9: A Shock To The System

“You’ve had a heart attack, haven’t you?” said Dr Calm.

I didn’t say anything for what seemed a long time but was only seconds.

“Have I,” was my reply in a subdued pitiful voice.

“Yes…” added Dr Calm, then: “…do you know when that was?”

He was the bloody doctor, shouldn’t he be telling me?

“Let’s have another look at your blood pressure…”

He fitted the device, pumped away, and I felt as though my upper arm was being sliced in half. He frowned, sighed, frowned again.

“Oh dear,” he sighed.

I opened my mouth but no sound came out so he didn’t hear what I wasn’t saying.

“Hmm,” he muttered, frowning.

He wrote down on his blotter 200/150. I don’t know whether I was supposed to see what he’d written but I did.

The average blood pressure reading for a healthy person is 120/80.

“I think it would be a good idea if you go to the hospital to get checked out as soon as you can…” said Dr Calm.

I was still in panic mode. I’d had a heart attack. Not even fifty yet. Was this the slippery slope to meeting Mr Death?

I thought back to how it all started. Back in January of that year, 2006, a friend died suddenly. He was only forty-six. It made me think about my own health and how I’d got unfit and overweight over the last half-dozen or so years. I was nowhere as healthy as I though the friend was, so how much trouble was I in?

“Hardly knew him,” Neatentidy admitted, “only met him the once but he seemed such a nice bloke. Can’t believe it. He looked healthy…I’d have been less surprised if it’d been you…”

I stared at him. “Thanks.”

“Well, I mean you’re a bloody lot unhealthier than him. You’re overweight, not all that fit anymore…”

“Alright, I’m not fit.. and know I’ve got a little portly over the years…”

Neatentidy snickered.

“Alright, fat,” I admitted, reluctantly.

“Perhaps you ought to see the doctor, maybe he can put you on a diet…”

“I’ll have you know I’ve lost half a stone since Christmas,” I told him.

Neatentidy frowned. “How much do you weigh now?”

“Twenty-two stone….”

“Bloody hell. You still having the late night Indian takeaways, the ones that fill a casserole dish?”

“Might be,” I replied, “might not be

Neatentidy exhaled breath, then grinned. I didn’t really see the humour. Neatentidy raised a doubtful eyebrow. “No more takeaways?”

“Given up takeaway curries.”

“That’s good, I suppose…so no more takeaways..”

“Well, sort of.”

“Sort of?” responded Neatentidy, suspiciously.

“Yeah, Chinese takeaways now, they’re less fattening.”

Neatentidy looked at me suspiciously. “What Chinese.”

“The mega-meals.”

“Three different dishes, plus rice or noodles with five free spring rolls.”

“Well, yes. But they’re mini spring rolls…”

“Mrs Neatentidy and myself sometimes have those and we have difficulty finishing them and there’s two of us.”

He was making me feel guilty. I’d thought Chinese takeaways would help. After all, you don’t see that many fat Chinese?

I drank more beer and thought how much a good takeaway curry would go down later.

I got back onto the subject of the doctor’s.

“Trouble is, I want to go, so that if there’s some problem, then it can be caught quick. But I’m not sure I want to know if there’s anything wrong, especially if it’s bad…” I said.

Neatentidy shrugged. We drank more beer and I put thoughts of the doctor and my health behind me as I sank the sixth pint of the evening.

I didn’t think much about getting a doctor’s appointment for another two hours; not until after the last of my casserole dish of curry was wiped away by the remains of a Nan bread…a touch of indigestion or something worse giving me pains across my chest?

Sleep never came easily that night…

I couldn’t put it off forever so I made an appointment, late March, about six weeks after Niceman died.

It was a woman doctor I saw first. I talked through with her about the possibility of having what could be termed a human MOT…I mentioned about how I felt lately, the overweight, lack of fitness. We talked diets, that there were pills on the market that she’d consider prescribing that could help me lose weight. It all sounded a bit off to me.

