Du poil de la bête

I’ve often heard it said in French, ‘Il reprend du poil de la bête’. This means to feel better after having been ill.

It never occurred to me to equate it with the hair of the dog. The idea of taking ‘a hair of the dog that bit you’ in the form of an alcoholic beverage to cure a hangover is the so very English expression. Quelle surprise!

Yet it seems they have the same etymology. At one time it was thought that applying a hair of the animal that bit you to a wound would literally hasten a cure.

My Frenchie is almost back to his old self following last week’s operation to remove an obstruction from his large intestine. Snorting, burping, farting and giving in to occasional moments of pure bulldog folly. Makes me remember why I fell in love with the breed in the first place….

Higgins took a hair of the dog and actually came very close to a second incident when he managed to crack open the small hard plastic bit of a vet-approved rope toy. Verdict: he is not to be left alone with any toys, period. As the vet pointed out, rightly so, there is no safe toy in the jaws of a determined dog. So we’ll reserve these objects of his affection for play time.

Speaking of hair, we are in shedding season. Between two cats and two dogs, you need a powerful vacuum cleaner to keep the floors from wearing shag rugs.

The above photo is the amount of hair removed from one of our cats following a recent trip to the toilettage. Finding a professional cat groomer wasn’t easy but it turns out there is a crazy lady ‘toiletteuse pour chat’ only half an hour away. My two kitties had never been groomed before but the experience of removing knots not to mention handfuls of hair seems to have given them a new lease on life. And my vacuum cleaner too.

So that just leaves me. After my series of blood tests and checkups and hair-raising encounters with loud machines, it seems it’s all systems go. As my Beau-père likes to joke, ‘on va mourir en bonne santé’. It’s reassuring to know we will die in good health.

A thought for those who are not so fortunate, however. Having been there before, it is easy to forget the suffering – physical and mental – of all those who are not well, be it with serious illness or chronic pain. Keeping one’s sense of humour is vital, but that’s a lot easier when you have the greatest gift of all.

Here’s to your good health. Santé!

Piqûre de rappel

Dave/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Somehow I manage to get through the year without a trip to the doctor’s office. Then it’s time for a booster shot. And suddenly it seems I have a check-up or an appointment of some kind for several weeks running.

Keeping a body in good health is like a car, especially us older models: you keep it fueled, check the air, go lightly on the brakes, but every now and then you have to do the maintenance. Seems I’m in for a full oil change at the moment.

Maybe because he doesn’t see me so often, my GP tends to pull out the big guns whenever I go in with a minor complaint. This time it was nagging lower back pain that had started in the summer. He was off for a month’s holidays when it started, so by the time I got an appointment, it was almost better. Still, better safe than sorry. I got sent for blood work, urine analysis, x-ray and – okay, why not save time and get it now? – an MRI.

I also got a few prescriptions for minor ailments, and when I go back with my results next week, I’ll probably get a flu shot. Seems this year’s bug is looking like a humdinger, and although the medical community agrees the vaccine is a bit of a crap shoot, as they can only guess at its actual makeup, worst case is you only get 35% sick. I’ll take it.

The anti-vaxxer movement is starting to gain momentum France. I remember questioning the need for my kids to get so many shots when I first arrived. But immunization is obligatory here, and if you want your children to attend school you have to go with it. After a bit of fact-checking, I decided to put my faith with science.

Now France’s new government is boosting the number of ‘obligatory’ children’s vaccines to 11: polio, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis b, influenza, meningitis and pneumococcal disease. Most of these were recommended anyway but the difference is that now they will be mandatory, and therefore, I assume, reimbursed. I get that people are concerned, and if I had young children would probably question the need for them too.

But the return of diseases like measles that were virtually eradicated in France is a legitimate public health concern for both young and old. Even though we oldsters survived many of them — in my case, measles, mumps and chicken pox. But hey, I also grew up a cloud of cigarette smoke.

This week I had an appointment for the dreaded MRI. You have to go to the hospital for this, and as I arrive I can’t help but notice that they always have a funeral parlour just across the street. Isn’t that a little pessimistic? Not to mention insensitive?

I’ve had MRI’s before, and figured this time would be a picnic as it was only for my lower back. Surely, given the fact that I always tick ‘claustrophobic’ on the questionnaire, they’d let me have my head sticking out of the tunnel? No such luck. The nurse pointed out that my head was almost at the end, and handed me a headset to block out the noise of the machine. The screech of obnoxious commercial radio combined with the strange magnetic noises of the imaging created a cacophony that made the whole experience even more unpleasant. But after a few brief moments of panic, the 15 minutes only felt like 30.

So far so good, although I’ll only get all the results back in a few days.

Hopefully now I’ll be good for another year.

Will you be getting a flu shot? Or avoiding the doctor like the plague?

Six milles pas

Walking in Paris
Photo courtesy of Tristan

The revelation came last week: the French must walk 6,000 steps each day. Mais bon dieu! What has the world come to when even le Président de la République uses a step counter?

Under medical advice from French TV personality, Michel Cymes, it seems that François Hollande is counting his steps to keep fit. If he already had an image problem thanks to his yo-yo dieting and being driven around on a giant tricycle to see his paramour, I’m not sure that using a step counter is going to help. Nonetheless, it was an opportunity to get the healthy lifestyle message across to the notoriously resistant French

I’m not sure what possessed me to get a fitness tracker. I saw all those cool wrist bands people were wearing and thought, why not? Maybe it will inspire me to go a bit further in my regular if uninspired workouts. So I got one for my birthday last year.

