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Friday, October 9, 2009

Madame Vitesse

There was recently a bit of excitement on our otherwise sedate street outside the village of Martizay.

Emil, a neighbor, is an elderly stone mason of substantial repute. At age 72, he's often seen scrambling across his roof with no safety equipment, and is currently single-handedly building an addition to his house, cutting each and every stone by hand. This is when he's not tending his massive garden, often sharing the bounty with my other neighbor Christopher or me, as well as his ongoing advice regarding the stonework Christopher's doing on his house.

I was taking a brief break from my mortar work to make Chris and me some coffee when I crossed Emil's path. He was doubled over, clearly in pain. When I reached him, I saw blood dripping down his hand past his wrist. To my horror I saw he'd virtually severed his left index finger. The bone was exposed a quarter-inch, the flesh neatly chewed off on all sides halfway down.

I called for Christopher as Danielle, Emil's wife, emerged from the house sobbing, bandage in hand. We quickly wrapped the finger and I raced home for my car keys; Danielle was clearly in no shape to drive. When I pulled my car up, I was horrified to see Emil removing the bandage to show some of the neighbors. I shouted at him to stop but it turned out it was a good thing--one man raced off and returned moments later with a huge bag of ice. Christopher got Emil and Danielle into the backseat and jumped in beside me. The street was lined with neighbors by this point (talk about bad news traveling fast!) as we flew by, heading for the emergency room in Le Blanc 20 kilometers away.

Mercifully, the road to Le Blanc is mostly straight and does not meander through frequent villages as most roads do. I haven't driven this fast since I was on Germany's autobahn. We hit over 160 kph (100 mph) on this 70-kph/44-mph route and I knew in my bones we were going to be pulled over for speeding. We were. A policeman stepped out into the road, his expression incredulous, and waved us in angrily. I'd already been rehearsing what I might say in my limited French, fingers clenching the steering wheel. I called out, "L'amputation. Son doigt." One look at Emil hunched over a bag of ice, bloody bandage visible, was enough for him to step back and wave us on. God bless him. We took off.

Moments later we roared into Le Blanc. Thankfully Christopher knew precisely where the hospital was and I found I could even follow Danielle's directions in French despite the stress of the moment.

Christopher and I got a coffee, sat outside and then took a short walk into the village to burn off our anxious energy. When we returned, we were told that they would reattach Emil's finger. Danielle appeared, almost cheerful in her relief. We took her home. On the way, she nicknamed me "Mme. Vitesse" or "Madame Speed." The nurse had told her that it was only because we arrived so quickly that they would be able to reattach the finger.

Reattach it they did. Emil was discharged the very next morning and Danielle brought him home. He was immediately out in the garden harvesting bunches of grapes, peaches and tomatoes to gift us, returning a second time with a huge bucket of walnuts. I alternately thanked and scolded him, saying he should rest his hand. He smiled. Later we heard him outside working again. Christopher and I looked at each other in disbelief.

It remains to be seen whether the surgery will be a success. Chris has since spotted Emil carrying a weighty bucket in his heavily bandaged left hand. But for now Emil seems to delight in showing everyone how a mere severed finger won't slow a Frenchman down.

Christopher says if construction doesn't work out for me, I might have a career as an ambulance driver.

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