Remembering a Year Ago Today

3319809-coffee-and-cigarettes-isolated-on-white

My body remembered, even if I did not. While setting up my calendar for appointments next week, I forgot to set the calendar back that resides on the front of my fridge. Being naturally scatty sometimes (Sometimes? I hear you cry. Only sometimes?) I glanced at it on Thursday and decided that today, Friday, was the 27th.

I decided to do yet another blog post on my 30 August experience on the actual day. I even had a title for it. Anatomy of a Heart Attack. Catchy, no?

But even though my conscious mind had made the anniversary date two days in the future, my body did not. I actually called it an early-ish night. Stopping at around 03:30 in the morning. I finished up some projects that I was “multi-tasking,” or attempting to. I shut everything down; locked the downstairs windows; double-checked the doors and took myself, the iPad and the fan upstairs.

After checking all the windows upstairs, I then went to bed.

I was tired.  I had walked over five miles yesterday at varying paces and had written five articles. Feeling both body and brain tired, I started that pleasant drifting off feeling that usually preempts my entry into the land of Nod.

Suddenly, at around 05;45,  my stomach decided to swell and cramp with a combination of indigestion and gas. The end result was up and down to the bathroom the remainder of the early hours of the morning. I finally gave up trying to sleep and went downstairs. Turning on both laptops, I then went to make a coffee and start writing.

After the coffee had been sorted, I sat in front of my MacBookPro and signed in. The first thing I noticed was the date: 30 August 2013.

I suddenly got very tired and shut everything down again. I left the coffee and went back upstairs. It was 07:45, the exact time that I woke up last year on the 30th and went downstairs to wait for the electric chap to come fit a new meter.

I lay back down and drifted off to sleep around 08:30, waking up about one-ish. Fully awake now I went back down to make another coffee, make breakfast and remember last August when I almost died.

Twice.

As I said before, I’d set my alarm for 07:45. The electric guy was coming around between eight and a twelve to hook up the meter. I went downstairs in a pair of sweat pants and put the kettle on for a cup of coffee. While it boiled, I turned on my old laptop to check my emails and my blog. A few days previously I’d been Freshly Pressed and I wanted to see how many views my post was getting and to answer any comments.

Once I made my coffee, I lit my first cigarette of the day and stood in the back garden drinking coffee and smoking. I then went inside and sat in front of the laptop. As I reached for the keyboard I experienced pain in both of my hands. The best way to describe the pain is to liken it to how your hands, and arms, feel after doing a particularly heavy session with weights. Like when you’ve really crunched out a set of arm curls.

Your arm muscles and hands feel like they are going to explode. If you look at them after the set, they look bigger because they’re full of blood. My hands felt like that, but worse. It was incredibly painful. I sat looking at my hands as I opened and closed them. Making a fist and then releasing, like that would help the pain go away.

I stood up and walked out to the back garden and lit another cigarette.  While I pondered this pain, I finished my coffee and the second smoke and went inside to boil the kettle again. I had an earache in both ears and thought that I might be getting a sinus infection.

Second cup of coffee made and back down in front of the laptop. Reaching again for the keyboard  the pain returned, this time not just in my hands but in my forearms as well. The pain has cranked up a few notches. I went back out to the  garden, coffee in hands that felt like they were going to explode, along with my forearms. Lighting my third cigarette. I decided to “wait out” the pain.

In my mind, the entire time,  I was  thinking I had done something like pinched a nerve or  somehow strained muscles  and that this would  pass.

I finished my second coffee and checked my cell phone, I’d gotten a text from the electric guy. While going to make my third and final coffee, the pain came back. This time it is in both arms and spreading towards my chest and back.

I stand there in agony and wonder, “what the hell is going on?” I’d had my arteries and heart checked out a year or so before and everything was “normal.” So I’m thinking, “It cannot be my heart…So what the hell is it?” The earache has returned and I’m having trouble thinking.

I then realise that I must be having a heart attack, or something very close to it. The pain was now so bad that I cannot stand. I crawled up the stairs to my daughter’s bedroom and knock the door open with my forehead.

