Slowly opening one eye and gazing at an unfamiliar yellow room. Oh God, who chose the paint scheme? Slowly open second eye, and gaze upon a large screen full of lines and numbers.
The nurse asks me what day it is;
I don’t know
“Do you know where you are?’ she asks
“No,” I reply lethargically, kind of conscious that I’m obviously in hospital.
“Do you know what happened?”
The nurse tells me that I’ve had a massive heart attack.
Ok. I can hardly move. Every muscle in the top half of my body agonises every time I try to change position. I have tubes coming out every available, serviceable orifice. A plastic tube in my penis, another coming out my arse and everywhere electrodes connecting me to the large screen machine. Heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate …. Looks more like a screen on financial results like you get on TV – big numbers and ever-changing graph lines, all in lurid colours.
Tubes and electrodes are okay. I can just lie back and piss as I sleep. What luxury. It’s the needles I hate. A blood test every few hours, the nurse looks in vain for new veins, and after the test, time to hook me up to another bag of clear fluid.
Nurse tells me that I almost died, and says I was in ICU for five da
Er … I’ve been asleep for five days
“Don’t you remember?” asks the nurse. I’m blank.
“You had a heart attack at your house…” another blank.
“You fell off the sofa. Your wife gave you a heart massage while your daughter called the ambulance.”
Teams of paramedics swarmed to the house, they carried on the heart massage, then they gave me an injection …
I don’t remember a thing. I don’t want to remember anything
A text from a supportive friend, she asks if I had a Near Death Experience.
“No, there were no celestial voices, no long cloudy tunnels, no pearly gates. Mum and dad were not there waiting for me.”
My friend is almost disappointed, like it has more panache when you die momentarily and return, rather than simply survive. So, I didn’t touch the hand of God, sorry.
“Don’t you remember anything?” asks my wife
“Nothing” I reply blankly because I am and so is my memory. From the three or four days preceding the attack to all the time after. Roughly eight to ten days missing from my memory. But I don’t mind. These aren’t especially days that I want back. My mind has blocked them out. Though one day, I may retrieve unexplained and anecdotic episodes, and I will say “that must have happened during my heart attack.”
People have talked of PTSD. I’m not sure about that, though I’m conscious that I have a new life and I’m trying to find references – anchor points- from my previous life, so I can carry on.
It’s like mountaineers, making their first ascent. The go carefully up the rocky face looking for holds, where to hammer in those anchor points?
It’s not so traumatic that there is nothing from before, my mind dredges up memories of what it was like before, but my heart says that it will never be the same again. I guess that heart and mind will reach a compromise at some point soon.
“How do you feel now?” asks the cardiologist before I leave hospital.
“I don’t know, how I am supposed to feel?” I ask
Physically I still have chest pains from the life-saving mega heart massage that beat me up into the new me. Emotionally, I just feel completely fucked and that’s several days that I have just wanted to cry.
Leaving hospital. I don’t have the slightest clue who I am and when I get home it’s like I’ve never lived there.
“But it’s only been a couple of weeks” says my wife as she leads me round the house trying to reassure me that I really do have a life, but I feel like I’m starting from scratch. Not even, I am actually a body snatcher. I’m in this other guy’s body and life, he was whizzing around on an NDE and I was a lost soul looking for a way home. Whoosh!! I rushed in and stole his earthly body, whilst he was still buzzing round in the NDE so he could tell the folks back home what it was like to be dead. I just want to live. I will eventually learn how to be him, but its going to take time.
6.00 am, nurse comes down the corridor with squeaky wheeled trolley. Woken up every morning the with the same ritual. She shakes me out of sleep, grabs my arm and ties a thick rubber band around it to bring out the vein. She feels up and down the arm. “Oh there’s a nice one” and in goes the needle of the collection module. She inserts four phials in the collection module and they all fill slowly with blood. Slower and slower every day. The blood collection takes longer and longer. Pain prolonged and accentuated as the nurse fusses and fiddles to put the first needle into the vein. Fewer viable veins and less blood.
I could never be a junkie.
Drift off into half sleep as life in the wards runs squeaky smooth with rubber wheels on linoleum floors.
8.00 am (non lactose) Breakfast
- One roll
- Four dry “French toast”
- One portion of margarine
- Large bowl of hot, weak black coffee.
The nurse smiles and asks me what day it is.
“No, that was yesterday”
Have to get my memory going, but it doesn’t seem to want to remember. Doctor says that all this is normal and I might need some help to “rebuild” after my heart attack
I wake up on another day. They’ve taken all my tubes out, but I’m still wired up to the big screen machine.
Days continue and meld into one long yellow paint squeaky smooth rubber wheel hospital heart attack world. This is all there is, has been and ever will be. Sitting around in hospital issue pyjamas waiting for food or a blood test. I could get quite used to this life.
For entertainment and a window on the outside world we have the TV.A splendid choice of 20 channels including five different news channels pumping out non-stop Covida 19. Death rates coming in like football results and experts on every channel giving their expertise.
Seems somewhat paradoxical
Sitting here, all wired up, recovering from my cardiac adventures, whilst the rest of the world is all tubed up and plugged in recovering from Covida 19.
Why can’t you be dying of the same thing as everyone else?
The cardiologist does his rounds and reassures me I’m not dying.
He says he put tubes up me and then put a stent into one of my arteries.
This means bugger all to me, but I know I won’t die quite yet and as the Doctor says
“You will have to rebuild your life.”
Slowly opening one eye and gazing at this familiar room. The grey, white paint scheme, the dark old parquet flooring, the family photos. My wife has opened the shutters and the sun pours in. Raising my head I can see the cherry trees in the garden, some branches baring the first of this year’s crop. Bright red cherries, it’ll take a few more weeks of intense sun to turn them black and gorge them to their addictive sweetness.
Late May to mid-June is Cherry time. Early morning before work or late evening, I am high off the ground, pirouetting precariously on my long ladder or scrambling monkey-like through the top branches to bring down the cherries. Bagfulls and basketfuls of black cherries. I give them to friends and colleagues, or when I have the time and patience, I make cherry jam. The kitchen becomes a vast red, sticky, spice-reeking, alcohol aired, bubbling jam laboratory, as I churn out pot after pot of cherry concoction. It’s not really jam, call it “cherry preserve”. Always made with love and good things.
No leaping through the branches this year, it is all feet firmly on the ground, though I’m not sure that the ground beneath my feet is firm enough to start the rebuilding process, and what exactly am I trying to rebuild?
“You have to rebuild your life,” says the Cardiologist.
“I should be back to normal in a few months.” I say. The cardiologist says nothing. He gives me a wry smile. “What is normal nowadays?” he says. He tells me just to do the best I can.
The nurse unhooks my last electrode and helps me from my bed into the wheelchair. A long ride down endless white corridors, then down in the lift. At the main door, the nurse fits me a paper mask and I I emerge from my institutionalised yellow paint squeaky smooth rubber wheel hospital world, into the real world. The new Covida world where lockdown, isolation and social distancing are the new normal. The taxi ride home is all empty streets, with shops and cafés closed for the duration. It is scary. “We’ll get back to normal sooner or later,” quips the taxi driver.
“You’ll be back to normal in a few weeks” says a neighbour
Politicians all talk of a return to normality
Mails from colleagues wish me speedy recovery, hope you’re back to normal soon.
It was “normal” that got me like this in the first place. I’m not sure that I ever want to be normal again, and now there can be no normal because normally I should be dead, but like the cardiologist says, “you were lucky.”