First six parts to attach
Around thirty minutes after the call, someone rings their inter- com. “Bonsoir, je suis le SOS docteur, le medecin de garde” a man’s voice comes from the intercom. “Entrez,” San replies, “we are on the fourth floor, Docteur.” She buzzes the machine, letting the person inside the apartment building. It is an old apartment building without an elevator, which is pretty common in Rennes, the city where they live now. Modern buildings facilitated with lifts are not the typical architecture here. There is not a big fancy mall either. Many shops are located in the centre ville. Boutiques line up and down the streets. Old and fancy, the European dream. Vilaine river also converges in the centre ville. That is why the de- partment area is called Ille-et-Vilaine.
San waits by the door with baby Alex in her arms. She doesn’t let him go, but he keeps begging for his freedom, trying to crawl
down the stairs. Alex likes to crawl these days. He would creep all over the apartment, though there isn’t much space. It is only a one-bedroom apartment. There is a small living room, and the kitchen is placed in the corner of the living room, without a clear separation between them. F2-apartment, is how they call it in French.
It is tight but comfortable enough for the family, at least for now. San and Oli don’t mind sharing their bedroom with baby Alex. They plan to buy their own house soon, once Oli knows where he will be placed for the notary license. He is still in school now, having just completed the exam. Soon, he will obtain the certification, and they might have to move out of town once more. But for now, this little place is perfect.
The docteur finally pops up the last stairs to their apartment. He is much older than San, probably in his fifties. They greet each other, shaking hands and move off, in tandem, traveling smoothly. San invites him to go into the bedroom, where Oli lies. His name is docteur Vallées. It is a French word for valley. A common name in western France, especially in Normandie, one of the regions with many streams forming a broad valley. In the old days, the name signified people who lived by the valley. Maybe it is true, his ancestors were valley people, who fenced around the calm water territory.
Docteur Vallées gently proceeds, squeezing his leather bag on the table next to the bed. There is nothing but Oli’s book sitting there, a classic collection from Balzac, Le Comedie Humaine. He started to read the first one not very long ago. There are three in the series, and all of them are really thick. But Oli is a big reader. He needs to read before he goes to bed at night and every morn-
ing once he’s up. He needs to. San grins while hearing her husband’s statement back then. She has no idea what this ‘need’ stands for because she never really pleas for such hunger. Though she knows how serious Oli takes his need. He really does.
Docteur Vallées starts to unzip his bag, getting his medical de- vices ready in place. Now it is time to start the protocol. He begins to question Oli with his soft and tender voice while both his hands seem to diligently glance over Oli’s upper body part with his de- vice. Le docteur is very patient. He nods a couple of times, listening to Oli’s replies over his questions. He is throwing his best compassion to be attentive, listen, and examine at once.
“Can I see the médicaments you got for the migraine?” Docteur Vallées asks. Oli looks at San, “please get them by the kitchen table, San?” He says in a hushed voice. San runs to the kitchen, as requested. The medicine lies by the water bottle on the kitchen table, neatly. She just cleaned up the house earlier today. There
are a few kinds. San grabs them all, handing them over to le docteur straight away.
“Okay,” he says, giving all the medicine back to San, “we need to call an ambulance,” docteur Vallées finally takes command over his investigation. He seems to have more concern now, though his voice remains calm. “You need to get scanned,” le docteur looks at Oli, “to get proper medical treatment in the hospital.” Oli, weakly nods, while San replies in a somber tone, “Is he okay, Doc?” Yet, docteur Vallées answers with a knotted smile.
“I am not sure,” he replies, “but it isn’t just a migraine.” ***
Oli went to his usual general practitioner doctor on March twenty-fourth, ten days earlier. Migraine, the general practitioner, said. The given painkiller helped, at first, only at first. For a few
days, maybe. Now his headache goes to another level of pain. Unbearable.
Docteur Vallées calls the ambulance. Maybe he calls le numéro urgence, le quinze. It is 911 in the French version. Or does he call another number, ambulance privé, perhaps? San doesn’t really comprehend the difference and how this thing works. Yet she knows that the ambulance is only a transport service that day. She gets it from listening to docteur Vallées’s chat on the phone.
“The patient is conscious,” docteur Vallées reports, “we only need to transport him to l’urgence, sending a team of medic s doesn’t seem necessary.” He gives more information before he hangs up, then takes out his A5-size notebook. He writes some- thing down, a prescription, or an ordonannce they say in French. It
is like a transmission request, saying what he suspects, what is probably necessary to do next.
It doesn’t say anything about medication, though. It is written; “Merci de voir mosier Guennal qui presente un syndrome meningé possible.” Meningitis symptoms detected, apparently. Scan needed. Yes, a CT scan might really be essential to examine the illness. To make sure whether it is meningitis. Or might it be something else? Docteur Vallées isn’t sure, “but better go to l’urgence now.” He commands with a gentle tone.
