Thursday 28 May 2020

Things Like This Happen To Other People (part two)

I’ve always thought chasing behind an ambulance as a way of getting through traffic was in poor taste - socially acceptable in fact. But lying there with my feet facing the rear doors, watching the world fold away and disappear behind me at a steady sixty five or seventy miles an hour I could see that I was wrong. I saw cars pulled over to the side wearing expressions of deference mixed with concern (in so much that is as a motor vehicle can wear an expression - you must bear in mind at this point I was coming out of a near death experience). But other cars, belligerent looking blighters, shot into the spaces that opened up and glued themselves to the back of the ambulance 

I was in safe hands with the improbably named paramedics, Shane and Duane. Duane sat on the bench besides me. A brief chat about fishing fizzled out, mostly because I don’t know anything about fishing and I was feeling a little…distracted, so Duane was left to field both sides of the conversation. I may have dozed off.

We arrived at the hospital, Albany Med, and the action started up all over again. Shane and Duane got me out of the ambulance, wheeled me across a concourse and through a set of doors where another team of excited medical professionals were ready to take over. We crashed through a reception area in a blur with someone shouting out my personal details, symptoms and latest vitals. It was like a TV show.

They told me they were going to prepare me for the radiology suite. They had to put me on a different trolley / bed / gurney or whatever those things are called. I didn’t have to do anything. They got round me and grabbed hold of the undersheet, counted to three and lifted me clean onto the other bed. I felt like the star of some twisted showgirl routine.

We were on the move again, speeding along corridors and up in an elevator. I got to see a lot of ceilings and light fittings. and then we were in the radiology suite - I wouldn’t neccessarilly have known this if someone hadn’t told me. A doctor explained that they were going to inject me with a dye so that they could see a map of my arteries on a big screen. I told them that if it was all the same to him I wouldn’t look. He said they were going to sedate me.

Someone said they’d go in either through the groin or somewhere else. I didn’t like where this was going, my vote was for the somewhere else. I may have voiced the opinion. A nurse reached in with a Phillips Phillishave and mowed off a patch of pubic hair, just in case. ‘Oh fuck!’ I said, ‘that’s going to itch when it grows back.’ 

People were working all round me. Electrodes were being stuck all over me - I wish I’d been able to take a selfie. A doctor leaned in and asked in a clear voice: 

‘How are you feeling now?’ 

‘I feel like a racing car in a pit stop.’

They sedated me - they must have done because I was in a grey nether world. I could feel the blood pressure thing around my arm. It tightened periodically to check my blood pressure. It was my friend in this strange grey place somewhere between worlds, a reassuring grip on my arm - it’s ok buddy, everything is going to be ok 

I was in a room and something was beeping, one beep, then a space, then two beeps together… The blood pressure thing was still there - tightening, just to the point of too tight, holding it then slackening off. I discovered I had something electrical taped around my left index finger. It glowed red which I thought might be handy if I needed to find my finger in the dark.

The ceiling was those polystyrene looking tiles supported on an aluminium lattice. There was a sprinkler directly above my head. I hoped the building wouldn’t catch fire. I didn’t want to get wet. I started to make an inventry of the ceiling tiles, how many were unviolated by light fixtures, vents, sprinklers etc. It was an impossible task, I kept losing track and having to start again. 

A masked face was looking at me from behind a clear plastic visor. 

‘The doctor will be in to see you in a minute. You’ve had three stents put in your heart.’

I felt vaguely as though I could just get up, walk out, go home. But I knew that wasn’t a good idea. I couldn’t be bothered anyway. And I was tethered to too much stuff, and now I’d got them to turn down the beeping I was quite content to stay where I was, a prisoner of the electrodes.

The doctor came in. ‘I’m sure I’ve seen you before somewhere,’ I said. He laughed - ‘I hope you’re feeling a bit less like a racing car at a pit stop!’

He explained the stents and how it all was. I’d had quite a heart attack, I’d probably been having it for a few days. I’ve never felt so utterly British - I’m feeling a bit under the weather -  still, must press on

I asked how they got the stents in there and he told me they went in through my right arm just below the elbow. That explained the big bulge of sticking plaster with the large bruise spreading out from it. I’m imagining it was much the same as a chimney sweep sticking a brush up a chimney and screwing poles on until the brush pops out of the top of the chimney, but in miniature. And hopefully a lot cleaner. S
omething like that - unlike the president I don’t have a feel for this stuff.