She sits up in bed, eyes wide and startled.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m, I think I’m having a heart attack. Call 999 and tell them to get here.”

She grabs her cell phone and calls. She talks to them calmly, only a slight tremor surfacing in her voice. She turns to me and asks what are your symptoms? I try to explain and offer to take the phone.

The emergency operator, says no, sit down somewhere and wait for the ambulance.

I went into my room and got dressed in my summer trousers, after putting on underwear as I had not been wearing any, (my grandmother would have been proud as they were a freshly cleaned pair)  and put on socks, shoes, and a shirt. I got my wallet and went back down the stairs by sliding my ass down over each step till I got to the bottom.

I unlocked the front door and went to  sit on an armchair.

45-0605b-ambulance

The ambulance arrived and the two paramedics came in. By that time, I was sitting   on the floor as I felt like I could pass out. I was not that lucky. The pain was increasing steadily and I have never felt pain like it. Sweat was pouring out of me like some kind of comedy skit with freshets of the stuff spurting out of my pores.

One of the paramedics asked me if I could sit in the chair. Out of breath I answered no. He stopped, confused, “Does it hurt you to sit in the chair””

I replied, “No, but it’s a lot further to the floor from the chair if I pass out.”

He nodded and  started trying to attach the sticky pads to me to get an EKG or EEG or whatever they call it. I was sweating so profusely that the pads would not stick. They could not get a reading.

Everything became a blur. My world had shrunk to just me and the pain and the sweat. I concentrated on trying to make the pain go away. At no time did I not believe that they wouldn’t  have something in their ambulance that would give me relief.

They did not.

On the way to the local hospital, they give me shots of morphine and “spritz” nitro-glycerine under my tongue. Nothing helps. My daughter watches me with eyes the size of Texas.

We get to the hospital with sirens wailing, that to me, sound very far away. We get there and I’m carried quickly into the emergency room. A lady doctor comes over and after what seems like hours, the sweat drys sufficiently to get the pads to stick. I’m asked to “breathe normally.” I want to laugh at that, but I’m in too much pain to do more than snort.

They get their reading and ask if I’d rather go to Papworth Hospital at Cambridge, an hour and a half away, or Basildon. I don’t care either way and the decision comes down to lack of bed spaces at Cambridge; so it’s off to Basildon.

I find out later that the drive should have taken over an hour and twenty minutes. We got there in 45 minutes. Meg, my daughter, told me that they drove through the thunderstorm from hell. Sirens screaming as they swerved around traffic. On the way, they gave me some sort of gas.

It was magic. Unlike the morphine or the nitro-glycerine, this stuff makes the pain bearable. So bearable that I am able to breathe somewhat normally and the sweat begins to dry up. When we arrive at the hospital, I ask everyone if I can have some more of that magic gas.

The rest you already know. How close I was to dying. The emergency stents and then stopping everything bringing me back to consciousness and the emergency aortic dissection aka bi-pass.

My sleepless night in the wee hours of the day I had my heart attack a year ago, because of  my “stomach ailment” must have been some sort of “carry-over” from that event. Even though, in my mind, I thought Sunday was the 30th.

Funny how the mind and the body remember things that we’ve chosen to forget, or have forgotten to remember. I hold my hand over my heart (pun intended) and promise that this is the last time, for a very long time, that I’ll be writing about my “life changing” experience.

I decided to chronicle the day’s events as I remembered them. I will point out that I  did relate it in time slots. The time I got up and the time I got the text are imprinted in my memory. I do know that by the time we got to the first local hospital, it was almost four  hours, if not  more, from when I first started having my symptoms.  I also believe that I’ve left a cigarette out…Like I said, it was sort of a blur.

I’ve written the account in both past and present tenses. It seemed appropriate to help get the confusion across that I felt on the day.  I would also like to point out that, at no time did I think of the possibility of dying.  It never entered my head. There were no moments of praying for God, or whoever, to make it all stop or to “spare” me. I just “knew” that the doctors would help me.

And they did.

Michael SmithPhoto on 30-08-2013 at 13.50 #2

United Kingdom

30 August 2013

Why the Hell is this Taking so Long?

