Been sticking very close to the Flophouse recently. In fact, I was pretty much confined to the couch after having spent the better part of Tuesday morning at the hospital being fitted for my very own "chambre implantable" model Celsite ST215 by B. Braun. This is a handy little device that was inserted in my upper chest on the left side by the pros at the hospital René Huguenin in St. Cloud. Its purpose is to be the conduit through which I will be receiving doses of chemotherapy - first session this afternoon.
The story of how I went from looking for a job (and I'd like to think being very close to getting one) to being a regular at one of Paris' best cancer treatment centers is probably old hat to anyone who has traveled down this road but I'll give you a short recap anyway.
It all started with my family doctor in Versailles. I was, as they say, healthy as a horse (never sick, walked at least an hour a day, lifted weights, followed a low-fat diet devoid of baguettes) but I had nevertheless felt something that I thought was bothersome enough to bring to his attention. The consultation was short and we both agreed that it was probably nothing. But just to be sure he sent me over to a radiology clinic where "nothing" turned out to be "something" that was interesting enough to get me an appointment tout de suite at the Institut Curie/Centre Rene Huguenin in St. Cloud, a community on the outskirts of Paris.
There was never a doubt that it was cancer - the question was what kind, how far it had progressed and what would be the most appropriate treatment. The discovery process took a few short weeks where I underwent a series of tests that included ultrasounds, blood tests, biopsies and a full PET scan. In relatively short order the verdict was in. The good news was that the cancer had not yet spread elsewhere. The bad news was that what was there was not to be trifled with: stage II breast cancer which had spread into the lymph nodes on one side.
Once my family doctor (my "medecin traitant") had the diagnosis in hand he prepared my application for what is called ALD (Affection de Longue Durée). Let me explain. When I was unemployed I was still covered under the national healthcare program and this coverage continues as long as I am jobless and even for some months after my unemployment runs out. This coverage is not however 100% - there are co-pays for which we were fortunate enough to have private insurance through my spouse's employer.
When a serious illness strikes, an application has to be submitted for full coverage (the famous ALD) to the local Security Office where it is examined by a government doctor who then grants (or not) access. It can take some time for the paperwork to be processed and, on the advice of my doctor, I submitted my application in person. At the very same time I went on what is known as "arrêt de travail pour maladie" which means that my unemployment is suspended for the time I am ill, Social Security will pay a small daily stipend in the meantime, and my unemployment will be waiting for me once I'm well enough to start looking for work again.
I went in for surgery in early May. It went very well. The hospital was not fancy but it was bright and cheery. I had a room that was set up for two but a second person never arrived so essentially I had a private room. The food was pretty good too - tasty bread and an outstanding "potage" (soup). There was even a "goûter" (snack) every day at around 4:00: tea and madeleines. The staff was just amazing. I think I will remember for the rest of my days the cheerful guy in the bright surgical cap who wheeled me into the operating room and the surgeon who simply stood over me and patted my arm gently as I went under.
I was in for under a week and was then sent home under something called HAD (l'hospitalisation à domicile) which mean that a nurse came every single day to my home to check my vitals and my scars. While I was healing I received the letter from Social Security office granting me the ALD 100% coverage which means that from now on there will be no bills. All I have to do is present my national healthcare card (Carte Vitale) and it's all taken care of.
For years my worst nightmare was becoming seriously ill in my host country, France. Not because I lacked faith in the healthcare system but because I was thousands of miles away from what was once most familiar to me. To my surprise and relief, this experience is not turning out to be a "cauchemar." The care I am getting is not only very competent but compassionate as well and the center's procedures are carried out with amazing efficiency. I am also blessed with a good network here of friends, family and former colleagues. And thank goodness I speak the language so I can speak directly to my caregivers without having to draft my children or spouse into translating.
So let's just call this an adventure. One that I share with a surprising number of old and new friends. Just one more way of connecting with others and making one's world ever wider. Granted there are probably easier and more agreeable ways to do this but, hey, you take what you can get. Carpe diem, my friends, which means never ever miss a chance to "seize the day."