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.

ooo matron, it was just a little stroke

Last week, I was dribbling with a droopy face (according to my mother). Not the sort of thing you want to hear from family on a Sunday morning, and definitely not the look you want. So an ambulance was called, and another day spent in hospital. Fortunately, all the test proved fine. I had a scan (it was like putting your head in a washing machine), which managed to find a brain but nothing sinister.The fear that it might have been a stroke proved groundless, and they also didn’t think it was Bell’s Palsy as there was no sign of infection in my urine sample. The nurse was a bit shocked when I  handed her the sample (in what amounted to a cardboard egg box)  and said ‘It tastes fine!’ Last Monday I had a follow-up appointment at the Transient Ischaemic Attack clinic – and more tests – of course, blood tests (the blood didn’t stop flowing so I left the cubicle looking like something out of a Tarantino movie,  dripping a trail of bloodfrom my arm onto the floor They gave me a neck a neck scan (‘the type of scan you have if you’re pregnant’,the doctor explained, although I was pretty sure that wasn’t the problem and did wonder why they’d scan your neck to see if you’re pregnant anyway)- ‘You have a very good neck,’ said the Doctor. ‘Thank you, it’s one of my best features’ I replied. So, apparently everything is OK, and it’s just One Of Those Things. Which isn’t actually very reassuring as all I heard the Doctor say when he explained it was ‘BLAH BLAH BLAH TIA Stroke BLAH BLAH BLAH arterioscleosis BLAH BLAH BLAH happen any time.’Apparently, my translation isn’t so accurate as he was  explaining there’s nothing to worry about.However, I’m extraordinarily gifted in always being able to find something.

Especially asI wasn’t even aware of anything happening. And he observed that my face was definitely dropping on the left hand side.  I just happen have an asymmetrical face and even when normal look like someone who’s had a stroke. Charming! I feel like Dali’s melting timepiece, The Man In The Iron Mask or Karfel from the Doctor Who episode – Timelash. I just paperto to  find a paper bag to put over my head, or a sinister mask.  Can I get a   SCREAM mask on the NHS? I’d love to see the faces as I walk into hospital wearing that.

In the meantime, I’m on a gym rehab programme. I’m sure it’s not right to have the background music for recovering heart surgery patients to be Queen’s Killer Queen, It seems to give out the wrong message, although all I said to the physiotherapist standing over me with a whip and a taser to make me work HARDER, HARDER, was ‘It’s a bit 70’s, isn’t it?’ He was humming along quite happiy. It shouldn’t bother me as I bring my own ipod, although I always dread what’s going to come on my shuffle,as I either tend to mince along to the handbag anthems, or start singing out loud without realising it. I’ll let you know how a bunch of OAPS react to me belting out ‘I was a Male Stripper In a Go-Go Bar…’

I’m now hoping to stay out of hospital for at least a couple of days. And looking to Work That Body at my next gym session. Apparently, it’s likely to involve weights. I hope nothing else will start drooping as a result. Otherwise I’ll need an enormous paper bag, and possibly a onesie.

I’ve zhooshed my riah

That’s your actual polari for hair cut. Or getting your knob shaved. It’s been a big thing. When I was planning for surgery, I was booking a haircut beforehand, just to feel a little better about myself in hospital. I might look pale, scarred and bloodied, with tubes and drips and canulas, but at least my hair would be FABULOUS.

Hair. It’s such a strong part of identity. My neighbour was upset at losing his while undergoing chemotherapy. Understandably. And he’s not anywhere near as vain as me.

I’ve been a skinhead, been bright red, bright blond, highlighted, lowlighted,  had an 80s mullet, short back and sides, tied my hair with a band at the top so I looked like I had a fountain on my head. I’m even going grey. I mean, becoming a silver fox.

I’ve used clippers on my own hair, had stylists and an old fashioned barber with a cut throat razor. Some styles have looked great, some I now admit look awful.

Yesterday, I visited the Intensive Care Unit I was in 3 weeks ago. I was delivering chocolates as a thank you to the doctors and nurses (you have to give two lots – one for night staff, one for day staff – otherwise there’s war.) We joked about me obsessing about my hair while I was drugged up and vomiting before my operation.

This time, I was able to walk in to the ward, and I was able to walk out. As I walked out, after all the compliments on my progress, and all the thanks for the 2 weeks of hospital care, and the giving and receiving of chocolate, one of the nurses shouted after me


I’m feeling a little something like my old self.

My heart got ripped apart three weeks ago today, so happy anniversary

I blame the apple turnover. I’d been fine until then, awaiting a scheduled heart operation. I’d been out shopping with my folks for their anniversary the following day and also made a bara brith and an american spiced carrot traybake for visiting relatives. I must still have their anniversary card somewhere…
A sudden tightness and pain in my chest, and I collapsed onto the floor unable to panic. Flooded with panic and alone in my flat I managed to phone my parents and ask them to get an ambulance, explaining I couldn’t breathe, both arriving with minutes and before sinking once more to the floor I had the foresight to at least open my front door. I was terrified I’d lose consciousness and no-one would be able to get in.
It gets hazy after that. I began throwing up. Mum told the ambulance we needed ‘blues and twos’. I passed my neighbour downstairs as I was taken out on a stretcher, saying ‘oh, hello….’ Holding onto the oxygen mask like a scene from Blue Velvet. Ambulance rides are bumpy and uncomfortable and I don’t know why I thought it would be different. Getting mum to phone work and explain what was happening so they could make arrangements. Trying to explain to my parents where my newly signed will was kept.
‘This is all very Casualty’ I thought, as we pushed through the double doors at A&E, to be met by the nursing team. The ambulance staff stayed to hold a drip for me, I kept throwing up and then apologising for it being ‘unseemly’ and kept getting asked my name and if I knew where I was. I told the nurse I couldn’t have my surgery yet because I hadn’t had my hair done and it needed touching up with red highlights.
‘Sometimes the anaesthetic turns it pink’ she said. ‘Oh I’d quite like that …’ I replied.
My parents had a conversation in the corridor with the surgeon. I can’t remember what he said to me except that they were going to operate immediately. ‘Oh that’s nice’ I think I said. It’s only now I’ve found out my aortic valve had ripped apart.
I was introduced to the anaesthetist, an eccentric but kindly man who made me laugh before wiring me up to all sorts of drips and I was taken into the operating theatre which was full of people and very, very bright. Like in The X Files when people get probed by aliens. Which may have been what I was thinking as the anaesthetic kicked in and a handsome doctor who looked about sixteen told me everything would be OK…
Three weeks ago today. I still owe my parents an anniversary card. And, along with the amazing NHS and ambulance staff, so very, very much more …