They were going to keep me in for a couple of days. I felt a lot better than I had - exhausted, and a bit giddy at having survived the ordeal, and a bit freaked-out at being hooked up to all this stuff. Euphoria gave way the next day to a kind of melancholia. I didn’t lie there feeling sorry for myself but I felt beaten for a while. The heart attack was brought about by the Covid-19 virus. My lung power was substantially decreased which meant blood wasn’t being oxygenated, so it started to clot. Lack of oxygen and subsequent thickening of the blood puts a huge strain on the heart. It’s a vicious circle. Before this I was fit and healthy. I spoke to a friend in England who remembered walking around Cromer with me just last February. He said he could barely keep up with me. I started to feel angry How could this have been allowed to get so out of control? 

I’d been subtly warned about the food by some of the staff. I was given menus to fill in. I could tell how it was going to be as soon as I looked at them. Ordering was a matter of damage limitation. Pasta with marinara sauce - I thought that couldn’t be so bad but I was wrong. I was wrong too about meusli, fresh fruit, yoghurt, orange juice… It was all trash, full of additives, high fructose corn syrup,white sugar and all the other stuff any qualified medical professional would surely tell someone in my position to steer clear of. Meusli translated to a packet of Cocoa Pops, fresh fruit came in a festering sealed container steeped in its own sweated juice, yoghurt was a chemical substitute with pink colouring and flavourings - first ingredient on the list: high fructose corn syrup. The soggy overcooked pasta came with a tub of violent red sludge that contrasted perfectly with the green of the mushy pile of overcooked French beans. 

On the one hand you have the science, the technology, the skill and professional dedication that can turn a dying man into a functioning human being, and then you have the business. And where they intersect you see the cynical cost-cutting measures. Someone is running all this with an eye to the profits.

But I don’t want to dwell on negatives right now. The staff at the Albany Med cardiac unit have my undying gratitude, I thought they did a fantastic job and they did it all with kindness and care. My Covid re-test result came back negative so I was moved out of isolation and onto the main cardiac ward. I said goodbye to the bed that had been home for twenty-four hours and I was happy about that. At some point somebody had written the word pain on the framework with an indelible pen and it was evident that no no amount of scrubbing had been able to erase it. I hope that person’s pain proved less enduring. 

They took me off the big heart monitor and put me on a battery powered remote thing that slipped into a special pocket on the pretty patterened gown they gave me. I got a pair of pants too, big pyjama trousers in a contrasting pattern - you could have got four of me in them and it took some ingenuity to tie them up so they didn’t fall down. A nurse got me a pair of padded socks to wear so I could walk around the ward. They were bright yellow, I cut quite a dash. She told me not to go through any doors into the rest of the hospital.

Her colleague expressed doubt: ‘Wait, are you sure he’s not going to wander off?’

I laughed. ‘Yeah right - look at the fucking state of me! I’d go out clubbing but I don’t think I’m going to get lucky in this outfit, do you?’ 

He looked embarrassed - I think he thought I’d been referred from a psychiatric ward - it’s the English accent, it confuses them.

Different people kept wheeling in equipment and conducting tests. I could hardly keep up with it. A guy even woke me up at five o’clock in the morning - he stuck a load of electrode things over my chest and took readings. He was very apologetic but I really didn’t mind because I was on hospital time and anything was a welcome break from the tedium. The only contact I had with the outside world was a few phone calls and a care package from Amy. There were no visitors allowed because of the lockdown. It was quite lonely at times.

The final test was an ultrasound. The ultrasoundist (I’m sure she had an official job description but I can’t remember what it was so ultrasoundist will have to do) was a woman in her late forties perhaps. I asked her if she did anything else. 

‘Nope, just this, I take ultrasounds of peoples hearts. Been doing it twenty three years. I love my job and I’m really good at it.’

Somehow we got on to the subject of retirement. She gave a dry laugh: ‘Huh - I can’t afford to retire, I’m in the medical profession. I’ll be doing this until I keel over.’

I retrieved my clothes and got dressed. The nurses teased me that they were going to send me off with with the gown and pants outfit. One of them gave me a comb so I could look presentable for Amy who was coming to pick me up. I was trolleyed to the front door in a wheelchair even though I was more than capable of walking. Amy said she was expecting a crumpled and broken man but when I got out of the weelchair and walked through the door apparently I looked as though I’d spent the weekend at a health spa.

