It all started with a bad cold, then some wheezing, then a mild asthma attack that a (*cough* careless) doctor passed off as a pollution-induced ‘respiratory episode,’ consequently prescribing me medication that did not work, consequently causing my condition to worsen with each passing day until I ended up slumped over the kitchen table with a high fever, bright red face and sunken eyes after work on Wednesday evening, wheezing like that penguin toy from Toy Story 2.
Having dragged myself to the pharmacy across the street in search of medicine to help me sleep, the pharmacist took one look at me before insisting I sit down, and procured a random chair from behind the counter like a magician. With my head pounding, skin feeling like it was on fire, breath as short as my bitten nails and every limb tingling, I was grateful. She gave my flatmate the number of a doctor she recommended in the immediate area, and I listened to her make the call and beg this woman to squeeze me in. After five or so repetitions of ‘she has a big, big fever,’ she finally agreed.
20 minutes later, having dismissed my flatmate on the basis that I would surely now be fine, the doctor ushered me in and started conducting some tests. She proceeded to interchange sentences like ‘Oh no, that’s very bad,’ ‘Oh no, your heart rate is very rapid, very rapid,’ ‘Oh no, this must be a big, big infection’ with things like ‘don’t worry, don’t worry.’
She peered over her spectacles as she scribbled something onto a piece of paper. Then she slid her glasses off, looked up at me and announced that she was about to call a taxi to take me to the hospital.
‘But don’t worry!’ she said again. ‘You just need to be put on a breathing machine.’
As someone who had previously never been to a hospital in my life, being told I needed ER treatment due to alarming breathing conditions while simultaneously being told not to be alarmed had me like:
But I did stay calm – throughout the whole 8-hour ordeal to come, actually. I guess I knew that pretty much everything was out of my control, and I was relieved to finally be receiving the treatment I needed. This made it fairly easy to surrender.
I certainly didn’t expect my working-year-in-France adventure to entail a trip to l’hôpital, but it happened. Here it is, 60 minutes at a time:
My saint of a doctor called the ER’s intern department in advance to get one of them assigned to me (she pulled those strings!) This meant I had to wait not even 5 minutes until my name was called and I stepped through the automatic door into Urgences. I had just enough time to pull out my phone, see a lovely 15% battery count displayed and send a quick text to my Mum who was asleep in Sydney with something along the lines of ‘don’t panic but I am in the hospital as I am having trouble breathing.’ Très reassuring, n’est-ce pas?
Once inside, my intern doctor lady came over, looked at my forms, asked if I spoke French, was relieved when I said oui, and then whisked me off in a wheelly bed, just like in the movies. Drama! Cinema! Asthma!
The doctor brought me into a room with lots of machines and equipment and such. She whipped out the trusty stethoscope, had a solid listen, then looked at me in a concerned manner and asked ‘are you breathing normally right now?’ When I answered in the affirmative, she adopted the worst poker face I’ve ever seen and said ‘Ok, don’t worry.’
Hunnie, I’ve heard it all before.
She explained the general program to come – tests, an x-ray, aerosol. I really had no idea what any of that would entail so I just nodded and smiled. Then she left for an unspecified period of time with a casual ‘à toute à l’heure’ – something that would go on to define the night – and I pulled my jacket over me and tried to nap.
The door flew open and three sprightly nurses came in. “Bonsoir!” they cheered, “we’re the night team!” Faced with my woman-sees-sunlight-for-the-first-time-after-living-in-a-cave-for-five-years face, they decreased their volume, checked that I spoke French and made sure I knew what was going on.
I was given a hospital gown and told to change, then offered a large plastic bag to put all my belongings in. The nurse took it away and I didn’t see where she put it – in some equivalent of a hospital Bag Check, I assumed. I hoped my mum wouldn’t wake up too early and that I’d be out of there soon enough to contact her again.
One of the nurses put a bunch of stickers on me attached to wires and said ‘don’t worry.’ I guessed, from having grown up watching Scrubs, that it was some sort of electrode thingy to test the heart. That part was fast and painless – obviously. Coloured stickers are always fun.
Then came The Stabbing. I really shouldn’t have joked so much about getting stabbed in Italy that time, because the stabbings have really had the last laugh.
When one of the nurses told me she had to take my blood, I just assumed it would be like – I don’t know – when you donate blood to a blood bank. I did not grasp the meaning of an arterial blood test – like – they were not going to just poke a vein and call it a day, they had to go down into the artery. I know, I know – go figure. But keep in mind that I had literally left my apartment thinking I was off to the pharmacy to buy some medicine to help me sleep. I expected none of this. I did not have time to study!!
The first nurse who tried had a great deal of trouble. She pushed that needle (I only call it a ‘stab’ because I felt Very Violated) into the forearm below my wrist and started… wiggling it around in there (*vomits*).