Maybe MRI? San wonders. Though she doesn’t exactly know what it stands for. “We rarely do MRI in the first step,” docteur Vallées replies, keeping a silky voice. He also smiles a little. “The ma- chine is not largely accessible yet, we don’t have many here. And the cost is way too expensive,” he says. “But we have insurance,” San says, without a twitch, “the one special for notaries assistant in
France.” San is confused, never thinking that cost could turn into a problem in getting health treatment in this country.
But in fact, it is not the problem of whether they’ll able to pay Oli’s medical treatment or not as she thought at first. It is expensive for the hospital to use the machine. They usually have only one for the whole hospital or sometimes only one in the entire city. They have to make a priority for such limitations.
MRI might not be on the agenda. Not yet. It could be the next step if the condition gets severe. Critical. But, yes. “At least CT scans would be requisite,” docteur Vallées discloses.
The adults set themselves in silence, waiting for the ambulance to pick Oli up. San sits next to Oli, who’s covering his head with both hands. He suffers from pain. He seems sick, though he is still
able to speak and walk. He is still conscious. Baby Alex is the only one who makes noises, mumbling his baby words, trying to get whoever’s attention. It doesn’t matter whose, probably, he just wants to play. Docteur Vallées bends his body down on the floor, trying to interact with the crawling Alex, “coucou petit,” as he greets baby Alex with a smile. Alex replies with his tatatata word, laughing freely.
“What is meningitis, Doc?” San inquires.
“There is an inflammation that causes Monsieur Guennal an in- tense headache,” he sighs, “but I am not one-hundred percent sure, they need to do a profound check in the hospital.” San’s heart skips a beat. She still doesn’t really get what that inflammation means, but the word somehow reflects a terror in her head. Docteur Vallées yearns for San to collect herself and soothes her, saying that it will be okay. “He just needs to be in the
hospital with proper sources and equipment to treat him.” He beams, his face consistently remaining calm with such kindness.
Someone rings the intercom shortly later. “It must be the ambulance,” docteur Vallées says. San nods, buzzing the machine, say- ing that he’ll find the apartment on the fourth floor. Heavy stamp- ings get louder as the ambulance guy almost reaches their door. He is all alone, wearing all white. He is a big guy, tall with chubby muscles in the upper arms. It might be in the requirement. The ambulance chauffeur needs to be strong enough to help patients. Maybe.
“Bonsoir,” the ambulance guy greets docteur Vallées, who’s waiting for him by the door. “Bonsoir,” docteur Vallées replies, shaking the guy’s hand. The first thing the driver asks is to hand
him over Oli’s insurance card to write down the ‘numéro de sécu- rité sociale’ before pursuing any further action.
“C’est là,” docteur Vallées points to San, asking her to hand the card over to the ambulance guy. He only writes down the num- bers and gives the card back to San. Docteur Vallées explains once more the condition to the guy. The ambulance guy nods a couple of times attentively, showing his understanding. “Il est où alors le patient?” The guy asks.
“He’s lying in bed,” San takes the initiative to reply.
“He can walk, can he?” He asks, pointing the question to docteur Vallées, not to San.
“Oui,” docteur Vallées replies, looking at San for a confirmation.
“Oui,” San says. The ambulance guy starts the procedure to get Oli in the ambulance, “it is parked right in front of the apartment building,” he says. “Je vous accompagne d’aller dehors, je dois aussi returner au clinique,” docteur Vallées talks to the ambulance guy. San decides to come too, to walk them all outside.
The ambulance guy assists Oli down the stairs. He helps him into the wagon, then puts him on the bed that lays inside. It is not a dream. Oli goes with the ambulance. San says, bewildered, “it is a legitimate ambulance from the public hospital in town. It doesn’t look like a scam,” she pauses, “it is not a scam,” her eyes grow bigger.
The ambulance rules forbid patients to bring any kind of personal belongings. Oli can’t bring his mobile phone. At the time, mobile phones are considered a type of machine that could inter- fere with medical devices, especially in the emergency service room. The patient can’t bring his wallet either, the ambulance dri- ver commands. San isn’t sure why.
“And I am not allowed to ride in the ambulance with him either,” she says, erupting in frustration and feeling too confused with the motions she is supposed to take. “Docteur Vallées is still there, too” her voice is thick, “le docteur and I, we both witness Oli’s departure in the ambulance.”
“Don’t be worried,” Oli says in a low and weak voice before getting in the wagon. He looks San in the eye, trying to convince her to relax, “I’ll go to the hospital and be back by tomorrow.” San nods. Part of her feels relieved, she tells herself, skeptically, “I am way too sure that he is going to the right place, too sure he will be in good hands at the hospital. Another part of her feels justified, as nobody provides her with any further information. She gets lost on keeping track of things once Oli is taken away. She has no idea whether he really is in the hospital and if he’s doing okay or not.
“I can’t find him,” she whispers in a low, intense voice. “He takes the ride in the ambulance without his wallet or phone, and with-
out his family or a friend giving him company,” San says. All alone, like a primitive nomad in the desert. Uneasy with the sour she endures, she strives to shake the idea. Her husband disappears. Is it possible? San has no idea. She has no clue where he is now.