Lanterns in St. Maurice (c) Kristin Espinasse
Not keen on reading another installment about skin cancer? Pfff! I don't blame you! Just skip the following story (I promise it's not gory! you'll even meet another great woman...) and click over here and read a story ("Ripping off the Winos") about shortchanging the locals (it's the last time the French ever asked an American to mind the cash register, and with good treason reason!).

un calmant (kal mahn)

    : a sedative, tranquillizer; painkiller

Calmant is also an adjective meaning tranquillizing, soothing, painkilling

Audio File
: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words: Download MP3 or Wav file

L'infirmière m'a fait avaler un calmant.
The nurse had me swallow a sedative.


A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

The Happy Pill & The Percussionist

Although she did not mean to, when high-heeled Simone checked out she took with her the very life of the room. C'était éteint, like a candle, and so I honored the mood and dozed off in the hospital bed.

When next I woke an infirmière breezed in. Ça va, Madame Espinasse? I turned to face a beautiful nurse, whose looks were tempered by a fuzzy fleece coat, wide-rimmed glasses, and a lazy chignon. She might have just woken up and stumbled into her own kitchen for a cup of coffee -- only this wasn't a kitchen, but a hospital room and, malheureusement, there was no fresh-brewed kawa!

The nurse smiled expectantly and I remembered her question.

"Oh, oui--ça va. Merci!" I studied her polyester coat, the synthetic material of which had bunched up, ici et par là, into little knots, the kind that beg to be picked at during periods of boredom or stress. And, not that I held it against her at all, but I respectfully questioned whether this jacket (a kind of dust-catcher, or "attrape-tout") corresponded to "hygienic". I couldn't help but recall how strict hospital authorities had been, in the packing instructions I received, about bringing into the hospital only such items as I had sanitized.

A vrai dire, I felt a little envious of the nurse's warm and homey coat, and I thought, after all, I might have brought my own polyester jacket with the little balled or snagged fibers--the favorite one I wear around the house when the weather chills (never mind the frisson it triggers in my husband).

"Il fait froid." I decided to sympathize with the nurse, only that is when I remembered former my hospital roommate's (Simone's) warning: "Brace yourself! The operating room is a walk-in freezer!" Had this bundled up nurse come from there?

"I'm always cold," the nurse explained and I relaxed (so she hadn't come from the walk-in meat locker...) as we got to chatting about art and music. Her son, a graffiti painter (graffitist is now a recognized vocation?), was working in San Francisco.

"Quelle chance d'être un artiste qui a du travail!" I applauded. The nurse nodded proudly. Next I learned that she herself was an artist: a musician! "It all happened by accident," came the humble explanation, "when I found myself caught in the cycle of chauffeur." While driving the kids back and forth to music practice at the conservatoire, she had an inspiration: why not sign up for a class?Then, when one of the band members became ill during recital, fate decided which instrument my nurse would play... as she took the place of the trianglist! And, just like that, she went from mom-chauffeur to concert musician--travelling around Europe with her band!

How inspiring, the idea that one day you're a kid-chauffeuring mama, passing your time at the gas pump (plucking knots off your polyester sweater-coat, as the tank fills) and the next, you are boarding a flight to Barcelona for your next international concert!

Former roommate, Simone, would surely be smiling now, to know that another spark had arrived in the somber room, to light up a patient's soul. After we had chatted a while longer the triangliste-infirmière reached into her poche and handed me a pill. I took it with the littlest sip of water, remembering the "no water no food" rule. It occurred to me to ask just what it was I had swallowed.

"Un calmant."

A sedative? But, I had not asked for one... This led me to suspect that I should be nervous about what was coming next and, before I could bat an eye, another nurse barreled in... preceded by a gurney. "Move over!" the second nurse ordered, pointing to the wheeled bed. I was a little startled by the bed-switching protocol, for the switchover wasn't like that in the movies....