Not exactly, I felt exhausted - I still do, but a whole lot better than I had a few days before. If I’m honest I sometimes feel vaguely traumatised at the thought of it all, especially that I was offered the services of a chaplain which makes me wonder how close I may have been to popping my clogs. People say it must have been a terrifying experience but I never once felt frightened while it was all going on. I think that’s down to the people who cared for me in the hospital. I can’t thank them enough.

Now I’m out and about again I’m sick and tired of seeing big macho men and fools strutting around without face masks, and of being sneered at by bare-faced people. Maybe they think they’re tougher than Covid-19, or that they’re nature’s chosen, the naturally immune, but some of them are going to find out that they aren’t. They’ll be deeply sorry if they get it like I have. I want to tell them, to warn them, but I learned a long time ago that you can’t tell people what they don’t want to know. If stupid people want to die an unpleasant death I suppose that’s up to them. The sad thing is that in the dying they’ll put other people at risk.

For myself I’m happy to fantasize about full facial nudity…


  1. What a relief that you're okay! It's clear from this that your sense of humor is thoroughly intact, which means that you're going to be just fine.

  2. Than you for sharing memories of this experience!

  3. That's quite an ordeal Eric I'm so glad you came through it

  4. Glad you are out in one piece. Doesn’t sound like the best trip to the health spa.

  5. Wishing you all the very best. Heaven knows what that all costs over there but glad they're getting you well again.I dearly love the way you write in this long form. Take care.

  6. Great to hear you are recovering so well. Thanks for the update. You had us worried for a while.

  7. Glad you got through such a harrowing experience, please stick around Eric!

  8. Glad you're feeling a bit better. A mate of mine had several stents fitted years ago and is still fine. Look after yourself and Amy.

  9. All the very best, Eric. My wife has had two heart operations during this last 12 months in Liverpool - an ablation and closing a hole with mesh implant. She is terrified of the virus catching up with her. Be safe amigo.

  10. Chuffed to bits you’re ok

  11. Really glad to read this. Rest up and get back up to full health. Best wishes to you both.

  12. Beautifully written. Really happy you're on the mend.

  13. Thank you for this, Eric! I wish I had known you all these years, but it's delightful to get a feeling for who you are, and what a sharp mind you have. Very glad you have survived all this, and it's really helpful for the community to hear about it directly from someone who has experienced it. Speedy Recovery!

  14. Going to spin your music now. Glad you are still in this world with us. And thank you for being so open about your experience. Be well!

  15. What a wonderful writer you are. I wish all those idiots who think this virus is just like a flu and they live in axworld of denial would read your words. Keep getting better! And thank you for your happy tunes.

  16. Going to have to have to steal that "fantasize about full facial nudity".

  17. Great that you're doing okay. Damned good writing!

  18. Great stuff, Eric - and I hope that you're getting your strength back bit by bit. Loved that analogy with the chimney sweep and getting the stents in. Hold on, do we have a name for the comeback tour? Three Stents To Heaven. No, sorry, I thought not - but I had to ask anyway. Take good care. Lots of love from Lisa and me. XX

  19. Please keep your humour and lighting our world. I'm so glad to hear you improving. Sending lots of healing energies and love for You and Amy. ((( ❤️ )))

  20. glad to hear you are on the mend Eric - all the best from 'Stickerland' - Richard and Caroline

    1. I knew you'd come round to Stickerland eventually - sp much more snappy than M K Marking!
      Hope you're all ok over there xxx

  21. So nice to hear you're ok, Eric. And that the humour and the wit hasn't been affected.

  22. God, I'm glad you're OK now.

    And excellently written, as always.


  23. Very glad you’re ok. Too right about the rubbish food. My mother in law was offered fish n chips in hospital after heart bypass surgery.

  24. I was in hospital for 10 days last August .I collapsed outside Sainsbury's Ladbroke Grove I had bought a chicken to make soul .I was feeling a bit under the weather .I had serious urinary infection. You describe so many of my experiences well .The food thing is classic .Damage limitation for supper .

  25. So sorry to hear of your troubles Eric! Thanks tho for documenting your experience with it. I think it's preferable for some folks to dismiss the danger of covid, but your experience is eye-opening to some of the other problems that could set in if you've gotten the virus. Thank you, God bless, and take care!

  26. Phew.. thank goodness you are ok.. remember the gig you did in our living room ? Meppershall. DEC 2008. best wishes Martyn