She opened the gate...

Last night, we were on our way to Brittany. It was getting very late and we still were 200 kms away from home.

We were tired and getting hungry... We knew that in Laval, we’d be able to grab a bite without loosing too much time. There is a McDonald’s close to the freeway.

Yes, I know. We usually are not too fanatic about burgers. Too French, I imagine but at 10 p.m. and with a car overloaded with all sort of stuff, it was wiser and easier to go to a McDrive.

Our problem was to find the McDonald’s outlet. We got off the freeway and went hunting for food.

Finding McDonald’s was harder than we expected. We started to drive around a very dreary area... Warehouses, bus depots, workshops, etc.

We were getting discouraged when all of a second, the car started to sound weird and to feel really weird. That’s how a philistine like me describes a flat tire...

Popeye parked on a very large sidewalk in front on a warehouse. No one in sight. Lost. We were lost. We were lost in an industrial park, somewhere close to Laval.

Flat tire indeed. The left rear wheel. Very flat tire in a few seconds. Weird, really weird since our car is a SUV with quite new and very sturdy tires.

I have to tell you one thing before carrying on with my story. Popeye is a fabulous sailor. He is a very good driver too.

But when it comes to boat or car maintenance, well, it’s much better to resort to a specialist. Which is not a bad thing at all. That’s what specialists are for.

We were standing close to the car which was filled with all sort of stuff we were moving from Brussels to Brittany and we were feeling quite dispirited.

‘Well, I guess I’ll have to get to work now.’ Popeye said with a shrug.

We started moving our stuff around to free the spare tire and the jack. Some ended up on the sidewalk.

I handed the instructions booklet to Popeye.

It was freezing outside - 4°C and we were not really wearing the right clothes either.

It did not take him very long to start untightening the screws but when he got to the point he had to use the jack, things started to look real bad.

I mean that we were hopelessly stuck with a jack that wasn’t working very well... Bad workers always blame their tools. I know.

I was looking around, trying to come up with an idea - how to find a mechanic this late and in the middle of nowhere.

And in the middle of nowhere (again), I noticed a gate and a bell on a high wall that could belong to a house. House. Humans. Help.

I rang the bell and waited close to the entry phone.

I was feeling bad - it was late and if people were there, they were probably asleep. And I was feeling even worse, very egoistically - what if no one was home after all? What if this was not a house but offices? Hard to tell in the darkest night ever! Well, anyway, the enclosing wall was very high.

After a couple of minutes (as long as one hour for my worried and tired brain), a woman answered. She sounded very young.

I explained to her what had happened. I said that we were stranded very close to her gate and that we needed help to find a mechanic. She said that she’d come out right away.

I really was flabbergasted. You want to know why? Well, honestly, we really were in the middle of nowhere. She had no way to know that I was telling the truth. So I kind of doubted that she would come out.

Well, she opened the gate and there she was. Smiling. A very petite woman. She said right away that her husband was not home, meaning that he would have helped Popeye to fix the tire.

I couldn’t help thinking: ‘Please, lady, don’t mention to anyone this easily that you are alone at home. It’s so late. For goodness sake...’

But she looked quite at ease and not worried at all.

When we told her we needed to call whatever mechanic who’d accept to come and change our tire... at 11:00 p.m, she said that she did not know who could be available right away but she’d go back to her house and give a couple of calls.

She left (without closing the gate behind her). She came back a few minutes later with a big smile on her face. There was a mechanic still working this late in Laval. She gave us his phone number. She told us exactly where we were - so that the man would find us very easily.

Then she told us that she had to go back in because her daughter was sick. ‘Do you want to come with me?’ she said to me. ‘It is so cold tonight.’

I thanked her profusely but I wanted to stay with Popeye.

One last thank you. One last smile and she went back home and closed her gate. ‘If you change your mind, you know you only have to ring the bell.’

The mechanic arrived 10 mns later. It took him a little bit more than 5 minutes to change the tire! Popeye was filled with admiration. Except that two seconds after the guy left, he said: ‘Wow. Have you seen his jack?’

Yes, the man had a hydraulic jack and it really did make a difference! So I know what we’ll start carrying around in our trunk from now on... except that if we do that, there won’t be much room left for our stuff!

This was a great experience after all. Finding someone ready to help us did not really surprise us because we like to help people (tit for tat, so to say).

But we both were amazed that the lady had opened her door so easily to total strangers. Because as soon as we were stranded in this very lonely and forsaken place, with our all stuff on the sidewalk, we kept thinking that we were bound to end up mugged every time a car drove by.

We were craving for help but we felt oh so relieved whenever we’d spot a car that its driver would not even slow down and that he’d drive away.

I guess this is the big and awful difference between 'big city' dwellers and provincials. So sad that we become instinctively so distrustful and fearful whenever we find ourselves in a difficult position.

But the lady had opened her gate...
Great, great lesson.

We managed to get to Les Tertres safely. Very late but safely.

This morning, we realized that we know her address (more or less) but not her name. I wanted so bad to send her a thank you note.

Well, next time we notice someone stranded somewhere, we’ll stop.  Trying not to think that it may be a trap which it hopefully won’t be.

Great lesson. Great lesson indeed.


Weaning off drugs


In 2004, several months after chemo #1, I started suffering from excruciating pain in my limbs, muscles and joints. I could no longer stand up without help except that I would start screaming to the top of my lungs because my skin felt like it was on fire whenever someone was touching it.

I had been quite sensible about cancer and its ‘enemies’ (my 'friends' - surgery, chemo and radiotherapy). But suddenly I was feeling like I would not be able to survive such  pain and I was quite vocal in my distress.

