Chapter #4 evil magnet – toxic rabbit – 2008

heart surgery

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

Chapter #5 black is my heart (nemesis) – cradle of filth – 2004

heart surgery

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!

Chapter #8 pink sunshine – fuzzbox – 1986

heart surgery

Shit had got real as they say somewhere. It was a week and 2 days until the operation. This still meant a certain amount of getting on with it as normal, interspersed with FUCK it’s happening. I had practical medical things to do like re-order my prescriptions so I had enough to take with me into hospital. Stop taking aspirin 7 days before the operation. Start bathing in Hibi Scrub 5 days before the operation.

Practical me things to do as well. 6 of my friends had birthdays. Some admittedly I missed which I put down to being busy / pre-occupied but figured I could sort at least 3 of them out pre op. Pay my monthly share of our living expenses into the bank, show Bassalot where our life insurance papers were (well, there were no guarantees), paint the kitchen wall behind the bin (? – strange things start becoming important), and fulfilling social engagements.

The hardest people to see before my operation were Mum and Dad. I’ve never really been a high maintenance child. My Mum said recently I pretty much born-ed myself and have been getting on with it ever since. Faced with an illness I just wanted to carry on as normally as possible and I am rubbish at being looked after or even being cared about. I won’t forget my Dads face of worry on Skype calls and because I’ve always been very self contained and independent, I didn’t really know how to handle it. My parents love me so much I couldn’t imagine what this must be like for them. With B I can openly talk about death and quantum possibilities whereas I found it incredibly difficult to talk to Mum and Dad and wish I could have been more sympathetic to their fears.

I’d obviously let them know that the operation was happening but they floored me by saying they’d like to come down and see me before.

Of course they would. I would need to see my offspring before they were cut open, it was so obvious but I really hadn’t seen it coming.

Also, Bassalot’s Mum and partner were in town and we’d kind of thought we might pop round there too. With work and socials and festivals, the best day for everyone was Sunday so I thought we’ll do it all in one hit. Go out for lunch somewhere with everyone and have a lovely afternoon. Next thing I know is Bassalot’s niece will be at his Mums that weekend so will come along and my brother and new girlfriend will come down from London! I felt slightly sick – I was kind of wanting to shut myself away by then and breathe calmly into a small paper bag. But now some kind of social event was happening, weirdly in my honour, but it wasn’t a birthday where I could be gregarious / drunk / centre of attention. Something good was happening for me (I’d been waiting for this date for 3 months and it was going to make me better). But that something was also this brutal carving up of my body where ultimately a guy was gonna saw through my breast bone and lift my still beating heart out of my chest. Maybe I’d watched too many episodes of Game of Thrones but that really was the reality going on in my head. But everyone wanted to be there because they cared and that was amazing. Or because they felt they should see me before I went in case I didn’t make it, who knows.

We got through it. Mum and Dad were amazing considering it must be awful if your child is poorly and needs a fairly invasive operation to sort it out. Dad said he’d started googling the procedure but had pulled out as it got more graphic. I rarely see my brother and he seemed really happy and tactile with his new squeeze. I liked her a lot and think he’s done alright – he certainly generally picks em more high maintenance than that. Just before they went home I didn’t really have any words. I’m not sure there were any really.

Hibi Scrub.

Hibi Scrub is bright pink and an anti microbial wash for use before an operation. The first use needed to be Saturday but I’d been at work all day and then went straight to the Southsea festival so did a wash when I got back about 11.30pm. I’d been told to use it sparingly. It had to last for five body washes and one hair wash and should be applied on disposable flannels. I’d got a cheap towel from tesco and cut it into squares – I was on this! It was kind of ok (in the most non luxurious bath experience there ever was). I sat in a puddle of bath water and did the instructions which was circular washing motions, all over the body, top to toe, paying particular attention to where the operation was happening. The whole thing was pretty cold, clinical and a stark reminder that something was up but I did feel particularly squeaky clean afterwards.

I did the same on Sunday night but used a bit more Hibi – aware that it had to go a long way but still.