"But I have just given her the calmant," my nurse-trianglist argued. I then came to the chilling conclusion that the calmant would not have time to take effect (!), so when the second nurse asked whether I needed to use the restroom, I quickly hatched a plan... Closing the broken accordion door, I stalled in the salle de bain!

I waited there, beseeching the sedative to please kick in and do your trick! And then... was that a tingling sensation in my throat? Was my Adam's apple going numb? Non! Manque de chance! It was the sedative that was stuck there after too little water was used to wash it down!

I thought to jump up and down while swallowing as much saliva as I could gargle together (not having drunk an ounce of water in 15 hours) but my efforts were in vain. I was soon struck to my senses when the second nurse called: On y va? Ready to go?


The pill might not have worked... but the percussions were... and my mind played the music: there was the melody of the steel triangle and the high note of high heels, as my two new friends joined me, in spirit, for the next chapter in this story of skin cancer.


Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box. Merci d'avance!

Related stories:

1) My roommate: Audacious Octogenarian, Simone
2) Home from the clinic and that comme si comme ça feeling 


French Vocabulary

c'était éteint = it was snuffed out, turned off

infirmier, infirmière = nurse

le chignon = hair bun

le kawa = (slang) Arabic word for "coffee"

 malheureusement = unfortunately

ici et par là = here and there

un attrape-tout = catch-all (this term originated in politics, but can be used to describe a fabric that collects dust)

à vrai dire = to tell the truth, truthfully speaking

le frisson = shiver

il fait froid = it's cold

Quelle chance d'être un artiste qui a du travail! = What luck to be an artist who has work!

le conservatoire = school, or academy of music

la poche = pocket

le calmant = sedative

la salle de bain = bathroom

le manque de chance = no luck  

Exercises in French Phonics
Exercises in French Phonics is... 
" a great book for learning French pronunciation"
"useful and practical"
"high quality material, good value for your money" --from Amazon customer reviews. Order your copy here.

Night Harvest (c) Collin Wagner
Early morning harvest & clipping in the dark! "Watch your fingers!" we warned our crew, who added quickly to their battle wounds! Thanks, Collin @ Collin Cooks, for this picture! And check out Harvester Vince's blog.

  I Know How To Cook The bible of French home cooking, Je Sais Cuisiner, has sold over 6 million copies since it was first published in 1932. It is a household must-have, and a well-thumbed copy can be found in kitchens throughout France. Its author, Ginette Mathiot, published more than 30 recipe books in her lifetime, and this is her magnum opus. It's now available for the first time in English as I Know How to Cook. With more than 1,400 easy-to-follow recipes for every occasion, it is an authoritative compendium of every classic French dish, from croque monsieur to cassoulet. 


Maison Rose (c) Kristin  Espinasse

La Maison Rose. Read about the character who lives near here... I met her one year ago on a cold and hungry fall day...

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Bill in St. Paul

Kristen, this story reminds me of the Hardy Boys books that I used to read to my son: the ends of the chapters always left you hanging, wanting to find out what came next (and making it hard to get him to let me stop reading and for him to go to bed). You leave us no choice but to wait....


You find adventure in everything--blessings. Mary

Karen Whitcome (Towson, MD. USA)

I am really enjoying this, Kristin! You tell such great stories. I just wish it wasn't real. :-(

Once, I had to have an MRI. When I saw the machine and was told how long that I had to be in that modern space capsule, I had an instant anxiety attack. The nurse said that I could have asked the doctor for a sedative to take ahead of time. That was when I remembered the vile of valium I had in my purse that I had just picked up from the vet for my dog. So, I excused myself to the ladies room and proceeded to take one with handfuls of water from the sink. It saved me. I think it entered my system quicker with just a tiny amount of water. Of course, I couldn't drive home until it wore off but it did the trick!

Jules Greer

You are in TOP FORM this morning...what a great story.



Herm in Phoenix, Az

Salut Kristin,

Great story! It reminds me of my “roommate” on one of my hospital stays. The elderly man had been in a serious auto accident the previous evening and was highly medicated, one leg in traction and covered with lots of bandages. He kept moaning, “Nurse, I can’t pee!”

