Rachael Dickens

Rachael Dickens understands pain.

The English Osteopath was 28 when she broke her back while playing tennis, an accident that resulted in temporary paralysis in both legs for six months. It was thanks to an osteopath that she began to walk again and found herself on a life-changing road to recovery.

“Lying in bed thinking I’d never walk, work, or love again, I had to make a decision to thrive. I turned off my emotions and got on with it,” Rachael describes.

She quit her job with the Daily Mail Group, where she was the youngest commercial publisher at the time, and spent the next five years training at the British School of Osteopathy.

Speaking French since the age of 7 and having studied at the Institut de Français in Villefranche, Rachael moved to Antibes in 2001 and set up her first English Osteopath clinic at 4 rue Vauban. She has since become the only clinic in Antibes to be approved by the Norwegian Government to issue Seafarer Medical certificates required by all yacht crew.

With a large portion of clients driving from Monaco, the ever-energetic brunette opened a second clinic in 2010 at 11 bis avenue Generale de Gaulle in bordering Beausoleil. She then initiated the Frozen Shoulder and Chronic Fatigue clinics and set up an association for those with limited income to have access to free osteo healthcare for their children and babies (all her osteopaths are trained in paediatric osteopathy).

With a bilingual team of 16 between the two locations, Rachael was heavy-hearted having to shut down the two locations during the first Covid confinement that began in March. “It was tough on my business and tough on the patients having their treatment programmes disrupted. I spent a lot of time on Zoom walking patients through their pain, which worked surprisingly well, and some were even cracking their own backs! Luckily the pharmacists were open and I could arrange with our clinic doctor to get them the right medication.”

In round two of confinement in France, which started October 30, the clinics are allowed to remain open. Thy are busier now than ever and are seeing a type of pain that the therapists describe as a physical manifestation of constant low-grade stress and anxiety, the result of poor at home office work stations or the result of looking at screens more than usual, as all other healthy physical activities have been curtailed.

In Monaco, with people travelling less, patient frequency has increased while in Antibes, where the yachting industry is at a standstill, there has been a slight drop in appointments.

Still, across the board, the intuitive Rachael has noticed a change in recent weeks. “I see a rise in stress. You know, the expat community is already isolated and I think the reality has just sunk in that people can’t go home for Christmas to see their families. Our ability to cope with pain is different when we are sympathetically aroused, like we are now. This means we are gearing up to face an attacker, and Covid is one that we can’t see, so it’s fight-or-flight.”

In Antibes, where cafés and restaurants are closed, Rachael has opened the Waiting Room Café at the clinic. “People need to connect so while a patient is waiting, there’s a Nespresso machine, cookies and even beer, and a table for one – we are hoping for TripAdvisor reviews! – and if someone needs to talk, we’ll sit and have a chat and a coffee.”

In addition to running to the two English Osteopath clinics and doing call outs (even on weekends), Rachael is the lead medic for Supporting Wounded Veterans, a U.K. charity that supports 26 veterans a year through Skiing with Heroes – a “skibilitation” week – and also providing each veteran with a mentor and treatment at the only Wounded Veterans’ Pain Management Programme in Britain. “This program gives veterans confidence and a chance to start new lives,” she says, something she knows first hand.

Over the last five years, she has raised €100,000 for Supporting Wounded Veterans through a 5-day “Mountains to Monaco” bike ride and two quiz nights in Monaco, one held at Stars’n’Bars where Gilly Norton, founder of the founder charity, told me, “Some 87% of those who participate in our Pain Clinic and/or Skiing with Heroes programme return to work or training.”

Rachael says that the charity is currently fundraising “to take part in very exciting research” using psychedelic drugs, such as MDMA, as part of a therapeutic approach to treat PTSD. “If this trial continues to produce results, it will be a game-changing breakthrough in helping those suffering with this terrible mental health condition and who haven’t responded to other Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapies currently available.”

Photos: Nancy Heslin

Juanita & Taylor Viale

We have spent the better part of this year staring at Covid figures and graphs, and hearing about how care homes have been particularly vulnerable to the virus. It is easy to forget that it is not just the elderly living in assisted accommodation. The story of Juanita Viale and her disabled daughter Taylor is one of hope.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Juanita Viale was working for a Stanford-funded startup in San Francisco when her dad passed away. She decided to relocate to Costa Rica and settled in Tamarindo on the Pacific Coast, known for surfing thanks to the 1966 Robert August documentary classic, Endless Summer.

By 2007, she was living in San José when her youngest daughter Taylor suffered a brain hemorrhage at birth leaving her permanently disabled. Juanita and her husband decided to move Taylor and her older sister Isabella to France the following year. “My now ex-husband’s grandfather welcomed us with open arms to his 30-hectare vineyard, Coteaux de Bellet, behind Nice, and I stayed there for the next nine years.”

Taking care of the girls, especially with Taylor’s needs, was a full-time job but after a four-year hiatus from the work force, Juanita managed to land a gig in her field of communications and marketing.  “On my second day of work I was already in Monaco on the air at Riviera Radio giving weekly property reports, a vast contrast to being a stay-at-home-mom.”

While her marketing consulting and coaching business grew, her marriage, unfortunately, did not. By the autumn of 2019, Taylor moved into a center for severely disabled children in Saint Antoine Ginestiere, in Nice, operated by the Lenval Foundation, coming home on the weekends. During this same period, Juanita moved around 40 kilometers behind Nice to live in a forest.

“I found my French version of Costa Rica! As I live on a 7-hectare forest my lifestyle is pretty isolated, so when the first lockdown happened, nothing really changed for me since I live and run my business Marketing & Mindset Coaching from home anyway.

Taylor is allowed to come home weekends for this second confinement.

“However, the challenge was with Taylor. Under strict confinement restrictions she was not allowed to leave the center since they were all vulnerable. I didn’t see Taylor for two months with the exception of daily Facetime calls. She held out fine for the first month, but showed signs of depression the second month, which is when Facetime calls became a lifesaver.”

While this weighed enormously on Juanita’s heart, the good news was that it was clear that her daughter Taylor was more aware of her surroundings than the family realized.

A few days prior to France’s second lockdown announcement, Taylor was hospitalized during the weekend for fatigue and no appetite. She was tested immediately for Covid with a negative result.

Juanita wasn’t allowed to visit because she hadn’t had a Covid test. Rapid testing is reserved for the patients only so when the hospital offered to give her a regular test, the results wouldn’t be ready before 48 hours. By that time Taylor would already be out of the hospital.

While Juanita “completely understood” the situation, this was the first time Taylor had to be alone in the hospital. “Even though I have full confidence in the nurses to be with her, knowing she was alone did not sit well with me. However I had no other choice but to surrender that worrying thought and replace it with the gratitude I have for all those doctors and nurses who take such great care of the children at Lenval.”

With this second lockdown that took effect October 30,, Taylor is able to come home on the weekends. “Such relief! But for Isabella, 18, who is going to school and doing her internship in Nice, it will be her first lockdown alone. Facetime it is!”

If there is any lesson Juanita Viale has learned from “The Year of Staying at Home” it is to be adaptabile.

“The more willing we are to live out of our comfort zone, we strengthen our adaptability skills. It is imperative to keep working on ourselves, challenging ourselves, checking in with ourselves, loving ourselves and developing a positive mindset that will serve as your anchor in a sea of uncertainty.”