The year was Fall of 1955. I headed from Gainesville, Georgia, to Madison, Wisconsin, to attend the University of Wisconsin. Why? I want to explore new territory. Like now. Everyone I knew was going to the University of Georgia. Not I. I was leaving the area. Why? To expand my Universe.
I had never really left home before. Safe and secure in a somewhat loving family in a small town in Georgia where I knew people and had friends and a steady boyfriend who was also a good friend, I began my journey into the unknown. My family was well-known and had a good reputation. I felt secure in my base. So, the plan was for me to fly to Chicago, either by Eastern or Delta, from Atlanta – alone. Then switch planes to Northwestern to fly to Madison, Wisconsin. I had never really travelled much before this. No one was going with me. It was OK. Each time, I made this trip back and forth, I would have layovers in the airport in Chicago. I liked the layovers. I would “people-watch”. Sometimes this would last for over a couple hours, according to what time my next flight was leaving. That is when I became aware of being “inside” and looking out. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it. Not for me. I had never thought about it before. I would try to write a story about someone I would observe. Creating their background and their reason for travelling that day. I often wondered how accurate I was, though I would never know. It was fun. I enjoyed it more than reading a book and TV was not that “in” at that point in time, at least not for me. I seldom talked to people, just watched them.
It was not until I began taking acting classes at the University of Georgia that I began actively studying observation. An actor must always be aware of her surroundings – details and colors and shapes and sizes. It was easy for me because I had studied and been aware of my surroundings most of my life, creating stories for the strangers I would see on the bus to Atlanta when I was working out at the Atlanta Athletic Club on my diving. I later found out that I was creating a “sub-text”. Guessing at what was really going on as opposed to what someone was saying or doing. I enjoyed it. As a result, I enjoyed acting because I could do the things that interested me while I was creating a character. It was wonderful if I got approval for my work. But, it was not necessary because the benefit for me came from the joy I had when becoming someone else. Observing and saying one thing while thinking another. You see, you don’t “act” the obvious. You act the sub-text while saying the lines. Strasberg was a master at teaching people how to do that. So was Jose Quintero. I studied with both. Thus was born my lifelong observation of being inside, looking out.
This particular post concerns being inside in a French hospital, looking out as I anticipated surgery. I packed an overnight bag filled with towel, hand towel, washcloth, soap, 2 t-shirts for sleeping, a hair dryer, enough underwear for 5 nights, toothbrush and toothpaste, cotton housecoat, comb, brush, makeup, shampoo and conditioner; called Uber; and, headed for the hospital, not knowing what to expect. Right off, once I arrived and sat down in Admissions, it threw me for a loop. NO ONE spoke English in Admissions. All of them say they speak “a little”, but they DON’T. So, I began with my French, answering questions if I could understand what they wanted to know. There was a lot of guessing going on!! On both sides. After a long time of showing cards and materials that they wanted to see and giving them a deposit and signing a lot of paperwork that they did not want to give me time to read, I was taken to a double room on the 2nd floor.
In what seemed like a very small room, I was led to a bed where I was supposed to co-exist with an older woman in another bed. She was lying down and talking loudly in French on her cellphone with the television on. Yes, she had on headphones so I did not have to hear the television, but….. YIKES!! NO WAY!! I immediately said in my best French that I needed a private room. The person accompanying me looked very annoyed. That meant she had to take me back to administration so that they could change all of my paperwork and get a larger deposit. I didn’t care. She could be annoyed. No way could I stand another person in the room with me when I was having surgery. I didn’t care what it cost!!! Actually, I did, but I did it anyway because I was scared and had no idea most of the time what was going on.
Once I got to my private room, I relaxed and tried to breathe. That is when I discovered that French hospitals provide sheets, pillows, a bed, a chair, headphones for your TV, and 1 roll of toilet paper. No towels. I was immediately sorry I did not bring a box of Kleenex and body lotion and better soap. All the windows were open. Fresh air freaks and minimalists. I hoped the food was good. NOT. And my proverbial selfie.
I settled in for the night, had dinner (OK), and tried to sleep, knowing the surgery would not be until 4:30 p.m. the next day, and I could not eat anything after “breakfast”. Ugh. Long time to wait. Plus, why so late in the afternoon? I tried to watch TV, and it was all French everything. After channel surfing, I cut it off and decided I had to let my brain rest. I was up tight – to say the least – because no one seemed to understand much of anything, even the ones who said they spoke a English. They misunderstand everything. Then, they think if they talk louder, I will understand. Haha.
So, I quit. I quit wanting anything. I quit trying to communicate on any level with anyone. My brain felt like scrambled eggs. I needed to get a grip. Plus, I was suffering high anxiety. My blood pressure was going gang busters. That was when I had an epiphany. The secret to life under stress is to not want anything. Haha. Just let go of everything. Trust. Don’t care if it doesn’t happen. Haha. Now, I am not advising that as a philosophy of life. I just think it helps you get through a rock and a hard place in a French hospital when everyone is saying something you don’t understand, and life-altering surgery is happening the next day.
As it turns out, I survived that night, the next day, and the day after that, my blood pressure, notwithstanding. In fact, I am still alive and getting better every day. I had the surgery late Thursday afternoon, and on Saturday, they moved me by ambulance into a double room at La Serena. I freaked out about the double room and my blood pressure skyrocked – to no avail. Well, I thought it was too soon to be moved but no one cared what I thought. I was supposed to stay 5 nights in the hospital. I still don’t know why they moved me so soon because I was still trying to figure out how to get to the bathroom by myself. I won’t gross you out with all the difficulties I had there. Nor will I tell you about the creepy orderly at the hospital who “bathed” me on the day I was being transported to La Serena. Ewww. And, I was “out of it” on pain pills. Ewww.
Once I got to La Serena, I got out of the double room as soon as I could (3 nights later) and currently, I am in a private room with a view, learning how to re-walk and trying to deal with pain. It is worse at night than in the morning. I don’t know how long I will be here. I have to get permission from the in-house doctor. But, since I live alone, I would like to get a tad “more better” helping myself do things and my blood pressure is misbehaving. (Miss Turner just turned over in her grave. My GHS friends will know what I mean. Especially, Carole. Clairise would appreciate it, too. And, Kay and Latrelle. HAHA. Wonderful High School English teacher). Plus, I like the view.
They may make me go home anyway because most of the people here are in worse shape than I am. And, I am going to be “like new” when this is all over. Right… However, I must address this blood pressure issue. I have done so in the past, but most of the French medicines I have been allergic to. So, more to be researched there.
All right, if you have read this far, I thank you. It is nice to think I have company on this French “adventure”. And, I got to share with you what it was like on the inside looking out as a terrified (not really) American expat. It all comes down to trust. And, in the hospital, after surgery, you have no choice. I think and cry often about Steve, lying in the hospital for a month with a tube down his throat. How scared he must have been, and I was unable to help him – other than talk to him and hope he heard me on some level. Most of the time, he was unconscious. It is sad. I have spent more time in French hospitals than I planned on. God just smiled. I will try to be more upbeat next time. The WIFI here is terrible! Difficult to get a lot done on my computer. Actually, I want to go home. Missy needs me.