For the first time since my wisdom teeth were taken out, I was going to have surgery.
5,000 miles from home.
If you haven’t read my right-thumb-meets-wine-glass saga, you can read part 1 of this story here.
On Sunday morning, Anna (my IES program director) and I checked in at the Nantes Institut de la Main (Hand Institute). The surgeon swooped in, looked at my right thumb for a grand total of what felt like 30 seconds, and pronounced: 1 cut tendon and nerve (the nerve was news to me), 1 severed artery (this was discovered later during surgery), looking at a splint for 1 month and about 1.5 months of physical therapy.
What had, up until that point, been yesterday’s strangely surreal adventure had suddenly become more real. I hadn’t even thought about the physical therapy aspect. PT = “rééducation” in French, which made sense- my thumb would have to learn to be a thumb again.
“Do you think I could borrow a pen?” I asked in French.
Today, I decided, I would start to write with my left hand.
It wasn’t easy, and though it wasn’t pretty, at least it was legible. One attempt down, many more to go.
What followed was frequently scary, at times strange, sometimes oddly beautiful, and undoubtably the most intense French immersion experience of my life.
Once I was dressed up in the typical operation garb (blue is the new black, people), I was led to the pre-operation room. I was set up on my own stretcher, and I was left to wait for the anesthetic in my right arm to kick in. There two younger girls there too who were both set up with iPads, but I guess I was too old for an iPad, so I was left alone with my thoughts.
Though the hours I spent in that room felt like an eternity, it was oddly peaceful. Nurses bustled around, the anesthesiologist went from patient to patient. For us patients, this moment was an irregular blip in our lives, while for the staff this was normal, another day at work. I found the dichotomy fascinating.
My daydreaming came to a halt when a no-nonsense nurse came in and asked me if I was “ready”. Ready as I’ll ever be, I thought, feeling strangely calm. This was already far beyond any of the challenges I had anticipated during my study abroad semester, so since I had already crossed that line, there was simply nothing left to do but keep calm and see what happened.
The operating room was full of masked French medical people. Everyone wanted to know who I was, why I was in France, and of course how I had hurt my hand.
As I had done countless times before, I explained that I was an American, that in the U.S. I study French, that I was only going to be in Nantes for the semester, and that I had tripped and cut my hand on a glass.
Then the blue curtain came down, a block was put on, and then I was left only to wonder what was going on with my right hand. I tried my hardest not to think about it, but anxiety started prickling the edges of my thoughts all the same.
“Yes, and all because this young lady cut herself with that stupid glass,” I heard the surgeon joke from the other side of the curtain.
“Désolée,” I retorted, almost without thinking, “sorry.”. My heart raced. Was this normal, to talk to your surgeon while lying on the operating table? Probably not, but I would do it anyway.
The surgeon laughed. We started talking about the differences between health care in France and in the U.S. Though the same surgery would have cost a fortune in the U.S., I learned that it’s free for a French citizen who has the “carte vitale” (national health insurance card). Then, as is typical of conversations with the French, my surgeon asked me the golden question: “What do you think of Trump?”
I had to laugh. Of all the possible applications of my French skills, I would never have ever been able to imagine this spontaneous operating table conversation- about American politics, of all things! Luckily, all those years of French classes kicked in, and I was able to express myself fairly well, given the stress of the situation. And if nothing else, it was a good distraction.
1 hour later and it was over. The tendon and the nerve were successfully repaired, and the next day I had my first session of physical therapy. Operation “Get Megan’s Right Hand Working Again” had begun, and I was about to become a (temporary) lefty, but something else had changed.
Since that hospital ordeal, I’ve had a new confidence in my French. As if somehow, after all that, I know my French can tackle pretty much anything.
Is it worth injuring a thumb? Probably not… but it is a pretty sweet bonus.