I HEARD him before I saw him and the piece of equipment which had clattered towards my open door.

‘I’m walking. I’m walking,’ he shouted; elation in his raspy old voice.

Crouched over a wheeled Zimmer, almost melding into its steel frames, he was heavily pushing it inches ahead of him. By his side, Paul the physio, hovered a hand at his forearm while encouraging him on with restrained Gallic whoops of triumph.

He lasted three doors length before shuffling back to his room and an afternoon of rest but his warrior cry lingered on in our quiet corridors long after his return.

Of such small episodes are our days here enlivened. If my door is not left open, I am sealed off in my long hours of boredom broken only by the medical trolley delivering the next batch of drugs or the meal trolley dispensing fattening food to bulk up our wasted muscles.

More than six long months I have been here, or in one of two other hospitals, with visits to clinics in between.

At the start of the coronavirus outbreak the thought of being in any medical establishment would have both horrified and terrified me. I was smug in the knowledge that no finer refuge from the world’s rampant disease could be found than Las Molieres in La France Profonde.

Yet now I find myself strangely comforted by the protocols around me even though neither here nor the Montauban hospital has escaped contamination.

I’ve had four tests that while deeply unpleasant have also been reassuring as is the level of cleanliness and attention to all hygiene practices.

As I write Nicola Sturgeon is announcing live the new restrictions which will come into force in Scotland. She speaks in a firm, clear manner which is a refreshing change from the fist-thumping, at-war evasions of PM Johnson.

I hear them all for my day is built around my computer and no horror, for all is horror now, escapes me and I cannot seem to simply ignore it in pursuit of peace of mind.

Encased in my protective bubble the Scottish measures seem both reasonable and adherable to….but then what would I know as my freedom has all but disappeared anyway.

I find more chilling the prospect of leaving here to, at the moment, God knows where or what. I suppose I am now institutionalised, reliant on nurses and nursing to get me through the days. Dependent on professionals to reassure or placate me as my worries or pain get the better of me.

And while part of me wants to flee as far as possible from all this, the other part is secure in what I now perceive to be a place of safety.

The familiar is now the changeover of nursing teams; the morning wake-up rattle of pills and injection; the rhythm of physios and their gentle exhortations as I progress from Zimmer to the unaided walking gait not dissimilar to a chimpanzee.

For hours I do not have to make decisions or think of an uncertain yet certain future in a strange place and I can go to sleep knowing that the press of a buzzer will quickly bring help or solace to my side.

Of course, there are the opposite hours when all weighs heavily, crushing my chest both imagined and real, and my very presence in this sanitised room is a reminder of all that is lost or about to be lost.

But when the oppression becomes almost too much to bear, I can ask for an anti-anxiety pill which quickly takes the edge off and permits me to return to the normal angst we all now feel in these strange days.

I have no idea what it is – unthinkable once for a non-pill taker like myself – and nor do I care. It works and that’s all that matters these days.

An aide has just been in and put fresh towels in my bathroom and gives me the acid lemon drink she knows I like late afternoon.

She inquires if there’s anything else I need or require and as pampered as an indolent oligarch’s mistress I smile lazily and say, ‘No, nothing at all, thank you.’

Occasionally when feeling hard done by I’ll say, ‘Yes, my life back, please.’ But we both know that will not be possible, so laugh instead, ignoring the greater truth.

I ask her to leave my door open but all has gone quiet in the corridor in anticipation of the evening meal, another mammoth feast of soups, meat and patisseries which I always decline.

The rooms are so soundproof that I don’t even know if my neighbours are passing their time by watching television or listening to music.

I see them only as they fleetingly pass on their exercises, shuffling up and down, improving with each unsteady pace….the halt and the lame nurtured back to health.

And if I hear them, it’s more likely a groan of pain than the wonderful, joyful cry of the man and his ‘I’m walking, I’m walking,’ mantra of hope.

I hope he sleeps well tonight, proud of his victory. I hope we both sleep well in our place of safety. And you too.