The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - FIDELMA COOK cook­fi­delma@hot­ Twit­ter: @fi­del­ma­cook

WE’VE set­tled into a rou­tine on my din­ing ta­ble. Or per­haps I’ve just be­come quickly in­sti­tu­tion­alised. Hav­ing forced my com­pan­ions to hold con­ver­sa­tions by bat­ter­ing them re­lent­lessly with my in­creas­ingly man­gled French, the old boys and I have formed al­liances.

One, the greed­i­est, gets my bread ev­ery meal, most of the meal it­self and of course the tub of creme caramel or fro­mage frais.

Oh, and al­though his place­ment clearly states no cheese, his pudgy hand in­evitably reaches out for mine. He’s a heart pa­tient.

An­other takes just a few bare sips of his tiny carafe of wine and doles what’s left in to our glasses.

I’ve given an elec­tronic fag to the painfully skinny, tooth­less but youngest one on the ta­ble. Since ar­riv­ing here he’s cut down to just seven cig­a­rettes a day but would like to find a sub­sti­tute.

We’ve re­duced from six to five at the ta­ble now as the most mo­rose left yes­ter­day; and the fifth, God love him, can barely breathe, never mind talk.

Each meal I ask the same ques­tion: “What meat is this?” And my neigh­bours take a bit of theirs and come up with dif­fer­ent an­swers be­fore plough­ing on any­way.

The fact that one thought it was salmon when in fact it was chicken says it all, I think.

Frankly, I can’t eat most of it – it’s tough and taste­less with a hint of the smell of the clinic wrapped around each of­fer­ing. That is my prob­lem though. All around me plates are be­ing cleared with rel­ish and I will slap the next French man or woman who tries to tell me how fine this coun­try’s food is.

So they’ve given up try­ing to make me eat more than a fist­ful and in­stead cal­cu­late at which point they can reach out for a share.

But the food is my only, mild, crit­i­cism.

For bizarrely I am en­joy­ing be­ing treated like a bro­ken down old race­horse be­ing gently re­turned to some mea­sure of form – my body pushed into ex­er­cise to move oxy­gen around.

Tread­mill, fixed bike, gen­tle gym­nas­tics, aqua gym and breath­ing ex­er­cises di­vide up my daily rou­tine and I go from gym to hall al­most ea­ger for the next ex­pe­ri­ence.

Each time I do a tour of the out­door cir­cuit, which snakes through the park, I get a sense of pride I haven’t felt since mak­ing the first hockey team.

God help me, I’m even in com­pe­ti­tion with the woman who sits on the bike next to me, push­ing faster and longer at ev­ery ses­sion. She has no idea of this, of course, but no yel­low jersey has ever been more de­served, I tell you.

Men­tion you have a headache, feel sick or even itchy to a nurse and you’re whisked in front of the chief pul­mo­nolo­gist, a kind Yves Mon­tand looka­like.

In­fec­tion is the en­emy of us all here and so no chances are taken.

It’s hav­ing a per­sonal physi­cian on con­stant call and ini­tially I was thrilled by it all, once again so ap­pre­cia­tive of this splen­did sys­tem.

I have be­gun to be­lieve that I can learn how to con­trol my symp­toms rather than they con­trol me.

There is no doubt I al­ready feel im­mea­sur­ably bet­ter here in this safe, watch­ful world and feel my body redis­cover mus­cle and sinew to keep me, and there­fore the oxy­gen, mov­ing.

I haven’t yet been to the talks ar­ranged on cop­ing men­tally with all of this and man­ag­ing the hor­ren­dous panic that ex­ac­er­bates all breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.

My turn comes this week but I’ll be there grasp­ing as much as I can and hang­ing be­hind af­ter­wards to clar­ify the points I didn’t quite un­der­stand.

But, but, and I’ve said this so many times and only fel­low os­triches will un­der­stand, French medics never give up un­til they’ve an­swered their own sce­nar­ios.

Tonight, for ex­am­ple, as I sat down to write this, I was mod­er­ately at peace with my world. In fact rather pleased with my­self for go­ing round the cir­cuit on our Sun­day off all ex­er­cise.

Then a nurse ar­rived with a pre­scrip­tion for yet more blood tests to­mor­row morn­ing. Of course I checked out what was be­ing ex­am­ined cour­tesy of Dr Google.

And now I am sunk in gloom, heart pound­ing, end days play­ing out in my head and once more I just want to bolt, run away, fin­gers in my ears as I sing “La, la, la, la – can’t hear you”.

Of course, as is the right of all pa­tients, it was ex­plained at the be­gin­ning, that any time I wanted to leave I could – just go, walk out the door (see, singing again).

It doesn’t work that way though, does it?

In­stead I soothe my­self by re­peat­ing tired old clichés like not cross­ing bridges while be­rat­ing my­self for my cow­ardice and fears.

In a lit­tle while I know this will sub­side and I’ll even­tu­ally sleep af­ter mut­ter­ing my fer­vent night prayers in sup­pli­ca­tion.

I’d love to talk about this with my old boys to­mor­row at lunch but of course I won’t.

We may have formed al­liances but such in­ti­macy would be a gross breach of French pri­vacy.

Shar­ing food is one thing, emo­tions an­other.

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