It has now been exactly one month to the day that I experienced my ‘life changing’ day of pain and two (count em, two!) surgeries. One which  is often referred to as the ‘lunch hour op’ and the second which was emergency surgery and pretty damned serious.

*Although to be honest, the seriousness of the second surgery still has not really kicked in. I still keep looking around to see who the doctor is talking about when they get to the serious part. In my mind if it was that serious, I’d still be bed-ridden and hooked up to about a trillion tubes.*

I do have to keep reminding myself that is has been just one month since my ‘new life’ started. The parting words of my cardiologist were, “Get ready for your new life.” I still cannot figure out if she was being facetious or not. But new it most certainly is.

2012 has been a year of recovery for me. An accident in February caused so much nerve damage to my lower back that I still had not returned to work full-time when the heart attack decided to ‘kick me while I was already down.’  Of course the recovery for a heart attack and two surgeries is a lot different from recovering from lower back nerve damage.

As frustrating and painful as the nerve damage was, it was never going to kill me. Oh it might aggravate the living hell out of me but it definitely would not put my life directly in danger.

*Unless of course, my back decided to freeze while I was crossing a busy motorway. In that case I think all bets would be off.*

The other parting words from the cardiologist was that, “You need to completely rethink your life style and your attitude.” I was a little insulted. While in the hospital, I was so grateful to everyone who had made the galvanizing pain disappear that I had a permanent grin pasted on my face. Of course they may have misconstrued that as a grimace which, in all fairness, does look an awful lot like a grin.

But I got her point. I am by very nature, a little grumpy (A little grumpy?? I hear some of my colleagues say. That’s like saying Hitler is a little dead! I maintain, in my defense, that applies only to work. Not all the time.) and very impatient. Living in England I have always been able to pass this off as a less than attractive American trait. But to be completely honest, I am so impatient that even my fellow Americans disown me.

Mr Fredrickson from Pixar’s Up…Even he’s not as grumpy as I am.

I know that I have to slow down, chill out and be more cheerful. Unfortunately, knowing that I have to do this does not make it happen spontaneously. I still get impatient at the amount of time everything takes.

For example: I will walk to the post box, which is about 100 yards from my back door. I take my time and still have to stop halfway there. Not because I am winded or tired. No the reason I stop is because of my damned back! This pain in the buttocks ailment that I have been recovering from since February this year! It seizes up and I have to stop and stretch and rest it for ten minutes before I can resume my slow snail-like crawl to the post box.

Then, because of the seizure, I have to stop several times on the way back. Embarrassingly, the first stop is after I have posted what I needed posted and I limp slowly  to the fence right by the post box. I always wear a floppy hat and sunglasses in case someone I know is driving by.

I know that I am getting better though. Yesterday I cut the grass in my back garden. Now before you get too excited, I need to explain that my back garden is not that big and my mower is not that heavy. I also really took my time and besides dragging my right leg a bit, finished pretty much pain-free. I am having to wait to cut the grass in my front garden, which is considerably smaller than the back garden. I’m waiting because I don’t want to over do it.

I have gotten used to my right calf looking like an over-ripe banana and finding the odd bruise in places that don’t make sense. *The oddest one is right in the middle of my right foot’s instep.* I am also learning to walk that very fine line between hypochondriac and really knowing when something isn’t right.

I have learned not to panic when I get pains in my hands or forearms (both of which hurt beyond belief during the heart attack) and I’ve learned to stop worrying about getting fit for work, although that one is a bit harder.

We run a fitness test for my job. It is called a ‘bleep test‘ and it was obviously invented by a sadist. I have never really had too much of a problem passing it in the past. Not too shabby for a smoker of too many years to count. But now? I’ve quit the nasty weed and I am on the mend, but, the idea of running that test makes me feel nauseous.

Invented by the Marquis De Sade
Buzz Lightyear and Meg. My two guardians.

But the one thing I have learned from my recent ‘life changing’ experience is this: While I sit here and roll my eyes to the heavens and shout, “Why the hell is this taking so long!” I am, mentally at least, accepting that this is going to take a while and that I’m pretty damn lucky to still be here and if I ever forget this fact, my daughter will remind me.

