chatting with a couple of people who you happen to find yourself traveling with. We talked about all sorts of things, not just work and CV’s. It felt like they wanted to know who I am, not what I have done. The conversation was natural and fun and funny. “You’re wearing the same t-shirt as in your CV photo” Caroline said. “Oh no! Am, I?” She whipped the photo out – one I had taken a couple of months ago, very unprofessionally – standing in front of the stone wall on our terrace. “Oh no, now you’ll remember me as the girl with only one t-shirt in her wardrobe … I did actually have a purple one on this morning, but my baby girl wiped snot all over the shoulder, so I put on a black one and it got the same treatment. I’m down to my last t-shirt. Honest.” By the end of the interview we said goodbye as if we were friends. And quite sincerely, if I don’t get to work with her this time round, I hope we get to be friends. This woman has a huge heart. And a wicked sense of humour. And the biggest eyes I have ever seen. She thought I had the bluest eyes she had ever seen.  I think it was the t-shirt that did it.

As I left she said, “we’ll be in touch, Butterfly”. I assume this was to do with my current haircut which sticks out on either side of my ears a bit like wings. It was quite nice to go for an interview and to know that looking a bit odd was probably a plus, seeing as they are hiring clowns.

On my drive home the next afternoon, Jean-Louis phoned me to tell me they want me to audition. HOORAH! But now I’m nervous. The auditions take place IN the hospital, WITH the children patients. I’ll be with two experienced Rire Médecin clowns, but still. I just need to stay calm, stay alert, improvise with my partners, be as Teapot as Teapot can be, and focus on each child. It’s going to be quite a day.

It is half past ten. Whoops. And this is not a short post. I am wrong about nearly everything these days. I’ll take that as a good sign.

Hopi-Clowns

I have applied for a job. Yes, a job. And beyond all expectations, I have been granted an interview. AN INTERVIEW. I haven’t had an interview for over 15 years. Mainly because instead of interviews I do auditions which are even more nerve-wracking, but at least you get to hide behind a character or an attitude or song or a piece of choreography or a voice. You play someone else, not yourself. But an interview means just you, being you, or a sweaty version of you, sitting on a chair and trying your hardest not to blurt out “I’M OFTEN LATE, I NEED AN HOURLY COFFEE BREAK AND I WILL PROBABLY HAVE SEX WITH A COLLEAGUE THUS WREAKING HAVOC IN THE COMPANY!” while answering questions politely and trying to dislodge that bit of salad from your front teeth without them noticing.

I am also very out of practice when it comes to selling myself, be it auditions or interviews. I have now spent a good 5 years at home being pregnant and peeling small children off my legs, with just a few performing/recording projects scattered sparsely thoughout that time. And before that I spent 4 years touring with a fab company which meant I didn’t need to look for work elsewhere. So the idea of being sat in the hotspot with people asking me questions and peering at me over spectacles, taking notes and tutting (I sort of imagine it will be like sitting in my old headmaster’s office, having being caught clad in denim and leather, snogging 6th form stud Mark Chadwick at the front gates, just when the school inspector was arriving) … well, it rather gives me the willies. Although in that context, the phrase is probably a little too accurate.

And what is this job for which I will be interviewed in just 2 weeks time? We live in the middle of nowhere. There are more sheep and goats than people in our little pocket of countryside. Who is going to employ an English actress around here? No-one, that’s who. Which is why I have extended my possible commuting distance to 200km and have applied for a job in Marseille. Which sounds ridiculous, I know, but a) it’s a company I have wanted to join for years now, and b) you only work one or two days a week. This is very unusual. Most performing companies have a good long rehearsal period lasting weeks or months, and then performance dates up and down the country. If you want an audience you have to move around, from theatre to theatre, from festival to festival. But this company rarely has an audience of more that 4 or 5 people – often just one person – a small one – who might even be half-asleep. And the performers stay in the same small number of buildings all year round. In hospitals.

The company is based in Paris and was founded 20 years ago by a determined, dynamic American woman, Caroline Simonds. She spent 3 and a half years working in childrens’ wards in New York with “Big Apple Circus – Clown Care Unit” and came to France in 1991 to create her own company which she named Le Rire Médecin. Twenty years down the line and the company has 86 actor-clowns working in numerous hospitals across France; Paris, Marseille, Nantes, Orléans-Tours and Nancy. They work mainly in wards treating children for cancer. Doctors and nurses who were once reticent at the idea of a load of clowns running around their hospital, have been won over. They have seen the uplifting effect the clowns have on the children in their wards – on the parents and the medical team too – and now clowns, doctors and nurses work together with mutual respect for each other. In 1997 The Lancet printed an article on the company, explaining the role of the clowns in hospitals and affirming that they are a huge benefit to all those concerned. The article won the company recognition in the medical world.

