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FOUR – fucked up

Adversity is a lonely place. I had arrived at St George’s in a wheelchair which frankly I didn’t need. I could probably have bunny-jumped from East Surrey to Tooting but the medical profession being what it is, patients were patients and were to be seen and not heard. Upon my arrival Harris Ward was a cacophony of busy-ness. Everyone, it appeared had something to do (and made a hell of a lot of noise doing it) but it may as well have been silence. The wheelchair was the ultimate debilitation. I felt like I did the start of second term at boarding school, powerless and abandoned. There seemed no good thing in sight. I almost cried. As an aside, in case you’re wondering what happened to term number one. First terms are always different because what you don’t know can’t fuck you up. When you know, then you’re fucked. Hail well met, term number two.

Medical wheels grind exceedingly slow and my time was no exception. Doctor comes round. He tells you that that you’re going to have a test. What he doesn’t tell you is that said test could be any time except soon. You lie on your bed waiting, endlessly waiting for the kitchen staff to dish up. (Sorry, bit of confusion there, old age, you know).

Eventually the tests arrive. At which point I should add, beware what you wish for.

They start you slow. A simple blood test, a cardiac catheter, ultra-sound, an exercise test and so on. And then one day, someone turns up with a booklet. Believe me, this is a bad sign, a bad bad sign. I didn’t realise it at the time but I have learnt through hard experience to beware of medical booklets. Run like fuck when someone appears at your bedside clutching the like. It means they are really going to fuck you up. Pick up your pallet and get the fuck out of there.

Electro-physiological Studies, I was told. Mmmm, doesn’t sound to bad. Read the booklet, it’s relatively straightforward, any questions, please ask.

Bear in mind that this was 1991 and the procedure known as electro-physiological studies was not then what it is now. (Doctor Frank N. Stein has since retired and lightning rods are no longer required equipment). And so I lay on a slab whilst the said doctor performed the said studies from behind a phalanx of instruments whilst constantly fiddling with knobs and flicking switches (sounds like puberty).

Little did I know what was in store.

A word of explanation because no doubt Electro-physiological studies means buggar all to most of you. Essentially they fuck around generating electrical beats in your heart trying to fuck it up. Depending upon exactly what abnormalities they can successfully instigate, they can deduce whether your heart has an abnormality that may leave you vulnerable to sudden cardiac death, referred to at the time as Sudden Adult Death Syndrome. Bit of a stupid name, I thought at the time, but I guess it does the job.

Unfortunately, I was a natural. It turns out that though you couldn’t see it, my heart was really fucked up. Time after time, they successfully induced cardiac arrest. God, it was so like the story of Frankenstein and his monster that it regularly gave me the night sweats. How many times did they fuck that guy up? If this seems like an over-reaction I would ask you to consider the matter in hand. You’re lying on a slab, your heart’s perfectly normal, suddenly you start feeling additional beats in your heart, slowly at first but gradually faster and faster until eventually you arrest. You are vaguely aware of the nurse stuffing something in your arm and then, thank God, you lose consciousness.

You wake up and they tell you they’re doing it again tomorrow.

Eventually, they stopped and drew breath. Conclusions? We’re not sure. You’re not sure! You’re not fucking sure, what the hell does that mean? Turns out they were sure I was fucked up but they were not quite sure how. My heart looked normal but didn’t act normal under Electro-physiological Studies.

There was no cure.

By this stage I felt completely lost. As Claudio said in Measure for Measure the miserable have no other medicine but only hope. Except that even hope had deserted me. Only one thing left. Time for another booklet. And sure enough here it is. An implanted cardioverter defibrillator. What the fuck is that? Turns out it’s your very own set of paddles designed to deliver an electric shock should you ever need one. I wonder how I would have felt if I’d known the sort of relationship I was to have with this strange machine over the next twenty-five years. As it was, I just couldn’t take it in. They wanted to put a massive battery in my abdomen that could electrocute me at any time. You just can’t take it in. It’s bizarre.

23rd December 1991 I left hospital, just in time for Christmas. A representative from my employer had come in and told me that if I could get back to work by 10th January they would let me keep my job. Fucking brilliant, I thought. It was just bad luck, really. I had chosen to have my first cardiac arrest one week after starting a new job. Consequently, I was still in the three month probation period. Further, I wouldn’t qualify for the health insurance benefit. Double fucking brilliant!
I determined that I would make the deadline. Upon my return I didn’t tell them that I was on medication and that in March 1992 I was scheduled to have a cardiac defibrillator implanted in my abdomen.

Well, they never asked.

Read on…….. coming soon