Just to let you know in advance that this isn’t going to be one of those posts that tells you what to do with those Thanksgiving leftovers, like how to make a delicious Turkey Tetrazzini. And by now it’s too late anyways. If you have any leftovers, they’re probably toxic and I would toss them away right now.
I don’t want you ending up in the hospital around Thanksgiving. Like I did.
As you might recall, I mentioned that Thanksgiving in Paris is often celebrated on Saturday night, since people work that Thursday, just like any other day. There ain’t no parade around here either, but all the pretty Christmas lights are up on the big department stores in Paris and things are looking festive.
But the glittering department stores on the Boulevard Haussmann don’t look so pretty when you feel like your heart is going to explode through your chest while you’re stuck in a Parisian-style traffic jam (which means lots of honking, pouting your lips, and slamming your hand on the steering wheel even if no one can possibly move.)
I’d been feeling a little heavy-hearted and short of breath lately, but thought it was nothing, perhaps just a bit of stress or strain, and thought it would pass. But it didn’t. And last Saturday night and I’d planned to head to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, but my difficultlt breathing and chest pains were getting worse and I started getting concerned. Thinking quickly, I headed for the internet.
After checking my email, and the latest on Britney and K-Fed’s divorce of course, I click over to the American Heart Association web site, which advises that unlike in the movies, heart attacks don’t always happen suddenly, but can take a few days.
Thank goodness it wasn’t one of those French web sites that makes you sit through five minutes of music before you can click anywhere, since by the time I got that information, I’d be dead.
So mildly panicking, I called a friend to take me to the hospital.
Because I hadn’t been to a hospital in France, I figure I should go to the American Hospital, since I’m American. I check their site and in keeping with a local tradition of overtly-complex web sites, finding the map to the hospital proves to be a real challenge. I guess they think that finding the hospital is not a high priority…so why not bury it deep in the web site?
“Ha!” they figure, “That’ll teach those critical-care suckers to wait to the last minute.”
But the site does say prominently that they have free parking, so I give them a call. The French woman on the phone, who’s pretty blasé about my plight, softly, in delicate French, advises me to come right in.
But before she hangs up, in a not-so-soft tone of voice, she adds,
“And we’re not a public hospital…so bring your checkbook.”
While I wait for my friend, I pack up my overnight bag just in case I need to stay in the hospital for a while. “What do I bring?”, I think to myself as I scramble around. Chapstick, toothbrush, The New Yorker, another chapstick (just to make sure), my address book, cell phone and charger, another chapstick (in case I lose the other two), unscented Tom’s deodorant, and a few extra unmentionables.
So, armed with the only stick of fragrance-free deodorant in France and enough chapstick to supply the entire cast of several seasons of Survivor, we begin the drive across Paris, which on a Saturday night can take at least an hour. I suppose I could have taken the métro, but I didn’t want to spend my last few hours on top of the earth suffering underneath the earth on the stuffy Paris métro. So we drove.
Plus the hospital’s web site said they have free parking.
And isn’t free parking everyone’s dying wish?
The traffic was pretty much at a stand-still no matter what route we took, which gave me plenty of time to think. Cars were barely moving. And speaking of thinking and barely moving, what was that idiot in the giant Jeep Cherokee in front of us, driving 5 kilometers per hour doing by stopping at each and every green light?
Who the hell drives a Jeep Cherokee in Paris?
Whereas most people racing towards the hospital are probably thinking of all the loved ones they’re leaving behind, I’ve got plenty of time to think, so I start thinking of the possibility that I’m going to become one of ‘those’ people. You know, the kind who picks the crispy skin off their duck confit and pushes it to the side of the plate. Or who bites off the tiniest corner of a chocolate before setting the rest of the piece aside. Or who keeps passing the cheese plate when it’s passed in their direction. No more spicy merguez sandwiches crammed full of French fries and slathered with mayonnaise for me, I’m certain.
(Okay, those’ll be easy to give up since I never had one.)
As we putter through the streets and boulevards, I’m also thinking…“If I die, what’s going to happen with my blog? Will it just stop and remain frozen in cybertime forever? Will my last posts be there for all of eternity while readers frantically keep clicking to find out what finally happens to the last half-box of my lasagna noodles? What about the ham, and the secret one-finger French lathering-in-the-shower technique that I promised to share with my readers?”
Then, all of the sudden my thoughts are interrupted when the absolute worst thing that can happen to anyone in Paris, happens to me.
I have to go to the bathroom.
Normally finding a place to go in Paris can take at least 30 minutes, give or take a half hour.
I don’t want my mother’s worst fears realized and arrive at a hospital emergency room with dirty undies, so we pull out of traffic when I spot one of those automatic toilets.
I jump out of the Citroën.
HORS SERVICE…says the little red metal sign.
I hop back in the car, drive a few more blocks, and spot another one. After sprinting across the boulevard, HORS SERVICE as well.
