That time we found out what my brain looked like…

Today begins as any other day- waking up, feeding Zaza, having a cuddle. I am just sitting on the floor changing Zaza’s clothes when all the feeling goes in my right hand. I can still use it, just about, by intently watching it and willing it to move in the right direction, and getting my left hand to do most of the work, so I carry on dressing Eliza. Then the feeling in my nose goes all tingly, then my cheek and just below my eye- how strange I think.

Marie walks in the room so I mention this, feeling somewhat bemused by the oddity of it. Marie doesn’t exactly share my bemusement, particularly as the problem is still expanding- I now can’t feel up my forearm or into the right side of my mouth. It feels the way it does when you have a filling and they numb half of your mouth.

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Wait, you feel like what?!

I go off to have a shower – ‘ok, but be super quick!’ says Marie, who is googling symptoms and the nearest A&E, worried I’m having some sort of mini-stroke. By the time I come out the shower some feeling has returned, but my face is still half-numb and I am finding it quite difficult to find some words, like there is just a blank space in my brain where the word should be- still quite odd I think, but a little more concerning.

Marie has meanwhile located the nearest A&E, confirmed her suspicions via google that hospital is the best way forward and Rhea and Will have offered to look after Eliza while we go. ‘But, breakfast!’ I complain, having the typical NHS A&E wait times in my mind- Marie semi-relents and I have a yoghurt and some juice before we leave, but definitely no time for tea! I’m starting to get a headache and Rhea wonders if the whole thing could be migraine related- ooh, that sounds a palatable explanation- ‘yes, it’s probably that’ I think to myself as we head out the front door. The sunlight is blinding, even with sunglasses on, so I look at the ground and keep my eyes closed in the car.

The local hospital is nearby so we soon arrive and head in. The triage system is a room with two nurses. One takes my blood pressure and various other measurements while the other takes down my details and copies my passport. Marie does all the talking and the room feels aggressive with its white walls and bright lights- it’s perfectly normal, life just feels hard and my head is throbbing.

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Spoilers

I’m then led through the door into a ward and put on a bed. Various people come in and out to get me in a robe and do various assessments. I’m under the impression Marie will be in at any moment and can translate and do my best with basic French in the meantime. Marie, meanwhile, has been placed in a waiting room, where she remains with no news for the next two hours.

The staff have meanwhile found a nurse with really good English, so she’s completing the assessment of me then about 5 other people come in and simultaneously put stickers all over me for an ECG, make four attempts at taking blood and putting a cannula in, hook me up to a paracetamol and fluids drip and give me an oxygen mask, it’s all go. Oh, and in the corner, an older male doctor asks other questions which are translated to me- he wants to assess how alert I am by asking me the date, the day of the week etc. It’s all go….and then….nothing….

I drift in and out of sleep and get taken off for a CAT scan. Only loosely knowing what this is, I’m imagining my whole body in a tight little capsule for a while so am relieved to find it’s just a hoop for my head to pass in and out of. We have some jewelry adventures when I’m asked to take out my earrings – my magical English speaking nurse isn’t up here with me so ‘I don’t know’ has to suffice in me explaining that I’ve never taken it out before and it’s not coming. Two nurses have a try and then decide they can do the scan with it in, it’s going nowhere!

Look

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Look! It’s my brain!

I’m then on my way back down to the ward when I pass a clock and notice 2 hours have passed since we arrived and therefore since Zaza was fed. Still no magic English speaking nurse so my explanation attempt this time goes as follows: ‘I have a problem, I have a baby, she is 5 months. She is eating at 10 hour and 1 hour. My wife is in reception, can you ask  if she can take her?’ Actually, I think I may have said ‘I am a problem, I am a baby’ in the first part of that!

I’m assured he will ask the nurses to speak to her. Fortunately at the same moment, Marie, sat in reception with no news, decides she had better leave to get Zaza as she’ll be hungry soon. A nurse comes in to say Marie has gone to get Zaza- great I think, it worked!

A little while later they arrive and I’m really pleased to see them. Eliza hasn’t slept since she got up that morning and was apparently increasingly disappointed that Will’s finger wasn’t producing milk, however hard she sucked! She’s fine now though and has some milk, a play and a cuddle. She’s quite interested in the cannula so we have some adventures trying to keep her from tugging on it. Will and Rhea are also now in the waiting room so after the best part of an hour I seem no closer to going home, despite being told twice that I ‘can go soon’. As French restaurants stop serving lunch around 2pm, we decide that they’ll go for lunch and Marie leaves the nurses her phone number so they can call when I’m ready to be picked up. Meanwhile I send Marie to ask the nurses about me possibly having some lunch here- we’re told they don’t want to feed me, I have other things to be concentrating on apparently and I won’t die from no lunch- thanks then!

