One year ago today, I was at Fondation Lenval, the Children’s Hospital in Nice, with my youngest son who was admitted for observation (and possible surgery). We had been in the kids ward for a few days when my sister phoned me from abroad on 14 July and asked if we were OK.
I told her we were at Lenval and the phone went silent; she had just seen the breaking news of the attack on the Promenade des Anglais – an event that was completely unrelated to our own hospital stay but happened merely 150 metres from where we currently were.
Usually, my own family is watching Fête Nationale fireworks so my relief at knowing they were elsewhere at the fireworks in Juan les Pins was replaced with concern and sadness for those in Nice.
I had listened to the fireworks and fell asleep; within 30 minutes, a large squad of riot police was gathered outside our hospital room in the street below. As a writer with connections to many global media contacts, it would have been easy for me to take photos and a video for a ‘Breaking News’ segment and have my 5-minutes of recognition with global media. But, very quickly, I could tell that something serious had happened.
I turned on the TV and sat stunned as news reports updated the scene. A nurse came into our room and began checking all the equipment we weren’t using; we shared a conversation and she simply said we had priority of care but she needed to be sure they could come to our room if needed to get extra equipment as they weren’t certain of the number of admissions yet.
My heart dropped as I looked at my own son sleeping, blissfully unaware of what was unfolding around him.
Our hospital room was many floors above the emergency arrivals entrance, and over the next few hours I felt immense sadness as I watched and listened to the stream of ambulances arriving at Lenval, knowing that each one had children inside.
As a parent, you have a strong sense of protection for your own children so to see emergency vehicles in great numbers and understand that someone else’s child is innocently injured and there is nothing you can do, it is a very cruel situation and heart-breaking.
I cried and hoped the children had their families with them. Sadly the truth was not so black-and-white, 44 patients arrived within 2 hours; 32 of those were children.
The next morning when my son had his scheduled X-rays, the waiting room was filled with injured children – broken limbs, head injuries and more. I was shocked, angry and sad. How could someone do something like this and target families out celebrating France’s largest national day? I spoke with an 8-year old boy who was hit by the truck and flung with such force into a rubbish bin it broke both his legs and fractured his skull, he told me he was happy to be alive so he can go skateboarding again.
Later that day in the hospital playroom, there were young children in there who were non-communicative and numb; shocked into silence. I wanted to give them all a big hug.
We checked out of Lenval the following day and as we left, a large number of media and TV crews were outside and presenting live feeds and coverage. French media were very respectful; British media not so and some were effectively standing in the entrance ways to get interviews from people coming and going. They were disrespectful and sadly showed the ugly face of media.
At the time we left Lenval, there were still 10 children who were being treated and had not been identified. Lenval Hospital staff had worked tirelessly, doctors and nurses had arrived voluntarily from 14 July and psychologists were on hand to counsel families.
Even though we were not immediately involved, in the days after the attack I suffered from nightmares – I was trying to stop the truck in Nice and it turned out the guy just lost control rather than pre-meditated everything, I took the boys to summer fireworks and lost them in the crowd….
In the days following the attack in Nice, it would have been extremely easy for me to write a blog article about Nice to capitalise on all the internet traffic. I noticed many articles on social media doing just that – ‘Why Nice is still great’ and ‘Top 10 Reasons to Still Visit Nice’, but it seemed too raw to me and I felt a sense of guilt at being unharmed, a sense of sadness for the victims and their families and a sense of anger towards the attacker.
The attack in Nice injured almost 500 people and resulted in 86 deaths, including 10 children.
I will write a blog post in the future about why Nice is still great, but it won’t be today. Today is for commemoration and solidarity for the victims and their families.
I will leave you with my personal Facebook status in the days afterwards when I was asked to do a radio interview and a beautiful video of Nice filmed and edited by Fabien Ecochard:
I feel immense sadness for these families and intense anger at the cruelty of this mans actions whether influenced by others or not.
Part of me doesn’t want to do this interview… because I know they will ask me about the man and I think this evil bastard has had enough attention already. He was born on this planet like you and I – void of hatred and open to the joys of the world – yet somewhere in this 31-year old’s life he decided that harming innocent people was the best option.
But I feel a huge debt to these families who have lost loved ones and a city which is hurting.
I have the chance to speak about the Nice that they love and live in, a city that mixes not divides cultures, a place filled with amazing museums and little alleyways with kind people selling things that light up your senses such as homemade soap, fresh herbs and hand rolled pasta.
It’s the place to find a vintage postcard, a good glass of rosé and the best hot socca.
If you have ever sat on those blue chairs on the Prom and watched the world go by, you understand why Its ‘Nissa La Bella’. If you’ve ever had a Fenocchio ice cream on a hot day, you get it. If you’ve ever arrived at Nice Airport or walked up Castle Hill and seen that turquoise sea from above, you know the feeling.
It’s where memories should be created for a lifetime, not destroyed in an instant.
I shall share the Nice I know and hope I don’t cry!