Day Two of the volcanic ash roadtrip didn’t get off to a good start. I’d arranged to meet Dominik, Marita and Lennart in the hotel’s breakfast room, a miserable shabby basement room. Dominik came down with Lennart about half an hour after me and said that Marita had spent the whole night worrying about her son’s temperature. Instead of hitting the road for an early start, it was nearly 10.30 am before we got everything and everyone into the car and left San Sebastian. I knew it was going to be a long day.
In the first 20 km it seemed we were stopping every few minutes to pay tolls to either the Spanish or French road companies. We finally hit clear highway after about half an hour but were very conscious that we had a long was still to go. We stopped at a service station by the motorway for a late lunch and reassessed how Lennart was doing. The key issue seemed to be that his temperature was up and he hadn’t had a bowel movement for a day and a half. His parents were worried and despite his mum’s best efforts with her portable homeopathy kit (I’m not joking) he wasn’t getting better. She hates to use conventional medicines but after a phone call to their paediatrician in Germany, she was persuaded to give him some paracetamol and we got back in the car and drove for a couple more hours. At our next stop he was no better and Marita called the doctor again. I have to say I was impressed – I’m sure that if I tried to get hold of a UK-based doctor I’d be waiting a very long time. He proposed we get to a pharmacy and pick up some glycerine suppositories and said that once everything ‘got moving’ again, things should improve quickly.
Now I don’t know about you, but my school girl French never really covered the intricacies of what you need to know in a pharmacy. Back in the car I gave Dominik my phone and told him to call my friend Linda who is half French. Once she’d got over the shock that the person calling wasn’t me but a deep voiced German, she gave him the required translation and we headed for the next big city which was Poitiers. I then rang our travel secretary at work, asked her to try and get us a hotel in Orleans and then called the travel agents and begged them to do anything they could to get a flight for Lennart and his mum. Dominik and I would have taken our chances with the car and the ferry port but we wanted the little chap back home as quickly as possible.
One useful thing to be aware of (and which I DID know but had conveniently forgotten in the panic of the moment) is that in France supermarkets don’t stock pharmaceutical products. It’s all a clever protectionist scheme for ensuring that the nation doesn’t lose all it’s little neighbourhood pharmacies. Whilst that’s undoubtedly ‘nice’ if you are a pharmacist, if you’ve got a frantic mother and a hot baby in the back of the car and are running around a hypermarket asking for glycerine suppositories, it’s not a lot of comfort. Back in the car we headed into the city hunting for a pharmacy. Between us we explained in very bad French what we wanted, how old and how heavy Lennart was and that he hadn’t done the deed for nearly two days. The very pleasant pharmacist calmly handed over the things we needed with plenty of advice on what to do (it’s a suppository – it doesn’t really need an instruction book). Out in the car, Marita did what needed to be done and we headed back towards the motorway looking for a restaurant for dinner.
Sitting in a very nice pizza place half an hour later the suppositories were doing their magic. Lennart and his parents had all gone off to the baby changing room determined that this was going to be a two-parent bowel movement. Whilst they were gone I got a call to say that we had a hotel for the night and, more importantly, the travel agency had got us tickets for flights from Paris the next day. I hate to think what they paid – and there was no price on the ticketing paperwork so I know it was something shocking – but they’d done it. When Dominik and Marita returned with an almost empty baby they found me with a big smile on my face and the words ‘It’s OK, we’re going home’ on my lips.
I had a beer – actually I had two – and a lot of pizza and we were all a lot happier than we’d been an hour or two earlier. Lennart was looking brighter and had been given a toy car by the restaurant and seemed much perkier. We finished up our pizzas and hit the road again, sailing up the motorway for a couple of hours until we reached Orleans. Luckily one of our pre-flight purchases before setting off on our volcanic journey had been a Tom Tom and we didn’t have to worry about where we were going.
When we arrived at the hotel I asked if they had an on-call doctor. Lennart was better than he had been but his mother was still worried. The receptionist told us that there was no doctor but the city’s children’s hospital was just round the corner. We dropped our bags, got back in the car and went to the hospital.
Hospitals are confusing places even in your own country. Magnify that by 100 times for being in a foreign country with a hot baby and a very scared mother who speaks not a word of the local lingo. My French was marginally less awful and more confident than Dominik’s and I had the advantage of no genetic connection to the patient so I took the lead in talking to the hospital. The receptionist was a nightmare – slowly slowly filling in forms, wrinkling her nose when she didn’t understand us or couldn’t spell the names, scratching her head that Dominik’s handwriting didn’t meet French school standards. We completed the paperwork, sat in the waiting area and tried to console Marita. She’s lost both her parents and believes that everyone she loves dies too soon. It’s not easy to fight that kind of paranoia.
The doctor we saw was fantastic. His English was thankfully better than our combined French and he checked Lennart out very thoroughly. Despite Marita’s reluctance, he insisted on having Lennart X-rayed, took a urine sample (that was educational for a non-mum like me) and pronounced him right as rain and sent us back to the hotel at about 1.30 am in the morning. Day two of our journey back to the UK thus ended more positively than the first day – we had a clean bill of health for Lennart and flights booked for the next afternoon. What else could possibly go wrong?