Chapter #7 waiting for the nightboat – duran duran 1981

heart surgery

My pre op was in Southampton on August 4th. I still didn’t have a date for the actual operation but this was my first visit to Southampton General since being referred there to be ‘opened up’.

I’ve been blessed thus far with a fairly healthy family and group of friends so hospitals haven’t been somewhere I’ve had to spend a large amount of time. I’ve got to know Portsmouth Queen Alexandra’s quite well with my own out patient activity but Southampton is a bit of another level.

The car park alone is quite imposing and the hospital double doors slide open to reveal – a shopping centre. Massive Costa to the left with barristas offering samples of sweet things, a WHSmith and some sort of clothes emporium selling dressing gowns and advertising for staff. Look beyond this and it’s down to business again with east and west Wings leading to all the usual suspects.

We found Cardiology in a temporary location and the X-Ray machine had broken down. It had been turned off and on again. A few people were in a makeshift waiting room and Bassalot and I added our spice it up Wired and a Vogue to the reading selection in the magazine rack. I used to keep all my Vogues and in the end needed a massive suitcase to move them around. I figured I’d never actually read old fashion (I mean really) so gave them all to the University of Portsmouth fashion department and since then have kept the chicest of the chic, but repatriated others to waiting rooms where there is reading material.

Finally we were a go with X-Rays. Then I had to breathe into various tubes and have an ECG. As we shuffled round various waiting and treatment areas, I began to recognise the same familiar faces waiting for the various tests. Murmurs of recognition began. Finally, wouldn’t you know, we were all called into the same room together for a group chat. We were given the basics of what to expect. We would get our operation date and come to hospital the day before. This was for a pre op, blood tests, swabs for MRSA etc. As the NHS were not heavy with beds shall we say, we would then return home for the evening and expect to be back in hospital the following day at 9am. Everyone having a cardiac operation was prepped first thing in the morning but there was a running order so you may not be operated on until the afternoon.

It was important to eat an iron rich diet pre-op in case a blood transfusion was required. We were all given a bottle of Hibi Scrub which is an antimicrobial wash we were to use once a day for five days before the operation and wash our hair in it at least once. We were then told we’d all get to speak to the consultant individually and a nurse who could answer any further questions.

We filed out and sat in another waiting room. We were quite a motley crew. There was the joker, ruddy faced who kind of looked like your average heart attack candidate. Rotund and stocky but there on his own. Everyone else had at least one person with them. He cracked a joke at most things that were said and when he mentioned his wife the nurse said incredulously ‘You’ve got a wife?!’ – how rude!

There was a tall grey haired guy, kind of businessey with a constantly talking auburn haired tanned and made up lady. She wanted to know everyone’s story (we certainly knew hers and how they’d already cancelled 2 holidays for this and her husband needed a quadruple bypass which they’d been led to believe was an emergency and were STILL waiting!). I guess it was partly nerves tho, it must be as hard in a different way for the nearest and dearest of people having serious operations. They’re awake for a start.

I kind of took the 5th amendment as I realised she was making her way round to me (or actually Bassalot – most heart operations are required by men so the assumption was that I was the companion). I assumed my role as youngster in the group and stared steadfastly at my phone so I didn’t have to do the show and tell. There was one other lady in the group who was much older and there with her daughter, and a couple (he was 57 as I heard him give his date of birth at reception although he dressed much younger). He was actually having a valve operation and they looked like a good honest party couple from the 90s.

Purely by merit of having arrived first that morning and being the guinea pig that got the X-ray machine working I was called in to see the consultant first.

Dr O: ‘Well firstly can I say that I am sorry you have to come in and see me today.’

Well how very refreshing! I haven’t known quite how to take it when you go into hospital for an outpatient diagnostic procedure and are greeted by ‘How are you?’

I know, logically, this is just something people say, but I’m obviously not all right as I’m in hospital for a diagnostic procedure. I’ve settled on saying “Well – I hope – haha’ at which point sometimes the medical person can look quite taken aback but I can only be honest – I have learned this from my asperger husband.

So I feel with Dr O we got off to a good start. Thanks to the wonders of Google and Southampton hospital’s website I knew that Dr O was pretty highly thought of. He was also an expert in an off pump coronary bypass operation which he had introduced to Southampton hospital. This meant that the heart was kept beating during the operation generally leading to a speedier recovery. He drew a basic diagram showing where my blockage was and explained that rather than taking a vein from the leg he should be able to use an existing chest cavity artery that he would simply graft on to my heart. Did I say simply? This should result in a smaller chest scar and an intact thigh.

I would be a good candidate to have the off pump method (it can’t be used in all cases). I said I had read about that on line and understood it was his thing. He smiled knowingly and said “Yes, it’s my thing.”

That was that. The NHS pledge to have carried out the operation within 18 weeks of referral. It was 5 weeks since I had been referred to Southampton so my op would be within the next 13 weeks. I calculated this would be about the middle of October.

