Cabanon and Mont Ventoux (c) Kristin Espinasse
Fed up to your forehead with hospital stories? Je sympathise! Just skip, or saute, today's skin-cancer chronicle... and scroll guiltily or sneakily or self-consciously to the end of the page, to read, instead, about Chief Grape... on second thought, who wouldn't want to read about a hunky French winemaker? (But I do have faith in you and I trust , lecteur or lectrice fidèle, that you'll read on ... in time to meet today's non-hunky caractère extraordinaire: Madonna of the Gurney!) (Photo of cabanon and "Mount Windy" taken last week, near Suze-la-Rousse). 

un chariot-brancard (shar-ee-oh-brahn-khar)
: gurney, or metal stretcher with wheels

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A l'hôpital j'ai voyagé sur un chariot-brancard.
At the hospital, I traveled on a gurney.

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Material Girl, The Garden Gnomes, and a few other colorful characters I encountered on my way to the operating room...
Do you remember Madonna in the 80's film Desperately Seeking Susan? ...Rebel Madonna with her hard-lined eyes and her black-roots-and-bottle-blond hair? Voilà! This would be the gurney nurse, Ms. Move Beds, Buster! (remember her from the previous story?)--she's the infirmière who transported me from my hospital room to the bloc opératoire.

"Quel âge me donnez-vous?" "What age do you guess me to be?" Madonna of the Gurney fished, as she guided my bed-on-wheels with the finesse of a bumper-boat pilot.

Quel âge? I was speechless... which might be explained by the happy pill that had just lodged itself in my throat.... impossible to displace it no matter how many jumping jacks, no matter how many dry gulps I'd gargled, back in the accordion-door bathroom.

Madonna of the Gurney was impatient for an answer and her agacement was hinted at in the way she slammed on her bumper-boat brakes. Suspended awkwardly like that in the sterile corridor, I eked out an answer: "Je ne suis vraiment pas douée pour ce genre de devinette!" "I'm really not good at this kind of guessing game," I apologized, playing it safe, after it dawned on me that the misguessing of her age--or eventual erring on the plus side--might backfire into my very near future.

Madonna of the Gurney parked me abruptly beside the surgical block. She snapped her gum once or twice, stalling should an age-defying numéro appear my mind. When it didn't, she sighed, reached deep into her nurse's poche and slapped a surgical cap, or bonnet, onto my head, pushing up my hair as an afterthought. Her brusque gestures had me divining at more than her age: I guessed her mood (la déception, or disappointment) and wondered whether it was payback time, as I had earlier imagined!
La vengeance never came and it all  goes to show just how little I know, least of all the mysterious depths of a stranger's heart. No sooner had she stomped off than Madonna of the Gurney reappeared, arms laden with warmth. And with a no-nonsense "if I'm going to be a Good Samaritan in this story at least don't make a big deal of it!" gesture, she threw a heavy wool blanket over me. Far from being written off as an enemy, it seems I'd somehow won her sympathy.
As you have already guessed by now, quick-witted and clever reader, that is how Madonna of the Gurney---or, simply, "Madonna"--earned her "Material Girl" moniker: it's all that warm wool, or material, she offers to grateful patients before they enter the ice block, or surgery room. But I'm jumping ahead of myself, for that, dear reader, is another story...

Post note: I just realized I left out the garden gnomes... the ones I mentioned in the subtitle to today's chapter. Will fill you in next time!
Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.

If you missed it, read the short letter ("comme si comme ça") I wrote on returning from the hospital.

Speaking of The Material Girl, I think I'll watch Desperately Seeking Susan - I wonder whether my teenage daughter will enjoy it as much as I once did. Click here to get yourself a copy. (I think Jean-Marc will enjoy the film, too--for the fact that Rosanna Arquette stars in it. He's been a fan of hers since she appeared in his favorite, The Grand Bleu.

