A Letter To The French Docteur Who Monitored My Pulse
© Copyright 2019 by Desiree Kendrick
Photo by the author.
After embarking on a river cruise in Provence, France, I extended my trip to explore on my own. I did my research before I left home and planned my itinerary for Nice. This incident was NOT on my top ten things-to-do list.
Dear Docteur, let me tell you how my morning began.
I woke with a start. What was that dreadful sound in my hotel room? A deep wheezing, as though Darth Vader had invaded my suite. As a woman travelling solo in France, I’d triple checked the door lock before I retired. An intrusive heavy panting forced me to sit up in the dark. Hospital respirators were less noisy. Bedlinens lay crumpled, suggesting I’d tossed and turned in my sleep. A sliver of light peeked through the curtains. I attempted to focus. My muscles tense. It was me! I was the raspy voice in the dark. My hand automatically pressed against my sweaty chest.
Yesterday’s miserable cold had manifested into something sinister. Switching on the bedside lamp, I pushed myself up from the bed. Cold tile greeted me. The clock read four o’clock in the morning. The replica Louis XIV chair sat eerily vacant. Patterned wallpaper morphed into a claustrophobic cage. Back and forth I paced, gasping, and playing out the scenario in my head. What if I had pneumonia? Could I fly home in three days? What if I never left this hotel room?
I moved in slow motion. Haggard breaths accompanied every gulp. My fingertips pressed the digits on the safe. After three attempts the whirring lock opened. Passport, money, and next of kin information were retrieved and slipped into my purse. Clothing repacked. I released the chain from the door, removing the “do not disturb” sign hanging outside. I wanted someone to discover me by morning. Please, save me from tomorrow’s headline news.
I set my suitcase by the door, ready for the flight home. If I was going to drop dead in a foreign country, why not ease the chaos. Hopefully the hotel staff would follow diplomatic protocols. What were international conventions? Would delicate French linen shroud my decaying body? I prayed that my husband would claim my body. He’s allergic to travel. Would he overcome his resistance for me?
I typed an email. Loving sentiments were punched on a keyboard, my fingers rigid. The time difference was problematic. No one would read my alert until hours later. I scribbled, wished you were here! Love to all. I sat alone. My voice box rattled, eliciting shivers. I dialled the front desk.
“Excuse a moi,” I gasped. “How far is the nearest hospital?”
A marching band of germs converged on the phone. The desk clerk spoke slowly.
“Madame, today’s a national holiday,” he advised, in his accented English. “Everything delayed.”
My words tripped over each other. He deciphered my fear.
“You rest,” he said. “We send breakfast to the room, non?”
Hospitality was served, warm croissants and fresh berries. Coroners are interested in last supper choices. Mine exquisitely French.
“I need to see a doctor,” I pleaded.
Every achy muscle in my body hollered.
“Docteur?” he repeated. “Oui, he’ll come to the hotel. Shall I telephone? Cash payment?”
Requests and instructions intertwined. Sitting on the bed’s edge, I replaced the receiver, closed my eyes, and lay back against the pillows. My yoga pants and tee shirt clung to my sweaty body. The hotel clerk’s words throbbed in my head.
“It may take some time. Today’s a national holiday. Celebration.”
This isn’t how I envisioned my vacation. The south of France was supposed to wrap me in sunshine and lavender. I’d planned on strolling cobblestone paths leading me to dancing fountains. Churches would invite me to view historic frescos and masterpiece paintings. I dreamed of sipping wine and dipping my French bread in a dish of escargots drowned in butter. No travel brochure suggested a date with the plague.
A door knock and my lashes blinked repeatedly. I’d nodded off. Light barged into my room, dust particles shimmering in the air. Groggy, I stumbled. Darth Vader followed on my heels. It took effort to pull the door open.
“Madame, you called for a docteur?” you said, every French syllable rolling off your mother tongue with ease.
I struggled to regain my vision. You held a large medical bag in one hand. No white lab coat, your bomber jacket was designer chic. Was I hallucinating? You didn’t look like any doctor I’d visited. Judging by your physique, you could pedal your way to victory in the Tour de France. Backhand your way to triumph at the French Open, s’il vous plait?
I guessed you were thirty-something knowledgeable. Your shaggy mane luscious, thick eyebrows accentuated your brown eyes. I imagined melting in those chocolate macaroons. Delicious. I reminded myself to buy some at the airport, should I live that long.
“Are you on any medications?” you asked, shedding your coat and unzipping the medical bag.
I shook my head. Although I’m certain I’m delusional, I attempted to maintain my composure. You gestured for me to sit on the bed. I tugged my shirt away from my heated skin. Who the hell was that rumbled woman in the mirror? Flushed cheeks and flattened hair aren’t my best side. My passport photo looked better than the distressed tourist who stared back at me.
You monitored my pulse. Your fingertips felt cool against my skin. I stared at your hand, wondering, do Frenchmen get French manicures? The stethoscope was multi-lingual. The translation was lost on me. I babbled, explaining that my three-day cold had matured. I, on the other hand, had slipped into giddy teenage fever.
“I’m on holiday,” I wheezed.
During vacations, I ban illness. My immune system failed to get the memo. Return flight was in three days. Could I travel? Doctor and patient questions and answers swirled. I too was spinning. Who’s going to believe death knocked on my door along with a hot docteur? I considered asking for a selfie. I resisted a giggle.
“I ran out of Nyquil,” I groaned.
“That won’t help you.”
You jotted on a prescription pad. No good-looking boy every passed me a note in school. Should I keep it as a memento? Holding out your hand, you offered me immediate relief. I scooped up the pill, hoping I’d remember all the advice.
“You can fly. Symptom relief within forty-eight hours,” you said.
My heart fluttered. Let me clarify, my palpitations eased up. I’d live.
You sat on the bed, scribbling on your form. Ah, the final transaction. Payment. Euros exchanged.
Hotel room. Hot French doctor. Body exam. Cash payment.
“Merci beaucoup,” I stammered.
“You’re lucky, today is a national holiday,” you said, slipping your arms into your jacket and retrieving the cumbersome medical kit.
Got it. I was lucky. I imagined a whiff of French cologne wafting past me. The door closed behind you.
Crawling into bed, I felt giddy. I needed to find a pharmacist. My brush with Darth Vader was just a blimp in the galaxy. Star Wars explosions of light awaited me.
Recovering, I repeated my prayer of thanks. I survived without swooning at your feet. Delirium diluted by your competent medical attention and suave bedside manner. To the French docteur who monitored my pulse, I didn’t get my selfie, but I won’t forget you. Lucky me.
A graduate of The University of Alberta, Desiree fused her Bachelor of Arts degree with a Project Management certificate. By day she’s an Event Planner. Past publishing includes; Blank Spaces magazine’s flash fiction contest , “I See You – Do You See Me.” “I Hate My Mother” in Nod Magazine’s 24th edition. She was a runner-up in the 2018 “Heritage Writing Competition,” with her article, “The Spirit of Apulia.” The Preservation Foundation Inc. published “Making History – Ciao Italia.”
Her travel journals have recorded more than one humorous tale in old-fashioned ink.