Following my endoscopy, I had booked another appointment at my GPs. With the NHS, in order to get a health problem diagnosed you have to be referred to a specialist by your GP. So after every test that proved negative, I was bounced back to my GP before embarking on the next line of enquiries. Not the most efficient use of everyone’s time, but a workable method. I’m not sure how else I’d do it. There was always a wait between appointments and this meant that I had now been in the system, for about a year, with no resolution.
I didn’t see my usual doctor. I’d taken the first available appointment I could get rather than going to someone I knew. The surgery was over run as another doctor had been called out on an emergency and I got an incredibly young limp handshake kind of a guy. I tried to explain what had happened thus far and that endoscopy guy had suggested my problems may be skeletal and could I please be booked in for a chest X-ray. The doctor wasn’t having any of this. He said under no circumstance would he book me in for a chest X-ray and that I should buy some Voltarol and go home. The situation was laughable but however many times I tried to explain that I had now had this pain for 18 months, he would not budge on his diagnosis. I did what he said but fairly obviously the Voltarol did nothing for me.
I made an appointment with my usual GP next time, which was a wait of about two weeks and got my referral for a chest X-ray.
In the wait for chest X-ray, Post Office gate happened.
So we were dealing with a seizure. I’ve never blacked out in my life before. It’s kind of not a Lucy thing to do. I get massive FOMO (fear of missing out) so the likelihood of me missing anything by blacking out is fairly minimal. Even if I felt myself blacking out I would hang on to my senses with the strength of an ox rather than give in to what my body is telling me would be a good idea. I’ll happily be the last one at the party or the pub or event. It’s not that I’m being the life and soul of it, it’s just that if life’s happening I want to be there and not asleep.
The consultant at the hospital said I’d need a brain MRI scan although my CT scan had been clear. I left hospital clutching some ECG heart monitor print outs clearly saying ‘lead fault’ in places. My heart though was never mentioned as an area of concern.
It was a strange time. Something had obviously gone wrong but I was just sent home to get on with things. I don’t think I could have convincingly gone back to my previous job in full time retail. The pains I’d felt whilst cycling and walking were now ten times worse than before the black out and although B had told the hospital about my chest pains, nothing much had been mentioned about them since. It was just a matter of course for anyone who’d had a seizure to then have a brain MRI.
After my night in hospital I phoned the GP to explain that I needed an appointment as I was still getting my pains and had now blacked out completely and spent the night in hospital. The receptionist just didn’t take on board the magnitude of what I was saying and I couldn’t get an appointment for another week and a half! I was actually devastated, put the phone down and sobbed. I did know it must be something serious as Lucys just didn’t black out like that.
I was duly summoned for my brain MRI scan. I’d googled the whole procedure and knew it would be pretty claustrophobic. I’d recently read Viv Albertine’s book and it had completely done her head in as the claustrophobia was so intense. I shrink wrapped myself in steely resolve. I’d only just arrived at the hospital with B when they called me in.
It was a big old machine and I had to lie down on my back. My head was wedged in between foamy panels to keep it still and a panic button was placed in my left hand which my thumb could operate if I needed out. I’m guessing a few people did. Some kind of shield was then pulled down over my face. There was a perspex panel in front of my eyes so I would have been able to see something. As I wheeled slowly forward into the imposing doughnut, the tube I was entering became smaller and smaller and I just shut my eyes and focused big time on breathing. I don’t even get claustrophobic. I remember caving when on an outward bounds course as a kid and going through some cave fixture called ‘The Letterbox’. The battery pack I was wearing on my belt got wedged and for a while I was stuck in a really confined shelf space. It was a bit unnerving for a minute but I had no reason not to trust the adults I was with to not be able to get me out of there. Had I been caving for kicks and exploring new ‘Letterbox’ fixtures as yet un-posted by other cavers, I might have panicked. But I was on an organised school trip, I presumed it was obviously safe.
Much the same here. My rationale was that thousands of people had this procedure all the time and obviously the doctors weren’t gonna wheel me into some machine which was going to crush or extrude me. I just had to keep breathing and maybe not open my eyes just yet.
Then the noises started. As far as I knew I was in some kind of massive magnet which would line up all the cells in my body so that photos could be taken. This is completely non harmful to the human body, unlike an X-ray. So I guess the noises are the magnet circling round you doing it’s thing. It’s properly loud mechanical industrial regular noises, first one sequence, then another and then another. And even incorporates something that sounds like a clown hooter – I wondered if the doctors were messing with me at that point. I was aware of footsteps walking round at times – over the din. I was reassuringly told I was doing really well and would soon be done. I have absolutely no idea how long I was in there. It must have been 20 minutes. I did enjoy the industrial soundtrack but really had to keep focused on my breathing or I would have felt quite nauseous. At one point I felt brave enough to sneak a peek and open my eyes. I could see through my visor tho can’t actually remember exactly what. I think some kind of screen although it could have been a reflection of something. It felt like being on the space shuttle in some kind of astronauts pod – as obviously I know what that feels like. It’s weird when they said we were nearly done as I started thinking about time again. When I didn’t know how long it was going to take I was completely in the moment of the experience itself. The doctor’s voice broke the seal on that moment and I was aware it would end soon but it felt like ages compared to what I’d already been through.
