(To fully explain the ‘miraculous’ part of our journey, please indulge me as I give you details of events leading up to it. This is a story about the importance of really good friends, the extreme kindness of absolute strangers, the love of an incredible wife and the dumb perseverance of yours truly. Finally, and most importantly, it is about my favorite city on earth, Paris.)
It was 11 p.m., and as I attempted to get up from the dinner table at our friends’ dinner party on that Saturday night, I came to a very terrible and unsettling realization; it was 36 hours before our flight to Paris, where we were to spend Christmas, and I was literally unable to walk.
Now, usually that would mean I had consumed too much wine or had downed one (or two) extra martinis earlier in the evening, but that was (unfortunately) not the case. In August, I had undergone arthroscopic surgery on my right knee, and after some physical therapy, I had been absolutely fine until earlier in the day when I felt a slight twinge of pain. That slight twinge had now turned into incredible, sharp pain. I could not bend my leg without groaning (ok, I yelled a little bit). Timing is everything!
Having suffered rheumatoid arthritis since I was in my mid 30s, I am pretty immune to most pain, however the pain I felt that night surpassed my worst days of RA (I’ve been on a great med since the late 90s, and I have felt great for the past eight years). On Sunday morning (after a night of no sleep), I gimped down to my local Urgent Care in the faint hope I might see a doctor who has practiced medicine for more than a few months. As usual, Urgent Care lived down to my lowest expectations, and the doctor could not figure out what was wrong, so he gave me a pain shot that was completely useless. It was now 23 hours until our flight.
When I got home, Tracy was packing (hopefully to go with me and not leave me). I will usually come up with any reason not to pack, but feigning a crippled person (a lame idea, don’t you think) is not one of them. For the rest of that day, we grappled with the thought of not going, but we had the hotel booked for eight nights, and our plane reservations were made through Priceline, so God knows if we’d ever see any of that money again (plus I like Captain Kirk…even when shilling online travel companies)
After another night of little or no sleep, I woke up at 6 a.m. on the day of our flight and tried one last desperate measure. I called a local doctor (unfortunately my RA doc and Orthopedic doctor were not possible to see in time to get to the airport on time that morning). I had been to this local doctor before on numerous occasions and thought for sure he would give me a shot of cortisone to ease the pain of the journey. My leg was actually worse than the day before.
To my dismay (and my orthopedic doctor’s dismay when I related the story to him upon my return), he would not do it, but said, ‘Hey maybe since you are in such pain, they will put you in first class.’ At the time, to say the least, I was pretty upset. Fortunately, the cats were already on vacation at The Cat Hotel and didn’t see my display of temper.
I could barely get my leg in the car, and Tracy asked one more time, ‘Are you sure we should really go?’ The smart answer would, of course, have been ‘no’, but I have never been all that smart. In my best Gary Gilmore impersonation (at the time, I think I would have been happy if someone did shoot me), I said, ‘Let’s do it!’
As Tracy drove to the airport, I thought about the movie, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan (Vicodin does strange things to people).
Thinking about his dead comrade (well, at least for part of another movie), Kirk remembered something Spock had told him, “There are always possibilities.” At this point in time, I was hoping there were possibilities for me, but none were top of mind at the moment.
After parking, and as the shuttle brought us to the terminal at LAX, I realized this trip was going to severely test my motto of ‘Enjoy The Journey. Attitude Is Everything.’
Dragging our luggage toward the Air Tahiti check-in, I began thinking, ‘This could be the dumbest decision I have ever made in my life (and believe me, I’ve made a ton of bad ones).’ As the bags disappeared on the conveyor belt, I realized we had passed the point of no return. For better or worse, it was Paris, here we come!
About 45 minutes before take-off, I had a momentary cause for optimism. I heard the ticket agent at Air Tahiti Nui say, “Could ‘Mr. You Walk Like Walter Brennan’ please come to the counter?”
I have a friend who works on projects with Air Tahiti Nui, so I was hoping against hope he might have upgraded us to first class. Alas, she only wanted to correct my passport number they had on file.
On board, the good news was that it seemed Air Tahiti Nui had a little more leg room than some other airlines I frequent. The bad news was I needed a lot more room than they could give me.
After watching Clint Eastwood blow up Hal Holbrook in Magnum Force and coming to the quick realization that I really suck at science trivia questions (I do love those television screens at every seat, though), I told Tracy I did not know how I was going to survive the trip.
Every attempted movement of my knee was worse than the previous move. I think tears were in my eyes, but I often get that way during Clint Eastwood movies. I told Tracy it felt like someone was hitting me in the knee with a ball-peen hammer (of course, I don’t really know what that feels like, but it sounded good). My beloved wife then took one for the team.
For the next seven hours or so, I put my leg up on Tracy’s lap, and she rubbed (very gently) my leg and knee. Between the Vicodin, a glass of wine (yes, I know you’re not supposed to do that) and just trying to block out the pain, the trip really is kind of a blur. I do remember the food on Air Tahiti Nui being good, and the flight attendants being very tolerant of my foot sticking out slightly into the aisle for most of the trip.
We arrived in Paris at 7:30 a.m. It was still dark, and I felt like Jack Bauer had just put me through some 24-like torture. I looked (and felt) like death. The cab ride into Paris only exacerbated the pain. It was at this point, I had to make a decision; either be a whiner, or suck it up and make a go of it. I decided to suck it up. I also had a plan in the back of my head, but I hadn’t quite thought it out all the way.
It was a gorgeous, sunny morning in Paris, and our funny cab driver (complained a lot about the traffic in an interesting French/English mix) dropped us at the Hotel de Varenne in the seventh arrondissement. The hotel is located about a block from the Musée Rodin, and it was to be our home for the next eight nights.
The room was small, but clean, and the bathroom was more than adequate. Best of all, though, was the shower (our room had a shower curtain, by the way). It had great water pressure, and I ran hot water on my bad knee for about 15 minutes. Although I had not received much sleep for a few days, I felt strangely rejuvenated.
Tracy and I walked (well, Tracy walked while I hobbled) to Musée Rodin.
We picked up our six-day museum pass (I’m nothing if not an optimist) and strolled through the gardens.
We had to take our requisite ‘Thinker’ picture before we came to the conclusion that we were starving.
The nearest place was across from the Assemblé Nationale called Le Bourbon.
I thought about ordering a Manhattan in honor of its name…no, I did not.
It was nothing special, but lunch hit the spot (as did a little spot of vin rouge).
There was no way I was going to waste a day in Paris, so we walked to the Seine. I have been to Paris many times, but I never recall seeing a more beautiful day there during any season. It seemed like you could just reach out and touch the Eiffel Tower. The golden statues on the Seine glistened, and for the moment, I was feeling somewhat human.
Tracy asked if I wanted to go on walking, and, of course, the answer was positive.
Our first stop (of many thanks to the leg) was the Place de Concord.
At the Place de Concorde, the big Ferris wheel was operating, and believing I was not going to get many pictures by climbing stairs on this trip, we climbed (carefully) aboard and were able to take a few great Paris shots of Jardin des Tuileries…
…and even Sacré-Cœur Basilica
We pressed on up to the Madeleine…
…saw the Hermés’ horses sticking out of the windows…
…and stopped for a moment at Hédiard, where we always spend too much money when we come to come to Paris.
We walked through an outdoor passage nearby that was full of red Christmas trees.
It was at this point I got the idea to take lots of Christmas decoration-type photos for my music trip video I make when I get home.
I also had another idea about my bad knee.
It was a long trek (for me) back to the hotel. I couldn’t even shorten the route by taking the metro, because I couldn’t navigate any stairs. It was frustrating, but I was trying not to let it get me down.
Back at the hotel, I told Tracy my convoluted plan. Our good friends, Kim and Mary, who we traveled to Italy with in 2005 (I didn’t drink all the vino trip) have a son who dates a girl whose dad is a doctor somewhere outside of Paris. If somehow I could get in touch with him, maybe he could get me in touch with a doctor in Paris. It had taken nearly a full day, but I finally got ‘the look’ from Tracy.
I set the wheels in motion and e-mailed our friends in California where it was still early morning. Within the hour, Mary had called their son who called his girlfriend who called her father who we were told would be contacting us shortly at the hotel. When he called, he said he and his wife would come to the hotel to examine me. What a great world!
I told him not to inconvenience himself, but he would not take ‘no’ for an answer.
Traffic was horrible that night, and it took him about two hours to get the hotel. I waited in the lobby with Soultan, the night reception person at the Hotel de Varenne (who was really a nice guy and very helpful). The doctor and his wife arrived about 9:30 p.m. He put some pressure on my knee, and, trying not to look like a wimp, I just grimaced in pain instead of yelling.
After a few minutes, he reached into his coat and gave me a packet of anti-inflammatory pills (of which I am way too familiar) a tube of anti-inflammatory ointment (which I had never seen in the U.S.) and some pills for my stomach to tolerate this new medicine. He said to take the pills twice a day and put the ointment on three times a day.
Then he said, “I’ll come back tomorrow afternoon and give you an injection of cortisone.” I told him he didn’t have to do that, but again, he would not take ‘no’ for an answer.
After they left, I went up to the room, took the pills and rubbed the ointment on my incredibly painful knee. I woke up in the middle of the night and rubbed some more ointment on my knee. Tracy asked, ‘What are you doing?’
I laughed and said, ‘I’m rubbing some more of the Magic Cream on my knee (which still hurt like hell). As I tried to get in a comfortable position to get back to sleep, little did I know that when I awoke a few hours later, I would be a firm believer in the powers of the Magic Cream!
Day Three: All I Kneed Is A Miracle, Which Painting Is This, Halles Passage, The Best Little Church In The World, The Shot Heard ’Round The World And Dining Like It’s 1699