A Hopital St. Louis Kinda Christmas. Dec 2008 / Jan 2009

I suppose I should start with Jay's arrival. It was marvelous to see Jay over here yet again. We were havin' a grand ol' time. We did face masks made of clay, drank bourbon and wine, ate foie gras and danced to Frank Sinatra Christmas Carrols while writing up our list of groceries for the next few weeks.

Monday, we had a wonderful dinner at Maxime's with all the wonderful people I've met on my strange but magical journey to Paris. It was all but perfect. There was a cat and too much smoking but I was feeling good.

The next day I had my last day of work. Wasn't feel too top but got through the day all the same. Finished up the restaurant, closed down shop for the last time and decided that I wasn't quite ready to leave France just yet. I felt inspired to write, inspired by the cafes and the absurdities of the French culture. I knew that back home a cup of coffee wouldn't taste the same and boredom would once again ensue when i couldn't simply cheer myself up by taking a stroll along the Seine the way I could on a Wednesday afternoon if I so wanted to. I would stay.

That night, once I got back to the apartment, I was feeling a little stranger than usual. I didn't have much energy. I was a little lethargic. Hell, I didn't even have it in me to smoke. I told Jay I was sorry but that I was going to go to bed early and go to bed I did.

I woke up around 5:30 out of breath. My ventolin wasn't working too well (or, I dare say, at all), and I got up to go pee to see if that might help. I noticed Jay was still tossing and turning. I didn't want to wake him up but I was starting to feel a little uneasy on my own. I tried having a shower to see if that would help. It only got worse. Before long, (well, I let 2 hours of suffering pass this way) I was suffocating. I screamed for Jay to wake up and told him I needed help to get down to the street to get a taxi. I threw on some clothes, no bra, dirty underpants and whatever I could find on the floor, thinking a quit jaunt to the hospital and I'd be back here in no time. Grabbed 150 euros, in case the hopsital bill was expensive and we made our way downstairs.

A half hour, no chance of a cab. Even the ones with the lights turned on wouldn't stop. I'm guessing because I looked like a crazy person with my wet hair and my flailing arms, I dunno. Eventually, I was losing consciousness and a nice French man in a suit helped us on this Christmas Eve morning to the pharmacy across the way to call an ambulance. In France, it's typicallly the fireman you call for transportation to the hospital. And they walked in like the three muskateers, with their matching haircuts and black leather shoes. Alvin, Simon & Theodore (not really, but I've never quite seen anything like it!) They gave me no medicine and just kept asking me questions as though I had it in me to answer. I wasn't entirely sure they even knew what asthma was. Eventually, they loaded me into the truck and we started heading to the hospital. I had never quite felt an attack like this before. I was gripping onto the side of the stretcher lke it was the last thing I would ever hold on to. I honestly thought it might be the end, but then I thought to myself - absurd. This can't be it. I can't go out surrounded by three pre-pubescent fireman wannabes. No way.

The firetruck stopped and two of the guys got out. Turns out, as luck would have it, there was a motorcycle accident just in front of us. Instead of leaving one or two of them there, they left me in the truck while they stayed on the scene. By this point, I considered getting out and crawling to the hopsital. If I didn't make it there soon, if I wasn't on the drip within minutes, I would stop living, I was fairly certain. They kept opening the door to see if I was still alive and finally, two fo them got back in the truck, one of them stayed on the scene and they got me to the hopsital. I was admitted right away and rushed into ICU. Needeles, needles, needles, talk of incubation, tubes shoved down my nose and my throat, medicine pumped into my veins, masks on my face, tension socks, stretchers and food through cords and peeing in a bedpan. It was quite the Christmas.

Michael came shortly after. He was wonderful. Jay too. They brough me clothes, books, my computer, movies. Didn't get the chance to profit much from them. Watching people die all around you on Christmas was not the most celebratory environment. I couldn't eat for days. The menus were hysterical, though: foie gras, rabbit in a mustard sauce, fish of all sorts, cheeses from all regions on France. Honestly, I've never seen anything quite like it.

I can't say it was a good Christmas. It may have been the worst I've ever passed. I don't think I've cried this much in my entire life. I don't think I've ever felt so completely drained of emotion. I've been here 6 days now. Apparently, the attack I had was more than serious. They are hesitant to let me out into the world even now and I'm feeling better than I have in a long, long time. I have been getting lecture after lecture about all the things I cannot do once I'm out. No more pot, no more cigarettes, no more being exposed to pets (EVER!), more careful attention to medication, etc...I guess I have been neglecting my health for a while now. I know it. You know, we all know it. I just haven't cared. All I've ever wanted, my entire life was to live like everybody else. And they're only consolation for me here is "Well, darlin', that just ain't possible."

So, I'm alive. And because I have no health insurance, so far my hospital bill is towering around 10,000 euros. Fortunately, it sounds like the hospital is going to look after it for me because as they say "In France, we care for people first. That is our priority." There is even a social assistance worker working on trying to get me free medical care and prescriptions for the rest of my time in Paris. I've never seen anything like it. There is so much more to tell, but I just can't. To get into it would be to write a whole book and hopefully, I'll be able to do that too.

I'll have some nice photos courtesy of Jay's innappropriate hospital photo project while in the hospital. My arms are black and blue from bruising, I've lost a lot of weight and well, I'm officially a non-smoker again. Things are looking up. I actually feel like doing some physical acitivity one of these days.

Anyway, I miss you all a lot and I hope you all had a better Christmas than me! I keep going back & forth on the staying/going plan. I think at this point, I am going to stay at least until the end of March and then see what's up after that. I don't know how I'm going to live but I know I've got to start writing and enjoying this city for all it's worth. I have a private room overlooking the rooftops of Paris, and the Eiffel Tower. Have to say, the view ain't half bad, even being tied to all these machines. Kind of makes you appreciate the luxury of health.

Happy Holidays everybody from Hopital St. Louis.

A bientot, I hope. And I'm happy I'm still alive.

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