Monday morning I was booked into another pre op (as my last one had apparently expired) to give swabs and a blood test. As I was now booked into the Spire hospital, I had to go to Perform, the private hospital clinic also in Southampton. Well. We got in and were immediately offered a proper barrista coffee in reception then bustled along by a lovely nurse who handed me various cotton buds to swab various nooks and crannies myself. The NHS nurses do it for you. She explains the colours of the nurses uniforms at the Spire, I think the darker the blue, the more senior the nurse. She asks if I have any Hibi Scrub. I say yes and that I have been using it since Saturday. She says, I bet you haven’t got enough though have you and presents me with a whacking great bottle 4 times the size of my original. I have a brief moment of thinking, I don’t need that much and who’s paying for this anyway, but gratefully take the bottle. The instructions actually say use as a shower wash or add liberally to bathwater as a bubble bath. Other than that the label and ingredients are exactly the same. However, in private healthcare you can splash it around wantonly and bathe luxuriously whereas on the NHS you have to kind of stand like a convict making the most of every anti microbial molecule as you rub it on your naked body.

The nurse also mentioned that on women, the breastbone when it first meshes back together, tends to stick up a bit, which doesn’t happen with guys. This would go down over the three month healing process and she wasn’t sure why it happened. I was glad she’d mentioned that as no one else had and boy was she right.

That night I bathed in luxury in Hibi Scrub heaven. If I ever have to have another operation involving Hibi scrub on the NHS I would certainly purchase top up supplies – not the most important thing in life but the little things do make a difference.

Monday afternoon I worked in Dress Code and set up a window to last the duration where funky alternative items could be swapped over for other ones quite easily until I returned. Pats came in, my favourite ab fab buddy and we had a bit of a laugh. She forgot her phone so her other half came in to pick it up and his little eyes were far more full of terror for me.

I went home and had a final steak / iron rich dinner.

Tuesday I did my few hours at the ebay emporium and said goodbyes to the guys in Pegasus. The owner of the shop next door (who only knows me as Oxford) was kind of trying to spark up a conversation but to be honest I was all out. I had told a lot of people but sometimes I just didn’t have the energy to go through the whole conversation again. It was actually nice to meet people who didn’t know and you could just have a normal conversation with them. He asked what I was up to and all I could say was ‘prepping’. No other explanation. I could tell he thought this was a bit lame but after the operation I could probably be more upbeat about the whole thing.

That afternoon, I was going into town to meet Nikki after work at about 3.30. I’d asked what her Dads favourite drink had been and we’d sup one of those in his honour. She’d said good lord no, it was vodka and red wine but that he’d also been partial to a pint of Guinness. Well that’s full of iron surely and seemed like a more plausible pre operation day tipple so we set off to Portsmouth’s Irish bar Shenanigans – well, might as well be stylish about these things. It was a bloody good pint of Guinness if I’m honest. Not something I generally quaff but when my brother lived in Dublin for a spell we’d visited and supped good fresh fruity Guinness and Portsmouth’s version was pretty up there. We then headed to Albert Road for a final half of Amstel. We’d just arrived when Nikki’s other half caught up with us – he always liked to join in a drinking social and was quite mortified when I said right, I’m off, I’ve got an operation tomorrow. He seemed to think he’d be in the pub all night if it was him, which did seem like a good alternative but I was heading home for Bassalot love, eggs, bacon and beans and my last night at home for a while.


Join me in hospital next week – well metaphorically speaking, for chapter #9 Wait For the Blackout… see you here at ten past six on Monday  14th October xx

Chapter #9 wait for the blackout – the damned – 1982

heart surgery

So it turned out there was no way Pussy Deluxe was gonna fit in my over-7- nights bag. All you had to take were some toiletries, pyjamas (tick), the clothes you turned up in (as you could go home in these too) and maybe a change of do up down the front top, some slippers and a dressing gown. My dressing gown was called / emblazened with the words Pussy Deluxe and had been a loyal part of my life for the last 15 years.

She was a purchase from Berlin. Bassalot’s mothers side of his family were originally Polish and had, by some weird freaky change of borders become German. Bassalot himself had been born in an army field camp in Germany and his maternal grandmother still lived there in Celle. She was quite elderly and we were visiting her, with Bassalot’s Mum for 3 nights then moi and Bassalot were heading off on our own for a few nights in Berlin. Great city. A flurry of history and architecture, goth bars and burritos, the beautiful Tiergarten in autumn, subway travel and, of course, SHOPPING!!

