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.