My Near Death Experience Six Months On

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It’s been just over six months since my close brush with the grim reaper in the form of a heart attack. I have referred to it as a life changing event and it was. It’s amazing how quickly your life can change so much in such an incredibly short span of time. If I owned a crystal ball, I don’t think even then I’d have believed what was in store for me.

In case you missed the event (or the blog-post I wrote about it) I’ll do a recap of what transpired last year. Don’t worry it won’t take long.

February of last year, the thirteenth to be exact, I was injured at work. I sustained nerve damage in my lower back and was off work just under six months. I had just started back to work (in a return-to-work scheme that allowed me to gradually increase my hours) and had taken two weeks leave to get a steroidal injection in my lower back.

On the 24th of August I had my injections (they gave me two) and on the 27th I got Freshly Pressed. On the 30th, I had a heart attack. I actually had the “attack” for over five hours. I was rushed to one Hospital Emergency Room where they verified that, yes indeed, I was having a heart attack. The ambulance then rushed me to another Hospital for surgery.

While having stents put in, the surgeons realised that my aorta was shot and had to stop mid-surgery, bring me back to full consciousness to tell me that they were going to have to perform an emergency aortic dissection. My daughter was told (and so was I but I do not remember it) that things were going to be very “dicey” and that I might not make it, but, if I did not have it I was going to die.

I almost did anyway.

After my surgeries, I recovered incredibly fast. I was out of the Hospital after only four days. I then started the very slow process of recovery that I am still in, truth be told. Despite my quick recovery, the second surgery kicked my ass. On top of that, the surgeons tore my aorta in the arch close to the heart and it is so damaged that they can’t repair it.

Well, to be more accurate, they could try, but they think that it would cause more damage than what they could fix.

In the preceding time period between the heart attack and now, I’ve been ill-health retired from my Prison Officer job and I still haven’t been assessed for rehabilitation because the folks who do the test are concerned that they could kill me, or at the very least, mess my aorta up considerably and hasten the damage along considerably.

With the absence of proper rehabilitation, I’ve been walking. When I first got out of the hospital, I could literally take about 10 to 15 steps and then I had to stop. Not so much because of my heart, but because of the combination of my surgery and my back which was still playing up. As I got better, the rest stops got further and further apart. I can now walk a fairly good distance without stopping and at quite a snappy pace.

I received my pension “payout” and my last ever pay check from the Prison Service. I also got my first pension payment.

I will admit to being a bit lost during these last six months. The payout, the pay check and the pension payment helped me find my way. At least, it made the whole thing real. I was bordering on depression and the reality of the money and my avenues of options suddenly became clear.

I didn't really need a signpost to tell me I was lost.
I didn’t really need a signpost to tell me I was lost.

Before I left the Hospital, they told me that I would have a moment where the enormity of what happened to me would sink in. My too close for comfort brush with death would, in essence, overwhelm me. I was urged to seek help when that pivotal “epiphany” occurred.

It still hasn’t happened. I have come close I think. One night as I lay in bed just starting to doze off, I could hear and feel my heart beating. Everything stopped for a split-second and then as I became aware of the silence my heart started pounding 90 beats to the bar. My chest muscles loosened and tightened in an instant. I had a flash of a thought about almost dying and for that split second I was scared.

But as quickly as all that happened (in the blink of an eye, really) it was over. Everything went back to what passes for normal every night now as I approach sleep. I lay there and feel my heart thudding against my chest and think, ever so briefly, I hope it doesn’t stop just yet.

It is only now, just over six months after the event, that I have realised my own mortality fully. Before, even in the ambulance on the way to the Hospitals, I never thought once of dying. If I could think at all (and it was difficult to think of anything but the pain) I thought of getting to the Hospital and the doctors fixing me up and sending me home. Death did not feel close or even real.

Even after the doctors told me how close it really was and how lucky I was to pull through, it didn’t seem real.

It does now.

And as I said in a previous post about second chances, I acknowledge that Ive been given a second chance at living. God or whoever (if anyone) is in charge of things, has given me another go on the merry-go-round.