We do love a bit of alternative clothes shopping in other countries and even with a limited internet back in heady 2009, it was possible to ascertain where the cool shopping areas were gonna be. On one of these streets we found Pussy Deluxe. In amongst the clothes for sale by the kg and all out alternative goth emporiums there was a small independent shop. Hanging in one corner was the plushest dressing gown you have ever seen. In bright red and covered in black cartoon cats with oversized heads and eyes to emphasise cuteness and the words Pussy Deluxe emblazened in white all over the fabric. It was pretty much full length on me (not difficult as I’m not tall) and I think I remember it being 39 euros. Well, unusually for me as normally I wouldn’t be able to decide and might have spent the rest of our stay trying to find the same shop again so I could actually buy it, I decided there and then to make the purchase. The shop assistant spoke perfect English, as is often the way in Europe. It turned out that not only was it a fabulous dressing gown, but it also came in a red plasticised bag with the same pussy deluxe logo on it and the words ‘I have the right to bath in luxury’ – fantastic!

We left the store, 39 euros lighter and B galantly swinging Pussy over his shoulder, billboarding throught the streets of Berlin that he had ‘ the right to bathe in luxury’. Love him.

Pussy has served me well over the years. I had considered getting a less loud dressing gown for hospital (it was in danger of clashing with the purple velour leopard print pyjamas after all) but had decided the extra expense of a new dressing gown wasn’t on the cards. Now, however, she wouldn’t fit in the overnight bag.

I’d just have to upgrade to the skull suitcase. I hadn’t wanted to frighten any old ladies in hospital but sometimes, fashion just forces ones hand. My bag was packed, a final brunch of scrambled egg and bacon and the sun was gloriously shining. What a surreal day to be going into hospital for a heart bypass operation.

We arrived at The Spire.

Private healthcare.

A serene water feature paddled to the left of the front doors that automatically opened for us to go inside. The front desk was all very business like. I was given a form for registration and Bassalot kindly furnished his credit card details. Although I was funded by the NHS there were all sorts of sundries which could be requested the first being “Would you like a daily paper in the morning Mrs Prowse?” I’ll be honest I’d be fine with my Elle and Vogue.

We were taken upstairs to Ward 1 and I kid you not, it was a lovely little room. Apart from the obvious hospital style bed and understated emergency oxygen canister and a few other peripherals around the head end, it would have been a perfectly nice B&B for a night’s stay. The en suite bathroom also was decidedly not medical, the sink was quite low and there was some sort of biomedical waste bin but everything else was perfectly normal and there was even a complimentary shower cap, shower gel and shampoo. Marvellous.

Various nurses came in and introduced themselves. One with a great Transylvanian accent enquiring as to how I was with ‘the bloodz’. She took a few samples. It turned out I was fine with the bloodz and am O+. I had to do a pregnancy test and came running out of the bathroom saying ‘It’s a boy!’ but Bassalot went a bit pale at this so I calmed the fuck down.

It was a weird headspace. B was keen for me to unpack and settle in which I guess made sense. I was more perched on the side of the bed in limbo between settling in and waving B goodbye. I’d just stepped out of my life and the glorious sunshine outside into what was basically a complete unknown. There was a gadget on the bed with three buttons – the overhead light, nurse and (as far as we could make out) barrista! I gave in my supper order, pretty impressive and I went for Scottish salmon and a Crème brulee (I kid u not) for pudding. B had brought a pack lunch with him which soon got wolfed down and we settled into a bit of TV and snuggles whilst we waited for the consultants (anesthetist and surgeon) to come round at the end of the day.

My anaesthetist was tall and grey and very doctor looking. He had few words and sat in with us saying it would be an old fashioned anaesthetic. Not knowing, I had to enquire as to what that was. Two large sleeping tablets and a shot of morphine in the butt. No kidding, that sounded pretty old fashioned. I was up second in the morning so this would be brought round about 9.30am to my room. I would be left for about an hour for the drugs to take effect at which point I would be sleepy but rousable. There wasn’t much to chat about after that, few allergies to cosmetics, hadn’t had a problem with general anaesthetics before so all looked fairly straightforward.

Bassalot went home. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for him. He does look after me real good (when I let him) and he just had to hand me over to admittedly professionals but who nonetheless were gonna drug me and cut me open. We’d taken a selfie of us both before he left. I love that picture.

