Doctors’ Corner: A Pain in the Shoulder

Vous devez croire! Ah, oui, vous devez absolument croire! Sabine says across the lunch table. Her rich, tenor voice is insistent. She spreads her bejeweled fingers wide. You have to believe! You. Absolutely. Have. To. Believe!

The LIFE machine will revolutionize my, well, life. Or if not my life, then at least my shoulder, which has been a living nightmare all summer.

You should try it before you leave France! she says in a sudden brainstorm.   Can I make a rendez-vous for you?

Even Sabine’s drink is effervescent. (Photo:
Even Sabine’s drink is effervescent. (Photo:

Sabine heads the agency that looks after our Bellevue when my family and I leave Antibes. We’re enjoying our traditional summer lunch, flanked by Philippe and her colleague. Gathering around a table draped in white, our foursome occupies the broad sidewalk along Boulevard Albert 1er, Antibes’ thoroughfare to the beaches. A series of amuse bouches, dainty palette explosions offered by the chef, flood the table of this restaurant gastronomique as I study Sabine’s latest look. She has retained a florescent palette: a flowing, hot pink dress, dream-catcher earrings and a matching dream-catcher necklace that mingles with another half-dozen sugar-coated strands of the rainbow. Her eyeliner is bright turquoise. Her drink is a bubbling orange spritz.

Mine is water. Flat water. With all the shoulder dramas, I can’t bear the idea of joining in the alcohol this lunchtime.

I should’ve known my summer would be doomed. Following an ultrasound in Toronto last springtime, the hospital physicians couldn’t agree what to report. My trusted GP sent me packing with some family-sized painkillers and a scrap of wholesome advice: My shoulder shouldn’t get me down over the summer. If it did, I wasn’t drinking enough wine.

Oops. Maybe that’s where I’ve gone wrong this lunchtime.

The amuse bouches were followed by this artistic deconstruction of the salade niçoise for me . . .
The amuse bouches were followed by this artistic deconstruction of the salade niçoise for me . . .

Vous devez croire! Sabine says again, her resonant voice undulating as she moves onto a glass of rosé. I’m still nursing my flat water. Sabine paints a picture of this LIFE contraption with her words and ample hand gymnastics. They put a bandeau around your forehead, two bands around your wrists, and two more around your ankles. These bands then hook you up with wires to the LIFE computer. You stare at the machine as it reads your whole body, right through to the cells. When it discovers problems, it repairs them – and all in two hours. The machine can read right back to the third trimester of your mother’s pregnancy! Astronauts actually use it!

Okay. One member of the French Lessons community is a former astronaut. We wonder: Have you ever seen this machine up in space?

. . . and a flavourful prawn and courgette tagliatelle with tomato emulsion for the rest.
. . . and a flavourful prawn and courgette tagliatelle with tomato emulsion for the rest.

Sabine thinks this doc with the world’s best-ever crystal ball can fit me into his schedule within the next 10 days. This factoid makes me pause. Is he a real médecin? I ask. You know, with certificates and everything?

Non, he’s not registered like that, she says. He’s a different sort of doctor than Dr. L (who, Sabine knows, is our fully registered and certified family doctor here in Antibes). He does alternative medicine. You shouldn’t mention this stuff to Dr. L.

Of course not. But I did mention my shoulder to the good doctor earlier this summer when he dined one night at Bellevue.

You need to see Dr. P and Dr. P, he said over the third bottle of red. They’re the same doctors I sent you to last month for Lolo’s broken arm. (Mine, dear readers, hasn’t been the only infrastructural problem around Bellevue this summer.) Drs. P and P will inject you with ink and take a scan, he said. It’s the only way to find out what’s really wrong.

(The word inject put me off. Especially as I’d have to start all over again with any medical procedure in Toronto.)

There have been others this summer who have known the only way, too. My extremely fun and witty British osteopath here has beat me up, cracked my neck, and told me to shove a Power Plate into my armpit. These things worked for her as – guess what! – she has the exact same ailment. I must do what I can and then throw myself back into the mosh pit of life. That’s her advice. The shoulder will be an 18-month project; there’s no magic fix because it’s all due to hormones. She actually calls it “50-year-old shoulder.”

I don’t think she’s so fun anymore.

My osteo’s sidekick is French, and thus he prefers creams. After pummeling my shoulder, he recommended a gel to smooth onto my shoulder for relief. I can use it as often as I like. Alternatively I can dab on some peppermint oil at the pulse points. (To come clean, he recommended some exercises, too.)

This deconstructed lemon meringue pie also graced our table, sprinkled with the zest of East Asian yuzu.
This deconstructed lemon meringue pie also graced our table, sprinkled with the zest of East Asian yuzu.

I’ve added these exercises to those from my Toronto physiotherapist, who I saw for a few brief sessions before jetting off to France this summer. His orange elastic sports band has accompanied me here in Antibes and on our various summer travels. It even joined me on the superyacht trip where a delightful deckhand from Mauritius also had a shoulder problem.

Don’t worry at all, he said. Simply do nothing with your shoulder and let it heal. It will be as good as new in four months.

If only I, too, were in my twenties. Fortunately the emails that have piled in are from friends older than 20. They sympathise. They’ve had the same thing or know someone who has. And they all have a view.

Fragile – like a seal with a ball, a Canadian friend said. She sent me the top seven shoulder exercises from Harvard’s medical pros. A South African friend raved about some French procedure called Latarjet. A British friend found cortisone was her route – and surgery. After 16 months of pain, a New York friend finally got serious about her physio and is on the uptick. And all the while my American mother wonders, hopefully, will I come home early this summer?

Another bit of advice came from our pilates guru. After a recent session (legs and core only!), he gave me a three-minute go on his personal magnetic stimulation machine, which he keeps in the room beside his ozone machine. To be honest, I was freaked out by the notion of running magnetic currents through my cells, which is apparently what happens, so I agreed only to the easiest turn of the dial.

You have to get the 120 model of this machine, he said, as a weird plastic loop pulsed lightly on my shoulder. Then he mentioned that astronauts actually use this machine. (!)

Apparently I should drink more of this.
Apparently I should drink more of this.

The annual lunch with Sabine continues at its leisurely pace. Pedestrians trickle past our lunch table as the chef’s amuse bouches give way to an exquisite main course and, eventually, to dessert. Conversation moves on from the LIFE machine to equally irksome matters, such as the downward spiral of the whole of France. A camouflage-painted jeep filled with camouflage-robed militia cruises down Boulevard Albert 1er beside our table, as if to reinforce our discussion.

When Sabine and I say goodbye for the summer, her dreamcatcher earrings dance as we exchange cheek bisous. I promise to give her LIFE machine a go if nothing else works on my wretched shoulder. Beam me up, Scotty.

In the present moment of weakness, I am considering a fortuneteller. But Philippe has landed me a consultation with his uber-sports doctor just after we land back in Toronto.   What, I wonder, will be his remedy? Pills, gels and oils? A series of exercises – or the edict to do nothing? Ink and scans? Shots or magnets or surgery?

Maybe I just forget these options. I will simply drink more wine. Doctor’s orders.

16 thoughts on “Doctors’ Corner: A Pain in the Shoulder

  1. Best of luck sorting through all these different options! I hope it feels better soon. I have been loving reading your posts this summer, you write so well that I feel like I’m in the south of France experiencing the same things:)
    See you soon, Raphy 🙂

  2. My 45-yr old body could use one of those LIFE machines… Can you bring one home? (Maybe with a nice bottle of red – surely that would help the whole effect?!) loved this episode – but hope your shoulder is feeling better. You certainly have cornered the market on experts!

    1. Hola, Karen! Once you get closer to 50, I’m guessing you might not like the name so much! (Smiling as I type this.) 🙂 xoj

  3. What a summer you have had, and what a privilege we have had to see Antibes through your eyes and yes pain. At times that pain has spread from your shoulder to your heart and it has spilled out all over the written word. Your French Lessons have given us much to ponder…and consider. Many of us have experienced pain that is all consuming and unrelenting — and yes, we all have THAT remedy that worked for us in my case, surgery, (ask me someday about the time I had to fly from Florida – standing up all the way because pain wouldn’t allow me to sit longer than it took for take-off and landing). My hope and prayer for you, is that your will soon find that ONE Pain Reliever- just for you. Prayers and Love XO

    1. Thank you for your prayers, Doris. And your story, too: flying all the way from Florida. That would likely be to Vancouver. Not next door. Thank you for your embrace from afar. j

  4. This is truly your funniest blog. All of your listed “fixes” sound like, “it rices, it slices, it dices.” At this point, it sounds like the most reasonable solution is “Drink more wine!” But hopefully there will soon be a sensible solution so your mother will be able to stop worrying—she and I suffer from the same thing——–Worry!

    1. Merci for seeing the humour, Pat! Honestly, how else do you write about this stuff? Always great to hear from you.

  5. Have been loving your writings this summer. Good luck on your shoulder. My husband had to have reverse shoulder replacement last year.

  6. And so the cycle (as summer) is complete…we are back were we started with a bottle of rose!!! Hope you get better soon.

  7. Oh no! Quelle surprise! You appeared the picture of health when we caught moments in Antibes … or perhaps I was stealing the floor with my husband’s hip debacle. My sincere sympathy and I hope Philippe’s uber-sports doctor has the answer that is just right for you. Next chapter in Toronto! Bisous and happy rentrée!

  8. The LIFE machine is a typical device of « Quantum Medecine » a New Age approach to the body & mind combine with Quantum Physics vocabulary. The reference to astronauts is somehow exagerated. Space Medecine is in fact investigating « Vibration therapy » to treat bone loss associated with human spaceflight. Bones in space atrophy at a rate of about 1% a month.
    see :
    When « belief » is required … it’s better to stay far away.
    Without a well documented diagnosis, it’s difficult to know what would be best for you. I hope you can get one asap.
    Bon retour

  9. Same problem, same progression but different outcome. Between Andy my physio who specialises in necks and Lys who is a NY trained Pilates instructor here in 04, the agony is gone and I’ve realigned myself which astonished the orthopaedic surgeon who was anxious to ‘have a go’. BUT, as a book editor who sits in front of a keyboard for far too long, this is the biggest problem of all.

    1. That’s great news, Jan! Since writing this post, I’ve learned a lot about frozen shoulder – more intimately than I’d like – but the good news is that if we are smart about the ailment (e.g., physio, pilates, massage, etc), we can come out the other side just fine…even it takes a long time. Thanks for writing, Jan.

Leave a Reply