Finally, she agreed a blood test might be in order. So I booked a nurse’s appointment to have a blood test the following Tuesday…

Tuesday came and I managed to live through the previous evening to the 10am appointment without allowing anything but water to pass my lips…oh the pain…

The nurse was friendly. She took my blood pressure, then the blood sample was taken.

I asked about the blood pressure but she didn’t tell me the reading. It wouldn’t have made sense to me then anyway.

“It’s a bit high…”

“And that means?” I asked.

“The doctor might put you on tablets…I’m going to suggest you have an ECG…is this Friday ok?”

“I’m on leave this Friday, so yeah, not a problem.”

It wasn’t, Friday marked the start of just over two weeks leave.

Friday I was packed by about 11am and put a Tesco’s bag in each coat pocket and bounded down to the doctor’s surgery. I was feeling quite good. Another few pounds in weight lost and I walking a lot more…

Once I was called in, the nurse smiled at me, we exchanged pleasantries about the weather, like you do…

“Right, Mr Fitrambler, if you’d like to strip to the waist.”

A few minutes later the nurse sighed and shook her head at me.

“From the waist upwards, Mr Fitrambler.”

“Oh, right,” I said and put my trousers and pants on, then took off my jacket and shirt.

“Lay down on the bed, please.”

I did. She began to put sticky pads over my chest, arms and ankles. After that, she attached wires to the pads and then the wires to this oblong box thing.

Within a few minutes she was fiddling and shaking the device. She couldn’t get a reading. She tried eight times, then excused herself. She came back a few minutes later.

“Let’s try this one,” she told me.

She tried three more times and got a reading. I got dressed and was about to go when I got a touch of the Columbo’s. I’d been watching a lot of DVDs from my Columbo – The Complete Series which I’d got from Amazon.

Just one more thing,” I said, “The nurse I saw Tuesday said I should have my blood pressure taken.”

She smiled, and took my blood pressure, then frowned: “Oh dear.”

Oh dear? Huh? I hadn’t got to grips with complex medical language. She got me to wait another five minutes, then took it again.

“Oh dear,” she said again. Then: “I’m just going to see the emergency doctor. If you’d just wait…”

So I waited and ten minutes later I was taken through to the emergency doctor, Dr Calm. He got me to sit down in a chair near to him, then looked up from the ECG graph and told me about the heart attack…

So there I was, waiting for Dr Calm to finish the letter I was to take to the hospital…

Heart attack? Me? Surely not. I didn’t want to believe it but why would Dr Calm lie?

Dr Calm interrupted my thoughts. “You need to take this letter and hand it over to the Doctor at the Acute Assessment Unit .”

I took the letter, mumbled a thank you and shuffled off to the hospital like an old man.

When I got to the hospital I found that the AAU was closed so I’d have to go to A&E.

I was there for a couple of hours before being seen. When I was it was by a nurse who got me to lay down on a bed, then attached a blood pressure monitor on me.

It was about another hour before the staff seemed to pile in.

“Strip to the waist.”

“Take deep breaths…”

“This won’t hurt…” It did!

“Do you see spots in front of your eyes?”

“No.” At least not until they shoved flashlights into my eyes.

“Get breathless when exercising.”

“I don’t exercise…”

“When you walk for lengths of time; going upstairs..”

“Yes.”

“Need to do an ECG.”

“Had one at the doctor’s practise…”

“We need to do one here..”

“Move to the left…”

“Move to the right.”

“Any pains in the chest.”

“No.”

“Get headaches?”

“Not often. Rarely get headaches…”

This went on for half an hour. Then everyone left…silence…all those questions but no answers…

A couple of hours later the nurse showed up again. I told her I need the toilet.

“Do you want me to show you?” she asked.

“Not really, I know how, I’ve been to the toilet many times..”

“No, show you the way..”

“Thanks.”

Twenty minutes later I was back. An hour later the nurse was back again.

“They should call for you soon for your x-ray….”

When the x-ray was over and I was back in my curtained cubical it was another hour before the nurse came back and this time with a wheelchair.

“We’re taking you to the ward now.”

“The ward?”

