Sunday August 12 – Sunday August 19, 2018
As I was thinking about writing this post, part of the slogan from the old MTV series The Real World (when reality TV was a novelty to us kids of the 80’s) kept coming into my thoughts, “…it’s where people stop being nice, and start being real.” Not that we’ve been fake nice or anything to each other on this trip so far – we are family after all. To me, our time in Bordeaux signaled a shift from summer-vacation-in-Europe-mentality to What the hell are we going to do together for a whole year?!? The shift was not unexpected, but it brought out some new emotions that we’re all still sorting through.
It started with a bit of trauma. To qualify this, on the trauma scale it really was a minor incident relative to other horrors that can occur on the road. Believe me, walking along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice with its many strolling teams of heavily armed soldiers, to staying right in the 11th arrondissement (district) of Paris and running by the Bataclan Theatre, stimulated insuppressible thoughts of the unimaginable terrorist attacks that occurred in these exact places just years ago, and the horror suffered by so many innocent people – both locals and those – like us – on vacation with their families. So while what we experienced in Bordeaux was definitely a difficult situation, we know we are very, very fortunate in the relative sense.
We landed in Bordeaux via train from Carcassonne. Transition days have been tough at times with packing up, carrying all of our stuff, and the uncertainty of the next stop. It was hot and humid and we were all a bit cranky. After we checked into our Airbnb we went out to look for a cool place to sit with a drink. We’d generally avoided American establishments, but the sight of a Starbucks along the river Garonne gave us all a wave nostalgia for home. Inside it even said “Seattle” and had artwork by Kyler Martz (who did the mural on the exterior of Seattle restaurant The Whale Wins) on the walls – I was excited enough to take a picture.
While Amelia and I were ordering, we heard a kerfuffle behind us – I turned around and saw Wayne’s face in a panic as he was holding Annabelle’s fingers, covered in blood. She was screaming in pain, looking at me with fear in her eyes. Her pinky had gotten trapped in the hinge of the heavy metal automatic door; at the time – I learned later – Wayne wasn’t sure if it had taken part of her finger off or not. Over the next 20 minutes we tried to ask for help and a first aid kit with very poor French and hand gestures from the staff who didn’t know quite what to do. Annabelle continued screaming and wouldn’t let Wayne touch it, so it was hard to figure out just how badly she was hurt. We got ice, paper towels, and Wayne managed to drag her to the sink behind the counter and put her hand under cold water so he could see the damage. Amelia was understandably getting more and more upset as her parents flailed and her sister screamed, so I did my best to calm her down (unsuccessfully) while I tried to figure out what to do next (also unsuccessful).
One of the employees gave me a solution and offered to call a local medical facility; it seemed to take forever as I tried to placate Annabelle’s wailing with everyone in the store staring over their Frappuchinos. Wayne got on the phone with a staff member at the local hospital ER (we think) who spoke English and explained what had happened. He told us to come into urgent care so they could take a look; luckily Bordeaux had Uber so we called a car and waited outside. The employee who had called the medical facility kindly waited with us, gave us water and some cookies for the ride, and explained what had happed to the Uber driver who thankfully didn’t refuse us with our still screaming daughter. The drive took 25 minutes, audible and unconsolable pain the entire journey (kudos to the driver who remained on task and who we hopefully tipped enough).
We got into the urgent care of the local pediatric hospital and were so thankful for the staff who spoke some English. Over the next four hours Annabelle had an x-ray of her pinky (tiny fracture at the distal joint), waited a very long time as there were many sick kids needing more urgent attention, and got stitches for the first time (fingernail gone and a nice cut along the nail bed – we’ll spare you the bloody picture). Local anesthesia and laughing gas helped enable the procedure and a very nice medical student who spoke great English made us feel less anxious (but only slightly).
We’ve been very lucky in that to date, our kids haven’t made too many trips to the ER (ironically Annabelle’s last visit was when I shut the very tip of her pinky in the car door outside our house), so the experience for us as parents was absolutely nerve-wracking. The general hospital flow all seemed very similar to U.S. hospitals – but there was nowhere near the level of rigorous sanitization. When the check-in nurse behind the counter put ibuprofen and paracetamol tablets directly in Annabelle’s mouth with her bare hands I restrained my utter astonishment, as I knew she needed something to quell the pain. And when on the very last stitch the local anesthesia had worn off and Annabelle moaned in pain and flinched her hand back, and the doc simply continued, Wayne and I both nearly passed out.
We left the ER in a splint around 11pm with a prescription for antibiotics and pain meds, and instructions (again, many thanks for the English-speaking nurse and medical student) to call for a follow-up rendezvous (appointment) in a few days. We got an Uber back to our Airbnb, had crackers and peanut butter that we had kept from Carcassone for dinner (it was a Sunday night and everything was closed), and crashed into bed, me unable to sleep, anxious about infection from the many gloveless hands and sick kids. At least in our American-driven paranoia we had all gel sanitized a million times.
The rest of our week in Bordeaux included one follow up visit to the hospital (rendezvous successfully made by phone call after practicing all of the questions in French for an hour before dialing) and one visit by a nurse who came to our apartment to change the dressing (thanks to our Airbnb host who kindly called her nurse friend for us). Annabelle is a trooper and is healing well and we are so so SO thankful that it wasn’t worse.
Besides dealing with medical issues, we got out each day in the heat for walks and sightseeing, taking in the very cool Miroir d’Eau (Water Mirror), the towering Monument aux Girondins and all of the history and new development of the city via a relaxing boat tour along the Garonne.
The girls got some needed retail therapy and replacement clothing items (still growing quicker than we can keep up) with a few shopping trips to the Rue Sainte-Catherine, the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe.
Wayne and I got our therapy with de-stressing runs along the river, and we all relaxed with books and our favorite card game Exploding Kittens in the beautiful Jardin Public.
We had a lovely evening of drinks and appetizers with our kind Airbnb hosts (a first in being invited by a host for a social get-together), and at the end of the week climbed to the top of the old bell tower adjacent to the Basilique Saint Michel.
And we bravely made a triumphant return to the scene of the crime, the deal being that Annabelle could order whatever (small sized) highly caffeinated drink she wanted if she went back to face her fears. The employee who had called the ER and kindly waited with us for the Uber recognized Annabelle immediately in line and smiled. He drew a huge smiley face on her cup and came out to ask us about the details of her injury and how we all were doing. I was happy to share with him that all was ok and for him to see her smiling – we certainly couldn’t have made his work day easy when we were last there.
But did we drink wine???? Well of course, it was Bordeaux after all. We didn’t get to do a winery tour (the only reason most sane adults visit Bordeaux), but there is PLENTY of amazing (and inexpensive!) wine in any Bordeaux grocery store. Thank goodness.
Coming back to the shift in mindset, while Bordeaux was a fantastic city to visit with so much to see old and new, we were admittedly tiring of hot, busy tourist-filled cities after five weeks in France. More than once while in the ER, Annabelle cried that she wanted to go home. At the time, I related immediately and painfully to her longing. And over more than one dinner the girls pronounced their collective fear that they’d be ill prepared for re-entering school after a year away with their parents as teachers. “This trip will positively impact your whole life moving forward!” Wayne and I would try to convince them. “We’re not thinking about our WHOLE LIFE!” they’d retort. Cue sarcastic eye-rolling and face-hiding, below. Hmmm, living in the moment – something I’d committed to more of during this trip. Touche.
Luckily, our next long stop would bring something completely different. We would head back eastward to Toulouse for a couple of days before we had a real gig lined up – housesitting on a farm in the countryside of Southern France. I, for one, was eager for the change and new challenge.