Things took rather a sinister turn last week - I had a heart attack and spent the weekend before my birthday in intensive care.
I felt good when I got out of quarantine. A few days later I suddenly didn’t - we went for a walk and I got very out of breath - I had to sit down. It kept happening and it kept coming and going. Other virus sufferers told me they had exactly the same experience - the recovery is long and drawn out. I kept reading about the comet tail - recovery from the virus can be slow and fraught with setbacks.
Apart from being short of breath, on occasions I started to feel quite nauseous. And then the chest pains started. High up, either side of my shoulders. Then they'd subside and I’d feel tired. I’d curse the virus and try to get on with things.
Obviously it was going to get better. Except that it didn’t. I had a day when I felt pretty crappy just about all day. The following day I got up and felt vaguely well. I sat and drank peppermint tea and enjoyed Amy’s latest homemade granola experiment. I felt tired - maybe I just needed to lay down for a while... I went up the stairs and felt the pain, an acute discomfort, grip me. I lay down and after a while it was a little better so I got up, got ready and went out with Amy in her car to run a few errands.
We were up north of Hudson where some friends have a farm. It was good to be out in the country, in the sunlight enjoying a socially distanced conversation.
I felt unwell. I had to excuse myself and get back in the car.
We set off to go home and I started to feel really unwell. Amy suggested we stop off at the hospital but that seemed to me like a drastic step, an admission that something was seriously not right. And that’s the last thing I wanted to admit to.
Amy said ‘I hope you’re not having a heart attack,’ and I laughed it off and said ‘No, that would be completely different to this.’ It couldn’t be - everybody knows a heart attack is when there’s something like a fist gripping a large stone in the middle of your chest and you get tingles and sometimes a shooting pain down your left arm. I didn’t have any of that so it couldn’t be a heart attack. And anyway, me and a heart attack? It’s not possible, it’s a bad fit. Heart attacks happen to other people and possibly to me in some dim and distant future when I’m very old.
I was quietly freaking out and trying to keep a lid on it because I didn’t want Amy to be upset. My head had turned into a hot, fuzzy mush, my rib cage was squeezing itself inwards, I had a fairly excrutiating pain each side of my chest and my arms had turned into nonsense. It became imperative that we get to the hospital. I’ve never seen Amy drive so fast.
We skidded into the ER parking lot where there was a barrier and one car ahead of us. Amy jumped out leaving the door open and the engine running. Everything was blurring by this point. I saw an exchange taken place but didn’t know what Amy was saying. I found out later it was ‘My husband’s having a heart attack.’
There was a team running across the concourse and I was in a chair being wheeled through. I think I told them I’d had the virus.
Yeah, room seven.’
We crashed through to the back of the hospital and into a room containing a whole team of medical workers. They dumped me onto a bed, clustered around, fired questions at me - allergies, medications, date of birth… A nurse who said his name was Scott told me I was going to be ok and he was going to give me an injection. They gave me pills to swallow, tore off my shirt and stuck a whole bunch of electrodes on me. They put a tube in my arm, gave me the injection and siphoned half a gallon of blood out of me.
Scott asked if I wanted a chaplain.
‘That’s the last bloody thing I want!’
A woman in a lab coat bustled in with some apparatus and announced that she was going to test me for Covid-19. The apparatus looked like something you might use to artificially inseminate a goat - two small wiry looking probes - I tried not to look too closely. She plunged them deep into my nose and I could feel them in my throat. It was unpleasant but it was over very quickly.
They gave me oxygen tubes and I began to feel a lot less alarmingly like I was about to die. I had four over-riding concerns:
I wanted to someone to go and tell Amy how I was - they gave me my phone and I called her. I had no recollection of this until later. It went something like: everything’s ok here - apparently I’m having a heart attack.
I wanted to pee really badly - why didn’t I have the sense to go before all this happened?
I mustn’t die because tomorrow was the second anniversary of the death of my daughter Luci’s mother, and I really didn’t want to bring this on her. The timing was not good and at the very least I could hear her saying: why are you making this all about you? And quite right too.
I was three days from my sixty sixth birthday and I didn’t want to spend it in isolation in a hospital.
Bit by bit I was divested of all my clothes apart from my socks - I went through the ensuing twenty four hours wearing my socks - how quintessentially English - he died with his socks on… They put me in a flowery robe that didn’t button up at the back and it occurred to me that they weren’t planning on letting me walk around anywhere for a while, not in that garment, and anyway I was hooked up to too much machinery.
I was going to be transferred to Albany by ambulance. I was introduced to the paramedics who were going to take me there, two large and baggy looking men in black satin bomber jackets. They were called Duane and Shane. They seemed quite proud of the comedy aspect of their pairing.
They swaddled me in blankets, strapped me down to the trolley, loaded me into the ambulance and off we went with the siren wailing, Shane at the wheel, Duane busied himself with a few things then sat with me in the back.
‘So, what do you get up to in your spare time? Are you into huntin’ and fishin’?’
It was going to be a long ride to Albany.
There's obviously more to come but it's a long and twisted tale. Look back in a day or two for the next installment.