Rising Above

The Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou, in Paris’ 15th arrondissement, is the flagship of France’s public healthcare system. It opened its doors to “malades” — the French language’s unfortunate choice of word for “patients” — in 2000. This is where I ended up in late 2005, when my health went downhill. I didn’t know anything about the hospital at the time. I just needed an emergency room, and Pompidou had the closest one to my office.

I’ve always been well treated there, and Georges Pompidou has the psychological advantage of a modern and well-considered architecture. Regardless of their quality, many Parisian hospitals have an air of dilapidated austerity. You get the feeling of going back in time — too far, you think, for adequate care. Pompidou, on the other hand, is contemporary and appeasing in its design. It has an open-space, airy lobby, capped by a sloping glass roof that charges the space with an optimism of natural light.

My favorite thing about the hospital, however, is the hot-air-balloon ride.

The hot-air-balloon attraction (officially titled “Ballon Air de Paris”) technically isn’t part of the hospital. It is anchored at the adjacent Parc André Citroën, 14 hectares (35 acres) of green space resurrected on the former grounds of a Citroën car factory in 1992. The park is modern, angular and manicured. But, unlike many of the more-famous Paris gardens, you can set foot on the grass here without a man in uniform hustling over like an angry squirrel, making a “nut, nut, nut!” sound and pointing at a stay-off-the-grass sign.

And, of course, no other park in Paris has a hot-air balloon. You don’t get as high as the 276 meters (905 feet) of the third observation deck of the Eiffel Tower. But the balloon’s 150 meters (492 feet) of altitude — and the sometimes precarious sensation of free-floating — are more than adequate for a bird’s-eye perspective of the city.

I remember being at the hospital at the beginning of my treatments. It was a marathon day, calling for both a transfusion and chemotherapy. I watched the drip-drip of the i.v. with detached resentment. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a white shape rising like the moon to the level of my window. It was the balloon and I watched it, transfixed. Over the years, on numerous occasions I’ve been lucky enough during a consultation or during a treatment to be in a room with a view of the balloon.

But I didn’t take a ride in it myself until just a week ago. As we lifted off the ground, the handful of passengers crowded on the side of the balloon with a sweeping view onto the Eiffel Tower and central Paris. I lingered, alone, on the other side, watching the hospital right below me grow smaller and smaller. I liked what I felt. The feeling of rising above it all.


Ballon Air de Paris
Open daily from 9 a.m., but flights could be suspended due to unfavorable weather. Call ahead.
Telephone : 01 44 26 20 00

  1. Beautiful. I’m jealous. What aview that must be!

  2. linda9166 said:

    Hi Andrew please keep writing you will help others with your story. You are an inspiration. Congratulations. Linda, Mallorca. xcxcx

  3. How wonderful! I had no idea about this. I am imagining you floating high above the city…like Charlie in Willie Wonka’s glass elevator…. Great post.

  4. Susie Corbett said:

    Hello Andrew,

    Your Mom is a lovely and dear friend of mine. She is an inspiration to be around and I feel blessed to have Alice in my life. You have been in my prayers for over 3 years.

    Thank you very much for sharing this enlightning yet peaceful experience while having treatement at “The Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou.” The interpretation of your “Ballon Air de Paris” experience is profound. May you continue to rise above it all!

    My brother is a survivor of throat cancer for close to a year now. He also did a blog sharing his experience. Very medicinal for him and for his loved ones’ who couldn’t be by his side during his gallant battle.

  5. Maggie said:

    I love this image of you, high up in the air in the balloon, looking the other direction while everyone else gawks at Paris’ attractions, taking a new perspective on a place you see from the ground more often than you’d like. Rising above it all, indeed. This post is something like beautiful, but better.

  6. Mylene said:

    Dearest Andrew, these posts are all extremely moving for those of us who know you, and most certainly inspiring for all of those who struggle with the same or another disease.. Please continue to tell your story, get it off your chest.You probably need it tell it, but we most certainly need to hear it.

  7. Félicitations Andrew pour ces photos ! Voilà un super thème pour une expo … qu’en dis-tu ? Amitiés, Lionel.

  8. Gutoku said:

    Mon Fils – i didn’t know about “your” balloon 🙂 Next time you must take me up with you, so we both can rise above our collective pain and sadness…a beautiful post filled with some of your best camera work – your spirit and sensitivity is so inspiring…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: