The Long Read


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 days

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.”


Travels always go somewhere.

(But F*** knows where)

Is this where I’ve been?

Rain spit spatters on the windshield,

The intermittent screech of wipers keeps me awake.

(And when I’m awake, I know I’m still alive)

Tall Toytown trees bend obediently with the wind. 

The radio pumps out a pop song I think I once knew.

I’m not conscious of being with anyone.

I’m not driving.

White lines rear up from the road 

And imprint themselves on my brain

White noise in my head. I’m not here.

Staring out at the world as it blurs by.

A rain-fuzzed miniscule glimpse at life moments

Snatched from lives along the road

I’m not sure if these scenes are part of my reality.

Woman hanging out her washing,

Farmer tramping across his fields,

Man in a hi-viz vest putting out traffic cones,

Guy in a lay-by pissing against a tree.

Big lorry

Small lorry

Red lorry 

Yellow lorry

Wind turbine,

Pylon line

Grain silo,

Dead dog

Blank sign

Cars glide smoothly past in the outside lane

Overtaking with ease

As we seem to be motionless.

Flat countryside (grey/green non-landscape)

Starts to rise and roll wave-like.

Rising, falling,

Rising, falling,

Fast car

Slow car

Red lorry

Yellow lorry

Wind turbine

Pylon line,

Woman hanging washing

Farmer in his field

Dead dog

Blank signpost

Guy pissing by the road.

Rain spit spatters on the windshield,

The intermittent screech of wipers keeps me awake.

(And when I’m awake, I know I’m still alive)

Tall Toytown trees bend obediently with the wind. 

The radio pumps out a pop song I think I once knew.

I’m not conscious of being with anyone.

I’m not driving.

White lines rear up from the road 

And imprint themselves on my brain

White noise in my head. I’m not anywhere.

Where (the f***) Are We Now?


All tubes and wires

All hooked-up

All plumbed-in.

We are alive (I think)

We have no memories

(Of ever being alive before).

A nurse calls a name.

I don’t respond.

She tells me I am me.

It is a good start

I am someone

Though I don’t know who.


(Sounds like a lyric from a bad 70s  pop song)

My memory has wiped itself clean again

“Don’t you remember?” asks my wife

“You don’t remember that!” adds my daughter with some consternation

“What was it like?” ask friends and colleagues.

I don’t know. I don’t bloody know. I don’t know what it was like because I wasn’t there. A week in an artificial coma then I woke up like a new person or I woke up like me and since then nothing has seemed the same because nothing is the same and nothing can be the same again.

Like those bad science fiction B movies where people wake up in a parallel universe and everything is the same but it isn’t.

I fell off the sofa and my heart stopped and it was a full eight minutes before it started again and from the moment my heart stopped to when I woke in hospital it was a full week and I was …

What was I?

Not dead?

Born again?

Lucky? Yeah certainly lucky but I’ve got no idea about the rest.

Now, months on, I look around. I look at people, what seemed to make sense before is now nonsense and what passed for intelligence before now seems as stupidity. I seem to have lost the plot, if there ever was one.

I know this is full of clichés, the clichés of a revenant

And in all this, I discover a hierarchy of revenant importance.

The guy who was out for three weeks with Covid.

The man whose heart stopped ten minutes.

The bloke with three stents as opposed to my one stent.

It’s like, “I’ve come back from a darker place than you.” or “I was far worse than you were and I’m getting better quicker than you.”

Ah yes, there are cardiac friends from hospital who had bigger and better heart attacks than me and now they are back at work and they look at you as if to say “WTF is up with you? I had it worse and now I’m better and you are still on sick leave. ”

From dead man to malingerer.

Next comes the suffering, worry and anxiety you have put other people through. People are glad you have pulled through. “I’m glad you’re alive but …” BIG BUT. “but now is the time for you to feel guilty for everything you have put us through.” I can hear it in your voice. You never say it at the start but as time goes by and you get the PTSD thing, and you try to explain…

PTSD?? But it was only a heart attack and you survived.

Yeah you get post traumatic crap – like feeling you’re not where you should be, like coming to terms with what has happened, like coming to terms with being alive. I still haven’t sorted it and possibly never will.

Yes you survived, and now we have to look after you and you are becoming a burden, and we worry about you, which gives us stress. Were glad you’re here but …

It’s a lot simpler when you die. For sure, you are a short term dead nuisance, but when everything is sorted, you don’t need looking after because you’re dead. When you are still around, you become a lifelong worry for others, as long as you live.

Someone did ask me if I saw light at the end of a tunnel and did I touch the hand of God in those minutes that I was almost no more. I answered quite frankly “I haven’t got a bloody clue. I never made it to the other side because they didn’t want me.

I guess I can understand the guilt of the survivor.

So, try and explain this to others. I can’t.

“WTF is the matter with you now? You’re alive. Stop complaining, or next time we’ll just leave you.”

Thanks to my daughter who found me and called the ambulance, and thanks to my wife for the improvised heart massage. Thanks to the ambulance crew and the paramedics. Thanks to the nurses. Thanks to everyone. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Spent most of 2020 physically rebuilding and in 2021 I’ve got to get my head together, knowing that the “old me” is dead and I’m still discovering the new me.

