I am somewhere inside Airedale hospital and in acute pain, the worst pain I have known in my life. A stern but sensible looking female leans over me and informs me that I am having a heart attack. I feel nothing except pain as she goes on to tell me that I am to be taken to Leeds where they have a specialist unit and they will perform angioplasty and insert a stent if necessary. I am to go in the same ambulance. Some conversation is going on with Denise over following the ambulance. I am glad not be involved.
“I’m in pain!” I tell the assembled throng. They tell me that they can give me more morphine and soon a needle is in me again and then I’m being wheeled down those corridors again with Denise telling me she will see me later. I feel alone but relieved to see my two ambulance men; they are good guys and I trust them. We soon set off and I hear the siren again. I try to work out where we are and succeed some of the time. I am surprised at how fast the ambulance can go and how it doesn’t have to slow very often, when I’m not thinking of the pain. My chest is being crushed.
I’ve always prided myself on what I feel is a stoic like ability to ‘hang in there’ through the worse times and I concentrate on doing this now. I feel like I’ve been doing it forever; hanging in, holding on. It’s not working. I pull down the oxygen mask that has been placed over my face and I am ashamed to hear myself suddenly pleading.
“Make the pain go away!”
I have no shame.
I get a squeeze of the hand and stern instructions to replace the oxygen mask but they can’t make the pain go away. I decide that all morphine can do is slightly blur the pain, perhaps take it down half an octave but the volume stays the same. The oxygen is about as much use as a chocolate teapot. The pain rises to a crescendo and then gradually it reduces, ever so slightly it dulls a little and then a terrible wave comes again.
I’m going to be sick!
I vomit into a paper bowl. It doesn’t feel better the way a good chunder usually makes one feel. The ambulance man tells me that morphine can have that effect. On goes the journey. I dimly perceive that the sun has faded and been replaced by dark cloud or fog. And it’s colder still. How much colder can I get? I think we must be going up Otley Chevin and try to work out how much longer it will take.
I vomit again. I feel like the worse kind of shit.
We speed on ….it’s taking forever.
I want to writhe around to ease the pain. I do and it doesn’t I try being even more stoical but it’s becoming a hard role to play.
Dully, I sense we must be nearing wherever in Leeds we are going as I am vaguely aware of a cycle of braking, slowing, turning and acceleration. And the fucking speed bumps again, the cruel, fucking speed bumps.
Suddenly we have stopped and I am being wheeled out of the ambulance. I feel cold as I am wheeled down corridors once more and then into a large room with a group of people – waiting for me. I don’t have to wait – I must be important. I am transferred from the stretcher onto another gurney-like bed where soon people are working on me.
“Lie still.” I am instructed. This is difficult, as I have found (relative) comfort (mental not physical) in a resumption of my writhing. Something is happening in my groin. I distract myself by looking at a bank of monitors to my left and over my head. I decide I don’t like what is going on and concentrate on the pain. From the bit of my brain that is still able to function I start to recall the comments made to me by my business partner, Roger, who had angioplasty and a stent inserted 6 weeks earlier. Roger is a big guy who has battled MSRA and terrible pain for many years due to spinal damage before falling prey to angina. I recall him telling me that the insertion of the stent was the worse pain he had ever experienced. “Oh, fuck!”
“You really must lie still!” one of the hovering team sternly instructs me (I have decided to award them this description as they seem to be indulging in some sort of co-ordinated behaviour). I wonder if he’s ever had a heart attack. I think I stop moving for a moment before resuming a sort of slow, rocking, writhing and wait for the pain to get worse as I now believe it will. Will I be able to cope I wonder? This pain is bad, very, very bad. Will I be able to withstand much, much worse? Fiddling is still going on in my groin area, I am aware of this but it no longer has relevance to me. I am detached, properly, not the semi-detached variety, but I am lost in my pain and the expectation of worse to come.
A slap on my shoulder brings me out of the depths.
“You’re done!” he tells me, whilst briskly ripping plaster about the size of the Isle of Wight from my chest. “They’ll take you up to recovery now.” I am shocked. The pain didn’t get worse. I am aware of being moved on the gurney by following my progress across the ceiling.
Somewhere between the room where they did things to me and the recovery ward, I think it occurs in the lift, something happens. I am not sure at first, I have not been sure of much for some considerable time, except the certainty of the pain.
The pain has gone.
I feel normal. The pain has not eased – it has gone. I have no pain. I HAVE NO PAIN!
I am soon wheeled into a small recovery room where a chatty nurse tells me she is going to attend to the incision in my groin where the entry was made into a main artery. Soon I am sporting a large clamp-like apparatus over the wound that looks like something Lakeland Plastic sell for various kitchen tasks. Then follows a short lecture on the dangers of moving too much and how I am to inform them if I feel a damp sensation in my groin. I realise that my sense of humour has returned when I hear myself telling her that they would probably notice the blood on the opposite wall first, it being a main artery we’re talking about.
They then show me a couple of before and after screen prints of my heart. The before shot shows one main artery completely blocked and another one almost closed. The after shot shows the main one flowing clear and unblocked. Amazing. I ask for copies but am informed that is against some regulation or other. I begin to feel like a third party again for a moment.
Soon a very cheerful nurse comes and tells me that they have saved me some dinner – am I hungry? My brain is working once more and I calculate that I must have been having my heart attack for something like 7 or 8 hours. My sense of humour really returns when I see that the meal they have saved me is macaroni cheese. I have had a heart attack and they’re feeding me cheese! It tastes like the best thing I have ever eaten.
Shortly my affable male nurse arrives this time proffering a pair of PJs at least two sizes too small. He tells me it’s all they have and I accept them as they seem clean and better than the gown I am wearing. We laugh together and it’s a great feeling.
I lie back and a wave of unbelievable relief and gratitude flows over me. I am alive and I feel great. I have survived a heart attack. I speculate that this is how soldiers wounded in battle must feel when they know they have come through it and won’t have to return to front line duties.
Denise arrives with our neighbour, Michelle. I feel like I am the luckiest man alive.
Image courtesy of thetherapeuticresrourceblog.blogspot.com