Tunnel Vision: Making Time Stand Still


On the day I had my heart attack and my long ambulance ride to two different hospitals, time stopped for me. I don’t mean in a fanciful or allegorical sense, I mean that for me, time had stopped.

I got up that morning a bit earlier than usual in preparation for the meter replacement guy. I turned on my laptop and had my first coffee and cigarette of the morning while waiting for it to power up.

I had put my now empty cup back in the kitchen and sat down to open up my WordPress site when the first pain hit.

It was completely unlike any pain I had experienced in my life so far. I had cracked a bone in my hand when I was 17 years old. Thinking it was a sprain, I continued working (which in this case involved nailing sheet rock [gypsum board) to the ceiling) and as I went on it became increasingly difficult to hold the loose nails in my hand. The pain I felt in my hand and arm suddenly went off the scale and entered into excruciating territory.

I had continued moving the cracked bone until it broke and lodged against a nerve in my hand. I have always judged pain by that old threshold. Nothing has ever come close. Nothing, that is, until the 30th of August this year.

As I sat in front of my laptop, my hands suddenly felt as though they had been inflated. Inflated to the point of bursting. I sat looking at my hands, they didn’t look any bigger. This inflated feeling then moved into my forearms and stopped around my elbow area. The feeling then began to slowly dissipate.

I wasn’t concerned. I decided to have another smoke and put the kettle on for another coffee afterwards. I went into the back garden and had my second fag (cigarette) and pondered this strange pain that I’d gotten in my forearms and hands. It was while I was making my second ‘cuppa’ that the feeling hit again.

This time it felt as though my forearms and hands were trying to explode from within and the pain reached sneakily up into my chest and back. I sat helpless in the grip of this new development and waited for everything to calm down. I crawled up the stairs to my daughter’s room and after pushing her door open told her she ‘might’ want to dial 999.

The rest you’ve heard (or more accurately, read) and I won’t punish you by taking you down that road again.

What I noticed about the whole day, from the moment of the phone call for the ambulance to the eventual admittance to a cardiological  hospital miles away, was how time…just…stopped.

Tunnel vision and stopping time, what a combo.

For me there was no movement of time at all. The pain, which intensified proportionately, insulated me from everything.  Nothing else seemed to exist. The ambulance men, my daughter, the hospital staff at the  A&E we first stopped at and the staff at the hospital where I was eventually admitted, were there, but they weren’t as real as the pain.

At one point my daughter told me (I don’t remember saying it) that I looked at her and said, “I’d give anything to make this pain stop.” I don’t remember saying it, but as we were driving to the cardiological hospital, I would have gladly sold my soul to make the pain go away. Luckily for me, it didn’t come to that, the ambulance guys gave me some type of  ‘happy’ gas and I was in nirvana.

I have heard and used the phrase ‘tunnel vision’ all of my adult life. I also thought I knew what this phrase meant. It wasn’t until the day of my heart attack that I truly understood the meaning. In my world of pain, nothing existed outside the periphery of me and my misery.

The only time my brain could acknowledge the outside world was when the gas was introduced. I was answering questions during the whole sequence of events, but in a sort of shorthand. Words, when I could get them out, grunts, nods and head shakes when I could not.

Not only had time stopped for me, but when I later tried to remember what had happened, I got sequences mixed up or combined. Some things I completely forgot. The only constant throughout the entire ordeal was the pain. Yet as bad as it got, it never panicked me or caused me to stop ‘trying’ to think  logically.

When the ambulance men came to my house to treat and transport me, I was sitting on the floor. They asked me a couple of times if I wouldn’t be more comfortable on a chair. Each time I said, “No thanks. I’m fine right here.”

The ambulance guy looked at me oddly, “Why is that, exactly?”

“Well, if I pass out from the pain, the floor is a lot closer if I’m sitting on it.”

Because time had ‘stopped’ I never had for one moment the fear that I might be dying or might die as a result of what was happening. In my little world of pain, the only thing I could concentrate on was relief. Death was not an option. Even after the two surgeries to ‘save’ my life, I didn’t feel death was an issue. Mainly because it was not on my radar at all.

The shocking thing about all this was my assumption that this was not ‘heart’ related at all. In my mind since I had all the cardio tests in the world done two years previously my heart was fine. Absolutely peachy keen and clear as a bell.

I know now that I was wrong. You can’t expect things to not change in your body after two years. Two years full of stress, a lifetime of bad habits and a decreasing level of exercise.

I had (still do as far as I know) a very physical job. As a Prison Officer working in the Juvenile Estate, your job is nothing but physical. Lads from the age of 15 to 18 are testosterone and fury on legs. They will fight at the drop of a carefully planned insult. Enter into this already hormonally charged atmosphere gang culture and it is one of the most challenging places you can think of to work.

I had decided that all this activity was more than enough exercise to keep me fit.

It wasn’t.

I should have done as a colleague suggested and had an annual check up after my first heart ‘scare’ over two years ago. I had decided in the depths of my ignorance that I did not need one. Let the hypercondriacs rush to their doctor’s office yearly to see if everything was all right. I didn’t need it.

I was of course wrong. Once you pass the age of 50 you need to keep a wary eye on your health. Especially if you have 50 years worth of bad habits behind you. Even more so if you are still actively participating in those bad habits.

If you haven’t had a ‘check-up’ this year and you are over 50, I strongly urge you to do so. Take it from me, you are never too active, too busy, or too healthy for a check-up. Besides the peace of mind it will bring your family and loved ones is worth it.

So don’t pass ‘GO’ or collect 200 dollars, go now and make an appointment. Don’t wait until ‘time stands still’ for you. It might not start up again.  

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, http://MikesFilmTalk.com Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

3 thoughts on “Tunnel Vision: Making Time Stand Still”

  1. Thanks a lot for sharing this, Mike. I’ve often worried about my father, as I’ve mentioned before. Heart disease ‘runs in the family’, amongst the other usual nasties. I suppose it does for most. My Mom’s father died at 56 from a heart attack; a smoker his entire life, though it was ultimately his heart, not his lungs that gave. I was 3 at the time. My other grandfather died last year at 72. Again, his heart. But he’d suffered a massive stroke 13 years earlier, not only paralyzing him, but crippling his ability to speak for the rest of his life. If you’d known him the way I’d known him growing up, you’d never imagine that a huge, powerful guy like that, with a booming voice, could ever shrink away into a frail, wheelchair-bound mute, and practically overnight. He’d been a pretty ‘jacked’ guy, took his share of vitamins, and ate very healthy up until the night of his stroke. This kind of information is incredibly important for everyone. It may not be a film review, or something ‘entertaining’, but sometimes real-life needs to butt-in and remind us it’s still there and to be taken seriously. Fortunately, I know Dad is pretty consistent with his checkups. Glad for that, as he turned 53 this year. Next year, Mom will be turning the same age as her father when he died. You realize, with a sudden clarity really, how brief and unpredictable life can be, even in your 20s. Not something to be afraid of, but rather something to be aware of or prepared for, as best you can. If you don’t try to understand and accept it before it happens, it’ll hit you like a freight train later. My grandfather passing last year was my freight train. What a wake up call. Again, thanks for sharing, Mike, and take care of yourself! 🙂

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    1. Thanks mate. Yeah, death has a way of creeping in on kitty cat paws and striking when we are not expecting it. Like you said, being aware is the best thing to be. Too many of us think that despite our family health history we won’t be hit by the same diseases. Thanks for sharing mate!

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