It’s now almost exactly a year (almost to the minute in fact) since I was sitting here at this same computer when the thought entered my head that something wasn’t quite right somewhere. I’d been feeling some discomfort for 20 minutes or so but had vaguely put it down to indigestion. The feeling slowly got worse until I felt I had to go have a lie down. Problem was that lying down made no difference whatsoever. With indigestion I’ve normally found that there’s a position, albeit possibly an odd one, into which I can get which at least slightly alleviates the symptoms. This particular discomfort was having none of that and that’s when I began to suspect that something much more serious was going on. The pain wasn’t dreadful or anything like that but it was, for some reason, very frightening.
So, I called the emergency services and asked for the ambulance. I got through quite quickly, although it seemed like an age, to someone who asked me a number of questions and said that, yes, it certainly did sound as if I needed an ambulance in a hurry and that, furthermore, one was now on its way. After a bit more reassurance I put the phone down and went outside into the hallway to wait. It then occurred to me that if I collapsed the ambulance people wouldn’t be able to get in so I woke up a couple of neighbours who kindly let me wait in their flat. I think I probably scared them to death.
Pretty soon a couple of ambulance personnel turned up, did some tests and concluded that I was almost certainly having a heart attack. They let me go back into my flat for a couple of minutes where I threw a few things into a bag (forgetting essentials like my glasses) and left the cat a washing up bowl of water and some food. They then strapped me into some kind of chair and carried me down to the ambulance. There was a chap in a rapid response vehicle outside too who, I think, had managed to arrive later than the ambulance.
Once in the ambulance they gave me a pain killer and some oxygen and hooked me up to a heart monitor. We then sat outside the flat for 15 minutes or so (I think) while the paramedics sent the reading from the heart monitor back to base to get advice and tried to work out where to take me. Eventually we set off and ended up at the London Chest Hospital which is miles away from where I live but is, coincidentally, just around the corner from where I work. I think I ended up there because the local heart unit was too busy.
Once at the hospital I was stuck on a trolley and quickly wheeled into some kind of specialist place where I was asked lots of questions, given clot busting drugs, told that what I needed was an angioplasty and asked to sign a consent form. At that point I think I would have consented to the separation of my head from my body if it meant I wasn’t going to stop living so I signed. I did know what was going on at this point but sometime soon after that it all becomes very hazy and I don’t remember an awful lot until I woke up some hours later feeling an awful lot better, somewhat hungry and wondering where I was.
I spent the next three and a half days in the hospital being monitored, assessed and visited by a number of people such as dieticians and pharmacists who explained how things would ideally have to be for me from now on. It was also explained, in large red flashing letters, that if I didn’t do anything else then the one thing I just had to do was stop smoking. Amazingly, I’ve managed to do that but, folks, I don’t recommend having a heart attack as a way of giving up smoking. It sucks.
I’ve run out of steam to write much more at the moment. I’ll try to come up with a second installment soon but let it be noted that having a heart attack doesn’t have to be the end of the world. I’ve been back riding my bike every day since about five weeks after it happened and still walk or cycle as much, possibly more, than I did before. I’ve been helped in no small measure in this by a couple of friends and their two young kids who took me out for walks a lot in the few months after I left the hospital (they even had me climbing the Great Fire Monument in the City a month or so after I left hospital which felt like one hell of an achievement). I perhaps don’t have quite as much energy as I used to have but it’s difficult to say for sure. My perception is that nod off more easily but then I’ve always liked naps so, again, it’s difficult to be certain. The most pronounced effects are psychological — I quite frequently feel that I’ve lived past my time and really shouldn’t be here.
Posted 10 December 2007, 23:30 GMT