Exactly a week after my previous two cardiac diagnostics, I got a ‘phonecall from the hospital saying could I go back in for a follow up appointment. I don’t remember how they crowbarred the word stent into the sentence but they did. The appointment was for the next day. I texted my friend Nikki straight away as I was due to meet up for beers that afternoon. I figured I could do the hospital appointment at 10am, pop into work at Pegasus afterwards and sort the post out before meeting Nikki at the pub. I’d been for so many diagnostics by this point I wasn’t giving much thought to it or even what ‘it’ (this diagnostic) was. The previous week I thought I’d had an angiogram and this is what I’d thought they’d said I was having tomorrow. A follow up angiogram, presumably to doublecheck something. About a week after this procedure I received a letter, the gist of which said:
… I have had a look at your CT scan and there looks like there might be a narrowing at the beginning of one of your heart arteries. This may be the cause of your symptoms. I have taken the liberty of placing you onto the urgent waiting list for an angiogram and I enclose some literature regarding the procedure.
There wasn’t actually any literature enclosed with the letter. Although as I received the letter way after the event anyway, I already knew plenty about the procedure by then. Its good to know that the NHS urgent waiting list is a good deal quicker (by at least a week) than it’s postal system.
I assured B he’d be fine to drop me off on the way to work and I’d make my own way home on the bus.
As soon as I got to cardiology at QA I was shown onto a ward and sat on a bed. So far OK, although normally there’s a waiting room and the previous angiogram hadn’t involved my own bed. It sort of transpired that I was on a day ward, a fairly busy day ward at that. The lady in the bed next to me was having a pacemaker fitted for example and the guy to the other side of me was groaning a lot. A nurse bustled in and gave me a gown to put on and some paper pants. She said to leave my clothes by the side of the bed. I obliged and when she got back I asked her what exactly was happening to me today. She briskly said I’d be having an angiogram (which I swear was what I’d had the previous week and certainly didn’t involve wearing paper pants). So I asked about the paper pants. She replied that, if appropriate, they could put a stent in my heart today (!!) and they’d probably go in through my wrist but in case it had to be the groin, I was wearing paper pants. A STENT IN TODAY!! I pretty much gave up trying to figure out where my day was going but knew I wouldn’t be going to work or the pub or making my own way home. In fact a couple of nurses had asked if I was there on my own and implied that I really would need a lift home. Hells Bells!
The beauty of mobile phone technology is that from the relative comfort of my own day bed and whilst wearing paper pants I could change all my arrangements for the day. Work was fine, they could get cover. I tried to keep it bright and breezy with Bassalot and just mention a stent in passing and the fact that I probably would need a lift home after all. He, of course, said he’d be there as soon as he could be. Then I messaged Nikki saying we may have to postpone our beer date. She said FUCKING HELL – let me know if you need anything. I said “Beer – soon!”
Logistics sorted, I settled back to wait for what was about to happen. The nurse popped in a couple of times again saying I may have a bit of a wait before I went in as it was a particularly busy day. Finally a consultant came in to have a chat and get me to sign a consent form. I was having what’s known as a ‘procedure’. In fact a few consultants came in. A really proper cardiologist who implied I was way too young to be in there. The cardiologist I’d seen in the chest pain clinic who’d sorted out all the tests for me thus far. Then a consultant with a sparkle in his eye came in and said they’d try and put a stent in me today which would sort out the problem and I’d be on my way. The thing is, my chest pain cardiologist, a gently spoken big black guy was explaining everything when old sparkly eyes came in. He immediately started talking over everybody else and speaking very loudly and slowly to the black guy. I could only assume he was a massive racist although it turned out, during the procedure, that he spoke to everyone like that and was generally just a wanker. Obviously a highly skilled wanker who could potentially fix my heart but there’s really no need for rudeness.
Finally I was lying down on the bed and was wheeled to a room a few doors away. There were maybe 5 medical staff in there, a large light (alien autopsy style like you’d get in an operating theatre) and a large wide screen television. I still had very little understanding of what was actually going to happen to me. As it turned out, this was really for the best. My right arm had a rest to lean on to the side of me and I was given a handle to hold on to with my right hand which was perpendicular to the floor. I had to keep hold of this and turn my wrist 90 degrees to the right keeping my arm in the armrest. Everyone seemed really pleased that I’d done this correctly. I was told I’d get a local anaesthetic and felt the scratch. Lots of talking ensued, and true to my way of getting through this shit. I really didn’t think too closely about what was actually happening. And thanks to the local anaesthetic I didn’t feel anything either. Eventually we struck gold and on the widescreen in front of me I could see the arteries of my own beating heart! I know medical people see this all the time but to me this was quite amazing.
