Sunday, February 13, 2011


Perhaps the best thing I did on Friday was accidentally give my right kneecap a sharp whack against the column of storage boxes behind the desk because it took my mind off the ache behind my left shoulder blade that came from managing to snatch a few hours sleep on the sofa just before sunrise. That, in turn, had taken my mind off the nagging pain in my chest that I’d first become aware of in the early evening of the day before.

I’ve mentioned before that growing up in the Westcountry, particularly the years on the farms, we would only bother to seek any kind of medical attention if a limb had been torn off or a relatively vital organ coughed up. Anything less could either be patched up at home, treated with an asprin, or ignored and expected to be gone the next day, because running to the doctor with trivial ailments always seemed to be a waste of everyone’s time.

While there are the odd occasions when I find sitting for extended periods of time uncomfortable due to previously damaging my coccyx – although I’ve thankfully stopped suffering the incapacitating back pains that resulted from the same injury – and untreated ankle ligament damage put paid to any jogging, so far this kind of arrangement hasn’t turned out that badly. Of course if I had gotten the diagnosis and treatment for the kidney stone a lot sooner I would have saved myself the sort of pain that was so acute that I was physically tearing my hair out as I lay in bed, pleading for it to stop, but I guess you can’t get it right every time.

Compared to then this chest pain felt like a minor inconvenience. But having put up with it for around 24 hours, and after a bout of coughing had me doubled over, I figured it was best to call the local medical practice for advice before they closed for the weekend, especially since my GP now had me dropping by on a regular basis to check my blood pressure amongst other things. Part way through explaining the symptoms I was instructed to get up there as soon as I could. Once the on–call doctor pressed her stethoscope to first my chest then back, I realised I’d obviously resorted, unconsciously, to shallow breaths throughout the day – even when sparking up – and couldn’t take any of the deep breaths as instructed.

Optimistically, I’d left the flat with the computer, television and most of the lights on, expecting to be back in time for the second half of a repeat of The Crystal Maze on one of the more obscure digital channels. I’d also left my mobile phone by the computer keyboard, but I did have my Oyster card, so when she decided I needed to go to the hospital I asked which one so I’d know which bus to catch. Obviously there was more urgency required than leaving it in the hands of the 221 so while I waited in reception she made the call, even though there’s an ambulance station across the road that I could walk to, to grab a ride, and have a sneaky gasper on the way.

Before I could suggest the first part on that option a cute paramedic looking for someone with acute chest pains came barrelling into the practice, loaded down with her kit. Finding a free office, she sat me down and started laying out her instruments on the desk. Pulling up my tee-shirt, she eyed my chest and declared she’d have to shave it. With a flourish, she swept a disposable razor back and forth with the dexterity of Don Diego de la Vega, exposing the pink flesh covering my breastbone then began to attach the first of four Skintact pads that would encircle my heart. The remainder where pressed to my wrists and ankles, then I was wired up to her portable ECG machine.

It was only last month that I’d had my regular blood tests for cholesterol and diabetes and whatever else, and the results had been fine. The ECG results were inconclusive, even with one done for luck but my blood pressure was up and my temperature was at the low end of the high range. When the GP came in to study the read–outs an ambulance crew were hovering behind her so I was bustled off to their waiting ambulance. Heading to the hospital without the need for sirens, the driver was cut up by an articulated lorry on one of the main roundabouts. Meanwhile the paramedic sitting in the back with me finished filling out my details as I apologised for wasting their time if it turned out to be nothing.

Back in early 2009, when the pain from the then undiagnosed kidney stone became unbearable during the Spring Bank Holiday Monday, I’d phoned the A&E department to see if was worth coming in or whether, if they were overflowing of people blown up by barbecues, I should tough it out for another day. It was suggested I come the next day of I could wait. Never that keen on Friday nights out at the best of times, I was concerned I’d be processed through an A&E full of end of week revellers who had come a cropper from their revels. Instead I went straight through to admissions and was sent up to the Clinical Decision Unit, which was fortunate.

There I went through a repeat round of the same tests, the only difference being that I was surrounded by sick people in the CDU, and one of the blood samples was taken from my left index finger rather than my right. Then came another ECG, so it was good the Skintact pads had been left in place rather than ripped off and replaced. Then another attendant in a white smock, obviously looking for something to do, hooked me up to the blood pressure cuff again. After that someone more senior in a dark blue smock took me to a curtained–off cubicle and, while a person in the next bed along sounded like she was slowly being disembowelled, explained that they would have to wait until the X–ray to see whether I’d need to be kept in for the night or not.

Hopefully the answer would be not. But it took so long to get to the X–ray department, one floor down, that I wondered if it would still be night when the decision could be made. Because of course I couldn’t simply walk there myself and had to wait for a porter to sit me down and wheel me there in a wheelchair, and that took longer than any test. Perhaps it was a test to see whether I’d give up waiting, sign a release if necessary and head off home, whether my chest was about to explode or not.

After the X–ray I returned to the CDU ward and was left to wait for the results. When I’d first got there all the cubicles and most chairs had been taken. Pretty soon there was just me and an old man who looked like Dave Bowman before his final transformation into the Star Child. He lay on his bed, staring up as if he could see the black monolith floating above him, while I looked down at the floor, thinking that if that was me I’d want someone to drive a sharp blade between my ribs.

Eventually a doctor who looked younger than the youngest policeman came over and explained that they had checked both the ECG results and the X–ray and he couldn’t see anything serious. Had I lifted anything heavy? No. It might have been something that frivolous because they couldn’t see anything serious, so I was allowed to go. In fact he suggested that if I had a paracetamol at home I should pop one of those before bedtime.

Outside in the cold I sparked up and headed for the bus stop, luckily having enough on the Oyster to get me back home. Instead of paracetamol I managed to track down some codeine, which helped some, although the resulting fuzzy head meant that when I got to the front of the ATM queue here on the Broadway I pulled out the bunch of flat keys rather than my debit card. Before then I turned off the computer, television and the lights. So apparently my heart isn’t broken, which is news to me.


At 4:12 pm, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

So... did you die or not?

At 4:22 pm, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

OK, that looks a bit mean. I'm just glad the outcome wasn't the crappest one. I had a similar scare and I was nothing like as stoical -- a middle-aged guy with chest pains, I elbowed my way past suffering pensioners and ailing children to get to the head of the GP's line only to find that my ailment was traceable back to an event of Bouncy Castle victimisation a couple of days before, when every kid at the party had decided it would be fun to pile onto the supervising adult.

I learned one useful thing that day (apart from, 'stay off bouncy castles'); the doc reckoned that if the pain eased when I breathed deep, the cause was more likely to be skelto-muscular.

At 1:51 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

I'm afraid I did eventually have to break the news to people that I was still alive. But hopefully it proved to some folk that I'm not the completely heartless bastard they think I am.

The thing that disappointed me the most was when I ripped away the tape that was holding down the cotton wool pressed into the crook of my right arm after they drew blood for whatever tests they needed to do. The blood spots on the cotton wool looked like a winking smiley face, but not the face of Jesus.

I went on a bouncy castle once and got walloped in the face, so I think 'Stay off bouncy castles' is a fair dictum for all ages.

At 11:07 pm, Blogger SharonM said...

Glad to hear that they didn't find anything serious.

I think that you and Brian (S)have got a thing about the face of Jesus appearing on items of clothing etc!

I'm really on here to apologise for the fact that I've only just read your comment on my Blogsite (Ian Richardson Remembered) from last May! Thank you very much for your lovely remarks.


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