Monday, November 8, 2010

November 4: A Rocky Arrival in Paris

Despite threats of several airline workers' strikes, we flew to France last week so my husband could give a 20-minute presentation at a prestigious cultural, economic, and technology forum in Avignon. Somehow, his French colleagues wrangled a paid trip for me, too — so even though it was a ridiculously quick trip, how could I refuse? I wouldn't have to miss the cats for long, and we'd have one night in our favorite hotel room in St. Germain. We packed our bags for cold, rainy Paris as well as sunny, warm Provençe, left detailed instructions for the cat sitter, and away we went.

But they say it's a bad idea to fly when you have a sinus infection. And they are right.

For a lifelong hypochondriac, I'm strangely oblivious when I'm actually sick. I must be too busy worrying that I'm dying to notice that I'm ill. In September, I felt tired and draggy for weeks. It was hard to take a deep breath. Brisk walks and stairs left me winded. I assumed it was, you know, the usual: leukemia, lung cancer, myeloma. A vitamin deficiency or thyroid problem if I were lucky. My doctor ordered blood tests, which came back normal. I felt relieved, but not better.

One night, in bed, I noticed that my chest felt tight. Asthma! I used my inhaler, and felt instant relief. How stupid! I've had asthma for 15 years. To be fair, I usually get the kind that makes you cough like a consumptive, and it hits me only about every other year. But asthma always feels like asthma. It shouldn't have taken me a month of misery to figure it out.

For several days before this trip, I had classic symptoms of a sinus infection, which I ignored. I had mild facial pain and pressure, a vague headache, a non-working nostril, and some gorier aspects that I won't detail. It didn't dawn on me that I was ill until a few hours before our flight. I called my allergist, and she prescribed 10 days of antibiotics. She warned me that the pills might make me feel terrible, and said I'd better not start them until after my flight. I agreed. How bad could a little sinus problem be?

By the end of our 7-hour flight, I was a wreck. It was 1 am, and I was exhausted, like everyone else stuffed into coach class. Dehydrated, and breathing through my mouth because my nose was blocked. And I'd developed one of those headaches that makes you sick to your stomach. We hiked through DeGaulle, which was stiflingly hot, and stood in an endless customs line with people from four other international flights. I suppose that, if there is a hell, I'll probably have to go there. And I will spend a lot of my time there waiting in long lines of international cohorts in similarly furnace-like conditions.

Besides thinking about hell, I had ample time to consider the possible repercussions of puking on a customs agent. I was grateful that mine didn't ask questions. I felt quiet waves of nausea as we waited, and waited, for our bags. I dug out the tube of Tums in my purse. Until then, I was worried that eating some would make me feel even worse, but something had to be done.

Fortunately, this was the first time we didn't have to haul our bags onto a crowded train into Paris and then take a couple of metros. There was a car service waiting to take us to a small hotel, to nap until it was time for the train to Avignon. I have never been so pampered on a trip — and I never needed it more. I felt too awful to say a single word or keep my eyes open as our car sat in traffic. At one point, I felt strong enough to look out the window and hallucinated a calming view of the ocean for several miles; the water was brownish, the waves were small. There is no water at all on the way to Paris from the airport. But I appreciated it anyway.

We arrived at a small, modern hotel, and I collapsed in my clothes and passed out. I awoke a couple of hours later, drank bottled water, took Advil, and slept a little more. By lunchtime, I felt great! There is nothing worse than being sick when you are in transit, and there is no better feeling than waking up and not feeling sick anymore. We showered and headed out to explore. We were in the Bastille neighborhood, and I headed straight for the green neon cross of the nearest pharmacy.

With pointing, gesturing, and horrible French, I asked if they had anything "local" to treat a sinus "maladie." French pharmacies are not like CVS. They are packed with mysterious natural, homeopathic, and herbal remedies that the FDA doesn't let us have over here. I knew there were alternatives to antibiotics. How could I take those pills now — and risk getting sick again? The pharmacist handed me a little package of Euvanol nasal spray, saying it contained "essential oils." I handed over my Euros, and bought three chic French toothbrushes while I was at it.

Then we found a boulangerie and split a baguette sandwich, like these:


Then I spotted some enormous pistachio eclairs. I said I was feeling better! And just try finding anything like this in Boston. It was eclair nirvana:


After that, I was in the mood for something light, so I had one (just one) of these sugar-dusted almond croissants:


Lest you think I was on some sort of binge, let me assure you that this is a normal amount of pastry for me at any given hour in Paris. I passed up many other gorgeous delicacies, including what you see below. (I passed on them because I was looking for a crèperie. Too bad I didn't find one.)


We went back to our room to collect our bags for the taxi to the train station. I sprayed Euvanol into each nostril. It's a wet spray, consisting of oil of geranium, benzalkonium bromide, camphor, and something called melaleuca oil. The instructions said to use it four to six times a day.

Most of it ran straight out of my nose — some right away, the rest at the worst possible times. But it still helped a lot. I could breathe! But this trip will always be remembered as the camphor-flavored one. Everything smelled and tasted like mothballs for hours after I used that stuff.

The only remedy, of course, was pastry.

1 comment:

  1. I also had to gesticulate wildly just outside Marseilles and was handed a little bottle of Euvanol spray. I was really skeptical. But it works wonders and saved me $$ over antibiotics in the states. I wish I could find it in the US, so if you know where to get it online, please let me know. Otherwise I will have to have friends pick up another bottle while in Europe. Definitely on my shopping list when I go abroad!

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