“Yes, you’re being admitted.”

“Admitted…” I was doing a Parrott impression.

“Yes.”

I felt like snivelling. Yes, I know, snivelling isn’t good a 48 years old but I felt I’d a right to snivel…

A bed, what was wrong with me, was I in danger of another heart attack? This was it, this was the end. I didn’t have long to go. They were going to make me as comfortable as possible to just wait for the end…

Oh brilliant, I’ve just ordered the Full Colour series of Roger Moore as the Saint and I’m not going to see one bloody episode! No this couldn’t be. I refused to go. Besides, I hadn’t seen the second series of the new Doctor Who. It started in sixteen days’ time.

At the ward, top floor, I’m wheeled to a bed. The rows on either side are occupied by old people – wrinklies; mostly women. No disrespect, but being put in a ward with people who should be nearer to God than me added to my already highly developed sense of doom.

Curtains were drawn over one bed and I thought the worst for whoever was behind the curtains. Well, I did until I heard three short farts, then one almighty rip-snorter of a fart from behind the curtains.

“We have lift off,” I muttered to myself.

A minute or two later an old woman was helped back to her seat.

I thought that after six pints and a curry old Blameworthy and myself would’ve given her a run for her money in a farting contest…

The only positive I noticed was I’d got a window seat – well, bed – overlooking sparsely developed countryside. Shortly afterwards a nurse came by and gave me a pair of very washed and worn pyjamas. I wondered how many people had died in them?

I put them to one side and sat in the seat next to my bed. I thought about Mum and Dad Fitrambler. They were expecting me in Devon tomorrow.
I decided I needed to call someone so I rang my sister.

She trained as a pharmacist and worked as one for a number of years.

I told her about my day.

“Oh dear,” she said.

See, I was right, it’s a medical term. She’s got medical experience so she can use it too!

“I’ve had a heart attack and my blood pressure being very high.”

“So what are they doing?”

“A lot of tests. I’m supposed to be seeing the doctor soon. I think I’m here for the weekend.”

“Oh, told mum and dad?”

“No, not yet, didn’t want to worry them. Not until I know what it’s all about…”

It wasn’t too long after that little chat that the doctor turned up.

The doctor looked like the actor Richard Griffiths, the bloke who played the detective, Henry Crabbe, in “Pie In The Sky” TV series, except the doctor had a goatee beard.

For a second or two I thought the whole of the day was a dream…no heart attack, no health warnings…

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr Fitrambler,” said the doctor. “We’ve run tests and discovered a few things. Firstly, your blood pressure is way too high. This has caused a problem with your heart…”

“You mean the heart attack?” I said.

“Actually I’m talking about the long-term effects of having extremely high blood pressure. By having high blood pressure you’re making the heart work harder than it should. This has caused an enlarged heart…” Dr Pie paused, to let what he said sink in. “…although the heart is a muscle, getting bigger doesn’t make it more efficient…”

“Ok.”

“If the heart enlarges too much, gets too big, then there’s every chance it will burst…for want of a better expression…”

I stared, I would’ve liked a better expression but it wasn’t forthcoming. So I asked: “What do I need to do?”

“The first thing is to get your blood pressure back down to normal, this will drop the workload of the heart, help it towards returning to its normal size…hence we need to get you onto tablets. We’ve ordered a supply from the pharmacy but will have to keep you in if they can’t fill the prescription before they close…”

Part of me felt a little better. Being kept in wasn’t for as a bad a reason as I’d begun to think it was.

“You’re very overweight and from what I can gather very unfit…”

Coming from someone the size of Richard Griffiths, I felt there was more than a little irony in his comments. As is only natural, I tried to defend myself.
“Well, I was 22.5 stone at the beginning of the year, I’m down to 21.5 stone now…”

Dr Pie seemed to ignore this. “You need to lose weight and get more exercise. Perhaps join a Gym…take up cycling…”

I frowned. Was he bloody mad? I’d had a heart attack, for Christ’s sake, surely the last thing I needed was to overdo it by going to a Gym or getting on a bike. I wasn’t far off 50, getting on a bike at my age surely would be fatal. I almost felt like asking to see his certificates!

