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This Too Shall Pass

by Tara

I am awakened at three o'clock this morning to Tyler's persistent nudging. It takes a minute to cut through the haze of sleep and gain consciousness enough to realize what is happening. My beloved partner, who is always in perfect health and generally completely stoic in the face of pain, is shivering and doubled over in agony. "I think I need to go to the hospital", he says.

I am wide awake now; it must be serious. He is shaking in the fetal position, forcefully inhaling and exhaling, trying to control some unknown pain. Very worried but clearly focused on taking care of him, I quickly make my way in the dark between tents full of sleeping campers in search of help.

Normally the reception office is closed at night, but I go there anyway, hoping to find some emergency information posted somewhere. In my mind I am running through various scenarios of what might happen and what I'll do next: I'll have to wake someone up. Maybe a camper will let me use their cell phone to call for help? Ours isn't charged.

Thankfully I see a dim light glowing from the welcome office. "Please let there be someone there, please let there be someone there," I repeat over and over in my head. Hopeful, I round the corner and find the door open and a security guard on duty! I have never been so relieved in my life.

I don't know what I would do without this security guard, and thankfully I don't have time to think about alternatives. By the look on my face he already knows something is very wrong. I tell him the situation and he is immediately concerned, picking up the phone to call a doctor. No doctor will come at this hour, so he calls for an ambulance.

I run back to Tyler and tell him the situation while packing my backpack with the essentials—wallet, IDs, passports, insurance information, etc. Even through his pain, Tyler manages to grab the laptop, the cell phone and all of the charging equipment just in case we run across an outlet. Together we wind our way in the dark to the reception area. Tyler falls to his knees on the concrete, continuing to focus on his breathing. I help him sit down and squeeze his hand reassuringly as we wait for the emergency vehicle to take us to the hospital in Aubagne.

Lights flashing, but without a blaring siren, the ambulance arrives and I explain the whole situation again, translating between Tyler and the EMTs. He can't pee. He feels like he's going to explode. He is in excruciating pain. We mount the ambulance and I hold his hand tightly. He feels like he's going to vomit and the EMTs give him a very inadequate cardboard tray. Thankfully he doesn't end up using it. The ambulance trundles along, everything shaking like a plane in turbulent skies. It is the bumpiest ride I've ever been on.

Twenty intense minutes have passed when we finally arrive at the hospital in Aubagne. They wheel him in, and again I explain the situation to the nurses. They take blood samples and start him on an IV of pain killers and anti-inflammatory medication. There is no paperwork and they only ask for is his name, age, and address.

The doctor arrives, a young woman not much older than us, with disheveled hair and glasses askew. Squinting and rubbing her eyes, she says grumpily, "I'm your doctor. What's wrong?" She has clearly just rolled out of bed. I am a little nervous, and her name tag says "intern." Despite my initial fears, once she wakes up a little more, our doctor is kind, helpful, and thankfully, very knowledgeable. Finally Tyler's pain begins to subside and they are able to collect a urine sample before wheeling him away for x-rays.

X-rays examined and urine tested, the diagnosis comes back: a kidney stone. Just knowing what the problem is is a huge relief. Though it is painful, at least we know that everything is going to be okay. Tyler is able to rest for a couple of hours, but not before insisting that we plug in our electronics to charge them up a bit, and maybe get some work done. (NOT KIDDING)

With a little more rest and a lot less pain, Tyler is deemed healthy enough to leave. Our doctor writes a prescription for pain medication and tells us "It might hurt like hell—you're going to give birth to a tiny object—but everything will be better after that." She disappears, and only a nurse remains to tidy the room. I ask her about paying for the treatment, and she looks confused and tells me, "the medication you have buy in the Pharmacie." "No I mean for the ambulance and the room and the x-rays and everything." "Oh, well it's free, of course." God I love France.

Before she steps out of the room to attend to another patient, I ask the nurse about catching a bus back to Cassis. She opens the window to point us in the right direction, and a beautiful Provence morning shines in. It is now 9AM and the sun is coming up over the mountains. The Mistral is blowing a cool breeze, easing the heat of the sun. She points me in the direction of the bus station, and we leave, relieved the night is over.

After stopping at a McDonalds (I am starving, and we can charge the laptop while uploading photos) we make our way to the bus station and wait. Our bus comes along an hour later, and soon we are riding through the hills back to our campsite. Enough action for one day, we settle in our tent and watch TV all afternoon, relieved to be safe at home.

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Oh no! Tyler, I hope you're feeling better soon. And I'm so impressed with how calm and level-headed Tara handled the situation. Thank goodness you were in a country where health insurance isn't an issue, or even a hassle, for tourists. Makes me even more frustrated at the US system; I know if a french couple biking through America was faced with the same scenario things would be much much different for them. (Also, gold star for the headline!)
Posted by bonita sarita on July 9th, 2009 at 4:08 PM
Oh Tyler, wow, that sounds terribly painful. Glad to hear it was 'just' a kidney stone though and that you were well taken care of. Too funny that you were only thinking of plugging in the laptop!
Posted by Friedel on July 9th, 2009 at 4:35 PM