I waited for Dr O to come by, it seemed to be getting quite late. I was kind of thinking I’d rather he just went home and got an early night. Surely he had a big day tomorrow. I was up second and I would think there was at least another cardiac operation after me. I guess I can pull off mental working days but I’m not normally grafting arteries onto people’s hearts.

He turned up though and was very re-assuring, asked how I was doing, said he’d try his best for a good result and have me back on my bike in no time – he remembered! I had to sign the consent form for which the reason for the operation had been filled in already ‘improvements in quality and quantity of life’ – sign me up! There was a 1% chance of death or stroke and a blood transfusion was a possibility if required. He said he would phone Bassalot as soon as the procedure was done and he was welcome to visit whether or not I was conscious yet.

I embarked on my penultimate Hibi Scrub. There was no bath here but with my fulsome bottle I could lavish it on and by Hibi #5 was a pink squeaky clean iron laden body of antimicrobial goodness. I popped into my purple velour jim jams for the first time and looked in the mirror from the white hospital bed. Rod Stewart looked back at me. Not the exact persona I had in mind but he was pretty cool in the Small Faces right?

I texted B. Told him I loved him with all my achey brakey heart and relayed my Rod Stewart concerns. I got a text back by return of satellite. We had texted each other at exactly the same time. He then sent me the selfie we’d taken and assured me Rod Stewart was the coolest. I said he should probably be drinking tequila about now. He sent me a picture of a bottle and shot of tequila.

Breakfast at The Spire was served at 7.30am but I was a definite Nil By Mouth that morning. The nurses had been very chillaxed about it all the night before and said they’d be in to wake me about 8.30, I’d need to have one final Hibi Scrub but didn’t need to wash my hair in it and the drugs would start at 9.30am. Fairly understandably I’d woken up much before that. Got it on with the Hibi Scrub, decided I’d be asleep for a while so might as well have good hair and gave it a wash and condition with the complimentary shampoo and my own blonding conditioner. Well, no point letting your standards slip. I was once again, scrubbed and pink and irony and enrobed in Pussy Deluxe plus my new £1 small creature slippers. Honestly there were so many pairs of eyes on me at that point I was getting a little freaked out. B had texted while I was in the shower. I described my Pussy deluxedom and he replied that I had the right to be hospitalized in luxury – awwww.

Nurse Celeste knocked and serenely swept into the room. She seemed genuinely surprised that I was up and ready reclining on the bed looking more as if I was waiting for a massage than a heart operation. She said everything was on track. The first patient had gone down fine so I was next and she would be back in an hour with my meds and all I had to do was have my hospital robe on.

There was plenty of social media that morning to take my mind off things. Pats said she loved me but not in a gay way. The singer from Shooting Fish thought I’d rock the theatre. I’d always hit the drums so hard we’d joked I was stadium ready so she could’ve been right. And an out of the blue message from another kick ass girl drummer (I just put myself in that category too!). She is now gonna be drumming for Shooting Fish saying she’ll be keeping my throne warm for when I’m feeling better and ready to smash the shit out of my kit again! If you’ve watched the film Spinal Tap, you’ll know that it’s always the drummer who spontaneously combusts or is likely to need an organ transplant at an inopportune moment – myself no exception. Anyway, it was a really thoughtful message and I fessed up that I was in fact waiting to be fixed right there and then and the morphine was on its way any moment. She thought her timing was ridiculous, message wise, but badoom tsk! her timing had been perfect, like any drummer (!) and had made me smile.

9.45 Celeste came back. The two large sleeping tablets were in fact one small blue tablet and the morphine was a good old-fashioned shot in the arse. She left my gown undone at the back saying she’d seen how they manhandled bodies in the operating theatre trying to undo them at the back so probably best not to bother. I didn’t think this through too hard. Although it has struck me since that on the now three occasions that I’ve had surgery, I have always woken up with bruised elbows. This makes more sense as I can now imagine drugged arms falling around due to gravity, whilst taking gowns off.

I texted B to say the morphine was in and the oxygen was on. He sent me a photo of his big kissing lips, Gordon, a hand puppet gorilla and tiny princess a small rag punk doll I’d left him with in my absence. He then texted to say he’d accidentally sent that photo to my dad too. Even better!