Hmm, do I just use ‘La Belle France’, like most French men do, or should I wait to find another one? Seeing as I’m a bit more modest than most of my French comrades, luckily the third time’s a charm and the next one works fine. So once again I did not shame my mother, and will arrive at the hospital with spic-n-span undies.
When I arrive in the hospital, though, I’m almost in full cardiac trauma by then and the triage team yanks me from the car and with great urgency forces me onto a wheeled gurney. Doctors and nurses are racing in and out of doors, machines blinking and buzzing furiously, while all sorts of machines are being hooked up as I’m wheeled frantically down the brightly-lit hallway, careening full-speed towards the critical care ward, forcing people standing in the hallway to dive out of our path.
Well, actually, that’s not quite what happened.
Instead, when we arrived at the hospital, and everyone is nice and efficient—except parking is not free, so we look for a place on the street (my Yankee/Parisian thrift). Once inside, my 100% Parisian driver-friend keeps remarking on how clean the hospital is…although he’s never seen an examination room with a price list prominently displayed on the wall, which I fail to explain properly.
French doctors aren’t famous for their bedside manner, and my first doctor is American, who is funny and competent. Of course, my friend (who doesn’t speak English) wonders why the doctor and I are laughing. French doctors don’t laugh with their patients.
One she leaves, they strap me into a chair, giving me time to fondly feel a bit of nostalga for my days in San Francisco. They start putting these little sticky things over my bare chest and legs, which they evidently store in the freezer. I keep waiting for a delicious George Clooney-like doctor to come in, put a reassuring hand on my shoulder, my warm, quivering man-flesh, and tell me everything’s going to be okay. But I know that ain’t gonna happen. He’s probably at some nice house overlooking a lake in Italy.
Soon the main cardiologist arrives, and she speaks very little English, actually none…which kind of negates the idea of an ‘American’ hospital. Oui?
While I don’t expect most folks in France to speak English, I would think that it would be rather important if you’re working in the emergency room of the American Hospital to have a decent command of the English language. And when you’re trying to remain calm, let me tell you there’s nothing more soothing than a French cardiologist speaking at you non-stop for an uninterrupted hour in rapid-fire, medical-school French, using all sorts of vocabulary that might be remotely familiar only to someone who’s studied at least four years of advanced Latin.
Finally, it’s determined that all is well and I’m going to live many more years, and I’m free to continue this blog. They release the leather straps (damn!) and I’m free to go. Seeing as it’s too late to head to my friends Thanksgiving dinner, which I think they’re pretty much freaked out about because of my phone call alerting them that I’m on my way to the hospital instead of heading over with my magnificent cake (missing that probably freaked them out them more), it was probably best just to skip it.
But since it’s around 10:15pm, and I haven’t eaten anything except a hot chocolate from the vending machine in the waiting room (which was a better choice than the hot milk with sugar or the soupe de tomates) we decide to go to Chinatown, since the idea of a rich French meal after my imaginary coronary, held very little appeal.
After circling for parking for a while, we finally get lucky. Although Parisians don’t look for parking spaces…they make them.
We head to my favorite Laotian restaurant, arriving at 10:45pm. The dining room is full, the air smells great, and I anticipate a terrific dinner accompanied by some heart-healthy, and much-needed, red wine.
“Sorry, we’re closed.” says the man by the door.
“Say what? Really? What time do you close anyways?” I respond.
(Hey, this guy isn’t even French, so I don’t know where that logic came from.)
“Um…well…since it’s 10:45pm, that means you don’t close for another 15 minutes. I know exactly what we want and can order it right now. Then the kitchen can close by 11pm.”
I wanted to tell him this might’ve been my last meal ever, but he doesn’t care about me. And he’s not even French. Like the métro doors, once they’re closed, that’s it. They ain’t opening back up, no matter how stuck you are. I already tempted fate once that night, so we leave.
After trying a few other of my favorite places, we end up at Sinorama, a sprawling Chinese joint that seems to be open all the time with little regard for local customs (ie: being closed when I’m hungry). Once I’ve slurped up the last of my duck noodles, by the time I hit the pillow well, I’d had perhaps my most unusual night in Paris since my arrival.
Later this week, I just about had a real crise cardiaque when I went in for my annual visa renewal appointment at the préfecture;. After working since June on this and that, providing every last bit of documentation for my dossier, then getting requests for more and more, I arrived promptly at the appointed hour.
The first thing they ask, “Where is your dossier?”
When I told them I’ve been bringing everything to them in person and by mail, and I showed them the receipts to prove it, they tell me they don’t have it.
They just shrug their shoulders and stand there looking at me.
I feel my heart start to race, and my blood pressure starting to boil.
At that moment, I was sure that someone was going to be heading to the nearest emergency room.
But unlike earlier in the week, this time it wasn’t gonna be me.