Thirteen – bank holiday blues
“Love the moment. Flowers grow out of dark moments. Each moment is vital. It affects the whole. Life is a succession of such moments and to live each is to succeed” – Corita Kent
At this stage in what I euphemistically refer to as my story, I am acutely aware that it is now beginning to stretch into the realms of Oh my God, when is this bloke going to stop. There is only so much relentless, grim hopelessness that one can endure. So, I’m going to cut the rest short. I’ll end with a couple of chapters as follows: this chapter (13) will deal with one particular incident (notable for its dramatic effect and impact on me personally and a final chapter (14) summing up where I am today).
It is a May bank holiday. I am in hospital, having been admitted on the Saturday suffering from VT (no parentheses, this time, as you should know by now. Oh shit, close parentheses). Unfortunately, again I am in storms of a sort, though not as severe as previously, and with the massive consolation that pacing therapy is OFF. Thank God, for that. There is still a need, however, for them to bring me out of the VT. Once again, it is not quite fast enough to trigger my defibrillator so the powers that be need to figure out a way to bring me back to sinus rhythm. Unfortunately, this hospital doesn’t have the necessary equipment to manage my defibrillator so they can’t amend the settings and allow it to shock me (or any other therapy). So, they’ll have to do what they can and then send me up the chain on Tuesday. Still, as I said, they need to bring me out of the arrhythmia. Firstly they choose lignocaine, a drug used mainly in America, not used so much here as it risks lowering blood pressure to a dangerous degree. I, of course, am not the best candidate for this as I am on very heavy bet-blockers. Still, they proceed and everything is fine. I come out of VT.
A couple of hours later I am back in VT. Lignocaine again. Works OK again. Couple of hours later, VT. Not keen to give me more lignocaine so electric shock this time. Zap. I am back. Two hours later, VT. Zap. Back again.
By Sunday, things have settled and it seems that everything has stabilised. Now I am just keen to get the hell out of here.
Monday evening, everything changes. I am back in VT. The demoralisation makes me want to cry. When will this fucking thing leave me alone? There is a great big child inside me crying his heart out. I would say I put on a brave face but there isn’t really the opportunity for any kind of face. I am sweating profusely, my heart is banging away and it’s beginning to hurt like billy-o (whoever or whatever that is). It is a bank holiday, of course, so getting word to the golf courses of the area is difficult. Accordingly, the only guy left to deal with me is the house doctor. When he turns up he is reading a book. I can’t believe it. Is that really some kind of medical reference book? Surely not. I’ll never know because he never shows me. He puts the book down and picks up my notes. A minute later, he comes over. After the usual small talk (where’d you go for your holidays? Etc) he addresses the matter in hand, I see we’ve used lignocaine a few times, he says. I think we’ll try that again. I’m not keen on that as I know the risks. I ask him to phone St George’s, the specialist hospital that treats me. He won’t. We argue. I would love to describe this interchange as the unstoppable force meets the immovable object but though he is unstoppable, I am more object of pity than immovable so in the end I agree to the lignocaine.
It takes a couple of minutes to set it up. The doctor and a nurse stand by the side of my bed. She opens up the line to my circulatory system and then he produces the needle. He flicks it with his finger and what happens next is like a thunderclap. The thing about drugs that run the risk of lowering blood pressure is that they should be administered slowly and with constant checking of the blood pressure as you administer the doses. He bangs it straight in.
There is an instantaneous collapse in my blood pressure to somewhere in the region 0-15. At times it appears, apparently that I have nil blood pressure. What the fuck does that mean! meanwhile, the nurse stands frozen. I can still see her face. Her eyeballs are enormous, out on stalks as they are. Can’t remember the doctor. He’d probably fucked off. Never saw him again.
I am still awake. I’ll say that again. I am still fucking awake! And I have no blood pressure! Fucking hell, the pain is beyond agonising. Never felt anything like it in my life. Beyond description but gotta try. Like your body being rolled up and crushed into your chest. Like there is an enormous hand that’s grabbed your chest and is just squeezing. But it never ends. It never ends! At least if something drops on you from a great height and you are crushed, it ends. This, this never ends. I am screaming inside. In fact, I must be screaming outside as well though I am not aware of it. Time has abandoned my world, there is just being. The only external incident I recall is screaming at an anaesthetist to put me out. He is arguing with another anaesthetist but turns and looks at me and simply says, I can’t. His is the other face I still see years later. After the event I am told they were reluctant to immediately anaesthetise me as they were afraid that if they put me out they wouldn’t get me back. They needn’t have worried. My heart stopped anyway.
But that is getting ahead of ourselves. I am still conscious and the screaming and panic inside me is all-consuming. There is nothing, no present, no time, only pain and consciousness. But thank God for this consciousness because through this consciousness I suddenly experience a moment of clarity. I am going to die. This time, I am really going to die. This time my ticket has one-way stamped on it. Who survives this shit? This changes everything for me. I realise in this instant that I have no control over whether I live or die. The only power I have left is to choose how I die. I didn’t think it at the time (as far as I know) but it must have been Viktor Frankl in my ear. My thoughts move to the people I love. I want to die thinking of them, not shrieking, whining, nothing more than a lump of biological waste. I desperately search for them.
No doubt, lots of you won’t believe me but that realisation changed everything. Somehow I created a dislocation between the pain and my state of mind. Though still conscious the pain had gone. I say this in hindsight because at the time I was with the people I loved. Somehow I had moved from that hospital bed to somewhere else. Don’t know how else to describe it. If you believe in God, this is where you can see his hand at work. I wouldn’t describe myself as a standard (or even non-standard) Christian, however, I believe that God can be found in this event, (and in preceding events). How the hell else am I still here? The peace I found certainly felt like God. It is enough for me. Though I still don’t go to church as I don’t think he is more likely to be found there as anywhere else, I do believe he is to be found and it is within each of us.
Eventually, my heart stopped again. They kept restarting me but Sandra was called in as it was the general opinion that I was beyond the pale (the area outside Dublin beyond which the English feared to tread – bit of history there – don’t say you don’t get your money’s worth).
I learnt a lot that day.
Couldn’t believe it when I woke up.
Interesting corollary to this story. Some time after this episode I was called into East Surrey Hospital as apparently some committee wanted to meet me to discuss the treatment I had received. When I entered the room, there wasn’t a single a white coat in sight. Three blokes, expensive suits. Went round the houses but essentially wanted to convince me not to sue the NHS. Needn’t have bothered. Wasn’t on my agenda, anyway. Had already met Sue and spurned her wily ways.