True to the instructions I next awoke at 10.45ish to nurse Celeste and two guys who rocked me onto a wooden plank I think to shuffle me sideways onto a suitable trolley. We wheeled through corridors and lifts, saying a few words about tattoos. I met one of the guys again later and he said on the way to get me they’d been saying that Lucy was a really unusual name for an old lady. When they got in the room they were quite surprised that I was actually quite young. It’s weird as at 47 I feel quite old but in coronary bypass surgery terms I am, it seems, a young anomaly.

I ended up in a small room with a lovely lady bedecked from head to toe in important looking green scrubs. I mean properly covered from head to toe. Crocs on feet and hair and head all wrapped away in green. She chatted, I have no idea what about, and I could see the double doors at my feet end opened directly into the operating theatre. People came in and out of the doors and I grabbed snatches of what was going on inside but didn’t really recognise anybody. At my two previous operations I’d always been wheeled into the theatre, introduced to the staff, seen the massive alien style operating lights above the bed and gradually been talked through the drugs I was about to be given before hearing the infamous lines “This will just feel like a bottle of wine”. Here, I’d obviously been given some killer drugs already and slept, and waited.

And slept.

And waited.

And slept.

Next week find out What’s Inside a Girl, chapter #10. Same time, same place, but a special guest writer as I was obviously pretty out of it.

Chapter #10 what’s inside a girl – the cramps – 1986

heart surgery

There is someone in my life who is very important to me. I have known her for over 20 years and I love her dearly. Her name is Lucy and she rocks.

Lucy is the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed at night. She likes her music fast and loud. She embraces life with a vigour that is unmatched. One of the best things about her is that after all this time she still manages to surprise me on a regular basis.

To sum up, Lucy is the most beautiful person I know.

It was hard to watch her get weaker over the weeks leading up to the operation. It was an inspiration to watch her bravely endure all the indignities the process threw at her.

The day of the operation is still fresh in my mind. I had not slept well. I tried to keep busy waiting for the call from the surgeon. The phone rang about 3.00pm, which was earlier than I was expecting.

Thankfully it was good news.

Before the operation a nurse had told me specifically not to ask Dr O whether it was OK to visit Lucy. I presumed this meant that he had said ‘no’ in the past, and the nurse was saying ask her instead. I was surprised when Dr O asked was I able to come and see Lucy. The operation had just finished, I said I could be there in about an hour. He said this was good.

Just over an hour later I found myself stood outside the intensive care doors. After quite some time a nervous looking nurse appeared and pulled me to one side. She asked why I had come? I said Dr O had suggested it and she rolled her eyes.

The nurse kindly explained that Lucy was unconscious and would be for several more hours. She informed me of all the machines, wires, tubes and drips involved and that most people found this quite distressing. Finally she said that even though Dr O had suggested it, it really was not a very good idea.

Something happened which I don’t understand. I think it may have been the look on my face. The nurse said firmly, ‘Are you sure you are up for this?’ I said ‘Yes’.

She took me through a myriad of corridors and half curtained off beeping areas before I saw a bed. I say a bed it looked more like a tardis type machine with bustling engineers, and Lucy in the middle.

I put my bag down and trying not to trip over anything or get in anyone’s way. I stepped up to the bed.

Now I say that Lucy surprised me nearly every day. This day was no different.

There, amongst all the tech, I saw for the first time in my life, Lucy’s sleeping face. As I say she is always up before me. She goes to bed after me. She gets the most out of every waking minute. I hadn’t realised that I had never seen her expression so deeply asleep. I was overwhelmed by the thought that Lucy is the most beautiful human I have met. The nurse looked concerned and said was I OK.

Looking back afterwards I realised that the next things I said were kind of tacky. However the nurses around her all seemed to understand. I said, ‘She is beautiful and she is alive. I am delighted.’ I turned to the nurse who had let me in. She was in full sterile gear. I said, ‘I would hug you but you’re clean and I’m not.’

I let myself out of the hospital and drove home. To be honest the next 24 hours are a bit of a blur.

He’s a boss B) – pop back next week for the first few shaky steps post bypass and some hospital shenanigans. Check in to ‘Whatever Doesn’t Kill You is Gonna Leave a Scar’ (thank you Mr Manson), same time, Monday 28th October XX

Chapter #11 whatever doesn’t kill you is gonna leave a scar – marylin manson – 2009

heart surgery

Ten past six and I haven’t even gone into theatre yet. I’ve been waiting ages.