I discovered their existence a few years ago through friends who were working for them. I was fascinated. I thought it was a brilliant idea and the fact that it is actually happening is even more brilliant. I have never spent more than a week in hospital with either of my kids, but even just a week is a long time when you’re in one room for most of the day. And my kids didn’t have anything too serious; wheezy bronchiolitis when Tommy was 9 months old, a urinary tract infection when Léonie was 3 weeks old, a bad case of gastroentiritis for both of them, but nothing that really threatened their life and nothing that couldn’t be treated easily, with the surefire outcome that we would be home in a few days and get back to our everyday life. Most of the little patients Le Rire Médecin work with are children with cancer, in hospital for weeks and months on end, coping with the awful side-effects of chemotherapy. Some might relapse and some just don’t get better. I cannot imagine what it must be like, or how their parents must feel. I recently read the book Caroline Simonds wrote in 2001 on her experience in a childrens’ ward in Paris. It is an eye-opener. It is touching and funny and also very sad. I called a friend of mine who is an actor-clown in the company. “What if I’m too sensitive to cope with this kind of work?” I asked him. “You have to be sensitive to do this kind of work” he replied.

The company have also made a documentary about their work. Here’s a clip. Even the clip makes me well up. Maybe I am too sensitive for this job.

The word “clown” in England conjours up images of scary-looking men in huge, garish trousers, giant shoes and far too much make-up, being loud and annoying and generally very unfunny in a big-top or at a childrens’ party. This is not the case over here in France (erm – there are exceptions). In the 60’s Jacques Lecoq changed the idea of clowns and clowning. Teaching different styles of theatre in his school, he decided to teach clowning. He dropped the excessive make-up and over-the-top costume, leaving just a simple red nose, and taught his pupils to be as neutral, as honest, as ‘themselves’ as possible; a sort of basic comic state. Lecoq opened up a new chapter in the history of clowning and in France nowadays ‘clown’ basically means a comic character. Not even necessarily with a red nose.

Ah, that red nose. It is the one thing that frightens me where being onstage is concerned. Comic acting is something I feel at home with, thanks to a childhood of Monty Python, Fry & Laurie, French & Saunders, Victoria Wood, Blackadder … give me a silly character or a ridiculous situation to play, a chef’s hat or a fat bushy moustache to wear and I’m away. But put a red nose on my face and I freeze up completely. A red nose? What? I have to “be funny”? Like circus clowns? Bloody nightmare. The problem is exactly that : the circus clown thing. Because in general, clowns in traditional circuses are NOT very funny. Well, I don’t think they’re funny. Too much bad mime stuff  and going through the motions and sadistic grinning at the audience as if to say “Laugh! LAUGH!” Which is why I have to remind myself each time I put a red nose on my face that I am just a silly character who happens to have a red blob on the end of my nose. The nose helps serve as a code for the audience – and I think this must be especially useful in hospitals. When the patients, families and medical team see a red-nose on your face, they can immediately situate you.

So despite my aversion to red noses, I am currently embracing them, as I really do want to be part of this company. I have dug out my old egg-box full of red noses and chosen the roundest one. My clown is called “Teapot”, she speaks bad French with a Sheffield accent, is a karate pink-belt, rides a motorbike, believes she is a star in Fame and can imitate every animal in the universe. If I get through the Rire Médecin interview on the 8th of March and they choose to audition me, I will then not sleep for 2 weeks. Oh, nothing unusual there, then.

Double Gastro – Part 3. Valium?!

So we spent the weekend in our hospital room. The kids couldn’t leave it because they had the dreaded and highly contagious gastroenteritis virus, which apparently is violent this year, and I could barely leave because the kids wanted me to stay with them. Whenever they both dropped off to sleep I would sneak out for a shower or an over-priced, under-rated coffee, but otherwise there we were the three of us, reading books and watching telly programs about digging up dinosaur bones and polar bears hunting penguins (I had to switch that one off fast when our lovely, young, cuddly polar bear suddenly got good at hunting). I did a lot of staring at the strange Disney forest scene which took up the entire wall opposite the beds. It was clearly Disney characters – there was King Louis swinging from a tree and Baloo from the Jungle Book, Bambi, Dumbo and various other woodland creatures, but they all looked a bit wierd. Like they’d had bad plastic surgery which had modified them a little bit, not past recognition but just enough to make them look creepy. Maybe they’d just been in hospital for too long.

