We used to go to France a lot, we live near the coast so we used to visit regularly, often just for a shopping weekend. Before my trip just gone, our last visit was June 2015. The stroke then happened in February 2016.

While I stopped learning French after high school, our repeated visits encouraged me to keep up with the language. But my familiar environments were things like shops, restaurants, hotels, typical tourist traps. Good enough to go to non-English-speaking areas and survive. I’d get every other word, and build a “gist”. And we visited many lovely parts of France as a result. I’d best describe myself as “above average” with the language, for an English-speaker.

The stroke happened, I haven’t travelled, so for five years I’ve not spoken it. I found a few French-language Facebook groups, so I saw some written French, but nothing spoken. So this last trip was my first time in five years.

I was surprised how rusty it felt. I was fine in the one or two restaurants we visited but I was surprised just how stale I felt overall. Particularly in one area:

Before I went, I knew I had to have a COVID test while there. For a test in the UK, I can look on the web and find any number of licensed testers. I can book them online, and everything bar the actual swab is electronic. Great, gives my dodgy eyes a chance to read slowly, to enlarge text where necessary etc, just so I feel 100% clear on what I am reading. Even in English, these days. But France?

The French government maintains a static site, just name and phone numbers of testers. There were just four or five near to where I stayed in Normandy, medical practises, none of whom had web sites to just reserve a test. So, I needed to phone around before the trip. I wanted something close to where we stayed – I was going to be reliant on other people to drive me to this test, and I wanted this to eat into as little of their time as possible. I thought I was already imposing by piggy-backing onto their family vacation.

French telephone systems are no different to the rest of us. The first thing you are faced with is a menu system. French-language, so straight away I was taxed and got lost. In the most-of-the-day I spent researching numbers, I never got to speak to another human.

I despaired. No test, no coming home. I tried to pull out of the trip altogether. At this late stage, I’d have lost everything I’d already shelled out. Not surprisingly, my friends were pissed at me. They, too, had incurred expenses.

They persuaded me to travel in the end, without having a test booked. It felt like such an enormous risk, far bigger than it would have been before. undoubtedly a result of the stroke. My friends did not understand. Don’t get me wrong – there was an absolute willingness to help me out – if anything I was the only one concerned about how much of a pain-in-the-ass I was – but not really an understanding of why I am how I am. But who can blame them? Ten years ago, I would not have understood. In any case, if I want to get by in general society, it is down to me to make the extra effort required. In the end, that was what convinced me to travel. I’m either going to have to push myself to do these things or I’m going to sit on my ass the rest of my life, reliving old memories.

The test itself? We drove to one of the surgeries straight off the ferry. One I had tried to call the day before and got nowhere. We walked in and asked for a test. Their page said “by appointment only” but we booked for the next day. More putting my friends out, but at this stage I just had to trust that when they said “no problem”, they actually meant it. The thing I hate most about the stroke is that I end up having to rely on other people.

And, my rusty French parachuted straight into a doctor’s office? Uncomfortable? You betcha! And how embarrassing – I can’t write since the stroke so pretty much the first one-on-one words I said to the woman were “would you mind writing this down, please?” as the receptionist demanded my name and address. I hate not being an equal.

If anybody is still reading, there’s probably a good indicator there – the single thing that disabled people hate most is having to ask for help, to put people out, to not be self-reliant. I’m sure I can’t be alone in thinking that.


  1. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for you. I have a friend who is mostly deaf. Unlike you, she has lived with it since she was 4 years old. Recently she published a memoir. It was such an eye-opener for me to realize how hard being deaf made so many situations. Even although I lived with her for a year, I never realized how much of an effort a simple social interaction must be. While that’s an indication of how accomplished she is at lipreading etc and therefore a kind of compliment… it’s also a measure of how “abled” people just expect everybody to fit in. It’s one of those things where privilege makes you blind to the needs of others. I doubt it’s easy to rectify. But I think it’s something I want to try and at least remedy at a personal level – try and be more personally aware.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I guess. But that doesn’t stop somebody detesting that it is required. Personally I will tend to refuse assistance then just get frustrated when something is 10x harder to accomplish. My wife has learned to ignore me unless I specifically request help. It must be a nightmare for her, too.

      Liked by 3 people

        • If they’re a stranger, I don’t think anybody could fault someone for offering assistance. I can only really speak for myself here but I think that even if they refuse, it should be done with courtesy. And if they refuse, they refuse. It’s then down to them to bear the consequences. If they’re sufficiently desperate, they won’t refuse.
          With someone who isn’t a stranger, perhaps the “courtesy” part is more difficult? It shouldn’t, but familiarity does tend to breed contempt.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks for that. I encountered a woman last week at Tesco (on a mobility scooter) who struggled to reach a tin on a shelf. I asked, May I help? and she said yes. Your post gave me a moment’s uncertainty as to whether I ask or not, and moreover how to ask without being patronising.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. it’s hard for all of us to receive help, guidance, charity, and kindness from others. But, I’ve found that as much as I like to give it is equally important for me to receive. Opens the whole
    channel up. I know you’re a giver; so let flow. Receive with joy and you will have even more to give!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. From “ They persuaded me” on , I feel exactly the same. I can write and see well , but mentally feel the same. Today for example I know my daughter will text or call because this USA relatively free week for her and she asked me what I’d like to do, but I really need a doc appointment since I’m still not feeling better. It indeed is a pita to feel likes burden and depressing

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ten years ago, I would not have understood. In any case, if I want to get by in general society, it is down to me to make the extra effort required. In the end, that was what convinced me to travel. I’m either going to have to push myself to do these things or I’m going to sit on my ass the rest of my life, reliving old memories.

    This is all so true, Pete… the vast majority if people don’t think to apply the empathy and imagination necessary to see themselves in other people’s shoes… especially people who don’t face limitations and for whom everything comes easily.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, David. That’s a difficult one. I try to feel empathy but I find it really quite difficult, except at a very high level. Just, really, because there are so many people on WP especially, who have been damaged by things of which I have zero understanding. Especially medical things, because up until my stroke I had a relatively clean bill of health.
      I know to be sympathetic, but beyond that, it really is a case of taking a punt.
      There’s also the other aspect that maybe this is a good thing. Because if somebody does not understand a particular illness, that means they have never been touched by it. And that’s a good thing, right?
      The only people I ever met who have even the vaguest notion about how stroke messes with your head are other survivors, Just really because it is so obvious to us, but so intangible to anybody else. That was the real value when I used to go to a peer support group – people just “understood” – no words required.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I completely understand and agree with you on all these points, Pete. What I think would be reasonable to expect from others would be an openness to hearing about our experiences and a desire to better understand where we are coming from… that seems like decency to me.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. What great courage! I am sure it took a lot to overcome the fears, traveling and others, that you had. In the end the accomplishments from traveling sure have to make you feel good inside. Helen Keller said “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Glad that you took the adventure, Pete!

    Liked by 1 person

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