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.  

Magnetic Resonance Imaging Blues

I am having my MRI done tomorrow. I have to admit, I am a little worried. Not because of the MRI itself, but rather, what it might show. I have had one before, it showed the specialist treating my lower back problem what was happening and ultimately how he could go about fixing it.

In 1999 I got the results of my MRI and it finally showed everyone why my back was killing (metaphorically) me. I had a rotting disc in my lower back. I also found out that I had one leg significantly shorter than the other, although if he told me which leg it was I have since forgotten.

The disc, though, was the thing causing all the problems. I was told it was congenital, meaning that I had probably been born that way. Pieces of the rotting disc were getting lodged against nerve endings which was why nothing in the way of pain medication was really working. And believe me when I tell you, I was taking hand-fulls of the stuff.

I had my operation in September 1999 and they replaced my rotting disc with a titanium box filled with bone shavings from my hip. All very space-agey. They then put giant staples in my back to hold the skin together and sent me home.

And apart from my immediate concern that if I strained too hard at anything the staples might come out, I was fine. Once the staples were taken out and I finished getting back to ‘normal’ health wise, I then had to wean myself off of the pain medicine.

Everything was great for ages. I went through a sort of ‘Peter Pan‘ stage of my life. My back never bothered me apart from the odd time I would pull a muscle. Then I got injured at work.

Nothing dramatic just a short, fast, fall to the floor with the weight of three other people to propel our short journey. I noticed my back hurting after I had filled in the report of what happened and placed two of the people on report. All in a days work. Or so I thought. I went to work for three more shifts. Each shift I worked it became more painful to walk until I finally had to throw in the towel and go the the surgery.

After lots of physiotherapy and a load of pain pills later, I am still not back to normal. I am better, just not better enough. I know that I have somehow incurred some sort of nerve damage. But at 53, if I require an operation to put it right, I won’t heal as quickly as I did when I 41. It’s an age thing. And if I take too long to heal, I could lose my job and either way I am going to lose money.

So I sit here and worry, get crotchety and sometimes throw all my toys out of the pram. I get angry at the silliest of things and completely ignore the things I should get angry at. I am acting illogically and I know it, damn it.

So I’ll be glad when the damn thing is done. That way I’ll know if I even need to worry.

English: Photo taken in the MRI lab mri of my ...

Pain

Regions of the cerebral cortex associated with...

Pain changes our lives. It affects how we think, how we feel, and how we move. It is also a part of everyday life. Pain comes in different categories. There is emotional pain, mental pain and physical pain.

I do not like any of the categories.
My father used to say that pain was a necessary part of life. If you could feel pain you knew you were alive. I always responded the same way. “I don’t need pain to let me know I’m alive, thank you.” Yet pain can result in some of the most memorable experiences of our life.
I can remember with excruciating detail when I stepped on a “sixteen penny nail”…twice. Equally clear is the memory of breaking a bone in my hand. *it just dawned on me that both these injuries happened in the same year* I also remember “watching” an “eight penny nail” flip end-over-end until it reached my eye. These are just examples of physical pain, but, I can remember with crystal clarity other types of pain.

Emotional pain can be just as memorable, as can mental pain. Everyone can, I am sure, remember the pain experienced from a failed relationship. Each type of pain can consume our lives, if we let it. I can live with emotional pain. It’s physical pain that I detest.

Bottom line? Pain hurts. But more importantly, it impedes us. It slows us down. I am, at the moment, shuffling about like a ninety year old in search of a walking frame. It is frustrating and…well…painful. It is also to a degree, embarrassing.

When I go to the shop for my “bits and bobs” I know I look like a decrepit old fart. I keep waiting for a boy scout to offer me a helping hand as I cross the road.

More importantly, pain is intrusive. It has taken me three days to write this blog. Why? Because I wrenched my back and knee at work. Not only has this injury kept me off work for at least a week, but, it has kept me from pursuing my passions.

So I keep taking the medication and wait impatiently for the pain to subside enough for me to go about my life normally. So if, as my dad said, pain reminds us that we are alive?

I am full of life right now.

To the Pain
To the Pain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)