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.  

Handling Your Heart Attack? Well…You Don’t.

As you have all no doubt noticed, I haven’t been on old WordPress for a while. I have been AWOL for a specific reason though and not through some nefarious whim that took me toshores foreign and far. I have been on a journey of discovery though. Very personal, extremely painful and life changing. You are probably fed up now with my ‘gassing-on’ so, I’ll get to the point.

On 30 August 2012 I had a major heart attack. A real beaut, it was one that required not one but two stents, little balloons on sticks that go into your artery  and some bypassing went on as well.

I had gotten up early to answer some email and to be available for the Siemens Company. Theywere booked in the marvellously wide time of 08:00 – 18:00 aka all day. Working on the principle that if I did not drag myself out of bed early enough (yes, I have had workmen show up first thing in the morning) I’d miss them and I would: a. Probably be charged, or  b. Have to re-book.

*It might interest you to know that they did not show up that morning or even that day (as far as I know). I still have to track them down.*

So around 0900 I had my first “episode.” This consisted of both of my hands getting really hot. I mean, flaming hot, so hot that everything should be combusting or melting at my touch. They then felt like they were going to blow up from the inside out. I’ve never had a sensation like that  before and as soon as it had ended I went outside for a cigarette. I ran several ideas through my head and none of them  seemed likely.

“It cannot be heart related.” I told myself this with complete confidence. Two years before, I’d gotten the radioactive injections, rode the bicycle, and had pictures take inside and out. They also checked my lungs.  ** Note to self, still no super powers. I must find out who to complain to.**

At 10:00 I had my second episode. This took a little longer to ease and as soon as I could, I crawled up the stairs to ask my daughter to ring for the ambulance.  While she was talking to 999 (the UK version of 911) I had my third and most intense sensation of the already long morning. “What’s wrong with you?” She asked this out of the side of her mouth while holding the phone up to her ear.

“I think…I am…having…a heart attack.” As she gave them our address I slumped and ‘ass-crawled’ back down the stairs. It took quite a while for the ambulance men to arrive. They got there just as I went into my fourth episode, each episode had increased in intensity, severity and duration.

The two ambulance men did not fill us with confidence. They were nice and friendly enough, but between the two of them they could not find a vein if it jumped right up in front of them. Finally, after enough failed attempts had left a blood trail that would have given Freddy Kruger an orgasm, they located one and it was off into the ambulance.

On the way to the Ipswich A&E the symptoms kept repeating and growing so that by the time we reached A&E they took me into the emergency treatment area and  started pumping me full of pain killers and ‘prepping me for surgery at Basildon. This ‘prep’  consisted of them calling Basildon Cardiological Hospital while trying to remove every hair on my body.

I was given some gas by the ambulance guys and I immediately fell in love with it (for two full days after-ward I kept asking for this magical stuff.  But as great as that gas was?  The really  magical  event was just about to happen.

These two ordinary ambulance guys suddenly turned into race driver Lewis Hamilton and made the entire almost two hour journey in 41 minutes.

We all arrived at Basildon A & E in a flurry of activity, people and pain. I had a team of five surgeons and doctors who were going to working on me. They finally hit the medication point necessary for me to be able to talk to anyone. They revealed that my aorta was completely blocked. It would require clearing and it would have two ‘stents’ put in to keep it open.

A stent, for the uninitiated, is basically a balloon on a stick. This stick is pushed into the ‘blocked’ artery and then the balloon is blown up to allow room for a brace to hold your artery open. It was while they were doing this part of the operation that they discovered another problem or two and a bypass was also performed.

I was supposed to be blissfully sleeping while all this was happening, but, I was not. I remember opening my eyes and seeing a round magnifying glass type thing. I was focusing on this while I could feel things happening in my neck. I then heard, “What is this, I mean, seriously what is this?

I then heard mumbling going on between a couple of the people bent over my chest. I couldn’t make that out. But one had a questioning tone and the other slightly pissed off one. I then said, “Is there anything I can help with?” Everything got quiet and just a quickly I was off with the fairies again.

Later when I was in the Intensive care unit, the doctors told my daughter about me waking up in the middle of open heart surgery. They were amazed since they had to, at one point, stop my heart completely. It could have been nasty, although I’m not sure for who. But they were stunned that I’d attempted conversation  so calmly.

I was healing rapidly. I  had gotten so many glowing words about my complexion and my rate of recovery that I was starting to feel like a celebrity. I was getting up and walking around and ‘hawking’ lots of yucky stuff from my lungs. This last bit was a bit painful but necessary as I had to increase my lung capacity.

I found out a lot of things during my five my visit to that tremendous place.

Firstly, I discovered the magical gas the would make any pain go away just by inhaling it.

Secondly, I discovered that no one working in the entire hospital had heard anyone from the ‘real’ American south talk in person before. I had folks come from all over the hospital just to hear me talk.

Thirdly, with all the praise going around about my ‘incredibly fast’ healing rate, I was starting to feel a bit like Wolverine.

Fourth, I was definitely in love with almost all the nursing staff and not a few of the doctors. They were all beautiful, caring, and helpful.

Fifth and last, with all the drugs I had imbibed during my brief stay, I was convinced that all the staff, nursing and Doctoral, were in love with me.

I was released from the hospital after five days and they would be perfectly happy for me to stay longer if I wanted.

So, you want to know how to handle your heart attack? You don’t. You just grab onto whatever is handy and hold on. The heart attack is in charge and it will constantly remind you of that fact.

I can say that this has been the single most painful thing to ever happen to me. (in my head I hear Nick Frost from Hot Fuzzasking, “And what was the second?”)

Cover of "Hot Fuzz (Ultimate Edition) [Bl...
Cover of Hot Fuzz (Ultimate Edition) [Blu-ray]