A sixteen years old Gloucestershire farm worker is happy in his work of caring for a herd of 500 pigs. He learns about the shameful secret of his origins. His boss advises him to take a holiday abroad and work for others “greater deprived than himself.” While in Lourdes, Pyrenees, France, he meets Raoul Lievens, a Jesuit priest who becomes a mentor. With his encouragement the young man, sacrifices his job and friends and moves to Belgium.
He works initially as a cleaner in a Sanatorium caring for patients with pulmonary tuberculosis and learns to speak French and Flemish. He is taught basic laboratory skills and is accepted to study tropical medicine in Antwerp. He qualifies as a clinical technical assistant but is refused entry to the former Belgian Congo. He returns to England and spends the next ten years nursing in London hospitals and ultimately a world famous hospice. In this book the thirst for knowledge, search for love, applied practical pity and compassion employed in mitigating the suffering and misfortunes of others, defines the author until he is thirty.
This is the 4th book in a series called – Scenes from an Examined Life – it is dedicated to my late lifelong friend Raoul Lievens. The first book in the series, made it to first place on publisher Harper Collins open site: authonomy.com
A Pyrenean Progress
In January 1961 I moved from Blaisdon to Belgium to a beautiful area called the Ardennes. I worked in The Institute of Dr. G. Therasse at Mont-Sur-Meusse-Godine. It was situated on a mountain plateau surrounded by forests. This was a private 500 bed sanatorium for people affected by various stages of pulmonary tuberculosis where the government health service paid the fees of all the patients under an arrangement known as la mutuallite. How I came to be there begins with a working holiday in France.
During the years 1956-1960 I made trips to France and worked as a brancardier (auxiliary carer) in Lourdes. I stayed in the L'Abri St. Michell, a hostel close to the two Lourdes hospitals. For their keep, les brancardiers worked for the sick, who came from all over the world. We got up early, all men, women counterparts stayed in a similar setting nearby, did the basic housework and then there were detailed duties. We could be feeding patients in the wards, wheeling them to and from the devotional areas, the Grotto and Basilica, shading them from the sun or sheltering them from the rain while watching over them during the great public processions in the Grand Esplanade and so on.
Another task was the loading and unloading of patients onto and off the trains at the Lourdes Gare - the railway station - and transferring them in ambulances between there and the two hospitals: The Asille and the Sept Douleures (Seven Sorrows). The whole system was brilliantly organised. Rosters were posted daily and we were supervised out and about by the Chevaliers, venerable Basque gentlemen mainly. We were identified by the bretelle: stretcher bearer's braces. These were made of webbing and hung down from each shoulder; loops on each end fitted over the handles of stretchers. The Chevalier's bretelle, made of leather, was a symbol of their authority and was awarded for 20 year's service as a brancardier. Some days we worked as teams in the baths, totally immersing pilgrims and patients in the water, believed to be miraculous, and pumped in from the spring found by St. Bernadette in the Grotto of Massabielle where Mary The Blessed Virgin appeared to her. You had to be fit and strong: I was in my teens then for the work was demanding and exhausting. It was nevertheless an inspiring experience while the camaraderie and (esprit de corps formed many long friendships.
In the evenings we sat out in the pavement cafés with the female workers and communicated in a host of foreign languages. I was extremely shy and would never touch a girl in England, mainly due to fear of committing a mortal sin, dying un-confessed and plunging into hell. Somehow it was very different in France. French girls were beautiful in the main, very expressive. They never shook hands, they kissed you, not on one, but both cheeks. Very nice indeed! They were very tactile but men and women mutually always conducted themselves with dignity and the best of decorum.