Both Léonie and Tommy remained wiped out for most of our stay. They would perk up a bit every now and again and then crash out not long afterwards. But they were getting better slowly. Doctor She-Devil (real name Doctor Voisin) came by twice a day and was overly sweet with us. Talk about Jekyll and Hyde. My friend Louise visited us on Saturday and brought me much needed sustenance : proper food, a good book and a couple of hours of company. I found a box of earplugs in my bag which made the second night much easier, plus the nurses had unhooked Léonie from her machine so no BLEEPing all night. A nurse even brought me a cosy blanket to snuggle under. On the Sunday morning, Doctor Voisin proclaimed the kids strong enough to go home. She also said she knew L’Homme would be arriving direct from where he had been performing the night before, so could take us home.

“What about the seizures Léonie had?” I asked. “She didn’t have a fever when they happened, so what could have caused them?”

Doctor Voisin shrugged. “Maybe it’s genetic. Is there a history of seizures or fits or epilepsy in your family?”

“No. At least, I don’t think so …”

“Then maybe it was just an effect of the gastro virus. I’ll go and do the papers so that you can leave when your husband arrives.” And she vanished.

When L’Homme did arrive he was horrified at how skinny the kids looked. Even I had lost a couple of kilos, and I hadn’t even been sick. One of the nurses came by with the kids’ “carnets de santé” (health books) and I noticed there were a couple of prescriptions in each of them. I tried to decode the scrawl and managed to make out “Valium” on Léonie’s prescription.

“Valium? What’s this about?”

The nurse took the prescription and had a look. “It says it’s in case she has another seizure and it lasts for more than five minutes. You should give her Valium.”

“What? The doctor didn’t mention anything about this. How come no-one has explained this to me? Valium? For a 13 month old baby? How on earth do I give it to her?”

“With a syringe.” And she too, vanished.

I had had enough. I just wanted to get the children home. So that’s what we did. And after another two days of having two grumpy rag dolls lolling about on the sofa, both Léonie and Tommy bounced back and have been devouring every meal set before them. Léonie has gained far more weight than she lost, almost as if her little body realised that she didn’t have enough fat reserves in times of crisis. She is now nice and chubby with the most nibbleable chunky thighs.

I of course called our children’s doctor and told him the whole story. He was very surprised that I hadn’t been better informed. He has booked Léonie in for an electroencephalography (a sort of brain scan) next month just to check the two seizures didn’t do any damage, and when we see him afterwards he is going to explain all about convulsions in small children. This is the sort of good health care I am used to in France, not the couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude of Doctor Voisin. I hope I never come across her again. Unless it is just as she is being lowered into a vat of scalding oil and I am the one in charge of the lever.

Montélimar hospital room

Double Gastro Part 2 : She-Devil Doctor

At last, here I am. I hope you haven’t been hanging off cliffs by your fingernails since I wrote the first bit of this story. It is nearly 9 p.m. I am sitting on the floor with half a glass of very good wine and a slab of very dark chocolate, the kids are in bed, the dog is fed, the woodburner is ram-packed with half a small forest, L’Homme went back on tour this afternoon – the conditions are PERFECT for writing a bit of blog.

So, the firemen were carrying us off through the village and to their fire engine…

… Having had the thought that at least the journey in the fire engine (erm, fire van)  would be exciting for Tommy, it was a bit of a let-down . For a start, the firemen decided to seat us in the wrong seats. They put me on the stretcher bed thingy, propped up at a wierd angle so that my back hurt as I strained to support Léonie who was sitting on me, and Tommy was strapped into a straight-backed seat. He was half unconscious, so just lolled over the side, only just held up by the seat belt which was threatening to strangle him as it cut across his neck. And of course he was too ill to appreciate the fact he was in a fire engine; he just dozed, every now and again waking up, shouting “MUMMY I GOING TO BE SICK!” which jolted the very young fireman into action as he grabbed a sick bag and Tommy filled it up. They did put the siren on when we got to Montélimar which sort of made me feel like they were really serious about getting us to the hospital as fast as possible and sort of made me feel like they were cheating as no-one was actually dying. Tommy remembered the siren in the days to come, which was a tiny bit of compensation for being so revoltingly ill.

