Compassion …

Not much happened this week but what did was a grand experience. Both good and bad. An elderly woman who I’ve been friends with for almost 7 years now needed to have a rather complicated form of cataract surgery performed on her this week. She’s pretty much all alone in Paris and her relatives who live in the suburbs were out of town. So I picked her up at her apartment and brought her to the clinic for the procedure.

It’s hard to explain the level of fear and anxiety she experienced, starting with the taxi from her apartment. By the time we arrived at the clinic, she was almost inconsolable. We checked in and sat for about 20 minutes in a waiting room. Every time the clerk would come in and call someone’s name, she’d jump up and nervously say “was that my name … I think it was my name”. We eventually got called and admitted to a private room.

The room was absolutely perfect. Seemingly new, like a hotel room, with a touchscreen television that had an internet connection, telephone, cable, etc. I was relieved to see that the room was great, thinking that might help ease my friend’s angst a little. Nope. She looked around for a few seconds and then launched into a tirade that maybe only a mother who’s child throws a tantrum at the supermarket could understand. The bed was too high (of course we lowered it), she was used to taking baths and the room only had a shower, she’s used to a bar of soap and here there was only liquid soap. But the topper was the heating system. The room and the whole clinic had a central heating system that would blow warm air into each room. It made noise but just above a whisper. Well, my friend convinced herself that there was no way she could sleep in a room that noisy. First she called the department administrator and said that she had specifically requested a quiet room. Of course the clinic had actually given her their best room, the most quiet and had even (I found out later) actually upgraded her to a VIP room. It had zero street noise and was at the end of the hall with only one adjacent room. She had the best room.

The administrator was quite kind and found a solution for my friend. They brought in a radiator heater which made no noise and turned off the fan in my friend’s room. Perfect right? Wrong. My friend decided she didn’t like the KIND of heat from a radiator heater so that wouldn’t do. She demanded to be moved to another room. The administrator told her that all the rooms had the same heating system and besides that, the clinic was full. Well, over the next 2 hours(!) my friend called just about everyone involved with the clinic from the admitting officer, the janitor, the heating technician, the top person and a few people I didn’t even know who they were.

At one point, there were 7 clinic people standing in our room trying to make the situation better. The were completely at their wits end but other than the heating technician, refused to give up. I tried to stay out of the situation the best I could because it was difficult for me to following everything in French and truly there wasn’t really anything I could do. Finally, the top administrator, not knowing what else to do or who I was, tried to enlist my help but asking me “Monsieur, que-ce que vous pensez (Sir, what do you think)? Feeling a bit on the spot and having 8 French people staring at me and hanging on my response was quite a moment. I paused and then said “I think you’ve done everything humanly possible and that my friend has created a problem without a solution”. Everyone looked around for a couple of seconds and then my friend seemed to realize that what I said might be true and quite unexpectedly calmed down a bit. She told the mob in her room that of course a clinic can not be like home and that she would just have to deal with the inconveniences, or something to that effect.

I ended up spending 7 hours there and another 3 hours when I went to pick her up two days later. My friend’s behavior was outrageous and painful but what will stay with me the most was the compassion of the clinic staff. Can any of you out there imagine the employees of a clinic where you live being that compassionate? Seven people over two hours trying to solve an unsolvable situation. As often as I call the behavior of Parisians savage (and that’s often), events like this happen and I gain a whole new respect for the people and the “humanness” of their culture.

Some photos of the week:

Metro scene

Metro scene


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Anonymous on December 22, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    David, What an ordeal…..You commend the clinic staff rightfully so but I commend YOU for doing what you did and having the compassion that few people would…You help confirm my belief that there are still good people out there…..You make me proud……The Second Basement…


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