(A personal experience reported in 2002 by Florence Marshall SRN, one of our members)

Just before Easter I received a phone call from the East Kent Hospital Trust offering me a bed for a total hip replacement operation in Lille, France. I had been waiting for over a year for this operation so, after the initial shock and excitement I accepted it with the proviso that my husband could accompany me. There was no difficulty with this stipulation: he would have to pay his own Eurostar return fare and would be charged £20 a day for board and lodging. He would be accommodated in my private room on a pull-out bed, which turned out to be quite satisfactory.

After some changes in the departure date, it was at last confirmed for Easter Friday. A week before departure, we were examined by the French surgeon and the anaesthetist at Horsham Hospital. This was done to ensure that I was fit to have the operation and to explain the procedure to me in detail and to answer any queries I had. I was advised to accept a spinal anaesthetic rather than a general one, explaining that my recovery would be better and quicker. I had had my left hip replaced ten years ago under a general anaesthetic so was a bit dubious about the epidural, but agreed to it eventually. I was most impressed with the full explanations of the procedures and the possible complications and their prevention, which were spelt out so clearly to me.

We set off on Easter Friday by taxi to the Eurostar terminal at Ashford, Kent, which took about two hours. There we met the other three patients and another husband. We were escorted and assisted by two officials from the Hospital Trust all the way to Lille. The actual crossing only took about 50 minutes. At Lille we were met by a special ambulance and in five minutes we were at the Clinique, whose building was set in lawns with flowering trees and looked lovely in the glorious sunshine.

We were served with a delicious meal in our room at 6.30 p.m., even though I was due for the operation at 8 a.m. the next morning. This was because I had agreed to the spinal anaesthetic. I was introduced to my surgeon and the procedure for the preparation for the operation was explained to me in detail. They took every precaution to avoid infection, with special showers and skin preparations, etc.

Next morning, I was heavily sedated but not asleep during the one-and-a-half hours of the operation. I did hear the sawing of the bone and the talking of the team, but was so relaxed it did not upset me. I had provided myself with a Sony Walkman and some taped piano music by Chopin and that calmed me. The upper part of me was enclosed in a sort of tent, the lower part being invisible to me. My husband tells me I was away for the best part of five hours, as I spent some time in the recovery room, during which time I can’t remember anything. For the first 48 hours after returning to my room, I was in considerable discomfort. The pain was controlled by a drip and so was the risk of infection.

The nursing procedures were very exacting and performed every four hours on the dot. I was monitored for blood pressure and the heart, etc. I was impressed with the nursing and with the fact that the surgeons visited me with an attending nurse twice a day every day until I was discharged. It was a comfort that my husband was with me through this difficult time, even though he was not too well himself.

I physiotherapist started to work on my leg muscles the very next day. The muscles were in spasm, so it was a very gentle massage at first. Later, on the fifth day I was up and walking with a Zimmer and having more vigorous massages. On the tenth day, 48 staple clips were removed painlessly and I was ready to return home by the fourteenth day. The journey back was quite tiring and took me two days to recover as we had a long journey back home.

This Clinique was comparable in standard to a private Harley Street one. The food was exceptionally good in variety, in cooking and in choice. My husband had three meals a day for £20 per day and wine was included in the menu.

This was an impressive and rewarding experience for me. I was able to compare it to my Yorkshire hip replacement ten years ago. It also made me think about the concept of “Europe” and ways in which we can help one another. I am grateful to the NHS for enabling me to have this experience and hopefully to improve the quality of my life.

I am 76 years old and so is Karl. We both speak some French but not fluently. The medical staff spoke English, also some of the nurses.

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