In those eight minutes something in my head switched off, shut down and put itself beyond life. There’s bits missing that I’ll never remember and there’s slices of old life that never seemed important that are taking on new significance.

I don’t what I did before and I don’t know how I’m going to do what I do now. I’m going back to living the before like someone who has never been there.

I wrote this to get things straight for me, which has probably meant my confusing you. I’m confused too. It’s like driving somewhere you used to call home that still is home to the ghost of you former self.

And that final question, am I really alive or is this my afterlife?


Mournful morning, grey leaden rain-soaked sky, sad damp day, the world feels rheumatic.

A grey morning man, with a headful of rainy thoughts, sits in his kitchen, clutching a half-cold, half-drunk mug of tea. A half-smoked cigarette smokes itself away in the ashtray and the half-smoked man lights another cigarette, forgetting that he already has one smoking. 

Story of life, starting stuff, getting it half done and then giving it up halfway to start over, bigger and better than before. “We’re not doing this by halves”

Half-heartedly, he stares out the kitchen window The world was is all blurred with rain drops, and the man feels the same way. “I’ve got half a mind just to leave all this and run away.” But he knows, like every time he runs away, he’ll get halfway to somewhere and then just come home again. 

He sat, listening to the kitchen clock ticking his life away. If he was going to run away, he’d have to do it now, while there was still time. You can run at any time, but you need time to run.

“I need someone and somewhere to run to and something or someone to run from.”

All of a sudden, the man wasn’t so sure that he wanted to run away. He didn’t really want to run away from home (the place he called home). It was lashing down great torrents of rain outside and if he ran away he would get soaked and where would he run to? Who would he run to?  He didn’t know anyone, either to run to or to run from. He was alone.

“I’m on my own and If I run away now,” he thought, “no one but me will know that  I’ve run away. No one will miss me or come looking for me. No one cares.”

People used to care, but the man had run away from so many people so many times before that no one cared anymore. There was no one left. The man had half a mind just to stay where he was. “I won’t run away” he resolved, gritting hid teeth, banging his mug down on the table and firmly stubbing out his cigarette. “No, I won’t run away. Everyone is expecting me to run away, but I’m just going to stay here. That will show them. They’ll think I’ve run off, they’ll go looking for me everywhere, but all the time, I’ll be here.”

He didn’t feel like half the man that he had been. Now that he had decided not to run away, he felt in full control of his destiny. He stood up, lit another cigarette, then  switched on the kettle and made a fresh  cup of tea.


As you slide back into that old skin, it just don’t fit the same as before.

“That’s the only skin you get” says the creator. “You’ve just got to fit in it as best you can.”

So, I’m a case of old skin for an old ceremony but it is a young head on old shoulders. It’s a whole new, empty head. a few memories of what went before, but still kind of empty, waiting to be filled with second life souvenirs

Eight months in recovery mode and tomorrow I am in work mode. I’ve been repaired, I am ready to function. Not as new, not as before.There’s not much of me from before, though people expect you to be as you were before. I can’t say that I’m empty, like a shell waiting for a soul, that’s full blown PTSD. I’ve met and worked with PTSD veterans. Those guys really are empty shells and even if a vestige of the past remains, it is infinitessmal, requiring painstaking detective work to find what larger part of the past it comes from.

I’m not a shell waiting for a soul, I’m kind of a box of bits. I’ve got bits that I can’t assemble and I don’t know where they go and I’m not even sure if I need all the bits. I’m not sure I need all that stuff I can remember. Not sure If I really need any family memories. Do I really want to remember dead parents? Why build a cult around the dead when I’m trying to rebuild a life? And why even bother with the living when some of them have been dead for years?

You don’t want any of the negatives that went before. You don’t want the people who have hurt you or have pushed you to the edge until you fall off – yes they didn’t push you, you fell, but sometimes falling into the unknown is far better than going back as before.

I’ve got ghosts of people living and dead that haunt around the periphery of this life. They can stay as ghosts, because I really don’t care.

It started when we all started talking. There was a month of “rehabilitation” at the local hospital for all us recently almost deceased cardiac types. A month of sport and half and advice on how to live well in this new life, and we all started talking about how we got where we were and

A heart attack isn’t just a heart attack, there’s years or months of crap that leads up to it. It’s the way you lived before and why you lived that way. A heart attack is your body, your brain, your soul, all screaming that everything is wrong and the best way to solve it is just die. But when you survive you’ve git to come to terms with your former life. It’s more than what you eat, drink or smoke, or how far you run or don’t . It’s about everything from the person you are and how that affects your life style.

When you survive, there’s a whole heap of psychological stuff to sort out. You try and ignore it, but you can’t start this second life as a sequel to the first life. The heart attack is a rupture and this second life is a new story.

I got no new skin. I’m back to work for a whole heap of old ceremony with people who expect me to be as I was before because they haven’t changed and therefore neither have I – so they think. Ghosts of the living that haunt my new life. They can stay as ghosts.

(Even if this makes no sense to you, it makes sense to me, even though, when I see the world around me in this new life, I seem totally to have lost the plot)