Several times the nurse came in and each time, after checking, would tell him, “Relax you have a catheter, its okay.”

Finally a new nurse came in to check on him and started laughing so hard she had to leave the room. Seems they had forgotten to remove the plug from the end of the catheter! It was hilarious to everyone but the patient.

À bientôt

Diane Scott

Ahhh . . . "pilling" pleads, "Please pull!"
I finally caught up on all of your past posts I procrastinated in perusing (am I just ripping on alliteration today, or what?). I commiserate with the reader who had the melanoma removed and refers to her scare as a souvenir from a bar fight. My melanoma scar on my arm (yes, had that too, along with the basal cell carcinoma removal from my forehead) is now my swashbuckling saber scar (I always wanted to be a warrior princess -- someone akin to Arwen)! Be of good cheer-scars heal and fade to a ghostly shadow. Just bear in mind all that that "Holy 'H'" signifies (P.S. I made a copy of your mother's beautiful senitment to tape on my bathroom mirror from which I will gain great comfort. She clearly has her ear to His Heart.)


les Greer

Hi Diane,

For any readers who don't remember Diane, she is the wonderful lady (attorney (sp?) who bought the one and only painting I have ever put up for sale on FWAD. Remember 'PEAR'? Kristi ended up actually making Diane her own private book of photo's and special words of PEAR. By the way Kristi, I am still waiting for you to order the SECOND COPY for me...I would like it before I pass away. I am sure all of you out there would have loved this book but Kristi found it was not cost-effective for we all lost out.

Anyway, I just finished a phone call from Kristi, we were actually disconnected in the middle of one of my personal daily stories to her. Since I wasn't able to give her my daily advice I will continue on here. I was sitting on a giant boulder on the beach yesterday morning watching 14 pelicans as they rested also on the giant rocks that divided one resort (the WESTIN HOTEL) here at the Marina from the next resort sprinkled along our beautiful bay in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Of course our beaches are deserted because of the economy and the fear tactics the U.S. uses to keep their vacation economy in their boarders. One lone Mexican made his way down the beach to climb the little knoll where I was seated studying the view. I have one standard answer to all vendors who approach me..."Do you know Valentino, Santos, Gragerrio (sp?), Simone, Adella?" Adella has been my maid for five years so I am automatically a part of her family here in Mexico. That's the way it works down here.
Not only are Adella's brothers the most successful vendors on the beach in all of Puerto Vallarta, Gragerrio is famous in our Mexican State of Naryiatt as the Champion Number One #1 Kick boxing contender in all of this state in Mexico...He is even on Youtube!!!
Once I have made my family position known to the vendors we always move on to real topics of concern here on the are the vendors going to survive without the tourists. At that very moment without any thought I grabbed his hand and lifted my other up to heaven. I did what is known as standing in 'THE GAP', I asked God's blessing to come down on Francisco on this lonely beach in the middle of the jungle.

This is the message I wanted to tell Kristi about before the phone clicked off...I am concerned that now it has been over a week past her surgery that you all remember that she is struggling. She went to have her bandages changed yesterday, a different nurse this time, and one that planted all kinds of painful and negative seeds in Kristi's fertile little mind. Now Kristi has a giant knot in her stomach, she is obsessing again thanks to the nurse telling her it didn't look like the wound was healing properly.

Please remember to keep on praying for Kristi as there will be more mountains to climb in her process of healing. One lame unthoughtful word has cut her like a knife so we all need to keep sending her love and strength in our prayers.



BAFA Studio

I feel like I am in the midst of reading an intriguing foreign novel when you write.

Kristin, it has been proven that our 'own' thoughts/words are more powerful than any others words. Quoting scripture can really kick it in as that is what YOU believe (we believe). 2 Cor 5 - I cast down all reasonings and imaginations that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of God's word. Use it every time, immediately, one of those nasty thoughts pop-up and give it what-for. You are in our prayers. AND, dear Kristin, remember SMOKIE!