Finally I was reversed out of there. I joined B outside and he said my eye brows were raised so high he thought someone had squeezed my anal gland. Love is. No results straight away for this one, they would be in touch.
I couldn’t even walk to work now without getting a crippling pain and having to stop at some point during the journey. B and his mate have a band called Obsidian Sun and I was going to do some drumming with them at our anniversary party. At the practice I had to stop after one track. Very un-Lucy like behaviour. The worst I had was walking home from work one day. I dutifully pulled over into some dappled sunlight on the pavement when the pain attacked, and knowing what I know now, possibly had a small heart attack there and then. When it passed I carried on home.
When I did finally make it to the GPs, she referred me to the chest pain clinic straight away – as an urgent case. Tell that to the receptionist.
Not really realising that coronary heart disease statistically was up there with cancer as a world killer, I arrived in Cardiology at Portsmouth Queen Alexander hospital with more wide-eyed curiosity than a doom cloud of this-is-the-end hanging over me. I certainly didn’t really know what coronary heart disease was, or a heart bypass for that matter. I was about to be educated. My GP had said I would be wired up to an ECG and then put on a treadmill. This seemed to be the first sensible test idea since I started with the diagnostics as I only ever felt the pains when I was physically moving, walking or cycling.
This didn’t actually happen. I did have an ECG which showed up a slight murmur. I was told I would get a heart monitor to wear for five days during which time I would keep a pain diary. Based on these results they would decide what course of action to take. I was impressed with their urgent list as from here things did happen fairly quickly.
I went in a few days later and had a heart monitor literally stuck to my chest over my heart and a few electrodes stuck on my torso. The whole thing could be unpoppered from sticky patches so you could bath and shower. With this on I carried on as normal for 5 days. Typically I didn’t have any monumental pain in this time. The worst was possibly in Tesco unpacking the trolley onto the conveyor belt – very glad I didn’t pop my clogs there and then. Totally un rock and roll.
I handed the monitor and diary back in at the end of the week and that was that.
My next two tests came in on the same day the next week. I assured B I was fine and he dropped me off on the way to work. I had an ultrasound early morning and an angiogram afterwards at about 11am. I’d had an ultrasound previously on my thyroid which apparently was nobbly, but ok it turned out, so knew what to expect. Slimy goo over my chest and a monitor pressed down quite hard in various places of interest. The good thing about an ultrasound is no risk and instant results. Fairly speedily, the radiologist (?) informed me that my heart was the right shape and all my valves were working correctly. Woopy doo. I half thought about cancelling my angiogram there and then. What else could possibly be wrong with such a positive ultrasound result. Me and my medical knowledge – astounding!
I had a couple of hours to kill so took in the delights of Cosham park and market then headed back to hospital.
An angiogram is far more invasive than an ultrosound. I was gowned up and cathetered and felt properly hospitalised. I was going to have some kind of radioactive dye pumped through my veins and was told I may feel as if I needed to go the toilet and get a metallic taste in my mouth. What I’ve learned about doctors and nurses is that if they say you may feel blah blah blah, then yes, you definitely will feel blah blah blah. But you will feel it ten times more than the bright and laid back way in which they say it. It’s called a bedside manner and it’s done so as not to freak you out so I’m down with that.
I’m up next when a bed arrives from Southampton. It has a patient on it and two porters accompanying presumably the patient rather than the bed. Although beds are that precious, it could have been the bed that they were after. Anyway, it transpired that the porters can’t leave the patient who needs this procedure urgently so I’m politely told that I’ll need to wait while she goes in first. Fine by me. I’ve had a sneaky look at the room I’m going in to. It looks like a bed so I’ll be lying down and being shunted through a disc like a doughnut again. There are a lot of flowers and woodland scenes on light-walls around the machine. Quite a serene room really.
Finally I’m good to go. I lie on the bed and the medics (I really don’t know if they’re nurses, doctors or consultants so no offence meant when I use the term medics) give me my instructions. They’ll be in the next room (unlike an ultrasound, X-rays can be harmful boys and girls) and I’ll be able to hear their instructions through a speaker. Basically breathe deeply as instructed.
In all honesty I could barely hear what they were saying but one thing I definitely missed was them saying the dye was on its way. I presumed the dye would be coursing through my veins for the entire procedure. But no. Suddenly I had the overwhelmingly hot feeling that I was weeing uncontrollably. I properly had to check when I got up that I really hadn’t.
So that was that. I had my catheter taken out and got the bus to work. Again, unlike an ultrasound, the results for an angiogram are not instant. I would maybe hear something or maybe not, if everything was ok.
Next week’s is a bit brutal – tune in at 6.10pm on Monday 23rd September for Black is my Heart (Nemesis) – Cradle of Filth 2004