My Fitbit (pronunciation in French: Feet-beet? Really?) has now been gathering dust on my dresser for the last few months. Essentially, it is more work than it’s worth. When it’s not buzzing to announce another milestone (10,000 steps!), the stupid thing requires constant charging and syncing and updating. It is yet another form of digital slavery. It doesn’t work on a bicycle or an elliptical trainer and you can’t wear it swimming. At the very least I thought it would have a GPS chip. When I mentioned this to my two tech whizzes (business intelligence husband and software engineer son), I was informed that I am naïve and overly demanding. Yep, that about sums it up.

As for the French, it seems their battle against inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle has just begun. Contrary to their reputation for biking around with baguettes under their arm, my compatriots don’t actually get out and about so much these days. Like most of us, they spend their days sitting in front of computers and in transport, not to mention at table.

6,000 steps is only about 30 minutes of walking a day. It may not be enough to combat all that food and wine but I’m willing to bet we see more French people counting steps.

What about you? Do you use a step counter or other fitness device?

La crève

La creveJ’ai chopé la crève.

Caught a nasty cold. None of your average, run-of-the-mill sniffles for me. I do things with gusto.

Interestingly, this French slang word for ‘rhume’ finds its roots in the verb ‘crever’, meaning to pop or burst (as in a flat tire) as well as to pop one’s clogs or kick the can.

It started on Christmas Eve. A low-grade flame in the chest, nothing more. I was fine for the first couple of days, amped by holiday spirit and frequent doses of champagne and single malt. But by Monday last week I was flat out. Coughing up a storm and a head so injected with fluids I had to breathe through my mouth while applying multiple tissues to my nose. It felt like I was drowning.

I hadn’t had a cold like that in years. What the heck happened? Random bad luck or the year-end flushing out of various demons? A few days before I had been to a concert in a church, a place where I would normally never set foot unless to sightsee. I am a sucker for Christmas music, though, and was also scouting out a choir to join in the new year, one of my resolutions to do more things that bring me joy.

Next to me in the crowded church sat a woman who was snorting and hacking away, clearly in the throes of a miserable cold but oblivious to the fact that she was spreading germs while ruining the concert for others with her coughing. It is not done in France to avoid people with colds but after half an hour I couldn’t take it any more, so I got up and moved to the back. The damage was done, however, as 48 hours later I came down with the same symptoms.

The French don’t suffer sickness in silence. They run to the doctor at the first symptoms for a prescription and then to the pharmacy for a boat-load of drugs. Unfortunately they also don’t keep their cold germs to themselves. People go to work and social events with full-blown symptoms which they’d be better off hiding under a blanket for a few days.

I didn’t go to the doctor, nor take any drugs beyond a bit of paracetemol. I am no martyr but I don’t believe in miracles. La crève requires bed rest and plenty of fluids, which is what I gave it (mostly without alcohol). A week later it is almost gone.

So I am starting out the new year with renewed health, and a determination to stay that way. A couple of dry weeks, plenty of garlic and ginger, early to bed and lots of exercise. And if any of you have colds, please stay the hell away.

How’s your health this season? Please share your tricks and tips for keeping the cold germs at bay!

Avoir le cafard

CockroachI was feeling a little low last week. For a few days, everything seemed sort of overwhelming and pointless. Guess you could say the cockroach came to visit.

‘Avoir le cafard’ (literally, to have the cockroach) is the how the French say they’re down in the dumps. They even turn it into a verb: cafarder (which, by the way, also means to snitch on someone). It is the opposite of how you are supposed to feel: ‘Avoir le moral’. To be in good spirits.

You will often hear the French say:  “Ça va? Tu as le moral?”

Most of the time I do. I am an optimistic, happy person. But we all have bad days, occasionally even bad weeks.

I had a job to hand in and it felt too hard. I was afraid of failing and therefore put so much pressure on myself that I became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Then, my accountant made a comment about how I needed to consider whether it was really worth working freelance if this was all the money I was going to make (he didn’t put it quite that way but that was how I took it). The same day my husband announced he was going to the US this week, throwing a bunch of plans we’d made into havoc.

That was when the cockroach moved in.

It was nothing that others haven’t felt before me. It seems the expression was coined by Charles Baudelaire back in 1857, 100 years before my birth, inspired by the way les idées noires (black thoughts) have a tendency invade your brain rather like cockroaches infest a home. Come to think of it, if I really did have cockroaches in my home, that would be depressing.

The good thing is, at least with me, the cockroach never stays too long. I was able to pull myself up by the britches (“Failure is NOT an option!”), stick my nose to the grindstone and deliver the job the following day. The client is happy. I feel much better. And my accountant actually made a good point – one that is causing me to reconsider my priorities – how hard I want to work and how much money I need to earn doing it.

Le cafard packed his bags and left. I found this video and played it to celebrate.

Makes me realize how hard people with depression have it.

The fact is, we all have our shit to deal with. Mine is: fear and anxiety, a noisy and often negative inner dialogue, a tendency to blow my stack when feeling stressed. But the beauty of having a bad day is that, almost always, the next day is better.

How about you?