“…anyway that would help your condition,” he continued. “Do you smoke?”

“No for 15 years,” I replied.

“Drink?”

“Well, about six or seven pints a week on average…” I told him…

“Hmm,” Dr Pie said, a slight disbelief in his tone.

There was a horrendously long fart from behind the curtains opposite me again. Both Dr Pie and I looked in that direction for a second or two then we both looked back at each other again as though nothing had happened.

“If the supply of tablets arrive tonight then you can go home. But make sure you get your blood pressure checked before you go…” he said and then walked away.

At around 9pm, I got my medication and was released. I got some fruit and least fattening sandwiches from the Hospital Shop and then got the next bus home feeling a lot happier…

What I didn’t know at that point was that in thirteen days I’d be back in hospital again….

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1: It Wasn’t The Drink, Honest!

 

Wednesday evening usually starts around 8pm where Neatentidy (a best friend of many years standing; known for his immaculate ways) gets a taxi to my house and from there we go to the first pub. Quite often the first hour is only us but after that we are joined by Pointyview (who has rather strong views on many a subject) and Movinon (who seems to always want to move on after each pint.).

We began at the Railway, Old Town, Swindon. From one of a selection of six beers we chose “Proper Job”. Forgot to check the brewery, though.

We talk a little on the new design of this very Blog – which from Neatentidy’s comments led me to believe I’ve got two readers. (It’s a start, it’s a start, ok! Little acorns and all that!)

I try to explain why I was doing it but sometimes explaining things can make them seem even more pointless than before you explained them…if you see what I mean?

In the end I settle for the fact I’ve got a lot of words trying burst out of my head and they needed to go somewhere, lots were siphoned off to the six books I’m at various stages with. The Blog seemed an appropriate home for the balance.

We moved on after Neatentidy finished his second pint and I my first (I’m not the drinker I once was). We are to meet the other two, Pointaview and Movinon in the Plough.

The Plough is an Arkells pub in Old Town, Swindon. Many years ago I loved Arkells, despite it’s reputation of going through the intestines and stomach rather like a sweep’s brush through a chimney.

I braved a pint in the Plough but not to my taste.

Soon Movinon and then Pointaview joined us and the conversations, as they do, fragmented. From work to cars, cars to beer, beer decorating…

According to type, Movinon, wanted to go elsewhere after the first pint. So we ended up back at the Railway, and Proper Job. Somehow, second time around it didn’t taste as good. In fact after a few sips and knowing I’d be leaving in less than half an hour I intended to bequeath the remains of the beer to Neatentidy; whereby he and Pointaview would go on for another hour.

By this time we’d got onto the subject of Laurel and Hardy. It was the one where Stan has been guarding a post on a island for some years after WWI. He’s found and put into a nursing home to much publicity and Ollie decides to visit. We’d got to the bit where there was a mix up over Stan’s legs and Neatentidy and myself were wheezing over it and the cough began and didn’t seem to want to stop…

After a minute my head felt ready to explode and I was going to try and take a swig of beer to dampen the cough, when….

Well, that’s it, I don’t know. Wednesday seemed to disappear. It was gone, over, home, other things were done, new days began and went, or so it felt…

Then…

For some reason, for a split second, I feel I’m in bed. Quite comforting, really, then it begins to get noisy and I open my eyes. I feel carpet next to my cheek and Neatentidy kneeling over me…

“Are you alright, Fitrambler?” he asks.

“Of course,” I respond, “Why am I on the floor?”

A young woman from the bar brings me a glass of water and asks if I’m alright? I say yes and drink the water gratefully. Although I admit to being a little shaken (not stirred) and surprised I didn’t actually hurt myself. The girl moves away and after a few seconds I wonder if she really belived it was the cough or just thought I was some old fart who couldn’t handle his drink anymore…

Although, I left feeling a little disorientated, I felt I was alright. That turned out to be a false dawn as I found on the way home when my left temple began to throb and by the time I slipped into bed my shoulder was aching like mad!