So while I decide which carousel horse to ride, I’ll make sure that I try like hell to appreciate this little bit of longevity that’s been passed my way. I think that I’ve had my “epiphany” that they warned me about or at least I hope I have. I don’t want to waste any more time pondering the why’s and where-for’s of my continued existence.

I just hope that the second time that I come face-to-face with my own mortality, I can do it as calmly as I did the first time.

Death
Death (Photo credit: tanakawho)

When Retired Doesn’t Mean Retired

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So, I have been “medically” retired. I am now Michael Smith Prison Officer (retired). But I’m not. Not really. My medical retirement pension is on a lower tier which means two things: 1) I’ll get the pension until I shuffle off this mortal coil and 2) It is a damned small amount.

Not enough to live on and the amounts of benefit I am eligible for are very small and not at all certain. I am eligible for a lump sum, but taking that will drop my yearly pension payment by well over 1500 pounds per year. I also have a slight financial problem that is not going to go away and if I take the lump sum, my situation being what it is, said lump sum will disappear into my creditors’ pockets.

Dear me!

I have gone and spoken to the “not-so-helpful” folks at the Citizen’s Advise Bureau (admittedly it was not their fault, it was my circumstances) and found that I seemed to fall into a giant crack where no real benefits actually applied. I cannot get any of my state pension as a “top-up” as I am under even the earliest age where you can retire. I have a feeling that I will get the same response from the American Social Security folks.

I have often used the phrase “between a rock and a hard place” and each time I used that phrase I honestly felt that I was “in” that metaphorical place. It is amazing how naive we can be in our lives. I now truly understand what that phrase really means; I have only now come to realise that my lack of understanding was normal and I am now in that place.

I have always been a flexible chap, not exceedingly so, but flexible nonetheless. I always knew that I could bounce back from almost anything and I could usually turn my hand at anything.

But now?

I am completely utterly lost.

The one problem with my current circumstance is the heart problem. Because of the condition of my aortic tear, my local cardiologist won’t even assess my fitness for cardio rehabilitation. Not until I’ve had my second follow-on appointment with my surgeon in February. So I have no idea what I can or cannot do in the area of work. I do know I cannot do my old job in the prison service because I cannot have any contact with prisoners; hence my medical retirement.

But the heart problem aside, I don’t even have a CV (resume) on file to apply for work. I have not had a CV for ten years. My last “game plan” was to retire from the Prison Service. We all know how that turned out.

I have learned to my consternation that being medically retired is not the same as being retired. In fact, if you look at it from the benefit point of view, I’m not. I don’t know about the disabled side as I cannot really fill in any forms or get a straight answer until I get my medical retirement paperwork and monies finalized. That will not happen for at least six weeks.

Theoretically, I now have six weeks to get things sorted out, but that is not likely to happen, either. I have discovered that you cannot plan for benefits or income support. I also don’t know if I will get my next pay packet as promised so that I can pay for another month’s rent or even eat. I will be able to contact the financial folks who were helping me to sort my finances but since I’ve no longer got a job, will have to cease ( I suspect) their efforts on my behalf.

I now have to “update” my CV (which of course means writing from scratch) and tailor it to meet the latest CV requirements. I have already look to see what jobs I might be qualified for (not a lot) and who might be interested in hiring a 54 year-old ex-prison officer with a dodgy aorta.

I would consider busking (that quaint English custom on standing on street corners and singing or dancing for coins from the general public) but I don’t think my voice is in fine form and the dancing could be dangerous to my heath; not to mention my inherent lack of coordination in relation to dancing. I briefly considered applying to Tesco as a shelf stocker but I’m not sure they’d have me.

My YouTube channel has not even made enough to warrant a payment yet; there is a threshold of 60 pounds that I am miles away from. I have held onto a “deliver pamphlets” job advert where I could, according to the advert, make up to 500 pounds a week. I am not sure how many pamphlets I would have to deliver for that huge sum of money, but I suspect it is way more than I could deliver in my current state of healing.

But I will continue to look on the bright side. Any other alternative point of view is just not going to happen. As one wise man once said, “You’ve got to laugh, ain’t you? Otherwise you’d cry.”

So as another wise man once said, “Laugh? I nearly paid my television license.” I know, it’s something of a “local” saying, but strangely appropriate.

