“What is going on with those … white coffins? Iron lungs? Strange toilets?” friend Betty asked on Facebook.
I had similar thoughts and wondered what I had gotten myself into when, on day one of my two week “cure” program, I followed an aide to the “Berthollaix” room. There it was – not a coffin, nor an iron lung, not even a strange toilet, but bizarre Berthollaix. Even the name was foreboding.
The aide closed the door, told me to shed my robe and flip flops, and sit in this strange, hard plastic chair with protrusions digging into my back. Was this some kind of electric chair about to bombard me with painful shocks? It did not appear too friendly. She then placed a large plastic shield over my entire body. I was trapped, locked in. She closed the door and left. I do not scare easily, but this made me nervous. How could I escape if, whatever was about to happen, was too painful? What if she forgot me?
Suddenly warm air engulfed my body. The air changed to tepid water, thermal water rich in minerals for which the spa is known. Had the chair been comfortable and minus those nasty things piercing my back, it would have been pleasant. I endured, about 10, 12 minutes. The aide returned to release me. Unscathed, I moved on to the next treatment.
Spa Thermal Chevalley and spa pool
I have serious arthritis and a serious limp. Since I had a two-week break from my duties as Alzheimer care giver – Bob’s daughter and son were minding him – I decided to focus on my decaying body. Off I went to the Spa Thermal
Chevalley at Aix-les-Bains, France, a health spa known for rheumatology treatments.
It all begins with a quick visit to a spa doctor who decides which treatments are best for you. He asked me to bend over and touch my toes. No sweat. I had to show off, went a step further, and put my hands flat on the floor. He was impressed. Maybe I am not in such bad shape after all? He specified three different treatments one day, followed by two different ones the next. Only one hour per day total.
After Berthollaix, I dutifully marched off with many others, all clad in white spa robes and clutching their blue treatment bag, to the next station. Under the obligatory white robe, all wear a bathing suit, and keep it on, except for the mud treatment, day two for me.
Douche penetrante (penetrating shower) was my favorite. No ominous machines, but a massage table under jets of warm spa water. I lay under the delightful shower while a therapist massaged my aging body. It was heavenly. “Don’t stop.” But he did.
The next treatment was “Pedidaix” – another weird contraption to sit in, several rows of these monsters in a large room. This time alternating jets of warm and cold water hosed the lower legs. Good for circulation, I was told.
Pedidaix is said to help circulation. Cool spring water quenches thirst.
I could have skipped Pedidaix and replaced it with more of the mud wrap, a treatment on day two of my program. I lay on a slab of warm, milk chocolate brown earth which had been mixed with thermal water. An aide lathered my arms and the tops of my legs with more of the viscous matter, then wrapped me in plastic. I felt the warmth penetrating my pores, visualized it soothing my pain. If anything could cure, this must be it.
The thermal water at Aix-les-Bains (Aix the baths) has been revered for centuries. It was first discovered by Celtic knights. In 120 BC the Romans built baths there. The sulphurated waters come from a kilometer deep in the earth emerging at 38 degrees Celsius ( 71 degrees Fahrenheit). Analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties are attributed to the cherished water.
I spoke to a woman from Paris on her fifth visit to the Spa. “I would not be this good if I did not come every year,” she told me. “It helps for six months. I can forget my medications.” Another Parisian who is a regular said it does not cure but soothes.
Most “curists” were on a three-week program paid for by the national French health insurance if one had a doctor’s prescription. I could have had the prescription, but I did not have the three weeks required for insurance payment. I paid about $600 for my program.
The Spa is run with assembly-line efficiency: Lists, checkmarks, numbers. Sign in here, get your towel and robe there, move on to another desk and take a number. Every day some 1,000 treatments are administered. About 200 caregivers are employed to administer the treatments, each catering to 22 clients per day. There are many more female than male clients, and most are of a “certain age.”
Aix-les-Bains is a pleasant town in eastern France, population 31,000, on the shores of Lake Bourget, the country’s largest natural lake of glacial origin. Thermal waters were the main attraction for many years. The rich and noble, many who came to take the waters, popularized the town during the Belle Epoque (1871-1914). These days water sports on the lake and hikes in the nearby mountains are major drawing cards.
My two weeks away were very therapeutic. Most of the treatments were soothing. Unfortunately I have no lasting physical benefit. But, I did profit from my break, mostly, I think, thanks to blissful relaxation at my beautiful, small, tranquil and unusual hotel. More about that in my next post.
Will you return next year to the spa? – a question I heard often. No. One encounter with Bertholliax and Pedidaix was enough for me.
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