20 years after surgery, a young New-Yorker comes back to the Conception hospital
On August 17th, the Communication department of AP-HM met Naomi Lee Baumol, successfully operated 20 years ago after a terrible car crash.
An American family in the South of France, on the road of holidays. Naomi, 15, and her younger brother sit on the back seat of the car. She has slightly dozed off, cradled by the noise of the engine.
Through the window, her brother enjoys the landscape bathed in a peaceful summer light. The road is lined with trees, their shades on the asphalt draw strange motives in contrasts. A truck is running in front of the car. Naomi’s father tries to overtake it, but in front of them a car appears from nowhere. As usual in these moments, all happen in a split second. The car hits the truck and falls into the ditch.
15 years old. Naomi’s life will be upset forever. She remembers a deep pain in the leg, figuring that it’s broken and announcing it to the staff before the MRI. The doctor explains that her leg is OK, but that her back is affected. The back. Over the moment, she feels relieved: her leg is well, in her mind it is all that matters. She does not realize the seriousness of her case. Transferred by helicopter to the Conception Hospital in Marseille, she will undergo a delicate surgery, then stay 10 days in the department of orthopedic surgery. The rest of the family is safe: her brother is fine, her parents get off with some bruises. The surgeon who operated Naomi feared that she could not walk any more. Indeed she had significant after-effects, but today she can move in complete autonomy with crutches. She is back in France for a whole month, managing on her own, walking along the streets of Marseille.
We meet her at the Conception Hospital, 20 years later. Two days before the anniversary of the car accident. Naomi contacted the Communication department of Marseille University hospitals (AP-HM) to find out if her surgeon, Pr Louis, was still working there. She wanted to go back to the department where she was hospitalized. She keeps good memories of all the staff’s thoughtful kindness towards her. She remembers the young surgeon, and the younger pre-med who stitched her up.
“I was 15 years old at that time, then I did not fully realize that these doctors were young”, Naomi smiles. ”When you’re 15, people between 30 or 40 seem really old already! The nurses had told me that the pre-med had made some good work, that my scar would not be too visible. As all teenagers, I was worried about my look and that really reassured me.”
She remembers the night shift nurses and orderly who walked into her room on tiptoe, checking if she was not laying in a wrong position. And the nurse lifting her from the bed to the wheelchair all alone :
“I was afraid of being too heavy for her. She did not speak English, so to make me feel better she showed her biceps and said with a big smile “Popeye ! Me, Popeye!”
We walk around the hospital with her, through the long corridors of the 3rd floor.
A lot of memories have faded. This is one of the reasons why she wanted to get back here. To feel in the blanks, resume the threads of the story, have a new look on the places and events sown into her flesh, altering her body but contributing to forge her character.
“ It is a kind of backward pilgrimage. We came from Chamonix, driving southward, past Avignon, on the Nationale 7 Road. Then, after the accident, I found myself here in Marseille, in the Conception hospital. Today, I’ll leave the hospital and go back in time”.
We are impressed by Naomi’s kindness and courage, by her determination. After law studies she now dedicates herself in drawing, painting and photography. She is an artist and it can be seen in her sensible vision of life. Unfortunately, the department of orthopedic surgery has moved to the Timone hospital, the nurses whose names had been carefully kept by Naomi’s mother have retired. No doubt that the staff who took care of her would be happy and proud to see what a beautiful person their young patient has become.