On the way home Movinon tells me they thought I was just messing about when I fell out of the chair…

Pratfalls in my fifties, I think not. I mean the old body just isn’t up to it these days!

Movinon convinced me I should see the doctor tomorrow. I was also annoyed that I broke my glasses in the fall. I was overdue for an eye-test, but kept putting it off. Now I hadn’t any choice. It was weird seeing most things around me as a blur, after only three pints!

As we said Goodbye, Movinon said ‘I hope you wake up in the morning…’

Hope you wake up in the morning? Hope you wake up…

As if I wasn’t worried enough. I’d passed out, the aches and pains were coming, thoughts about the expense of new glasses…Now he’d planned doubt about whether or not I’d get up in the morning! I mean, what if the bop on the nut was more severe than I thought? What if there was more damage – a nasty concussion? Maybe I was leaking blood already to the brain?

Aahhhhhhh!

All those thoughts went through my brain as I got into bed. I began to wonder if I should drag my copy of “War & Peace” off  and use it to fill in time until morning! No, too much trouble with the names of the characters. It’d been difficult enough getting through “I Claudius”, and “Claudius The God”, with all those Roman names!

Eventually, I turned the lights off – hoping my personal lights wouldn’t be turned off – and tried to get to sleep. It took about an hour but I managed it as tiredness defeated the fears!

Next morning, booked an appointment with the Optician’s for later that day and then got an emergency appointment with the doctor.

He checked me out and sort of agreed with my own diagnosis (obviously an intelligent man) but flowered it with technical terms (smarty pants). Excessive coughing (in layman’s terms) stopped any oxygen getting to the brain and shut something down that caused me to faint! Hmm. Faint? I prefer passing out, less girlie. He’d get me fixed up with an X-Ray, because I’d had the cough for so long; and then sent me away with a prescription for some liquid to ease the old throat.

Getting that at the Pharmacist’s almost led to my first (of two) muggings. The 500ml bottle would cost with the prescription £7.25! If I took the 200ml bottle, and didn’t use the prescription, however, £1.96. It was the proverbial no brainer!

Later at the Optician’s, I was having the eye test. You know how it works, half-blinded with a pencil flashlight, then asked to read things. After the tests, he asked what glasses I was using now.

“None,” says I.

“None,” replies he.

“None,” confirms I.

“With your eyes, you need glasses. I’m surprised you haven’t got any.” It was then I placed the two pieces in his hands. “Ah,” he said.

“Ah,” I replied, because I agreed with him. I quickly explained, however, offers to repair came there none!

He then finished the prescription for the glasses and took me downstairs to choose my frames. It was here that the second mugging came in. The young lady started to tot things up. I was expecting around £150.

“You want photo chromic lenses,” she said, to which I nodded (always did, saved on sunglasses. “Two pairs for the price of one..a pair for reading?” Again I nodded. “So, the optician recommends anti-glare?” I shrug and finally nod. “Anti-scratch?” I hesitate and then nod. “Then there’s the cost of the eye test.” To which I had no input.

Kerching!!!

“£266,” she says.

“£266,” I croak hesitantly. “Seems a lot compared to last time. Over one hundred and two quid more.”

She frowns, looks at the records, a little worried, and then smiles as she’s found the perfect out… “Ah,” she begins, and I lean a little nearer. “Last time the anti-glare was on special offer and the photo chromic lenses were free for a short time.”

The smile told me I should be grateful I didn’t pay that last time and so shouldn’t be so surprised to pay it now. She was a little put out that I wasn’t falling over with gratitude, kissing her hand, singing ‘Praise be,’ to the Company.

“I need to do a fitting for the glasses, so that we have the vari-focal lenses made correctly.”

For some reason I lingered on the word ‘fitting’ and part of my brain amended the phrase to ‘fitted up’ for the glasses to the tune of £266.00. Oh the pain, the pain of it all! It was becoming an expensive bash on the nut!