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Anyway, they leave, 5 minutes passes…someone comes to say I can leave. I kid you not, within 10 minutes of them leaving, I’m dressed and ready with various scan photos and a letter for my GP. Their conclusion- a neuro-something migraine.

In the good news of my imminent departure comes a ‘but’ – the nurse cannot phone Marie. She has the number, it’s correct, but can’t work out how to dial an English mobile from the hospital landline… ‘maybe you just wait? she said she’d come back’ – images of them having a three course restaurant set menu fill my mind and I’m somewhat unhappy with the prospect of a further hour or two in the hospital. I try the hospital phone too, but also can’t work it out and the battery has run out on my mobile.

Nurse to the rescue! She appears with a suitable phone charger. It turns out Rhea is preparing lunch at home and it’s pretty good timing as it’s ready more or less when I arrive. Lunch is followed by a nap and my head is still pounding quite a lot, but I’m glad it’s nothing more serious and Marie is feeling satisfied she did the right thing, given the tests they chose to do before forming their conclusion.

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There are murmurings about doing something with the rest of the day- it’s already past 4pm and we decide on the Lascaux cave museum. The Lascaux cave is pretty unique in terms of cave art, so much so that initially people thought the kids who found it had done the drawings themselves, it was so different to anything that had been found before. It turned out to be genuine though and nowadays, sadly, the actual cave is closed to the public in order to preserve it. A replica has been made beside it and Marie has used many examples of it in the History of Art books so we’re keen to see it. Will’s friend had advised against it as it’s a replica, but we decide to check it out as it’s fairly nearby and on the way back there’s a restaurant our host recommended as they “may do something vegan”.

Off we go, arriving to a large, modern building with water features out the front which Zaza enjoys. My head is still pretty sore so I’m counting down the minutes until 6pm when I can take more paracetamol. We arrive in time for the final tour of the day, which is in French, so they’re suggesting we turn back and come again tomorrow to have it in English. We decide to persevere, thinking Marie can explain anything vital to us as we’re going round. It’s only us and one other group of holidaymakers on the tour, which begins with a somewhat cheesy sound clip of the kids and their dog playing in the forest and finding the cave. We’re then led into the replica cave, which is pretty convincing by my reckoning, they’ve certainly spent a great deal of time and effort making it an accurate representation.

[no pictures allowed in the museum, so the following are from various press articles about the museum]

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Unfortunately we don’t have the same idea of pacing as the tour guide and Eliza certainly doesn’t, giving Marie all sort of trouble in the sling. The guide is sloooooow, even for Marie, who understands everything she is saying. The paintings on the wall are interesting though with quite a lot of colour compared with what we’ve seen elsewhere and a wide range of animals, including one horse that looks to be tumbling down.

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Beyond the cave is the museum which as museum employee and resident expert Rhea says is ‘probably the best museum interactive I’ve ever seen!’. It’s magnificent, with big sections of the painted walls replicated as an overhanging sheet to walk under or a piece on the wall, lots of audioguide sections/ explanation videos to scroll through and listen to on individual tablets, and even UV light to bring out scratched drawings. There’s information on all sorts of things and an interactive display about the rocks used to form paints and other materials, which Eliza quite enjoys sitting on and touching.

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There’s also a 3D movie about the cave in another room and a virtual reality tour of the caves where you wear the virtual reality goggles and use a joystick to navigate your way around the cave- it’s massive, they’ve mapped loads of sections without art as well as the bits we’ve seen already, and quite fun to play with.

Soon it’s time to leave and as we’re leaving the village we notice a beautiful bird of prey on the pavement. Thinking it a strange place for this magnificent bird, we nominate Will to check on it to see if it’s hurt. Unsurprisingly it’s not overly keen on this plan and as we have Eliza in the car and no box of other means of transport for it, there seems little we can do but we guess it’s injured in some way. Marie is driving so as we’re making our way back, Rhea sets Will the task of finding the nearest bird shelter online so we can call them- an easy task in France of course! He’s unsuccessful, unsurprisingly, and when we reach the restaurant our host has recommended for dinner, we ask the waitress. Apparently rescuing animals isn’t really a thing around here, they prefer to shoot and eat them! Ah, we’ll leave it and hope for the best then Rhea reluctantly concludes.

The restaurant is somewhat worthy of a mention. It’s a little outside the town, with a pretty terrace. Our host has recommended it as she’s heard they offer vegan options if asked. They do, it transpires, but not on their main menu and only if we promise to not tell our vegan friends about it as they don’t want more people to go there asking for vegan food! (or for us to come back another night). Despite this somewhat questionable welcome, they are lovely, friendly and accommodating and the chef even comes out to meet us at the end of our meal and asks how the vegan food was. It was good, though the highlight was the bowl of crème brulee Will and Marie ordered. Some of the vegan-friendly sorbet was pretty delicious too. Will is a complete sweetie and treats us to the meal, too!

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