I look down and see a little bit of blood on my chest dressing.

Chest dressing!

Sneaky fuckers, they actually drugged me outside the operating theatre – it’s happened! Everything now is post bypass surgery.

The clock on the wall was directly in my line of sight from the bed. It was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes. Definitely ten past six. The big hand couldn’t be more perfectly aligned with the ten past marker. It seemed like a good time. Presumably ten past six that evening. I looked under the hospital gown again. Everything looked incredibly neat. A narrow dressing stretched from about where my eye can first see my chest and snaked off to the left under my boob. ‘We’ll try and keep the scar as little as possible’ ‘?’ ‘?’ There’s a blood spot at the top and the bottom just so I know what’s underneath.

Night time was painful. All kinds of painful but armed with a morphine drip which I seemed to be able to request on tap. And my other best friend, simply a small plastic cup of water armed with a bendy straw. I must have been being watched all the time although I wavered in and out of knowing what the fuck was going on. One nurse in particular was always there gently altering small taps in my neck and administering on request. I didn’t abuse this free drugs situation but neither did I suffer.

I became aware of another male patient opposite me and under the clock. There was another clock on a pillar which I could see from the corner of my left eye. I kind of hope there was one over me so he knew what time it was too. Directly opposite me seemed to be the main doors to intensive care. There were lots of people wearing the green uniform of surgeons and bank nurses going in and out of double doors. Presumably going in and out of theatre – but I am just guessing. I don’t have a clue about hospitals. Some of my friends are nurses and I am completely fascinated about how someone for a job can get up and go to work knowing peoples lives are at stake let alone cardiac surgeons who may have to saw through three peoples rib cages in a day.

One of the girls I used to work with in window dressing had previously worked in an aquarium and their biggest worry from any cock up was that ‘fish might die’. I can safely say that in my roles from fashion designer to window dresser to drummer at no time might ‘fish have died’. The thought of making decisions at work where ‘people might die’ as an outcome to any kind of mix up is quite mind boggling. All credit to medical staff everywhere.

Things that happened during the night not necessarily in the order that they happened:

Bassalot ‘phoned. To my right was a dark blue curtain and this seemed to be the edge of the beds. Important stuff was happening to my right. The ward and patients, were all to my left. People busied about and measured drugs and watched screens and talked and a phone rang. A nurse came round the corner of my unit and said she had someone to speak to me. It was about 9pm.

“Hello petal, you’re beautiful and I love you. How are you?”

Not one for gushing and emotion I said “Yeah, pretty good, considering what I’ve just been through.”

‘I’ll be there and see you in the morning. I love you.’

He’s a good boy.

At some point Dr O, my surgeon, appeared beaming at the end of the bed. He seemed pleased. I was pleased. All was good.

The patient opposite me was not having too good a time. As my mental state adjusted to being in intensive care I’d deduced he could have been the cardiac patient in before me that morning. He was awake and talking and had got to intensive care before me. He was only across the way so I could hear that his heart operation had gone well but his kidneys weren’t yet functioning which is apparently a thing after heart surgery. They were talking about putting him on the machine. His wife / girlfriend arrived very a la footballers wife, skinny blue jeans, tall boots, blonde hair and blousy and she sat by him. They seemed pretty close. His bed seemed massive and to be high up and almost at a 45 degree angle. There was lots more space around it for machines and equipment that in a standard ward which added to the largeness of the whole scenario. He also filled a lot of it sideways and his arms were spread out beyond that. He was also quite sun tanned.

At one point I woke up and couldn’t bare to be on my back any longer. Working it out now I’d probably been on my back since 9am on 6th October and was kind of trying not very successfully to wriggle. I asked the nurse if I could roll over which they helped me to do by about 45% and wedged me there with pillows longthways down my body. It was pretty good.

Later this also got pretty uncomfortable and I wanted to be back on my back, which again was pretty good.

A lady who I’d been aware of who seemed to be organising pharmaceuticals came over to the bed at some point. She had the most amazing head dress arrangement all pinned beautifully and massively around the kindest and wisest female face I think I’ve ever seen. She was all smiles and saying how sweet I looked in the bed and how perfect my hair was – not messed up at all. I knew it had been the right decision to wash my hair pre op. She was actually the same pharmacist who came to see me when I was discharged to give me my take home meds. I said I’d remembered seeing her in intensive care and she said she remembered me too mostly because I wasn’t a 60/70 year young gentleman who would have been the usual suspects on the cardio ward.