Linda R.

You find the magic in every situation ... wonderful introductions to lovely people along the way.


" I was a little startled by the bed-switching protocol, after all, the switchover wasn't like that in the movies...."

EXACTLY my sentiments when I had to switch to the gurney.....!



I tried and tried to redial, but it was the Mistral (blowing heavily at the moment) that had disconnected the line again! So happy you took the time to write the rest of your story here. What an image your words draw up in our minds. I trust the tourists will begin to pour into that little cove and fill this man's pockets with needed pesos!!

Barbara (Bafa Studio) - Wow! I love a faith-filled friend and strong woman. Thank you!

Karen, speaking of strong women! And what a wonderfully quirky solution: doggy valium!

Diane Stanley

Thank you, as always, for your interesting stories and observations.

I am amazed how insensitive people can be to those of us who have faced cancer or other traumatic illnesses. Aren't we already anxious enough? That nurse should be more careful what she says to patients.

I will take your mother Jules' advice and pray for your avoidance of fear-arousing people such as that nurse.

Healing does take lots of time. Some people take longer than others. If you can, try to find an excellent health food store, whose owner can help you determine what foods and herbs will hasten your healing.

May the Lord Jesus hold you tight in his arms right now.

Bye for now,

Diane Stanley
Oak Ridge, NJ

Marshall Brass

L'infirmiere m'a fait avale un calmant
L'infirmiere m'a fait avaler un calmant.

Shouldn't the infinitive of AVALER be used rather than the past participle ??



Kristin, please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers daily. I am also visualizing your beautiful face all healed and flawless, no scar, as though nothing had happened.

Please do not think of yourself as having skin cancer. Yes, a basal cell carcinoma is technically a mild form of it, but my husband has had several of these, and while the American doctors here have also removed them, they were not very concerned. It's slow growing, not uncommon, and not at all like the real villain, melanoma. Personally, I think the doctors dealing with basal cell are removing way too much tissue these days, maybe to err on the safe side, maybe to avoid being sued.

Someone with such a beautiful glowing peau like yours MUST be extremely healthy. Your own body is smarter than all the doctors in the world and is already setting about healing and restoring you. It had one little sun spot -- big deal. It had to have SOME reaction to all that Arizona sun you grew up with! So you addressed the problem and took la manche away. Now it is saying Merci, tout va bien, on recommence. You will be good as new in no time, with or without all the doctors and their potions and their bandages. Your body has been taking care of you all along, and will keep humming along doing its own inimitable job.


Oh Kristine...I hope it went well...I am amazed how much pee I can generate when I am not supposed to...everything becomes awkward in a hospital.

I want to being this up now- when I go to get coffee in the mornings frequently I run into medical doctors or whatevers who come in in their scrubs. This really annoys me. I don't think the scrubs are for their protection as much as they are supposed to be for the patients' and yet these professionals wonder about in scrubs...I am only hoping that they change frequently.

Good luck...sending you love

Bill Facker

Kristin, it occurs to me life without your shared experiences would be a much less wonderful entity. You have become a constant friend to so many, all "fed" and cerebrally nourished by your giving spirit and wonderful words. I suggest you are the new face of a great writer .. and even more courageous than the Hemingways and Fitzgeralds because you are choosing to give yourself daily to the scrutiny and criticism. I'm honored to know you, Kristin, and blessed to share in this experience with all those who read your words. Aloha, Bill

Marianne Rankin

Yes, Marshall, it should be "avaler."

Mona, I've not only seen medical people in scrubs in cafeterias, I've seen them commuting on the subway in them! I always wondered why they were wearing them then, instead of changing into them later.

Kristin, why were you not allowed to have fluids AFTER your surgery? Or were you going to have more? I'm glad you had a nice chat with the first nurse, and that she has been able to enjoy music. You are definitely a people person, and bring out sides of people that might otherwise remain hidden.

Fred Caswell

Your saga has brought feelings of gratitude for the prospect of any future surgery on this guy will be done in the USA and not in France! Maybe your next account will change my impression of surgery a la France....

