Welcome to Geneva

2 Sep


My mom was on a flight to Geneva the very next day.  The nuns helped me drag another bed in my room, which was no small feat.  They had been astonished that I was able to fit all my belongings in the room in the first place – it was, after all, only six and a half feet wide.  I could lie down in the floor with my head touching one wall, and my toes would touch the other wall if I pointed my feet.

I did everything I could think of to help my mom transition smoothly.  She gave me a list of staples she wanted for the pantry, and I picked them up at the grocery store so that she would have them on hand and know what to look for when she needed to buy more.  Along with that, I bought some fresh cooking utensils, among them a skillet, a pot, and – not incidentally – a new knife.  I also came up with a list of basic words like bonjour, au revoir, s’il vous plaît and merci, and wrote down instructions on how to use the bus, get money at the bank, and pay bills at the post office.

I didn’t think that I needed to introduce her to the inside of the hospital right away, especially since I wasn’t familiar with it myself, but it turns out that I was wrong.

Mom noticed that I was sick as soon as she cleared customs.  “You’re walking so slowly,” she said as we made our way to the airport bus.  “Usually I have to work to keep up with you.”  It was true – I was exhausted – so as soon as I got her back to the dorm and reasonably unpacked, I laid down to take a nap while she made tuna salad.

I do not know what possessed her to wash the knife.  It was still in its packaging, and she didn’t need it to make the tuna.  But she washed it anyway.  And burst through the door of my room moments later, hollering; “Kristen Nicole, I have an emergency!”

I got up grudgingly, thinking that there must be a kitchen fire, which she would know how to take care of without my help.  “No!  I’m bleeding!” she exclaimed.  And indeed she was – there was quite a trail leading from the kitchen sink, across the hall, and to my door.  She grabbed my favorite washcloth, pressed it against her wrist, and explained that she had accidentally stabbed herself while rinsing the knife.  “I feel faint,” she said.  “I need to go to the emergency room.  Call an ambulance.”  I asked her whether she was sure she needed an ambulance, since the emergency room was only a five-minute walk away.  “Yes, I’m sure,” she insisted.

So I called 911 (or, rather, the Swiss equivalent thereof) for the first time in my life.  I explained to the dispatcher that I needed an ambulance at 6 Alcide Jentzer Street because my mother had stabbed herself in the wrist.  After asking me all the standard questions, such as how old my mother was and what her state of health was, the dispatcher asked, “Was this an accident or did your mother stab herself on purpose?”  I assured her that it was just an accident, and she put the call through to the ambulance depot.

Now, the ambulance depot is directly across the street from the dorm – you look down on it every time you look out my window.  I went downstairs to meet the EMTs at the door, and the one wearing a long, blonde ponytail asked me a little incredulously; “Is this really the address we’re supposed to come to?”  “Yes,” I told them, “it’s for my mom.  She’s in here.”

They got us loaded up in the ambulance and drove the one block to the ER entrance.  Check-in was a breeze, but as we were finishing the process, Mom exclaimed, “Oh no!  I left the toast in the oven!  It’s going to catch on fire!”  The ambulance techs got on the phone with the ambulance depot, saying, “Eh, Maurice, could you go across the street and tell the nuns to turn off the 3rd floor stove?”  He waited a few minutes for Maurice to get back on the line, then joked, “We had to call the fire department!”

After the paramedics left, we were shown to a waiting room packed with people sporting cuts and burns of varying description – the MA assured us that it was an unusually busy day and warned us that we would have to wait for a few hours.  And wait we did, until the hand surgeon became available and kicked me out, saying he didn’t want to have to deal with seeing me faint as he sewed up my mom’s wrist.

She was lucky – the tip of the knife landed between the artery and the tendon in her wrist, missing both and just barely nicking a nerve that serves the thumb.  Functional hands are important to a pianist, so we were both thankful when we found out the news.

Every cloud has a silver lining, of course – this little experience taught my mom that pretty much all of the doctors at the hospital have passable English and that she could ask them questions and get explanations fairly easily, with no major language barrier.

Of course, it was an embarrassing experience, too – the nuns had had to clean up all the blood in the kitchen sink and the floor and my bedroom while we were at the hospital, and Mom had a large bandage on her wrist for a week as a reminder of what had happened.


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