French Vocabulary
voilà = there you have it
infirmière, infirmier = nurse
le bloc opératoire = surgery room
Quel âge me donnez-vous = what age do you guess me to be
l'agacement (m) = annoyance
la poche = pocket
le bonnet = cap
brusque = rough
la déception (! vocabulary note: false friend!) = disappointment
The year was 2008. This is Chief Grape, skin and bones after creating his first wine (indeed, he put himself into it!)... Find out why he isn't jumping for joie, in the story "Echantillon". Click here to read this selection from our archives.
All Star Smokey. I know: it's been a while since you've seen photos of Smokey R. Dokey....
Here he is playing basketball hamming it up with the harvesters. From Left to right: Vince, Robert (hidden), and Kevin.
Did you read about "Get To Know Each Other Night"? When harvest "uniforms" were handed out. Strangeley, no one snapped up the Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear. Read about what items they did snag, here, in the story "Glad Rags" or "Belles Fringes".

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

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Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Sally Smyth

Did I see Dog Dribble today?????
You know, life is all about the dogs, n'est ce pa?
Your photography is fabulous. You and I have a "thing" for windows and doors.
Thank you for the greatest early morning wake up dans le monde entier.
Merci, Kristin.
Sally Smyth
Ocala, FL.


Hilarious....the pill in your throat. Oh, you poor thing. Some of those nurses are a bit jaded. My dad calls them the 'iron maidens'. There are a few in every hospital visit. Thinking of you!

Pat Cargill

Your Madonna surely was trying to get your mind off the pending event. I met so many "characters" when my MA! was in the hospital last year. It is another world and such a strange, foreboding one when we are on the gurney.

WORST pre-op experience: Wheeled into pre-op where nurse hooks up my IV. I look over and think "Gee, that seems to be dripping fast..." (dismissed it). A few minutes later, head nurse comes up to check on me exclaiming "Who hooked up this IV!" A young nurse responds and she is blasted for not having set the drip, telling her, "this patient is young, she is ok, but you could have endangered someone else!!" Oh, nice. Oh, did I mention that the reason the nurse checked on me in the first place was because I said I HAD to go to the potty! They got me up and I dragged the IV w/me to do my business. Oh, great, I this an omen? Freaky.

Moral: if something doesn't seem right, follow through: ASK!


i get your newsletter and read it every time. i remember your skin appt, and your having the mark removed. i remember your oozing bandage in the middle of the night. but i don't remember reading about your having to go to the hospital. i've been reading about your experiences since being IN the hospital, but what are you having done there? i hope by the time you read this, all is resolved and i am sure all will end well. by the way, there is a kevin in your photo of harvesters who looks like a kevin i used to know back in new york seemingly a hundred years ago. can you tell me his last name??

Julie F in St. Louis, MO

Thanks for giving us an up close and personal peek into life in a French hospital. They seem to be a little more no-frills than here. Brad just had a little health scare that put him in a hospital overnight (less than 24 hours). He took his mind off things watching cable TV, they had a full menu available all day, they wheeled medical equipment into his private room for some tests. Of course, those flimsy hospital gowns never change. All of these little perks and hospital competition drive up insurance costs, but when you're not feeling well, these little touches also ease your mind.


There is no need to apologize for the cancer accounts. Many of us have been part of that with family members. So far, survival has been good. It is interesting to "see" (via your story) what French hospitals are like since I hope never to be a patient in another hospital anywhere! I am so glad that you are back home and recovering!

Diane Dainis

Kristin if you didn't keep us up on your recovery and what you've been through we'd all be worried. Most of us are too far away to bring over some soup or flowers but know that we are sending them in our thoughts and good wishes for you. Keep up your positive and funny attitude, it's what makes all of us get through the hard times.


I agree with the others; keep writing about your experience with cancer. Many are afraid to talk about it. The kids grandma on their dads side died of cancer a few weeks ago, and we never knew she had it. It was breast cancer that had spread very quickly. The family has always been tight lipped about everything. So though we have stayed in touch with the family some since their dad died, we didn't get to say goodbye. People need to talk about it. You need to write about it. It's a scary thing, but getting it out helps. Sharing with others helps. Take care of yourself, and have a wonderful week!

