Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fool who thought he was a lumberjack

If this photo shocks my readers, then I ask you to believe that this silly accident certainly shocked me too. But I've now overcome the trauma.

My local doctor, Xavier Limouzin, is not only an excellent general practitioner and a cultivated gentleman—who is passionate, in the little spare time he has, about exotic motor cycles and rose-growing—but he's also a senior officer in the local fire brigade, and clearly a competent photographer. (That's not Limouzin in the photo, since he was actually taking the photo… at my request.) The accident occurred a month ago [see my blog post], but it was only yesterday that I dropped in for the first time for a medical visit, primarily for my three-monthly renewal of pills. I've more-or-less got back to normal, but Limouzin has prescribed both an ultrasound image and an MRI of my left knee, which might not be recovering (?) ideally. Personally, I'm reassured that everything's fine, but I've got into the habit of following strictly the orders of Xavier Limouzin (who detected my prostate problem several years ago). I wouldn't wish to be accused of publicizing the talents of a GP (which would be illegal in France), but I've often said to myself that one of the many basic reasons why I'm not particularly interested in moving to a more civilized corner of France is that my personal medical context in the vicinity of Pont-en-Royans is splendid. And Gamone—need I add?—is a magnificent place to live, in spite of its dangers.

Concerning the photo, I should explain that the victim is totally conscious and suffering no pain whatsoever. If he's lying on his back, in his underclothes, with his arms outstretched, that's because Xavier Limouzin ordered me to get into this position. And if the victim is wearing an oxygen mask, and receiving serum in his right arm, that's because Xavier Limouzin didn't want to take any risks concerning the possible nature of my wounds. I tried to tell the GP that I was perfectly capable of getting up onto my legs and walking away from the scene, but he preferred wisely to ignore my words. So I assumed completely my state as a wounded fellow who had imagined himself stupidly, for a few dramatic instants, as an alpine lumberjack capable of using a chainsaw to cut up giant logs on the slopes of the Vercors.

I must relate a trivial anecdote that would be amusing were it not perfectly serious and reassuring. In the confusion of the first few minutes when the local firemen's ambulance was racing up to Gamone, with its siren blaring, phone messages were exchanged concerning the exact setting in which I was located. Naturally, the first thought that flashes into the minds of alpine emergency crews in a place such as Choranche is the possibility that the victim might be located in an inaccessible zone, necessitating the intervention of a helicopter. I had actually written a blog post on this theme, entitled Helicopter territory [display], just a week before my accident. Well, it appears that the nature and the geographical circumstances of my predicament had been somewhat overstated by the excellent men and women (the group included two female fire officers) who were taking care of me. In any case, at the same moment that I allowed myself (I had no choice) to be handled like a gravely-injured blob of meat, and placed delicately in a rigid cradle on a stretcher, and carried up to the house, I glimpsed the famous red and yellow helicopter hovering above Gamone. I also heard one of the firemen yelling out, in embarrassed annoyance: "Hey, somebody forgot to phone the helico to say we don't need them." To be perfectly honest, I was almost disappointed to realize that I wouldn't be leaving Gamone in an aerial fashion. But I remained constantly relieved, above all (during the long slow journey to the hospital in Romans), that I wouldn't be leaving Gamone in a plastic bag. Once in the care of the excellent medical staff at Romans (where I spent the entire afternoon in my underwear), I realized that I was traumatized above all by the image of the rolling log, and I kept repeating to myself, in an audible voice: "William, oublie l'arbre !" (forget the tree trunk). During the fortnight that followed my accident, I took advantage of the terrible series of accidents in the Tour de France to convince myself that we're all constantly on the verge of being killed in one way or another. And I chased away all my dark thoughts and images by realizing that it's a wonderful privilege to live alongside individuals such as the neighbors who heard my cries for help, and the fine emergency personnel of Pont-en-Royans, guided by Xavier Limouzin. But a helicopter trip would have been nice...

PS: Perspicacious blog readers will have understood that my decision to publish this unpleasant photo is largely therapeutic.


  1. I recently read that Drew Mitchell (Aussie rugby winger) was told to watch a video in slow motion of the tackle that broke his ankle so that he could overcome his fear of a similar occurrence. Bet you're glad there's no video of your accident.

    Sad but true, though, that as one ages, the quality and proximity of medical assitance demands our attention.

  2. I'm not sure of the extent to which self-imposed recollections of a traumatic experience might have a positive cathartic effect. The photo of me spread-eagled on the slopes of Gamone has the advantage of being almost funny, in an overkill sense, since I wasn't really as gravely injured as I might appear to be.

    Anecdote. During the slow trip to Romans in the fire-brigade ambulance, I was looked after by a young fireman who had settled down with his wife and children in Pont-en-Royans a few years ago. At one stage he started telling me about their latest pastime: the production of family videos using the Final Cut software on a Macintosh. I would have liked to inform him that I too was an adept of this same kind of activity, but it was impossible to strike up any kind of conversation while I had that bloody oxygen mask over my face. One of these days, I must get back in contact with him.

    The general medical system in France is uniform and rigid, in a typically-French Cartesian spirit. Every citizen is assigned to a single GP, and it's this personal GP who then determines how you are going to be "handled", as it were. The GP decides which specialists you will be sent to, and the identity of the clinics and hospitals in which you might be treated. So, for a rural citizen (such as me), it's most fortunate if all these parameters turn out to be optimal, which has been the case for me.

    I should point out that I'm not at all hypochondriac, or unduly fascinated by medical science (to the same extent that I'm fascinated, say, by genealogy, genetics and cosmology), and that, overall, my state of health has been quite satisfactory during the 17 years that I've been living here on my own at Gamone… otherwise I might not have been capable of staying here. Concerning the future, I tend to consider that the benefits of the monastic simplicity, regularity and harmony of my daily existence at Gamone far outweigh the negative impact of my recent unexpected clash with a walnut log.