So I’ll leave you with this little fact: Retired doesn’t really mean retired when it is a medical retirement; at least in this country and if you are under the age of 55. I hope this proves to be helpful to someone who may be facing a similar situation. If not, they say that misery loves company and I have lots of room here in the space between a rock and a hard place; so welcome to my little world.

I’ll put some coffee on and get the cards; I’ll deal.

5 card stud anyone?

The Fickle Finger of Fate

With a speed that would make Superman himself envious, my life continues its rapid dervish-like decent into the realms of possible disaster. After a month-long wait, I finally got to see the Citizen’s Advise Bureau (CAB) today. With visions of all things positive running through my mind I answered when the lady called my name. We went into a little room and got down to business.

And business…was not good.

It turns out that the little light that I was envisioning at the end of the long dark tunnel was not an exit, but the train. All that was missing was the rope necessary to tie me helplessly to the railroad track. I think though, if I’d waited long enough, the rope would have been delivered…with a bow on it. But all allegories aside (or is that metaphors) I can now proudly claim membership to the “It so totally sucks to be me, right now” club.

It seems like my only options are to starve to death quickly or just to starve to death. My pension is not enough to house me or clothe me never mind feed me. If I take a lump sum, said lump sum will reduce the amount of my yearly pension drastically; and the worst bit is that the lump sum will get gobbled up by creditors. I will have to move because not only do I have “too much house” but I cannot afford to pay the rent any longer.

Here’s just one fun bit.

As I am renting on the private sector, no one will want to rent to me as my pension is too small and I don’t have a job (yet). Lack of job equals lack of stability, never mind how I got into this predicament. The prospective landlord will not care about my personal circumstances and that is their right. He (or she) is in the business of making money on their property, not doling out charity on a case by case basis. All my joking about cardboard boxes isn’t quite as amusing as it once was.

But part of the problem with today’s information gathering episode was me. I placed far too much importance on the CAB visit. I had pumped myself up to believe that they would answer all my questions in a way that would benefit me. They did answer all my questions, but not how I wanted them answered. The answers, when they came, only made the situation seem worse.

I am sitting here feeling slightly nauseous, partly because I haven’t eaten today and partly because of my current state of mind, and not a little depressed. On the plus side, I am not panicking (yet) and I’m not even hyper-ventilating; I think my daughter Meg is doing that for me. I think I am still in the same state of mind I was in before I went to see the kind folks at CAB. The only difference is that now I have a better idea of what I won’t be getting in the area of financial support.

The only thing I can do right now is not let the future override my present. I have to believe that no matter what happens, I will survive and thrive. I’ve had a lot of people (my family for example) say, “What you’ve got to remember is that you’re alive. You almost died; you need to hold onto that.”
I do hold onto to that thought, but, another thought tailgate’s the first one and that thought has to do with the irony of being saved from death only to starve or sleep on the street.

But I have learned a very valuable lesson today. Don’t place too much importance on thinking ahead when the future is so uncertain. Focus instead on the short-term and keep a flexible attitude. It’s okay to plan for tomorrow when you know the facts and not so okay when you don’t. Sometimes you just have to live each day and take comfort in the fact that you did at least one thing that made you happy whether that one thing was just getting up or something more esoteric.

So despite feeling a bit like the fickle finger of fate has given me a prostate exam sans lubricant, I can take a certain amount of pride in the fact that I can actually “trot” up the stairs (a feat I was not capable of last week). I take great comfort in the fact that I can walk to and from the Metro twice in one day and not collapse from exhaustion afterward. Okay, both trips were not end to end, so to speak, but not a whole lot of time had elapsed between trips.

I’ve been put off my stride, again, and I will face more obstacles as this little scenario plays itself out. I refuse to let it get me down though and the CAB did give me some brilliant websites to access for more information. The main problem with today’s session boils down to me trying to plan ahead for things that have not happened yet. Oh some of them had, but not all, and it was that problem that led to my depressing meeting.

I do know that just writing this blog post for the second time (the first draft was so full of depressing information that I could see myself being blamed for an increased suicide rate) has improved my low mood no end. I don’t feel like I can take on the world just yet, but I feel like I can at least dodge that damned train.

Evading the Chattanooga Choo-Choo…