Chapter #1 Head Like a Hole – Nine Inch Nails 1990

heart surgery

 My name is Lucy
 I was in the Post Office with Becca
 I had a fit
 I have had…
 a CT scan
 a chest x-ray
 full blood works
 My memory is about 10 seconds
 I am staying in hospital overnight
 The doctors do not know what happened
 I will be alright
 Bassalot loves me (and he has eaten) and he is coming back in the morning

I read the hand written note I was holding.

I read it again.

And again.

My memory was 10 seconds, if that. I was in a hospital bed in a cubicle and Bassalot was sitting next to me. I seemed perfectly happy and calm. I felt safe, I guess because Bassalot was there. I was very accepting of the situation I found myself in.

And I had the note.

Every moment now started with that note. I remember nothing except reading it and knowing Bassalot was sitting next to me. I don’t know how many times this happened but gradually my linear time sense returned and my memory began to reassemble from the note forwards. Apparently, I kept asking B what had happened, over and over (and over) again. I’d listen to his response, over and over (and over) again, and then ask if he’d eaten (?) presumably over and over (and over) again. Eventually, he’d written the whole thing down for me, and this seemed enough for me to reboot and accept that my life now started from this point.

So to flesh out the details a little.

Monday morning started much like any other, picking through trays of shiny trinkets, to package up orders for an E-bay store. The afternoon, I’d spend working in a friend’s shop, where I’d get to do a no holes barred window display of skulls, fashion and music. Just a few of my favourite things. I could then spend the rest of the day chatting to the eclectic crowd who frequented the emporium for ‘fabulous shit’ as the flyer advertised. Top day in my mind.

At the E-bay store first I was in with Becca. We sorted out the orders and left the shop with everything packaged up to go to the Post Office. We were both heading the same way so strutted out together, bumped into a friend of Becca’s on the way, and crossed Victoria Road South.

Try as I might, this is the last memory I have before realising I am lying in hospital.

Cue note:

 My name is Lucy

Yes, my name is Lucy. I don’t remember ever not knowing this. My sense of self was never in question, just my ability to remember what had happened to me that day. I certainly didn’t remember, for example, that I hadn’t been to the toilet for about 10 hours.

 I was in the Post Office with Becca

Now I really don’t remember that to this day. I remember leaving the shop with the mail and crossing the road outside the shop on the way to the Post Office. I remember seeing Becca’s mate and walking a little way but nothing more. Apparently, we got to the Post Office and stood in the queue chatting. We made it to the counter where I embarked on telling Becca a joke. Highly unlikely as I have no memory for jokes and hence don’t play the stand up comedienne very often. At some point I slumped forward as a dead weight onto Becca’s shoulder before face planting the Post Office counter with my forehead. I rebounded a full 180 degrees to land backwards on the Post Office floor giving the back of my head a big thwacking in the process. Probably for the best I don’t remember any of this.

 I had a fit

So I did apparently have a full blown seizure right there on the Post Office floor. Loss of consciousness; foaming at the mouth; fine shaking movements; turning blue and weeing in my jeans and then going completely rigid. Becca, bless her, I hadn’t even known her that long had my head on her knees while the Post Office staff were saying did I need an ambulance. Becca screamed of course I did, I was blue and very very quickly a paramedic car arrived.

I hadn’t always lived in Portsmouth. Portsmouth and Southsea are on an island, joined to the mainland by three roads. As a teenager my friend and I had cycled from Oxford, down through Portsmouth and then on to the Isle of Wight. The weather had been dismal but as we reached the edge of the Southdowns, the clouds parted and the sun picked out the glittering metropolis of the island city at sea level below us. I was sold! I applied to Polytechnic (as it was then) and never left. Incidentally, when I got there I was told there’s a bubble over Portsmouth and once you move there you never leave. I can’t dispute this so far.

The view of Portsmouth from Portsdown Hill

I loved my first year in Portsmouth. The freedom for me was unlimited. My Mum and Dad are the most incredible parents and have given me such a grounding in life with structure and security. I don’t fear life or death but am certainly not frivolous with either. I’ll try different things generally if I trust the other people involved. I literally left my thatched cottage chocolate box village life in middle England and arrived in the conservative naval city of Portsmouth.

P.S. this isn't actually my house but the court house on the High Street where Midsummer Murders is filmed - i kid you not!
Not actually my house but the court house on the High Street where Midsummer Murders is filmed – I kid you not!

The nearest Accident & Emergency department is just off the top of the island and consequently there are always medical vehicles parked in handy locations around Portsmouth. Luckily for me, one such vehicle was particularly close to Albert Road that Monday morning. In amongst the melee of Post Office would-be customers trying to come in and buy stamps and send parcels, the paramedics worked their incredible magic. A full size ambulance arrived and I was whisked away, apparently kicking and screaming by this point up to the hospital.

Meanwhile, Becca had got in touch with Sally who had Bassalot’s number. Without a moments hesitation he saddled up his trusty Golf mark IV and ‘competitively’ cantered West to the hospital, overtaking two ambulances on the way…

He was already at the ambulance bay when I arrived in my fluoro pod. The back doors opened and Becca flew out and B could see the full extent of Lucy rage inside. Someone had had the good sense to tie my legs down but that didn’t stop the top half of my body from lashing around in a windmill like motion my tuff little drummer arms up to their own shit as usual. Poor medics, honestly, just trying to help and save lives. Don’t worry, they said to B, she’s in a state of heightened anxiety, we see it a lot. He offered to help and come in and calm me down but they assured him it was all under control. It wasn’t. They asked if maybe he did want to come in and speak to me. Apparently he leant over, touching me on the shoulder, and said very calmly

‘It’s Bassalot here, it’s all going to be alright’.

