City hall in the lovely town of Poitiers
Ah, Poitiers, a small city in west-central France with a great history. It was here that in 732 AD French forces under Charles Martel turned back the advancing Muslim forces; it was to be the furthest penetration the Caliphate experienced in Europe (so far, at least) and thus is considered a truly pivotal point in history and one of the most important battles of all time.
I’m not the only one with bad memories of Poitiers; Joan of Arc spent some unpleasant time here, too.
Poitiers was often the home of Eleanor of Aquitaine, arguably the most interesting woman – and one of the most interesting people – in all of the Middle Ages. Her Aquitaine inheritance made her a supremely eligible bride, and her first marriage was to King Louis VII of France. That didn’t go so well and after 15 years they got an annulment, based on her inability to provide a male heir. She immediately married the crown prince of England, later Henry II, right here in Poitiers. That marriage produced a bunch of sons (and some daughters, but they don’t usually matter in history), but Henry and Eleanor didn’t always get along so well, either; Henry ended up imprisoning Eleanor when she supported their son’s revolt against him. When Henry II died their son Richard I took over, but named Eleanor Regent while he went on crusade. In effect, she ruled England for years while he was held captive and survived as Queen Mother well into the reign of her youngest son, King John. Thoroughly interesting – Mark & I have both read biographies of her – and the Palace of Poitiers, where she created Europe’s then-largest dining hall, was the place we wanted to see.
And there was more. Poitiers was also the city where in 1429 England instituted the formal inquest that branded Joan of Arc a heretic; she would later burn for her sins. And of course become a martyr and saint.
Poitiers’ Cathedral, where Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry, the crown prince of England
So there was a lot to do here, right? Yeah, didn’t work that way. I woke up our first morning with horrible back pain, something I’d never had before. At maybe 6:00 AM I went out to walk it off, but it only got worse. And worse. Finally I went to the hotel and asked if there was a hospital I could go to to get some pain medication. Sure; they called a taxi and off I went. To hell.
While I was in hell in the ER on day one, Mark was having a lovely (and lonely) lunch in Poitiers. Just for the record, we’ve eaten a lot of beef tartare in France and Italy. A lot. I don’t know how I’m going to react in the States, where allegedly they cook their beef. Yuck!
I later learned that Friday – that day – was a national holiday celebrating Mary’s Assumption. And everybody takes the day off, including apparently all but a skeleton crew in the ER. I spent eight hours there and got no relief. What limited staff was there didn’t speak English at all and didn’t know what to do with me. Except put me in isolation. Yes, during intake they learned that I’d been in a clinic in Bali for X-rays when I fell in the shower. That got their attention and they made me put on hospital gloves and then wiped down everything I’d touched, including the chair I’d been sitting in. Ummm, the ER in Bali was cleaner and more helpful than this place!
They took blood twice and did an EKG, but it was hours before they’d give me anything for the pain. For vast periods of time I just sat alone waiting. In isolation. Eight hours later they wrote a prescription for painkillers and sent me back to the hotel, still in pain.
Next morning it was worse. The pain pills had done nothing and by 6:30 AM or so I was screaming in pain. So the hotel – which was very helpful through the whole ordeal – called the hospital and was assured staff was back and I’d get attention. So an ambulance comes, loads me up, and carts me off, Mark riding shotgun. My brother Al had emailed that screaming in the ER is a good strategy, so I didn’t hold back. I didn’t make anything up, but I didn’t hold back either; the pain was excruciating and I was screaming big time. Within seconds of arrival I had an oral dose of morphine. Doctors and nurses everywhere. And when that dose wore off after an hour or two – a most pleasant hour or two, I assure you – the screaming started and another oral dose was forthcoming. Followed by an IV drip so no one worried about it running out again.
Sedated Jim, with morphine coursing through my blood. This, obviously, was my second trip to the ER, the one where they actually treated me.
And this time it all worked. Lots of X-rays, scans, poking and prodding. And lots of morphine, just to keep everyone happy. The doctor diagnosed a pinched nerve – pretty obvious, really – gave me a neck brace and wrote prescriptions for lots of painkillers. He said that the prescription they’d written yesterday was “a child’s dosage.” These pills would do the trick.
And so far it’s still working. Mark & I went back to the hotel, packed up, and caught a train to Paris (we were supposed to have gone in the morning, but that didn’t work out so well). Spent a restful night and good morning. I still have a little pain, but not anything in the league of what the last two days were. And I look great in this neck brace!
Here’s the crazy part. If you take a taxi to and from the hospital, it’s about $30 each way. If you take the ambulance? Free. Cost of the 15 hours total I spent in the ER? Zero. Nada. They didn’t appear to have even a mechanism for collecting charges. Now, the first day I got what I paid for, but the second day they were great. Perfect. And free.
So, we didn’t get to see much of Poitiers. And even if I hadn’t had those problems, we wouldn’t have seen much. Because of the holiday, not only was the ER empty of competent staff, but the Palace we wanted to see was closed the only day we had free to see it. I’m sure it’s a lovely place most of the time, but I’m glad to be out of Poitiers. And thrilled to be in Paris!
This is the Poitiers Palace that we came here to see. Alas, it was not to be. Holidays stop everything, even tourist sights.