I’m only sumising now, being more au fait with hospital shift patterns, that it would have been about 6am the following day that my lovely night nurse said she would give me a little wash. I was pretty impressed as it would have been the last thing on my mind even with Bassalot’s promised visit. Warm little soapy pads soothed my back, shoulders and smalls followed by warm wash off pads doing the same.

I was ready for the day.

Catch up next week with ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ here at ten past six  on Monday 4th November – peace and love! XX

Chapter #12 just can’t get enough – depeche mode – 1981

heart surgery

I don’t know if there are windows in wards but there’s definitely mood lighting going on in the ceiling to delineate night and day for those of us who aren’t so sure. So the lights were definitely on now, the pace had picked up. Mr I’m married to a footballers wife so could be a footballer’s predicament seemed to remain the same. He was visited by the same anaesthetist who had administered at my operation. In fact he had many consultant type visitors and his significant other was still there sitting by his side. There was one thing where they pulled the curtains around him and said she could stay but suggested maybe people didn’t always like to stay for ‘this’ so she left for a while but was soon back.

My new nurse had amazing curls of hair and seemed more based at the foot end of the bed. Night nurse always seemed to be ready at my head end. New nurse wasn’t nearly as generous with the morphine either. Well, I may have just got in the habit of asking for it every time I woke up which was generally when I was in pain. She just said no. I was stumped.

I was also excited that as it was now tomorrow, Bassalot would be visiting any moment. He would presumably arrive on a white steed with a slight ethereal glow through the double doors straight ahead of me. I was keeping my eyes on those doors.

Among many others who came through those doors tho was Little Mouse. She was dressed all in black with her hair pulled back into a pony tail. She skittled about the floor covering a lot of ground, without getting in any ones way and also came up to see me.

‘Can I take your breakfast order? You are on light snacks so you can have cereal or toast.’

What the actual?? I’ve been bathed, which would have been the last thing on my list following having your chest sewn back together and now I was being offered breakfast, similarly a crazy idea in my situation surely??

For some reason I’m just not a breakfast person. I always had breakfast at my mums. It was there so I ate it. Generally cereal or toast from the kitchen or, if we had people staying, cereal or toast in the dining room with little spoons to go in the jam and honey pots. When I moved to Portsmouth to go to Polytechnic I barely managed to pull together much more than a cheese and bean toastie and never in the morning. When I ran Spanbodywear I was generally too excited about what colour furry legwarmers I’d be sewing that day to devote time to breakfast and in the demanding world of retail why would I get up any earlier than my shift demanded in order to eat? A coffee maybe but that was about it.

So, generally, I don’t do breakfast.

Me: ‘Oh no I’ll be fine thank you.’

Little mouse: ‘You really can have whatever you like, what do you usually have for breakfast?’

Me: ‘No, no, I’m really fine.’

Little mouse: ‘Just a small bowl of cereal?’

I’m a drummer in a punk band. I have a look that can melt the eyebrows off a silverback but obviously not right now.

Me: (resigned) ‘Ok, I’ll have a bowl of corn flakes please.’ So polite. I did grow up in a village on a very short leash from my mother. I am inherently polite to everybody, even complete wankers, as I genuinely do believe everyone has a right to their own opinion and way of doing things. There’s a saying ‘Don’t judge another until you have walked seven moons in their moccasins’. Moccasins aside, I always try and not judge anyone else even if their viewpoints are entirely different from my own. I will never know how their life and experiences have shaped the way they view and experience the world. I’m not even convinced we all see colours the same, or smell smells the same at a functional level, let alone when our emotional attachments to certain colours and smells come into play too. So I couldn’t be rude to Little Mouse. She was doing her job.

Little mouse: ‘Would you like milk and sugar?’

Me: ‘No, no, just the corn flakes.’

As soon as corn flake gate was over my mind returned to the pain that had been slowly building. I’d forgotten in the night that the pillows placed down my left hand side to give my back a rest, had been removed, bar one which was now under my bum to stop me pile driving down the bed at it’s jaunty 45 degree angle. As it had now been there for so long and possibly forgotten it had become a bit of a crumple zone for me to mesh into and become a little contorted over time. I asked Nurse Curls again if I could have some pain relief but she said light-heartedly:

‘Here you go, here’s breakfast, try a bit of that and then see how you feel.’

