SIX – Beware icebergs

“The iceberg cuts its facets from within; like jewelry from a grave” – Elizabeth Bishop

In the end, 13 January 1992 wasn’t that big a deal. Having left hospital, I didn’t feel ill and, with each passing day and nothing happening, so I began to dwell less and less on the prospect of being struck down in what might euphemistically have been called my prime and more on simple everyday living. By the time I returned to work, it wasn’t such a big deal. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy – I was afraid to exercise, afraid to climb stairs, even to turn over in bed but by the same token I have to say that it wasn’t a nightmare. Gradually, it became easier. Time, they say, is a great healer but, in fact, it isn’t time that does it, but the nature of memory, designed as it is to fade.

The implantation of the defibrillator was similar. I was still in something of a state of denial and confusion but it had a vagueness and sweet ignorance about it that made it easier to bear. The truth is that at this stage I had no true appreciation of just how fucked I was. I considered my major problem at the time to be that DVLA wouldn’t let me drive. The learned medical men who’d spent those hours umming and awing around my bed even took me off all medication. Apparently, it had been simply a matter of just in case.

Little did I know what was to come.

I got the first inkling that my situation had a certain iceberg quality about it (no, not the lettuce), when about a year after the implantation of my defibrillator I got a very energetic demonstration of just what this technological marvel could do. I was in a shopping mall in Crawley when my heart started to indulge in a passing good impression of Billy Whizz. Mach one, or whatever velocity it is that Billy can achieve. Immediately I sat down. At this stage I didn’t really know what to expect. To date I hadn’t experienced a shock in the field, as it were. Ten seconds later all that ignorance was behind me.


It was much more powerful than I had imagined and I let out an involuntary grunt. It was like being kicked in the chest from the inside. I almost expected my rib cage to spring open and a cuckoo to appear and chime the hour. It is difficult to communicate the sensation of such a shock and I cannot explain it, not least because I myself wasn’t fully compos mentis. I simply recall a shock, the grunt and a brief period of confusion during which I had no idea what my heart was doing. This, of course, didn’t last and it wasn’t long before I again became aware of the beat in my chest. I realised fairly quickly that I was still in VT (ventricular tachycardia – fast ventricular heart rate). If it is possible to suffer depression for a split second then this was my moment. Despair shot through me. The fucking thing didn’t work!


It fucking whacked me again. By this time I was well and truly flat out, prone on a split level staircase, alone in County Mall Crawley, somewhere between levels two and three.


A couple came down the staircase. I still see her face, even now when I don’t really give a shit about it. Disgust as she stepped over me, he putting a protective arm round her shoulder. I realised that they thought I was drunk. Either this fucking thing started fucking working or I was fucking toast.


All told, it shocked me nine times.


Finally, things settled down and I gingerly got up and crawled (not literally) to where I had arranged to meet Sandra. The next few days I was really fucked up. Somehow I got through it and I didn’t even miss a day’s work. Must have been that tough little boy in there somewhere, refusing to cry.

Upon debrief at the hospital the defibrillator reported that there had been nine shocks but only three episodes of VT. Didn’t think about it at the time but it occurs to me now that little bit of a cock-up here. At the time, I was on no medication at all. It strikes me that it would have made sense at this stage to have put me on some sort of beta-blocker. It was clear that my arrhythmia was so aggressive that the defibrillator was having trouble terminating it. Surely it would have made sense to give me something to slow it. But no, I went back out, same defibrillator, same lack of medication, same fucking arrhythmia hiding in a dark alley, waiting, waiting.

The next time, the fucker really got me.

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