Editor's Letter: Falling Apart in Paris

Lesley Jane Seymour on navigating life's turning points

by Lesley Jane Seymour
lesley jane seymour image
Photograph: Melanie Acevedo

The taxi pulls up at a hospital on the Left Bank, not far from Notre Dame. Momentarily distracted from our mission, I say to my husband, “Wow! Look at the cathedral lit up against the night sky! And to think we weren’t even planning to visit it again this year.” Less distracted, Jeff just grimaces in pain and follows the cabbie’s finger, which is pointing us to the hospital sign that reads l’urgence! I dole out euros and grab the bag containing the sandwiches we’ve brought for dinner—it’s Friday night, and I am expecting a long, nightmarish tangle with the French health care system. 

We are here because earlier in the day Jeff slid off a curb and hurt his ankle, which promptly swelled up like a melon. At our ultra-groovy hotel in the Marais, which Jeff found online, the manager was too young and clueless to produce a doctor; instead, he suggested I hike to one of the few late-night drugstores in Paris and show the pharmacist photos of the ankle.

As I navigated my way past bars spilling fantastically turned-out drag queens and hipsters into the street, I wondered if it was time for us to start staying at the kind of hotel whose concierge keeps a well-worn list of doctors in his pocket. What if this had been a heart attack? In 30 years of travel together, Jeff and I had never had a medical emergency. Were we getting to “that age”?

The pharmacist ordered me to take Jeff to the hospital. But before I left, I bought ibuprofen to kill the pain in my leg; my cluster headaches had come back this summer as I worried about getting our younger child, Lake, off to college, and now the medication was causing its own side effects.

Just 24 hours earlier, however, we had seemed to be navigating one of life’s turning points with enviable aplomb. We’d arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris to drop off Lake with a group of American kids who were all beginning their freshman year of college at an international program in Dijon. We’d maneuvered her overstuffed luggage to the meeting point, found the professor in the crowd and done exactly what the college’s dean of students had coachedall freshman parents to do: kiss the child good-bye, then vanish.

“She’ll be fine once she meets the other kids,” I croaked, fighting tears as we rode the train back to the city.

“I’m so glad we got in a little European vacation with her,” Jeff said. Indeed, before traveling to Paris, we’d spent four fabulous days in London with Lake, eating, shopping, laughing. Then we’d set off on our own, trying to act like happy empty nesters turned loose in the City of Light—a lark that ended with us arriving at the emergency room.

 Once we’re inside, my health care nightmare never transpires. After just an hour (one doctor, no lines, no paperwork—maybe socialized medicine isn’t so bad after all!), we get a diagnosis. Turns out it’s just a sprain, but as Jeff, a former high school halfback, tells me, “A sprain can be way more painful than a break.” We make our exit, he in a temporary cast, me with prescriptions for his painkillers in my bag.

Back on the street I say, “Have you noticed that we dropped Lake off and started falling apart? And what is the symbolism of all these legs—your ankle, my leg pain?” Jeff thinks for a moment, then grins. “My sister Leg!” he cries, recalling a long-ago Parents Day when our son, JJ, was in kindergarten and had to leave a bio on his desk for us to read during our visit. He couldn’t spell Lake so he called his sister Leg. Another round for Dr. Freud.

How are you navigating life’s turning points? Tell me in the comments below.

Next: Editor's Letter: Why You Should Mentor

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First published in the November 2013 issue

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Comments

Smith12.03.2013

I have fallen in love with this magazine! I read it in the first sitting. And it all started with your letter. What a great story of resilience and humor (loved the sister leg reference!). At the end you asked if anyone was navigating life's turning points... I have two.
About 4 years ago I was almost immobilized by a ruptured lower disc in my back. At the very least I walked around in a daze of pain most every day and really didn't realize it until I had surgery and the pain was diminished by about 75%. I was on the mend and headed back to the gym when, due to the back pain and lack of movement, I developed arthritis in my hip and eventually my knee. I finished PT for that in May of this year and on July 26, suffered a stroke... and didn't really realize it. I drove myself to the doctor and the hospital. The moral of that story: Please! seek medical attention if you experience strange visual patterns accompanied nausea and an excruciating headache. I had NONE of the top 5 typical signs of a stroke other than slightly slurred speech and even that subsided after 24 hours.
Fast forward a few months later, I'm back at work... part-time... and am on the road to feeling better than I felt BEFORE I had back surgery. I am navigating a slightly "New Me", though. Although my brain is still healing and I probably shouldn't try a marathon just yet, but I find myself feeling the way I thought I would when I turned 40 (I'm 47 by the way), which is confident, excited about the future and 'ready to make something happen'! ... it's a little scary because I don't want to 'over do it'. But ... I Love it!! I know I have a 'steady' road back to full health, and I might even take a few steps back, but the navigation part has been an eye-opener!! I hope I can keep up.
Thanks for the story!!

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