Karen Whitcome (Towson, MD. USA)

Gorgeous opening photograph. Kristin!

And, we love to hear your stories. They are of life - messy bits and all.

Pat - that was eye opening!! Never be afraid to question les infirmières (instead of vise-versa as with Kristin's Madonna) - is the moral of that story!


I agree with Buffy - please fill us in on all the details you want us to know, dear Kristin. Cancer is such a taboo subject; everyone knows about it, no one talks about it. Much anyway. Probably because, like all topics converging on our mortality, it's too close for comfort.....BUT, like Karen says "..we love to hear your stories. They are of life - messy bits and all."


I'm quite new here, but I'm certainly interested to hear how you are doing, Kristin. You have such a marvellous way of telling the story.

I also left a post & question on the "echantillon" story.

Amy Kortuem

What a cast of characters you found in the hospital - it's like a caricature of the French, all there!

Your high-heeled roommate reminded me of my Great Aunt Lucille. She changed her nail polish (and toenail polish) every day to go with her outfits and had a shoe closet that would make Vogue magazine swoon.


I am sending good thoughts and hope that your healing is going fast and well. I can just imagine how good the warm blanket felt at that moment. I admire your honesty in not guessing the nurse's age. I would have probably guessed a ridiculously young age just to get on her good side!

Kitty Wilson

Kristi, cancer is something that impacts every human family, including your online fan-family, and we are here to listen, support and to enjoy your so-special expression of your unique experience with it. Typically thoughtful of you to offer readers an alternative blog each time, of course; a Kristinesque gesture of kindness and self-awareness that warms our hearts even further, if that's possible. Great today also to see new pics of Smokey (and the gang), and to see Chef Grape's harvest-time trimmed-down good looks! Best wishes of Canadian Thanksgiving Day to all of you!

Lee Isbell

Oh, indeed. Photos of Smokey.


Kristin, With your down to earth, simple, honest and sometimes funny style, you introduce us to another world which most of us, Francophiles, are interested in. Non, tu ne nous ennuies pas du tout avec tes histoires. C'est au contraire. Nous sommes tous tes fidèles lecteurs et lectrices. Mais où est notre chère Newforest? Elle me manque.

Shirley from Houston, Texas

I'm hoping and praying you are healing well. We are NOT tired of hearing about your cancer surgery. You have no idea how many of us love you--even though we may have never met you--we feel like we have. I hurt when you hurt, you feel like a sister to me. Anything that you are going through in your life, I am interested in reading about it. I especially like the unique way you tell us about it! XO

Devra Long

Just catching up; OMG! mille mercis for sharing your pill stuck in your throat experiences. I have been there! Fortunately I have a fabulous dermatologist who I see twice a year; after losing a very dear friend to skin cancer I know how important it is to be checked. Loving prayers are always with you.

Anne Brixner

Oh, dear Kristin, what a roller coaster you've been on! You are in our
hearts and in our prayers for a speedy recovery, and an abundance of perfect health in the future. Wish we could be there to fix you a petite tisane and help speed along that recovery with you!

Big hugs and much love from Seattle,
Annie and Mike

Susan Carter

I'm sending positive thoughts and prayers for quick and good healing. I had surgery for a basal cell carcinoma on my back at the same time you had yours so have felt a kinship with you. All will be well in time and please continue to keep us updated.


Loved the picture that you've painted of 'Madonna of the Gurney'! The nurses make all the difference in a 'hospital experience'.

P.S. Shouldn't it be 'la vengeance' instead of 'la vengence'? :)

Cynthia Lewis

Kristin, I wish I could have been your nurse the day of your surgery when you were so in need of a kind, caring and, hopefully, competent nurse. Those warm blankets are the next best thing to a warm hug. Amicalement, Cynthia

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