The best laid plans of mice and men … (Robert Burns, so Google tells me). These were the plans: 14th October, arrive at the French house, stay for three nights, back to the UK, final preparations for my final event, draw breath briefly and then get stuck into a new life that some call retirement.
Well, change has occurred but with it has come some level of calamity and unexpected challenge. My last blog post was written the day before going to France on 14th October. When I arrived I opened up the shutters downstairs, walked around the garden, picked some flowers and arranged them in several vases on the oak console in the dining room, took a few pictures, plugged my computer in, made a cup of coffee … and then looked at my phone. I noticed a missed call from my husband. That was unusual as we rarely if ever phone each other, preferring to text/email/message. I thought I’d better call him back, just in case. I felt rather chilled when I heard the words “I felt very unwell in the office and I’m now in an ambulance on my way to St Thomas’s Hospital”. To cut a long story short his heart had started to play up (very fast/irregular beat) which was not good news at all since he’d not long since had a heart operation in another London hospital. I was in a dreadful quandary. My wifely instinct was to immediately turn round, close the house, drive back to Bordeaux and get the next flight back to the UK. On the other hand my practical instinct was saying “what about the meeting with all the builders tomorrow to sign off on the work”, and “what about the hair appointment the next day” and “suppose I do go back and miss all that and it turns out just to be a false alarm”. I knew I wouldn’t be able to fit another trip in before the event in November.
So I spent an uncomfortable hour or two waiting for further news. As soon as I received a text to say “I’m waiting for some amiodarone” (a very powerful anti-arrythmia drug you’ll often hear mentioned in crisis situations on Holby City) I knew it was no false alarm and I must return immediately. So I booked a new ticket on the evening flight from Bordeaux back to Gatwick, rushed round to close everything up, and retraced my steps to Bordeaux. Car hire were a little surprised to see me, and my flight was delayed, but at least I was on my way. I had no time to dispose of the newly arranged flowers from the garden so a message went to my trusty house-helper to go in and do so later in the week. Having left the house in the UK before 6am I arrived back just before 1am the following morning. And of course I had to get up at the crack of dawn to get up to London as early as possible to assess the situation. The week passed with very good care from the staff at St Thomas’s, urgent referrals were made to the regular cardiologists, and normal life began to be resumed.
Fast forward a few weeks … two days before going on site for my final event which was shaping up to be the largest and most successful ever … a call came in during the night with some desperately tragic news asking me to break the news to a dear very close family member. Shortly afterwards my second in command phoned to say that she was unable to help after all leaving a gap that seemed at the time impossible to fill. And shortly after that my husband phoned to say that his heart was playing up again. I always remember a wonderful boss, from whom I learned so much (Tom HC), saying “our role is to keep our heads while all about are losing theirs”. Such wise words and they certainly came in handy on that day and subsequently (as they had on many occasions previously). My amazing team stepped into the breach, and a fantastic group of speakers, clients and delegates, in a great venue, all ensured that the event actually went better than any I’d ever done before. Wow, something to be so incredibly thankful for.
A quick December visit to the French house (where it rained all the time I was there – it has been a very wet autumn in our part of France) dealt with the signing off of all the builders and another hair appointment (there’s always a hair appointment … ).
Cardiologist appointments came and went and further surgery was planned. Then Christmas, time with our loved ones, and time to relax and wonder what lay ahead. With waiting lists for NHS treatment getting longer and longer, even with important and/or urgent surgery, we dreaded having to face another long period of uncertainty as we had throughout much of 2019, waiting for the surgery date, then the serious hiccup in recuperation, then wondering what was to follow.
Spotting a window in the diary in January we decided to both go out to France for 9 days. This was my husband’s first visit since August. Not only did I have little work to do, but the weather was absolutely gorgeous with mostly dry days and masses of sunshine. The light in our part of France is one of the elements that we most love about our French life. And we were able to enjoy that wonderful light to the full. I had a list of gardening jobs that I wanted to get through, including pruning all the roses (90 or so!), re-organising all the compost heaps (11 enclosures), and shredding/chipping a huge pile of sticks and branches that had come down from the plane trees during various storms in the autumn together with all the rose prunings. We also needed to review our mouse defences (don’t ask …) and carry out various other chores too including viewing and subsequently buying a perfect chandelier for our double-height upstairs landing. And we were fortunate to enjoy seeing a few friends on a variety of social occasions. All in all it was a wonderful time away together.