I had asked the firemen if they could take us to our hospital in Aubenas – where both kids were born, where I always take them in an emergency and where our lovely pediatrician, Doctor Zarzour, works. The children’s ward is fantastic there. But alas, the firemen were bound to take us to Montélimar because it was in their “sector”. I was beginning to wish I had sent them packing and bundled the kids into my car and off to Aubenas. Anyway, we arrived at Montélimar hospital, they found a wheelchair for Tommy, parked us in the emergency admissions bay, got a form signed and off they went. We waited. And waited. And waited. Tommy woke up with a start. “MUMMY! I GOING TO BE SICK!” I had nothing for him to be sick into. I saw a cleaning trolley parked a little way down the corridor, so I went and grabbed the entire roll of yellow rubbish bags and Tommy was sick into one of those. A tall round woman with a badge on her bosom offered to get me “a cashew nut”. I wondered whether I had heard right, or whether she thought I looked hungry, but not that hungry seeing as she was offering me just a single cashew nut. As I hesitated to reply, she went and got one anyway. It turned out to be a little cardboard bowl in the shape of a cashew nut, made to be sick into. But not that sick, seeing as the thing was so bloody tiny. Luckily, Tommy was no longer in the big sick phase. Mini sicks, but lots of them – each time he drank any water. His eyes were sunken and his lips cracked. The same woman came back and waved us through to the admissions desk where a friendly black bloke took our details and my “Carte Vital” (the French health card that works with an electronic chip). He looked a bit embarrassed and whispered “I’m only meant to take your little girl’s details.”

“What about my little boy?” I asked him.

“They’re saying he’s not the patient. On the form it says the firemen came to your house for your 13 month old baby, and that she’s the patient.”

“Yes, that’s right”, I said. “I called because she had a seizure. But my little boy happens to be really sick too. Look at him.”

“I know,” he replied, “He looks pretty bad. But you’re going to have to persuade them to look at him – at the moment they’re saying you’ll have to make another appointment with a general practitioner.”

“But that’s ridiculous!” I retorted.

“Yes, I know. Look, I’ll take his details too, that way it’s all ready” and he tapped away quickly on his keyboard before looking round for someone. “Is anyone free to help this mother with her two children? She has to take them up to floor one. Wait one minute madame.”

But after exactly one minute of waiting without anyone coming to help, I hoicked Léonie up a notch on my hip, grabbed our bags and one-handedly wheeled Tommy away. Our friendly receptionist leapt up, closed his little plexiglass window and came to show me the way before hurrying back to the queue of injured and uncomfortable-looking people waiting to have their details taken. It was a long painful hike along endless corridors and up in the lift but eventually we got to the children’s ward. A nurse was waiting for us “La gastro, non? Venez par ici” and she showed us to a little examining room. I parked Tommy, who had gone grey and sat Léonie down on the little stretcher bed thing. She had slept throughout the journey and seemed quite perky again. I began to take off her little hat and coat when a small, wirey, fifty-ish year old woman stormed into the room, complaining and snorting.

“She ne regarde QUE le bébé qui est venu avec les pompiers. Pas l’autre! Lui c’est l’accompagnant!” Literally translated: “I am ONLY examining the baby who was brought in by the firemen. Not the other one! He’s just along for the ride!”

I stared at her. I hadn’t slept all night. My baby had had a seizure. My little boy was badly dehydrated. I had had to pressurise the firemen to bring Tommy with us and now I was going to have to fight this little hell-cat of a doctor. Well, so be it. I was ready for a fight. All the nervous energy which had been simmering deep down in me as I stayed calm and coped with the last 24 hours was now about to be unleashed. I would aim for her jugular.

“Bonjour” I said. “Could you repeat what you just said? Because if I understand rightly, you are proposing that I stay while you examine my daughter and then I lug my kids out of here and phone some doctor somewhere else to book an appointment for them to see my son, ooh, hopefully in the next 3 days?”

“Je ne regarde QUE le patient qui est venu avec les pompiers.” she spat, fiddling with the papers in her hand.

I walked over to the door and started shouting down the corridor “YOO HOO! EXCUSE ME! IS THERE A REAL CHILDREN’S DOCTOR IN THE SERVICE? BECAUSE THIS ONE IS CLEARLY A FRAUD. HELLO?! ANYONE THERE? DOCTOR?!”

“Qu’est ce que vous faites?” she glared at me.

“Well, I assume that to be a proper children’s doctor you have to at least like children a teeny weeny bit, whereas you clearly couldn’t give a flying fuck about them. So I’d like to see a real doctor. RIGHT NOW.”