She wasn’t finding the spot she needed to, I guess, and apologized that it was not ‘très agréable.’ Then she decided to try on the other side – so for the next week, I would have giant bruises on both arms – fantastic! – but, once again, the arteries would not co-operate. She called in the head nurse to give it a try next, who managed to extract what she needed swiftly – thank Godney. She also told me to look away, said I was brave (flicks hair) and counted to three before quickly pulling it out.
It really hurt 🙂
Now bandaged up on two arms and with my catheter firmly in, I was wheeled to a communal room with other sorry sorts. A nurse hooked me up to the aerosol, then said ‘à toute à l’heure’ and disappeared for forty minutes, so I spent that time listening to my Darth Vader-esque breathing and resting my eyes, wondering if I could raise my hand like in school and ask to use the bathroom, or retrieve my phone.
My doctor came back and told me a nurse would soon take me to get an X-ray. She was worried I had a lung infection, and disappointed at my wheezing having failed to improve with the aerosol. She said ‘à toute à l’heure’ and left for another five years.
I had a look around at the people in nearby beds and was reminded of how very lucky I was – that this was my first time in a place like this, that my condition would most certainly improve in the coming weeks, that I could still communicate and go to the toilet all by myself, even if breathing required a little assistance for a night. I suppose it could have been terrifying – to be faced with the fragility of something as basic as breathing, especially as a 23-year-old, but I found it supremely grounding. It was an important reminder of how precious our health is, how quickly it can change, how important it is to take care of it before it becomes someone else’s job.
This #grateful feeling faded, however, when the head nurse returned, looking sheepish, and apologetically announced that she had to stab my artery one more time. ‘Je sais que ce n’est pas très agréable,’ she said, then reassured me that the situation was ‘pas normal,’ which actually didn’t reassure me much at all.
She did it as quickly as she could, I’ll give her that. Fourth time’s the charm.
Next, we took a ride to the X-ray wing. I pulled up to a line of other patients with arms in slings and bandaged fingers. They had to settle for sitting in basic chairs… so, u know… they see me rollin, thEY hAtiN.
The nurse who dropped me off said ‘à toute à l’heure’ and evaporated.
I was developing quite the fear of abandonment.
Back in the communal room post-X-ray, one of my regular nurses returned and hit me with another dose of Darth Vader. Then my regular doctor reappeared to slap me with le diagnosis. It was good news – no pneumonia! Just a delightful case of ‘important’ bronchitis and bacterial infection. Oh, and apparently I had been ‘in asthma crisis’ for a week. I was ordered to see a lung specialist within the next month, prescribed a small army of medication and prohibited from returning to work until the following week. This time, she didn’t say ‘à toute à l’heure,’ but rather ‘goodbye.’ I thanked her, sincerely.
But it wasn’t quite over yet. I’d had paracetamol pumping through on the IV to get my fever down, but it still wasn’t budging. The nurse seemed mad at me for this, as if I were prolonging the heat on purpose, but I didn’t ask to be born hot.
Having given up on more sophisticated methods, she eventually resigned to cracking open five ice packs and slapping them all over my body. The height of luxury!
Before she could emit a fateful ‘à toute à l’heure,’ I mustered up the courage to ask for my phone back – “just to send a quick text to my mother.” Hilariously, the nurse told me it had simply been sitting under my bed the whole time…..
I had many missed calls (sorry mum) and very little battery remaining. Despite knowing I needed to preserve whatever power I could to order an Uber home, I snapped a bunch of quick selfies because #picsoritdidnthappen.
At some point, finally, the fever went down enough for me to be freeeeeed. The head doctor came over and had a serious chat with me about serious lung things that I shan’t be disclosing, then I innocently asked where to pay before being told I would receive the bill in the mail (I’m still waiting for it.)
I did end up having enough battery for an Uber home – hurray! But in a final plot twist, when I hopped in the car my driver accused me of having changed my pick-up location.
I know I wasn’t totally with it that night, but this dude literally pulled up outside the bright ‘emergency’ lights of a HOSPITAL, picked up a girl with bandages covering her arms, a hand covered in dried blood and a giant plastic bag that read ‘HOPITAUX DE PARIS,’ and apparently thought I had run away from him. Where in God’s name did he think I could have been? How far did he think I could have gotten?
Despite this weird finale, I happily arrived home just after 3am – tired, grateful and ready for hibernation.
It would be a day or two before the ‘I am ill and it sucks’ blues kicked in, a little while yet until I would turn frustrated at being incapable of walking up the two flights of stairs to my apartment and having to ask my friends to do my grocery shopping for me. So I went to sleep without a care in the world, really.
It’s true that I was dirty and exhausted and sicker than I’d ever been in my life, but – thanks to the wonderful team of nurses and doctors, who I could dedicate an entire #shoutout post to, tbh – at least I could breathe.
Ariana, take it away.