Post Thanksgiving Post

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.

Never miss a post!


  • Vicky
    December 1, 2006 6:19am

    That is HILARIOUS!!! (But probably not so fun at the time…)

    Can’t wait for the next installment on the visa renewal. We just picked up our Carte de séjour temporaire…and are waiting to be told when to turn up for our medicals. It must be confessed that things seem easier when one has a status of ‘scientifique’.

  • December 1, 2006 7:07am

    oh that must have been scary! I hope you’re fine now.

  • December 1, 2006 7:34am

    I’m thnking you had better check with all of us before you do anything that may disrupt your blogging. We are the priority, not your health!!! Just kidding. I hope you are doing much better.

  • December 1, 2006 7:36am

    David, in all sincerity, I am truly glad you are ok. While it makes for one of the most entertaining reads I’ve had in a long time (ok, FOREVER), I can’t imagine what was racing through your mind and am sure I speak for MILLIONS (yes, I said millions) that you are safe, alive, blogging and writing.

    You were wise to visit the hospital, even if it was sans-clooneyesq.

    Are you sure there were no “go towards the light” moments or anything? Not being morbid, just asking.

    Seriously, I am glad you are. I’d be very very sad to not have you around :(

    Mmmm, french fries and mayo.

  • December 1, 2006 8:27am

    Oh David – that was like a miniseries. We held our breath, we gasped, we laughed, we cried. Your fabulousness, even in extremis, knows no bounds. Now if only I can get the mental image of George Clooney/hands/bare shoulders out of my mind, return my breathing to normal and get some work done…

    Seriously – glad you are OK. The blogosphere would never recover from your loss :o)

  • December 1, 2006 9:12am

    David, thank goodness you’re alright. I am so sorry you had to go to the hospital and missed Thanksgiving. My carte de Sejour dossier was also lost so I completely understand the rage you feel right now. Even though it happened to me 6 years ago I still think about it from time to time. Just the other day I was wondering what ever happened to that file, wondering if a nice thick package made it to the black market with certified copies everything necessary to create an identity, in English and translations to the French, including even certified copies of the birth certificates of my parents. The lost expat files.

  • December 1, 2006 9:30am

    *So* glad you are OK!

  • December 1, 2006 10:00am

    I’m so glad we didn’t lose you!

  • JennyL
    December 1, 2006 10:38am

    Thank god you’re all right. What a nightmare. makes me want to send you a care package. I’m putting all your books on my amazon wishlist for x-mas! And seriously, what happened to the CAKE???

  • December 1, 2006 10:56am

    Holy shizz, dude, what a night! Have you considered meditation… breathing exercises… yoga?

  • December 1, 2006 11:07am

    Oh. My. God. That was the most stressful blog post I have ever read. I’m SO glad you’re okay. And having had an ER visit myself when I lived in Paris (ohhhhh, the indignity. Ohhhh, the shame), I have full and total empathy for all that you experienced. What IS it with the French doctors and their bedside manner?

  • Steve
    December 1, 2006 11:09am

    Look on the bright side–your audience got a great post, and you’ll know what (not) to do if a medical emergency arises again in the future (including pee first and get to the hospital earlier so you can have Laotian food once the ordeal is over). I was wondering–what does an hour in an emergency room in a Parisian hospital and a conultation with a cardiac specialist run these days? In the U.S. it’d be, oh I don’t know, about $7,500!

  • December 1, 2006 11:29am

    You just about gave me a heart attack. Logic dictated that if there was a blog post to read, you must be okay. But I could also imagine you dictating your beautiful, hilarious prose from your hospital bed, just to ensure there is a last one. (by the way, I have imagined that too. What if i die in a car accident? How will my readers know? This is a strange little endeavor of ours, isn’t it?)

    Good god, David, I’m so glad you’re okay. AND the fact that you don’t have to pick the skin off your duck. But sir, why did you need all that chapstick?


  • December 1, 2006 11:45am

    So very glad you are okay. That was too scary! Did they give you any ideas about what caused the pains? Derrick and I hope you feel better.

  • December 1, 2006 12:00pm

    poor david! how awful. glad you are still with us…

    ps – i went to the american hospital last year for a bad flu – my doctor didn’t speak a word of english either. what gives??

  • December 1, 2006 1:12pm

    David, if you weren’t a pastry chef you’d have to be a mystery writer. Seriously, I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen, even though my onions were burning on the stove. I don’t even have any more onions, but I don’t care – that was worth it. Glad you’re not about to leave us!!

  • Janet
    December 1, 2006 1:31pm

    Ah silly me, expecting your post-thanksgiving post to be about FOOD. Yikes. Find a doctor with whom you can actually communicate. We’ll all feel better. So glad you’re okay.

  • jo
    December 1, 2006 3:21pm

    My mum did have a heart attack last month (she’s fine now)and I told myself what a good and dutiful daughter I was when I visited her in hospital and gave her one of the two chapsticks I had in my bag (original flavour as she didn’t want the cherry one). You are so right: you can never have too many chapsticks on hand for an emergency, and preferably a selection of flavours.