“It says here you called the firemen because your baby had a seizure. Well why did you bring your son? You may as well have brought the neighbours along too.”

I have never been so close to punching someone in the face. I swear I had to hold myself back. I imagined picking up the chair by the table and smashing it down on her lank-haired skull. Then I would pull her back up by her scalp and ram her face into the wall before stamping on her spine until it cracked. But I was holding my baby, so unfortunately I did not get the satisfaction of causing all this grevous bodily harm.

“I BROUGHT HIM BECAUSE HE IS SICK TOO. HE IS PROBABLY SICKER THAN SHE IS. JUST LOOK AT HIM FOR FUCK’S SAKE. HE IS BADLY DEHYDRATED. HE HAS BEEN SICK NON-STOP FOR THE LAST 20 HOURS. HE CAN’T EVEN KEEP A TEASPOON OF WATER DOWN. HIS LIPS ARE CRACKED. HE IS HALF UNCONSCIOUS. IF YOU SEND HIM AWAY LIKE THIS YOU ARE THE ONE WHO’S GOING TO HAVE TO EXPLAIN YOURSELF.”

We were face to face, leaning over Léonie who was watching the scene with big eyes. Three nurses were huddled in the doorway, exchanging glances. My witnesses, I thought.

She glared at me. “Do you want me to look at your daughter or not?”

“No actually. With an attitude as shite as yours I don’t want you to touch my kids. I don’t trust you. You must be an awful doctor. Just sign the papers and you can get on with your day. I’ll take my kids elsewhere.”

I began to put Léonie’s coat and hat back on. Doctor She-Devil stepped forward. “I will examine your daughter first, and then I’ll see about your son…”

“Yes, you will indeed see about my son. You had BETTER see about my son.” And I undressed Léonie, standing by her as the so-called doctor began to examine her.

And all of a sudden, this embodiment of hatred was transformed into a gentle, reassuring angel. She examined Léonie tenderly, talking to her all the time. And once she had finished, she moved straight over to Tommy, picked him up and said “Come on little soldier, you’ve been in the wars haven’t you?” and she  proceeded to examine him too. She was either a bloody good actress or else she was really concerned about sick kids. It was the strangest transformation.

“You were right” she said to me. “Good mother’s instinct. Your son is in a worse way than your daughter. He needs to be put on a drip straight away to rehydrate him. And we need to monitor your daughter because of the seizure she had. She has lost a lot of weight too. I’m keeping them both in for at least two nights. I have a free room on the children’s ward where you can all stay. The nurses will bring you a bed too.” and she motioned to the nurses to take over.

And that was it. We were taken to a little room with a huge Disney forest scene on the wall, a bed for Tommy, a cot for Léonie, a camp-bed for me. Tommy crashed straight out in his bed. Léonie lay down peacefully in her cot. I started to relax for the first time in 24 hours … and then Léonie had another seizure.

The nurse who was with us said “go and get someone!” and I ran into the corridor, but I had no idea which way to run to find someone so I just shouted. All of a sudden there were seven nurses and doctors in the room, the first nurse keeping Léonie on her side as her little body shook and jolted. I burst into tears and they tried to get me to move away and sit down but I shrugged them off . “I want to be with my baby”. I looked over at Tommy who had woken up and was watching the scene. “It’s okay darling, Léonie’s going to be okay.” But I had no idea if she was going to be okay.

The seizure lasted about three minutes again. They put little sensors on her heart and belly and big toe which were wired to a machine that beeped every time she moved. It was to monitor her heart rate and blood pressure in the event of another seizure to try to pinpoint why she was having them. She didn’t have a fever for either seizure, which apparently is odd. Tommy was fitted up with a drip, both kids fell asleep and I was left to go and fill in papers before 6 p.m. when the admissions office shut. It was the last thing I wanted to do. I felt like I was sleepwalking.

That evening I had half a packet of M&M’s for my dinner and then crashed out on my camp-bed for the night, only to be woken up every hour or so by Léonie crying for her nappy to be changed or by the nurses coming in to take the kids’ temperatures or by the machine going BEEP when Léonie turned over or by nightmares of my children having seizures.

The most exciting part of the story is over, but the tale isn’t quite finished … there’s more in the way of doctor negligence to come, but it’s 11 p.m. and since we got home from hospital Léonie has been waking up 3 or 4 times a night, so I need to get to bed NOW. I’ll write the rest soon. Honest.