On our final day, a Sunday, we’d worked out that we needed to leave the house by 2.30pm. We each had a list of jobs to get through, but not more than could be done in the time so the atmosphere was happy and relaxed. I emptied the ash from both the woodburners and took it over to the compost heaps (past the house, on the other side of the car park) together with the plastic trug that we use to collect vegetable peelings for the compost. I put two of the three items down outside the back door and took one of the ash containers inside, fitting it back into the base of the woodburner. I then opened the back door to go down the couple of steps to pick up the other two to bring them in … and disaster struck. I missed my footing, turned my ankle and fell full-length on the ground hitting my head in the process. My ankle was so painful I knew immediately I’d damaged it. I called for my husband who was over at the compost heaps doing some last minute titivation to the leaf-mould enclosure and expected him to come rushing round the corner of the house to rescue me. Silence and nothing. I called again and again but nothing. He simply couldn’t hear. Realising that he wasn’t coming my big concern was to get my wellie boot off before the ankle swelled so much that I was unable to do so. Ever practical I was thinking that we don’t have scissors strong enough to cut through a boot … and they’d been rather expensive Aigle boots that I didn’t want damaged. Somehow I dragged myself back up the steps and into the house, sat on our lovely little sofa in the kitchen and managed to get the boot off with some difficulty.
Walking was very difficult indeed; normal people would have said it was impossible! I managed to drag myself to a bigger more comfortable sofa in the dining room where I put the foot up, OH found a crepe bandage in our first aid kit, and I bandaged up the ankle as tightly as possible. As we had to get back to the UK that night, we immediately made contact with Easyjet via online chat (the phone version didn’t work) and they were very helpful, organising emergency special assistance. The people at the airports, and on the plane, were all kind and efficient which really helped although it was quite embarrassing (well, certainly a new experience) to be the final person on to the plane taken right to my seat in a special narrow wheelchair that also took me up the stairs of the plane. After a challenging night we went to A&E the following morning where, again, everyone we encountered was helpful and kind and the diagnosis was made very quickly that I had a distal fibula fracture (that’s the part of the leg bone on the outside of the ankle). Fortunately it was stable and uncomplicated so no surgery was required and I was provided with a huge rigid boot and crutches, a follow up via the Virtual Fracture Clinic, and instructions on the healing process.
As I had looked forward to the beginning of 2020 I was expecting to be back and forth to France, spending much more time in the garden there, and in between times making plans to see friends and family who’ve been so patient with only occasional contact while I was so busy working, going to exhibitions, galleries, developing this blog much further, and generally beginning my new life. Instead of which I’m mostly confined to the sofa, reading (reading, reading, reading …) and watching a bit of daytime TV (A New Life in the Sun anyone …?). And I’m feeling pretty restless as I’m an avid reader, thinker and a dreamer … but also very much a doer.
I’m determined to heal well. After all I have so many plans and I don’t want to prejudice that healing by engaging in activities that bring risk especially until the bone begins to heal.
Even more importantly we were thrilled to receive a phone call shortly after returning from A&E last week with a date for my husband’s next heart operation (next week) and I don’t want to do anything to prejudice that by being silly or thoughtless.
We have both been blessed with the ability to count our blessings rather than focus on our misfortunes. We are thankful that we had such a lovely time in France and my accident only happened at the end. We are thankful it was an uncomplicated break. We are thankful that the accident happened to me and not to one of our visitors (we’ve always worried that the steps might be hazardous – we’re now taking steps to make them safer). We are beyond thankful that the consultant electrophysiologist cardiologist has ensured that my husband doesn’t have to wait very long.
And I’m actually seeing a benefit in another wholly unexpected way. With good health and strength I might have been tempted to rush around filling my life with a lot of activity to fill the gap left by not working … but not necessarily the right activity. With enforced rest I’m having a time where I can breathe and have a time of transition. I’ve worked for nearly 50 years (I first worked when I was 16 and have worked most of the time since then with just a brief time when the children were young). And I’ve worked hard. I’ve worked to live rather than lived to work, so I do have a wide range of interests that I will enjoy spending more time on. But inevitably it will take some time for the change to my world view to take effect. So I’m seeing this enforced rest as a period of transition that I’ve been gifted.
Accidents happen. Stuff happens. Its how we deal with it that makes the difference between happiness or misery. We choose happiness, and I very much wish the same for you.