    Glad to hear you’re ok though.

  • Lisa
    December 1, 2006 4:11pm

    Well what the HELL was wrong with you for putting me through reading that!! haha Thanks for taking the spark out of fantasy of Parisian life…always witty, you are.

  • December 1, 2006 4:33pm

    Whaa? Whaa? Being tethered to a gurney with leather straps reminds you of your days in San Francisco? And that’s all you’re going to tell us? Cheeky..
    But I’m glad you are ok. If you need hugs and a bottle or two of merlot, just let me know.

  • December 1, 2006 4:57pm

    David, I am so glad you are okay.

    Something similar happened to me in August. I checked myself into the emergency room, having tingling fingers and shortness of breath. I was sure I was up for a bypass, and I was terrified.

    It turned out that my blood pressure is fine (a little low, imagine that, in a full freak-out “I’m in the hospital!” mode), and that “all” I was suffering from intense anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder. (Let me tell you, it doesn’t feel like “mere” anxiety when you can’t breathe.)

    It turns out that many more people than I could believe have the same thing, and I wonder if that’s not what’s up with you, too. The stresses you have mentioned with your bank, with the mindless bureaucracies you have to deal with, and even the weather, all contribute to stress–even in the midst of an otherwise deservedly charmed life.

    In my case, I joined the gym, and haven’t had a full-blown panic attack since August.

    Please take care of yourself–we all need everything you give…your humor, your generosity, your knowledge, and your spirit.


  • Meryl
    December 1, 2006 9:39pm

    I’m so glad you’re all right. You’re such a great soul, and I always look to your writings for inspiration. Even on my very down days, you never fail to make me laugh. Although we’ve never met, I feel as though I know you, as I’m sure many people do.
    Wishing you all good things and the very best of health.

  • December 1, 2006 10:38pm

    Thank God you are fine now. Please take care!

  • December 1, 2006 11:00pm

    What a gift! To be OK after all that and to be able to write with such élan. Thank goodness is right.

  • December 1, 2006 11:09pm

    David, you really should put all of these Paris stories into a book. This one was howler! Especially after I got over the fear that you had indeed had a heart attack. (How could you? We’ve been exchanging emails all week.) You are a masterful storyteller. And now, WTF happened to the dossier?

  • Connie
    December 2, 2006 12:38am

    As all the above I am so relived that you are well and survived the experience . Here is to your health ! Too Much ! Must have chocolate and whiskey now thank you……..
    Do take care.

  • Dana
    December 2, 2006 2:30am

    so glad you’re well. I just can’t picture you blogging about the joy of steamed broccoli – sans Fleur de Sal. Although with your humor and writing talent, I’m sure you would make even that sound hilarious.
    You didn’t eat the whole cake, did you?
    Take care of yourself, we need you!

  • alain Q.
    December 2, 2006 6:51am

    I hope you understand that the only person to blame for this long and complicated way to reach a hospital is yourself.

    And your choice of the American Hospital is also questionable as this place is better known for the quality of their room service and the level of price they charge, than for their medical excellence.

    Next time, which I hope does not come, just dial 15 and wait. The fully equipped SAMU ambulance will be there in a moment and will take you, all sirens blazing, to an hospital where you will be expected and properly assisted.

    But of course it will not make as funny reading.

  • Abra
    December 2, 2006 10:45am

    Holy cacao nibs, are there no lengths to which you will not go to amuse and entertain your readers? What a panic, in every sense. I’m going to go bake some Korova cookies in homage to your continued good health.

  • December 3, 2006 12:13pm

    While I practically choked on my breakfast cornbread while reading your witty rendition of hospital adventures, I, too, am so glad you’re well. Please stay that way, David. The marvel of the blogosphere is that you inspire, bring laughs and lessons, wry wit and thoughtfulness to many of us who, despite never having met you in the flesh, think of you as both friend and mentor.

  • Alice
    December 4, 2006 9:45am

    Another anonymous blogger, and American in France, just checking in to say that I wish you well and hope you’re feeling better now. I haven’t necessarily heard the best of things about the American Hospital myself, but I can’t say that I’ve had any firsthand experiences either. I recently had a procedure done in a French clinic, and things went very well — everyone was very kind, and my health coverage took care of everything. I know that might not always be the case, but just something to keep in mind for future reference.

    I too really enjoy stopping in to read your entertaining blog — such a great, biting sense of humor, and a nice tongue-in-cheek, frank approach to life in France. Thanks for such a great blog!

  • December 4, 2006 6:23pm

    Jeez David, I go away for a few days and return to find you’ve been in cardiac arrest in a hospital where the “American” doctors are French! It sounds like a bad dream.
    I am seriously so relieved that you are well. And your post is so funny yet poignantly so. I’ve ended up in the emergency room with acute anxiety, certain I was having a heart attack and going to die within moments. It’s not fun while it’s happening, but does make for good story-telling in the giddy relief that you are, actually, alive. Bonne sante.