At which point I smiled and calmed the fuck down. The paramedics thought it was a lovely thing and probably a huge relief on their part.

They asked B what medication I was on.

He said I wasn’t on any medication.

Ok, well what illegal drugs might I have take.

Again, B assured the team that I hadn’t taken anything illicit that morning.

Well, and looking over at me with my tattoos and blue hair, what legal highs is she on?

Bassalot looked the paramedic in the eye and said look you can trust me. I’ve known Lucy for 23 years and she is definitely not on any legal highs or any drugs. At which point I decide to smile cheekily and make some kind of ohm sign with my hands whilst saying ‘Cosmic man!’ I really don’t remember this either. Neither do I remember constantly trying to take my top off and laughing in a raucous Sid James manner whilst B calmy and reassuringly asked me to not keep getting undressed in public. I mean seriously – what had I taken??

Bassalot told me later about another young lady he’d seen in there with red hair and tattoos. She didn’t have anyone with her. He’d given her a big smile and later on the sound of her beeps said she was no longer fighting with the rest of us. It took a lot of tequilas to get that story out of him.

 I have had
 a CT scan
 a chest X-ray
 full blood works

Well, apparently I did have all those things and they showed up nothing. I was tickety boo fine according to any tests they ran that day, although one print out I came home with did indicate a lead fault in my heartbeat. Didn’t seem to be anything to worry about.

 My memory is about 10 seconds

At this point I guess they put me in a hospital bed and the whole sorry state of my lack of memory became apparent. Various nurses asked if I’d like a sandwich to which mostly I answered politely no thank you. I was asked if I needed the toilet to which I replied no I was fine. Bassalot stepped in and said actually I probably did need the toilet as I hadn’t been for about 10 hours. When I finally was brought a comode I very professionally and impressively damn near filled it! Amazed nurses looked on. At least I’d regained control of my bladder after my moment in the Post Office earlier.

So Bassalot wrote me my note. I don’t specifically remember the first time he handed it to me but I certainly remember holding on to it all night. I’m not sure when I actually got my memory back in control. I might have read the note 50 times in a row but everything I needed to know was contained on that one piece of paper. It had a past and a present and a future and anchored me back into my life again. My universe was reassuringly small. I wasn’t thinking anything beyond my hospital bed and Bassalot being there. I wasn’t concerned with the magnitude of what may or may not have happened to me. But the present seemed ok and in my tiny world there was a semblance of understanding.

 I am staying in hospital overnight

At some point Bassalot had to leave me there. By then, I was settled and smiling which I think made it a little easier for him. Also, the nurse who had come on duty had asked all the nursey questions, have you eaten, been to the toilet etc. B had repeated patiently that I probably had no idea as my memory was about 10 seconds. At which point new nurse turned directly to me and said with a twinkle in her eye:

‘You better not be giving me any trouble tonight!’

B felt he had scored gold. Finally, someone actually understanding that my memory was flaky at best, but taking it in enough good humour that he felt we’d get along. Apparently he left around 9pm. I, accepting as ever, settled down for the night, courtesy of the NHS, with lights and beeps and talking. I was wheeled between wards about three times during the night as beds were re-assigned and my status went from high observation to she’ll be gone by the morning. Gone in a good way as in going home.

I woke up on an all women’s ward. I felt fine, knew who I was and still had my note. I was given a towel and toothbrush to take to the bathroom and freshen up but was still in my gown. I checked and I still had my pants on. I was told the consultant would be round for a chat but I’d probably be discharged after that.

 The doctors do not know what happened

Well they really didn’t. The consultant came round to all the beds. He was with a flurry of younger doctors. He asked how I felt and again, reiterated the point that with the blue hair and tattoos they presumed I was on legal highs. He very much looked me in the eye at this pointed statement and I said ‘Well, it’s a fair assumption.’ He seemed ok with this answer.

It was only a fair assumption based on my looks though. Had my black out happened 4 months earlier when I was still a store manager for a health and beauty chain, I would have been dressed for work on a Monday morning. Blonde hair in a pony tail, tattoos covered and nose stud waiting patiently at home for when I finished work. Legal highs would not have been the first assumption.

As I was later to discover, I had a narrowing artery and that day I had suffered a cardiac event that wasn’t picked up by the CT scans and blood works. I look quite young for my age so no one thought to check my heart. Had I been brought in as a 60 year old man with the same symptoms, my heart may well have been the first organ to have been tested rather than an assumption of an early morning legal high habit. This is in no way a criticism of any of the medical staff. We all make assumptions about the many people we meet throughout our lives and mercifully, whoever arrived first on the scene that day saved my life. Assumptions or not.

I was brought a bag containing my clothes. Pee smelling jeans which I kind of had to put on, and a really nice jumper fashioned into a cardigan by paramedic’s scissors slashed straight down the front. I was beginning to get a measure of what had actually happened the day before and how lucky / unlucky / lucky I had been.

 I will be alright

What an amazing thing to write for me. I WILL be alright. I blacked out for no apparent reason and the consultant said I would be booked in to have a brain MRI scan at the first fit clinic. I shouldn’t drive for 6 months but otherwise was free to go and carry on as normal. The back of my head felt a little spongy. But I would be alright.

 Bassalot loves me (and he has eaten) and he is coming back in the morning

I guess it’s a thing when you get a bit couply. Do you get your own meals, always try and eat together or be really rad and spur of the moment. Where I’d worked in retail for so long with wildly differing hours from day to day, often we didn’t eat together. And often I would get in from work and ask the question “Have you eaten?” I didn’t realise it had become quite such a default though. I wonder if he’d have said no, he hadn’t eaten, what I’d have done about it yesterday.

And, of course, Bassalot does love me and he came back to get me in the morning.

Look out for chapter #2 Over the Hills and Far Away at ten past six next Monday 2nd September!

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