Boy was I surprised when on Thursday August 18th my mobile rang and a voice said ‘Hello, is that Mrs Zeus, it’s Gillian from Southampton Hospital. We’ve had a cancellation and Dr O would be free this Friday for your operation.’

Eeek – a cancellation that can only mean a death right? I mean maybe not. Am I overthinking this?

Gillian was lovely and said there really was no pressure, it was very short notice and would obviously mean my going into hospital straight away for a pre op, ready to come home this evening and then go back first thing tomorrow morning. I asked her if she’d mind waiting 5 minutes whilst I called my husband, he was a big part of this after all. Driver at the very least!

I never call my husband during the day but went straight for his personal mobile and when he picked up said ‘Don’t worry – nothing’s happened but…’ and explained this one time offer. He very calmly said ‘Well what do you think?’

What did I think? Well I was just on my way to meet a good friend, Katy, for a couple of glasses of Prosecco at Southsea castle. Earlier that morning I’d said I’d cover at Avalon all day Friday (tomorrow) where I worked, I was feeding my friends cats that weekend while she was at a festival and my pyjamas weren’t ready.

Pyjamas. Well, if a fashionista has to go into hospital for a hi-octane heart by pass operation completely out of the blue, said fashionista is gonna need some lo brow frivolities to take her mind off it. The hospital leaflet said bring pyjamas that fasten down the front as you won’t be able to lift your arms above your head at first. I hit the main ports of call for such an emergency: on line; Top Shop; H&M; Debenhams. Pretty much anything cool included a t-shirty top which had to be pulled on over the head. I don’t like to use the expression when going into hospital for a relatively serious operation ‘wouldn’t be seen dead in’ but that kind of summed up everything else available.

I decided I could make some – I’d buy a pattern and say it with the fabric! So I had selected my pyjama style, scoured the materials on offer locally and had decided on some purple leopard print velour with skull buttons from Amazon. De nerr! Only thing was, I hadn’t made them yet. I could get Bassalot to drop me off at H&M on the way to hospital. Hopefully they’d have in an autumny selection of nightwear that I could probably force myself to rock…

…all weighed up against the very serious point that I needed my heart fixing. ‘Let’s not do it’ he said ‘It’s too soon’. What a love, he knows me so well! I phoned Gillian back (not mentioning the prosecco and pyjamas although I’m sure she’d have appreciated the story!) left the house and had the most lovely afternoon at the castle. Albeit feeling that I was living in one half of a very alternate reality.

This alternate reality continued until the actual operation on 6th October. It was such a huge responsibilty somehow to have turned down a date that would have shaped very differently those next few weeks. I enjoyed my Prosecco at the castle. Bassalot and I went on the newly re-opened by Wayne Sleep Hayling ferry for a scorchio day at the seaside. We went to Victorious festival on Southsea seafront. I met various friends for final beers before the op and then, when I’d met them all once, I kind of met them all again as I was still waiting. I got to see the Nik Cave film ‘One More Time With Feeling’ which when I was offered tickets for, was sure I wouldn’t be able to attend, as I’d be in for repairs.

One afternoon Nikki and I were pencilled in for a couple of pints and she texted to say her Dad was in QA as he had broken his neck. I couldn’t see any way this was going to end well and really all they could do was make him comfortable. He was a strong bugger though and held on for two weeks which was both a time to say goodbye but also a nightmare of realisation that daddy’s going. He died on 31st August.

I ate a lot of iron. And I liked it. Much fish in tins, mackerel, pilchards, sardines. Mostly on it’s own. I’m not a real foodie so didn’t get into phat recipes including feta and salads and pulses. Nor did I really bother with small time iron vehicles like spinach and brocolli. Just went for the big daddies containing the most iron per grammage and ate them. I did drink a lot of fruit juice and pretty much cut out tea as apparently this inhibits the absorption of iron by the body. And steaks, boy we had some good steaks. By op day I was iron woman tastic!

I also had the chance to get chez Lucy and Bassalot ready for my 6 week convalescence too. We did a dump run, I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom to full sparkle, every skull in the house was polished to perfection, I put the garden furniture in the shed, gave the fish a thorough cleaning, the bed a thorough airing.

THE phonecall came on Tuesday 27th September. I had immense butterflies that day and had said to Bassalot in the morning, “I’m sure it won’t happen today but I’ve really got butterflies in my stomach.”

I was walking to work and Alex phoned me from the Spire. The Spire was a private hospital in Southampton and sometimes the NHS used their facilities. Read that as beds, when the hospital was full. They’d already asked if I’d mind being done at the Spire, which I didn’t at all, and they had an appointment for next week, Thursday 6th October. I took it right there and then. I couldn’t actually have been more ready than at that point. I pulled over on the pavement and phoned Bassalot, then carried on to work.

Next Chapter #8 Pink Sunshine coming at ya Monday 7th October – keep em peeled!

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