Finally, “Shall we go up and pay now…?” The ‘we’ therein, gave me false hope. She didn’t actually chip in a penny…

A few minutes after I left I got a text from Movinon. ‘Did you wake up that morning?’ For a second or two I lived with the hope that my visit to SpecSpenders was a nightmare…

Unfortunately, it wasn’t and my wallet was £266.00 lighter!

It’s quite amazing what comes back after an incident. I could compare my hitting the pub carpet to being drunk.

How so? Asks you?

Well, says I, sometimes (ok, all the time) an excessive amount of alcohol blots out a lot of what happened the night you guzzled it back. Often, bits and pieces are put together by the memory, and other bits by friends who may have shared the same volume of alcohol.

The same sort of thing applied to my passing out and hitting the pub floor (scoring high on Richter scale, I might add) where things come over a period of a few days. Like eleven days ago when the laughing and coughing fit starved the nut of oxygen, and then a second or two after grasping my pint, to refresh the throat, I’m out.

Dead to the world. For ten seconds, thereabouts.

I suppose the weird thing is that usually when I slip into unconsciousness it’s because I’m overcome by tiredness. But on those occasions, from falling asleep in the chair (more often these days as I get older) to just being overtired and getting my nut down late at night. However, the thing in coming with these things are that I usually dream, a sort of narrative that might not make sense, but something that is with me the moment I wake up and throughout the day, if I think back.

I have never passed out like I did in the Railway; not even in my high guzzling days with Blameworthy; that great man who introduced me to the delights of Real Ale when I’d all but given up beer.

Anyway, the night I dropped to the floor. Well, then, it was like nothing happened inside my head from the moment I was about to swig at my beer, to the moment Neatentidy was shaking me to see if I was alright. Even then, for milliseconds afterward, information started to come back slowly.
First, I concluded I was at home, in bed, and the Wednesday night was some time ago, even though there was no memory of its conclusion easily assessable. (This was incorrect.) Then, there was the realisation that I was lying on a carpeted floor, not in bed, which seemed to make more sense that Neatentidy was kneeling in front of me. More information trickled through in those milliseconds. The smell of beer, a familiar pub chair and the bloody annoying fact my glasses were in two pieces.

It was then that Neatentidy asked if I was ok and I answered. After that memories came back a lot faster. I was getting up when I saw a man, just below one of the televisions, thick grey-white hair, brushed back, leathered complexion, I guessed about late sixties. I remembered he was reading a paper long before I passed out, on his own, fresh pint in front of him. As I was getting up, that flashed through my mind and now the present, him still reading a newspaper, as though nothing had happened. Unlike others in the Railway, he seemed quite disinterested. What went through my mind was that he probably thought I was some ‘youngster’ who’d drank too much and suffered the embarrassing consequences for it; it was all beneath his interest.

Next thing, Neatentidy is helping me back to my feet. I note that my beer glass is in my hand empty. Fortunately, especially as I was wearing one of my best jackets, it’d spilt all over the floor and not on me. Well, pub carpets can take it; it’s a pub carpet occupational hazard. At least they didn’t have to contend with the cigarettes anymore.

As I was settling back into the chair, concerned comments coming from Movinon and Pointaview, I noticed the young girl from the bar. At first, I thought I might be thrown out for drunken behaviour, which would have been upsetting for Fitrambler, having only drank two pints and never been forcibly ejected from a pub in nearly thirty-seven years. Fortunately, it was concern and a glass of water she brought over.

Of course, since then, a lot of thought has passed through the noggin. Coughing particularly became something worrying rather than just irritating. Hitting the deck was not something I wanted to be a regular feature of my life.

I am happy to report that coughing occasionally makes me a little dizzy, but with the medicine I’m taking it’s become rare.

In my quieter moments, like walking to work, the experience did make me wonder whether it was like (often reported) near death experiences. Somehow I doubt it. But if it was, then…

No white light, no St Peter, white gown with flapping wings and a harp beckoning, just lights out, that’s your lot mate, hope you enjoyed it because you aren’t going to get another go!