Love your style of ecrivant! Comme toujours, Fred


Kristin, you do need to stay around 'positive' people, especially during the healing process. It makes all the difference! :)

I was in hospital after a surgery. At night, I was given a very strong 'calmant' to be able to sleep well inspite of the terrible pain (I would have to live with the pain for a few days!). Malheureusement, the nurse did not tell me what it was, I was too tired to ask. Soon, another nurse came by to help me use the restroom(I wasn't able to walk without help). On my way back to bed, the sedative started taking effect, I started losing consciousness, almost blacked-out, and boy, I was totally, totally scared! A couple of nurses held on to me and tried to lead the way, but I just couldn't walk, I collapsed! I wish they'd asked me if it was okay to give the tranquilizer at that time or if I'd take it later. It would have made so much of a difference. I would probably have got a good night's sleep, instead of a disturbed one.

Eileen deCamp

Hello Kristin,
You know everyone is keeping you in their thoughts and prayers, especially me!
Bon courage!

Amber...Peoria, IL

Just sending you love and bisous. Your internal and EXTERNAL beauty is deeper than any scars you may have due to your surgery. (I am just catching up on FWAD, so sorry it has taken me so long to send happy thoughts. I am just like the triangle playing nurse...a bus driver for my kids, happily so, but running none the less! Perhaps I'll find my next career while doing so;)
Merci for keeping us all informed on your health...and I call sunscreen "our summer uniform", but I will keep it in mind for the other seasons too!


Wishing you well !!!


Coucou Kristin:
Je suis un peu tardive, car j'ai tant de choses à faire. Mais je dois retourner pour te lire. I like your style of writing, it is never boring. It's now getting like a suspense story that gets me curious and more curious. Je deviens impatiente de lire la suite de l'aventure médicale de Mme Espinasse. :-)
Your saying "quelle chance d'être un artist qui a du travail" reminds me of my first community college art teacher, telling us, all new beginners, to think of a career aside from art. D'après elle, to be an artist is not easy. How encouraging, I thought. She added that most of her fellow artists had to teach and to paint aside, in order to earn a living, car ce n'est pas façile de vivre de son art. I am lucky that art is only my hobby. So it is pure joy. À propos, "artiste" s'épèle avec un E à la fin. un, une artistE.


Diane, I've found a good health food store and am beginning to enjoy dates, walnuts, avocados, and other preventative foods. Trying now to reach for an apple... instead of a cookie (I've read that sugar feeds cancer cells!).

Teresa, speaking of cancer cells... thank you for your encouraging words. I realize that basal cell carcinoma is "the good kind of cancer to get" if one has to get it. I shared my dermatologist's words, in the first story to this series, "You'll die of old age before you'll die of this!" He went on to say that, nevertheless, because BCC can travel... (the risk being that it could reach bone tissue) it needed to be removed. The BCC is not what worries me: it is the surgery or removal -- as well as the idea that "once you have BCC... you're in line for more BCC!" After having the invasive surgery to my forehead, I can't imagine having other areas on the face treated. I've heard from readers who have had 2, 3, 4 spots removed! I'm learning so much. Especially to wear sunscreen (and to remember that sunscreen is not enough -- wear a hat too!!)

Millie and Marshall, Many thanks for the corrections! (artist in French is artiste and "avalé"--in the audio file--should be avaler).

Mona, I can sooo relate!

Bill Facker, Mille mercis!!!

Amber, love the way you've explained sunblock ("our summer uniform") to your girls!

Fred, thinking of you and Nancy -- hope you are well and enjoying the change of seasons!

Anita, So true: we must surround ourselves with positive people... and try to be that light when in a room of negatives. I had a negative day yesterday and had to rely on those positive lights (thank God they didn't jump camp to be with the other positives...) who came to visit me!

Eileen, I received a lovely card in the mail... and owe you a great big "remerciement"!

Thank you, all, for taking the time to comment!

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