At first, I was alone … musings on a year of surviving to fart around

vonnegut fart around

I started this blog just over a year ago, as I was waiting for some planned heart surgery. But my heart couldn’t wait for the doctors.

A year ago today, my aortic root tore and I was rushed into hospital for an emergency, and life saving, operation.

I can remember everything before the operation, and was lucid and alert throughout.

I’d spent the morning with my parents, having a pot of tea and an apple turnover at a cafe.

I came home and was interwebbing. I felt something inside me break, a sudden chest throb, and realised I was having difficulty breathing. I knew immediately something was wrong, very, very wrong.

I also decided I was going to survive. I knew that this was serious, and made a commitment to do whatever I needed to to get through. I closed the computer down (after clearing internet history, naturally …) I found the will that I’d made a couple of weeks earlier, and put it in a safe place. I opened my front door and left it on the latch so that, whatever happened, someone could get access.

I phoned my parents. ‘Something’s happened. I need an ambulance’ I told them. No questions, they said they’d be right round and arrived minutes later. Sometimes I think how fortunate I was they were in, and that they answered. As soon as they arrived, they called an ambulance and between breaths I explained my postcode and what was happening. I lay on the bed gasping for air as my parents looked on helplessly.

The medics arrived and had easy access as the door I’d left open remained so. They got an update about my waiting for an operation, took blood pressure, pulse, started giving me oxygen through a mask, and then went to get ‘ a cot’ bed to take me down to the ambulance. All of a sudden, I needed to be sick and despite my breathlessness rushed into the bedroom. No way was I going to be sick on my silk bedclothes. I was on out of hours cover for my work, so as they were taking me away I was telling my parents what to say to work and who to contact in order to transfer cover. On the way down the one flight of stairs I bumped into Waterbed John, my neighbour. We exchanged pleasantries and I was taken to the ambulance. My Dad made arrangements to follow the bus while my mum travelled with me in the ambulance.

Part of me was excited. It was a proper ‘Casualty’ type scenario – the flashing lights and siren went on, and I was jolted from side to side as the ambulance ran through red lights en route to the emergency ward.

We arrived, and I was carried through straight into A&E as doctors ran around fussing. I heard them ring the surgeon, and the ambulance crew stayed to hold my drip up for me. The surgeon arrived, and I was told they would perform an emergency operation and I saw him lead my parents off down a corridor for a very serious chat, with lots of heads nodding and occasional glances over at me. I’d only met the surgeon once before, and hadn’t liked him – well, in truth, I hadn’t liked the information he’d had to give me about the surgery, and I blamed him for it. I didn’t want my life to be in his hands.

I was still vomiting, and kept apologising to the nursing staff for being sick into a cardboard container. I joked that I’d been planning to get my hair cut before the operation and didn’t feel I looked so good at the moment. Vanity, always vanity. They joked that my bleached hair might turn pink with the anaesthetic – apparently it does, sometimes. I said I’d always wanted pink hair.

The anaesthetist popped in – a crazy haired eccentric who, I think, was Spanish, but looked and sounded like he should be nowhere near a hospital, except strapped in a bed. However, he was delightfully calm and mad and funny, and when he stuck tubes all over me in preparation for surgery, I had real trust in him.

Strangely, he didn’t put me under before taking me into the operating room. So I went in and it was like one of those ultra bright alien probe dream scenarios you see in X-Files, all bleached light and shadows. Except that there was a line-up of very young surgeons next to the table, who I said hello to, and asked them to do their best before shaking their hands. All very cordial. They (rather clumsily) lifted me onto the table and then my slightly mad anaesthetist friend really did put me under. I remember telling myself to allow the surgeons to do their work, and committing to survival.

The rest is all third hand. Something about a 13 hour operation, enormous loss of blood, an induced coma, my father phoning family in Ireland for a ‘Family Blood Blessing’. A dark time for my family, as the odds weren’t in my favour apparently.

I woke up and my first words were a demanding ‘I want a smoothie’ before I drifted off into a hallucinatory recovery full of imagined Chinese nurses, ribbons, hippopotamuses, malevolent caretakers and Ali Baba.

I’ve done a lot of thinking in last 12 months, much of which is contained within the pages of this blog in a fairly haphazard sort of fashion. I’ve been back to work, and back off absent again, and returned last week. It all feels different this time around, and I’ aware that recovery isn’t just about the physical stufff – it’s about soul and confidence and identity and vulnerability and feelings.

It’s been an opportunity to learn much. or re-learn. I recently blogged on gratitudes.

Today, it’s enough just to still be here to fart around.

The View From A Fridge is fine. Just fine.

Yes, Life Is Unfair – So Be Grateful



It’s a strange contrast. Last night I watched a documentary on ‘The Virgin Killer’ , British born Elliot Roger, who went on a killing spree in America earlier this year. He videoed himself moaning about life being unfair before ending the chances of so many others from experiencing both life and fairness. What struck me was the sense of entitlement that he had – that because he wasn’t getting the sex, the women, exactly what he wanted, life was both unbearable and unfair.

The documentary talked of his ‘privilege’ – affluence, status, education. He didn’t see it, and focussed on what he thought was lacking in his life. Life isn’t fair, he complained.

I can recognise that, after going through a period of difficulty following my surgery. I’ve spent too much time ruminating on what isn’t, what’s missing, what’s unfair. I’ve only recently learned how close I came to dying. So, everything else is a bonus at the moment. I live in a world where food, water, sanitation is all easy to come by and whereby, largely, I’m untroubled directly by war, violence and poverty.

It doesn’t always feel like that, particularly when I focus on insecurities, mistakes, weaknesses… myself. It’s been a trying time, both for me and for those who have been supporting me. We all thought I was doing well – 5 months back at work, back in my own flat, driving, fit and healthy (kind of).

But good news can also be difficult. A friend of someone I know commented that it was almost a relief to know that things can be difficult for someone else. We get taunted and lured by the notion of ‘happiness’ that we lose the value of pain, loss – even unhappiness.  The rain as well as the sunshine.

I’ve been trying not to beat myself up for feeling low, or for recognising that life can feel unfair.

But it’s also so much more than that. So, as a discipline, I’ve started to listen to some advice I often give to clients or family and friends. It’s very fashionable now in ‘mindfulness’ circles. People used to talk about keeping a ‘Book Of Blessings’, a term which I felt uncomfortable with because of vague religious connotations. Another term is simply ‘gratitude’.  I noticed that a Facebook friend had taken to posting about things that made her happy and fulfilled. Even reading her posts made me feel a little warmer, a little less jaded. It also gave me some insight into what she found important in life – not the sex, status and privilege that had so preoccupied Elliot Roger. But simple acts, expressions, and experiences of humanity. An awareness of the present.

So  I started to try it out for myself. Over the last week or so, I’ve made a point at the end of the day of using social media to reflect on what I feel grateful for from the day. It’s been about family, friends, some bare necessities that I’ve taken time to notice and been grateful for. It’s also meant that I look for those things, throughout the day and as I experience them. Sitting with family, friends, and recognising ‘I’m grateful just for this moment right now.’ It’s given me a bank of happy memories from the day.

For a long while, I’ve been having difficulty sleeping, and I’ve been missing my dreams. The last couple of nights I’ve been dreaming again.

I encourage you to try it, and see how much difference it can make. You’ll thank me for it, I’m sure.

And, by the way,  thanks for reading…