This crisis happened when we were in Brittany for Christmas. By the time we came back to Paris, it was getting worse and worse. I truly was going out of my mind.

To make the story short, the doctors at the AHP finally made the right diagnosis - It was an acute onset of fibromyalgia caused by an overdose of stress (PTSD)... mainly due to chemo.

They put me on TCA (Laroxyl) plus Clonazepam (Rivotril) plus Bromazepam (Lexomil) plus pain killers... The dosage was quite high. You’d think that I would turn into a zombie. Not at all. The pain disappeared and I resumed a fairly normal life, even with the suppressant.

A few months went by. The neurologist was talking about downsizing the treatment. I was already off painkillers and bromazepam.

And then in 2005, my world exploded again. Cancer was spreading fast while becoming a potentially swift killer.

I had two big operations before they could even start chemo.

The doctors were adamant. No way the fibromyalgia treatment was to be downsized after all. I was back on bromazepam. And they doubled the dosage of TCA and Clonazepam... to be on the safe side...

Chemo was hard and long. But fibromyalgia did not come back! Wonderful, isn’t it? Cancer, yes. Fibromyalgia, no! A miracle!

I left the hospital in August 2006... hoping I’d survive without chemo. It had been such a terrible experience that I even quit thinking about the fibromyalgia treatment.

Years went by. Lucky me. Obviously my oncologist had managed to scare  Cancer #2 away, once and for all! Talk about being positive!

Two years ago, I was feeling so good (and surviving so well) that I started dreaming about discarding the suppressants.

I had long talks with my neurologist who just didn’t like the idea. Not at all. But he’s a kind and understanding man... I made my point. I was just asking about downsizing the treatment and I’d do it very slowly and very respectful of his prescription.

I am not this crazy. I know that those drugs are very addictive and that  the weaning would take time. I did not care how long it would take. I knew I was ready to get rid of them all.

I knew there wouldn’t be any substitute to make my journey through freedom easier but I was so willing to start!

One year ago, I finally managed to reduce the intake by half without any problem. I was very surprised actually. I never thought it would be this easy. My doctors who worked again as a team monitoring my weaning were quite surprised but very pleased... They joked about it.

The unsinkable Olive Oyl had done it again... defeating (probably) cancer and getting rid of such a strong treatment! Laughing at doctors! Like a child. ‘See, I told you. I told you!’

They had asked me to wait for one whole year before getting on stage two, which for me meant complete weaning, once and for all.

Six months ago, I got the green light. I managed to reduce the new treatment by half. I was no so cocky about it. From time to time, it became a little bit hard.

I’d feel faint while walking around. So dizzy that I had to stop and sit down on the closest bench. Then I’d feel allright again...

No way I would quit ‘quitting’. I was pretty adamant about my ‘journey to freedom’. It would take quite a long time... but I would do it.

In November 2011, the posology was down to 10 drops of Laroxyl and 5 drops of Rivotril. Quite a success if I tell you that in 2010, I was still ingesting 50 drops of Laroxyl and 25 drops of Rivotril every night.

The funny thing about it was that I could not tell the difference. I did not feel ‘undrugged’... probably because I never really was aware that I had been this drugged after all.

I had excuses.

It was so hard going through the whole experience of  the cancer relapse and so very hard to recover from a very strong chemo that my mind  probably forgot that I was on TCA, etc.

In January, on the day we left Venice, I told Popeye I was more than willing to quit taking all those drugs even on a very low dosage. Once and for all.

We talked about it. It had been quite easy... despite the fact that I had been very moody, Popeye added.

I made an appointment with my neurologist who knew exactly what I was going to say! I hate it when I am so predictable. And he said no. And I said yes. Please. And he said no. And I said yes. Please! Please!

He gave up as I knew he would because he knows me well and he trusts me. Besides the fact that I’m never too far from the AHP... He checked his schedule to make sure he wouldn’t be away while I was going through the last part of the journey.

And I left with a new prescription. On my way to complete weaning.

Last night I took my last drop of Rivotril and within ten days, I’ll be off from Laroxyl as well.

And yes, it has been an awful experience from the very start. Very surprising actually. It had been so easy...

I imagine my brain finally registered it would never get access to these drugs again (hopefully) and fought a very mean battle against my will!

I’ve quit sleeping... No kidding. Last night was grand! I slept for four hours! (My average - two hours per night for the past two months!)

I feel dizzy most of the time. I quit eating (well, this is NOT the worst part). My body goes through hot flashes while I am shivering and feeling utterly freezing... anytime anywhere...

I have the hardest time to keep my eyes focused... the hardest time to read... (No wonder being so sleep deprived...)

At first I thought it would be a great idea to keep walking and walking for hours whenever I was in Paris until my legs gave up on me. I really was hoping I’d feel so tired that I’d fall asleep and I’d sleep for hours and hours, maybe days...

Sleeping it off...

I don’t feel tired though. I am exhausted. And yet I feel hyperactive... and totally numb at the same time.

I go through weird gaps... forgetting my phone number, for example. But when I try hard, it comes back, don't worry! It just feels weird and spooky for a few minutes.

I almost forgot to mention that I am always in a very bad mood! (There, I said it...) Foul temper aft starboard. Worse mood aft on the port side... Poor Popeye!

Hello, brain, why can’t you accept that your drugged bliss is gone?

Hello, brain, we are going to have a brand new life, you and me! A fun life! A drug-free life!

Hello, brain!

Hello, brain? Hel-lo, brain?

Do not worry, my friends. I won’t give up. ‘Brain’ shall understand. I am the unsinkable Olive Oyl after all!

©E. C. Segar

By the way, I should soon be back with a new 'episode' about Venice! I only have to make a deal with 'brain'.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*