The thing was, it didn’t seem to be quite right. Not that I could obviously see anything unusual. It was more what I was hearing. The “This is really interesting” comments and the “Um, these arteries are unlike anything I have ever seen” and generally the things you don’t really want doctors to be saying. Then, the disappearing behind a see through screen to have a discussion which I could no longer hear. And then the verdict.
“Well, it appears you have a narrowing of the same artery in two places but immediately after the narrowing, it gets very wide. We’ve never seen anything quite like this before. I’m not sure that a stent will be the best solution for you as it may not stay in place. A better option may be to open you up – how do feel about that?”
“Open you up”?? There’s a bedside manner right there.
All delivered in a fairly light hearted practical medical way. I wasn’t really in any position to deliver a witty, well thought out answer. Something was going all the way from my wrist to my heart so I couldn’t ‘flight’ and fighting seemed fairly out of the question.
“Will it stop the pain and can you fix it?” I asked – I really should’ve been at the pub by now!
“Oh we can fix anything, we just need to know exactly what the problem is.”
So that was that. Said tube was extracted from my arm. I was told I’d feel a little tug as it left my wrist. Mr Bright Eyes and the nurses had to attach some sort of deflating valve to my wrist as the artery had been enlarged to accommodate a sheath up which the catheter had been inserted. It needed to contract slowly over time and this is when I realised that Mr Bright Eyes was a complete nob end to the other members of staff in the room. Although he was however, charming to me. It turned out my wrists are really small so I needed a special kind of deflating valve – my own term. The nurses seemed completely competent at using these but Mr Bright Eyes second guessed and questioned them on everything. True to form, I decided not to look as various medics discussed how said valve should be attached to my arm. Neither did I check too closely when one guy brought over a good old fashioned string mop and began furiously mopping the floor under where my wrist had been. Honestly a mind can work overtime.
Soon, I was back on the day ward with my right hand shielded from my view by a lot of blue paper towels. Apparently, my case would be discussed at the cardiology meeting the next week in Southampton to get a second opinion on whether or not I should have a bypass operation. In the meantime, they would sort out some drugs to control the pains I’d been getting and I could pretty much carry on as normal – which was a lot slower than usual anyway.
It was actually incredibly euphoric finally knowing something was wrong and what it was. This balanced with the fact that I was going to have to have a bypass operation at the age of 47. People kept mentioning that I was far too young to be there. I finally pointed out that I was actually 47 which to me doesn’t actually seem that young anymore. However, looking around the cardiology ward, I could see their point.
Bassalot was there looking greener than anticipated. From my texts, he’d been able to Google the procedure they were going to carry out on me. It obviously wasn’t pretty although his imagination is more sensory than mine is practical. I kept my hand obscured. The deal was that the valve had to be made smaller every 30 mins by 1mm at a time down from, I think 6mm. This meant I was there for a good 2-3 hours while the wrist contraption size was decreased and then some more time to make sure all was ok.
On one of the final checks one of the nurses thought my vein was feeling a little hard further up my arm. They checked it again after 30 minutes and finally we worked out that it was probably actually my drumming arm and hence muscle rather than solid vein so really nothing to worry about. It was lucky as we nearly had to get old Bright Eyes over and as we and the nurses agreed, it would be easier all round not to get him involved.
Finally it was drugs time! I was now on:
an Aspirin a day to thin my blood
a dose of Statins a day to reduce my blood cholesterol level (although in my ‘You are now 45’ health check my blood cholesterol level was tested to be negligible giving me a 1-2% chance of having a heart attack)
Bisoprolol once a day to regulate my heart beat and reduce adrenalin (although I’m possibly one of the least flapable people I know)
something, the name of which escapes me, to stop my angina pains.
I’m not sure how I feel about all this either. It seems like a lot of drugs to be taking when I’ve never been on prescription drugs before (except the pill for a while) or even had a course of antibiotics. In fact, I’ve been asked several times in hospital whilst having my tests, “What medication are you on?” and when I say none, nobody really seems quite sure what to make of it.
We finally made it home, ordered a take out, a box of Quality Street and a magazine and hit the sack.
We’ll think about all this tomorrow.
Chapter 6, Sugar Coated Bitter Truth, coming at you next Monday 30th September – tune in!