I Would Have Loved Paris in the Springtime…but…

Having just finished my big Holland trip, I’ve been thinking more and more about Europe. And remembering my last visit to Paris.

When one thinks of Paris, various words might pop into your head. There are quotes, songs, movies – “I Love Paris in the Springtime”, “Midnight in Paris”, “Paris Holiday”.

How about these words:

Vomit
Vertigo
Ambulance
Hospital
Appendix

No?

While all the famous movies, songs, quotes come to my mind when speaking of Paris, so do the ones I’ve just mentioned.

When I finished my degree and was on the verge of starting my new life, I felt like I needed a break. I’d worked through university, finished a three year degree in two years, and I was eager to celebrate the accomplishment and start the next stage of my life.

I had been to Paris while in high school, but that trip was focussed (as my contemporaries were) on shopping. We stopped for an hour (yes only an hour!!) in the Louvre, to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. The tour guide actually had us practically running to see the two exhibits, so we could get back to shopping. We had five minutes at most to soak in only two of the most famous works of art on the planet.

I longed to see the real Paris. The one in the movies. The art, the architecture, the monuments, the parks, the canals, the streets. I even had a bucket list – I wanted to admire the Champs D’Elysee, Musee D’Orsay, Moulin Rouge, Notre Dame and spend a few days in the Louvre. I wanted to take my time and become familiar with each of these treasures. In between, I wanted to sip wine at a small café, eat a baguette on the banks of the Seine, capture with my lens all the sights of Paris.

And so, after University, as a treat to me, I decided to do go with a close friend. Shortly after final exams in April, we headed to the City of Lights – because who doesn’t love Paris in the springtime?

The flight, overall, was fairly uneventful. We arrived in Paris, booked into a small hotel we’d found on the internet, and headed right out to the Eiffel Tower.

We took a few photos at the base of the tower, but then, I started feeling queer and wanted to sit and rest. I thought it might be jet lag.

We went to a small café, ordered a coffee, and sat out front to admire the streets of Paris. But I immediately jumped up and ran into the alley to throw up. Apparently not jet lag. Maybe a bit of a flu bug. I felt guilty and sent my friend out of the hotel to experience the city in the three days I was laid up, vomiting, pretty much bedridden, not really eating.

By the third day, I couldn’t stand up – I was too dizzy. I wasn’t in any pain that I can recall, but I guess I was a little out of it. My friend wanted to take me to a doctor, but I couldn’t move without vomiting. Even sitting up was a challenge.

The concierge (who thankfully spoke very good English) called a doctor to come to the hotel. He was there about fifteen minutes – took my temperature, asked some questions (thankfully the doctor also spoke English reasonably well). Then he did a physical exam. He pushed into the lower right quadrant of my belly – and found the problem. My appendix was in bad shape. He insisted that I go to the hospital immediately – and was going to call a cab. But there was no way I could get in a cab. I literally couldn’t move on my own. So they called an ambulance.

We waited about an hour and a half for an ambulance to arrive (apparently appendicitis isn’t an emergency in France). The hotel was so small, the stretcher wouldn’t fit in the elevator (which was roughly the size of a small walk-in closet. They ended up putting me into a wheelchair to bring me to the lobby. They were big guys – so they could handle it, easily lifting me into the ambulance when we got to the bottom.

Apparently the ambulance system in France at the time was a higglety pigglety mish mash of private ambulances. Who apparently expect to get paid when you get to the hospital. That was scary. We only had traveller’s cheques and credit cards – which they weren’t willing to accept. And they stayed with me (two gorrillia type guys right by my hospital bed) while my friend went to get cash.

Then we got to the hospital. Where you’d think, considering the level of education that medical professionals need to have these days, and the pervasiveness of the English language, that I would have been able to find someone who spoke English. Blood drawn, ultrasound, and before I knew it, I was being asked to sign consent forms (in French) for surgery. I gathered that they confirmed the appendicitis, but the doctor’s broken English didn’t inspire any confidence. I have my doubts that the forms would have been declared legal – to this day I have no idea what they said. But as they suggested that they were quite clear that my life was on the line – so I signed every paper they asked me to.

Within three hours of the doctor’s visit to my hotel room, I was in surgery, having my appendix taken out. It was a frightening, confusing experience. (Luckily, I hadn’t eaten in three days). I’m still not entirely sure whether or not my appendix burst (although they did call it acute appendicitis, I wasn’t put on any antibiotics after the surgery).

But though frightening and not what I expected, I made it through the other side alive. And I learned a few things about travelling to Paris that I probably wouldn’t have if the trip went the way I expected.

  1. Despite what common convention says, most of the French people I met were very kind and patient (even if I didn’t understand most of what they said). I say most – because there were a few that I wasn’t very happy with (hello gorilla men).
  2. If you’re travelling anywhere, get insurance. Whether you’re the healthiest person in the world or not. It’s worth it. They had a nurse call me after the hospital – and I was able to ask her all the questions I needed to about my insides sloshing about and the pain meds they’d given me.
  3. The French word for “towel” is “towelette”. Those two words don’t look very far apart, but apparently French people can’t see the similarity. I tried very hard to get a towel while in the hospital so I could take a shower. My first shower in 5 days. I ended up with bed sheets. I thought about arguing a minute more, but I was so tired…I just used the bedsheets.
  4. I spent three days in the hospital eating broth. When I was discharged, I had to spend a few more days in Paris recovering (and I’d hoped to spend some time seeing the things I’d planned on seeing. That didn’t work out). I wasn’t quite capable of going out either, so food was difficult. Take out not as readily available. Nothing familiar, and my dietary needs were restrictive. Wine and painkillers made it a little more interesting. But I ended up eating a lot of McDonalds and stuff from a local variety store. We did do Chinese Food once – but it wasn’t like the American Chinese Food. It may have been Chinese Chinese Food (which I’ve never had) – or it may have just been French Chinese Food. It was very perfumy. And not good.
  5. Flying after a major operation is not fun. The pressure of the airplane squeezes all of your insides together. We landed briefly for a stopover once we reached the states and I stood up feeling like I was floating because the pressure was suddenly gone.
  6. If you look like you almost died a week ago, the people at the airport may not let you fly (some kind of insurance thing probably, they don’t want you finishing up while they’ve got you in the air). Anyway – even though I was still experiencing vertigo and motion sickness, I had to pretend to be well so they’d let me on. I gritted my teeth every time I saw someone from the airport and smiled at them. They did get me a wheelchair though. And boarded us on the plane before everyone else. (I would also note that this was pre 9/11. I don’t think they ever would have let me fly post 9/11).

I made it home in one piece. I almost kissed the airport carpet. It still took me a few weeks to get back to normal – I think the recovery took even longer than each of my three caesarians (and my first child was almost 10 pounds).

And so…my last time in Paris was not my favorite. Certainly not as amazing as my trip to Holland. Perhaps some day I’ll go back to visit. After all – you only have one appendix…so I don’t have to worry about that happening again. But I can truly say – there will always be a little piece of me in Paris.

Image Credit: “Eiffel Tower” by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee / freedigitalphotos.net

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