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.

Best, Jay

Published by jjaywmac

Jay W. MacIntosh (born Janet Tallulah Jewell) is a retired attorney, actress, and writer from the United States, living in Paris, France. She is a member of the California Bar and selected to the 2018, 2019, 2020 Southern California Super Lawyers list. She holds a Master’s Degree in Drama from the University of Georgia and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, and Zodiac Scholastic Society. As an actress, she is a member of The Actors Studio, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS), SAG-AFTRA, and ASCAP, performing in film and television in the United States and France. Her published works include Journal of Janet Tallulah, Volume 1, Journal of Janet Tallulah, Volume 2, The Origins of George Bernard Shaw’s Life Force Philosophy, Moments in Time, Capturing Beauty, JAYSPEAK on the Côte d’Azur, and Janet Tallulah.

6 thoughts on “INSIDE, LOOKING OUT

  1. Someone should keep check on it, do you know how “high” it’s been ? Pain, meds, anxiety, not sleeping can contribute to your blood pressure. You’ve been through a lot and from your post, you are thinking of Steve and what he suffered. I know you cant block your thoughts, but that’s bad for you to be so sad and upset. ( I have no room to talk) but I hope you can try to keep your mind on your writing or something pleasant. It’s hard to think positive when you are in pain, away from home & etc. I’m praying for you and wish I was close right now , I would help you all I could. I’ve taken care of people all my life and it’s very rewarding.
    Your BP is important to watch so you don’t get into trouble. Try to stay calm and don’t overdo. I can’t take pain pills, either. Please let me know how you’re doing because I worry that you are alone. You might have to raise a little $### to get attention. It’s not unusual in any hospital or doctors office. I think RN’s are smarter than doctors HAHA !
    I enjoyed the pictures you made & your head shots are great 🙂


    1. Hi Marie. Very little staff this afternoon. ???No one has taken it. I have pain pills I think make it go up. I told them but they don’t agree.


  2. Hello, I hope you’ll be on the outside, looking in very soon ! I’m surprised no interpreters or translators are there to make sure you understand what to expect. PT is rough , but essential. I hope they watch closely for blood clots. I guess you are taking blood thinner.
    Keep me posted and hope you are better soon 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I get a shot every day for blood clots and the PT is painful but I am doing all of it. No interpreters but my French is improving. I speak it better than I understand it. Usually the other way around.


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