A regulation table was put across my midriff. The bed was raised a little more. Sharp intake of breath as something (obscured by the table) seemed to suck a little more comfort out of my chest and I was faced with a bowl of dry corn flakes. And to the left of it, Little Mouse, at about the same level saying adorably:

‘You didn’t want milk or sugar so I brought you a portion of honey.’

And she had! Just there, next to the corn flakes. I loved her then for such a kind gesture although I didn’t actually want corn flakes or honey and I was really in pain. It felt as if two skewers were ramming in my stomach and supporting most of my weight to boot. Nurse Curls and Little Mouse both had so much hope for me in their eyes that I would eat the corn flakes and everything would be fine. For them, I stuck my hand in the bowl, pulled out a corn flake, and ate it.

It was the first food past my lips for about 18 hours. I had no saliva, cracked lips and now a dry corn flake in there as well. I think a small tear escaped.

Little Mouse: ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t like a leeetle milk with that?’

Me: ‘I don’t think I can face any milk right now.’
I tried again and fairground game stylee dropped my fingers, claw like, into the bowl (I think there was a spoon in the bowl but I’d decided to go feral for this one), and defiantly pulled out maybe 3 or more corn flakes and put them into my mouth.

It was no good. I gave up. The corn flakes just plain and simply weren’t working. Little Mouse wanted them to, Nurse Curls wanted them to, hell I wanted them to.

Me: ‘Please could you put the top of the bed back flat as I’m in so much pain.’ By now tears were freely flowing from my eyes, which I shut. I breathed purposefully out through my mouth interspersed with sharp intakes of breath also through my open mouth. I’m sure I was kind of whimpering as well although not crying. I don’t think drummers generally cry. Just hammer on things. The bed being put back did actually offer a huge relief coupled with the face of Nurse Curls holding 2 Paracetamol and a Tramadol which would soon kick in and all would be right once again.

Nurse Curls: ‘Here you go. Let me know if you need another Tramadol and we’ll get those tubes out of you. That can often help with the pain.’

Me: ‘Phhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’

Yep, I remember the skewers… they’re coming out to a Chelsea Smile, chapter #13, 11th November 6.10pm – see you there xx

Chapter #13 chelsea smile – bring me the horizon – 2009

heart surgery

Nurse Curls busied about. Pain free me shnuffled around in bed quite happily, still keeping half an eye on the door for Mr Ethereal. Another nurse arrived with a sizeable canister of Nitrous Oxide. I’d been here before and, with the teachings of Janice alive in my mind, knew that whatever was coming was gonna be a whole lot more bearable on a few good lungfulls of Nitrous Oxide.

Nurse Curls: ‘Ok, you need to put your mouth over the mouthpiece and inhale and it should make this noise.’ She lets an amount of air out and a great Darth Vader inhaling noise ensues. I get straight in there and get the exact noise required. It’s quite a large mouthpiece for my small mouth. Also dry and plasticky which compliments perfectly my dry and plasticky lips. I fight back the gag reflex and get in a few practice lugs. Slightly metallic taste but other than that not much to report, it is a mix of nitrogen and oxygen I presume which we’re breathing anyway, just in slightly different proportions.

Nurse Curls: ‘Ok, the effect isn’t very long lasting so the trick is to keep going, long deep regular breaths, breathing in and out through the mouthpiece. We’ll let you get going then give you a breathe in once, exhale, breathe in twice, exhale and on the third time you hold hold hold and we pull the tube out. There are two tubes so we do the whole procedure twice.’

Apparently there are tubes in me.

I love medical staff as they do always explain exactly what’s going to happen in very simple terms and then it does happen. Also, thanks to all the extra curricular activities my Mum had me doing at school, I am very good at listening to and carrying our instructions.

I was pumped, let’s do this.

The breathing commenced and overtime I did get fairly light headed. I was so convinced that Bassalot would turn up while this was happening (it just seemed obvious) that as sound distorted around me I definitely heard his dulcit tones outside the curtain. I really concentrated, tubes are coming out man, this shit’s real, I can hear my breathing. Nurse Curls starts to count ‘Inhale one….. inhale two and hold, hold, hold…’

Pull, pull, pull oh christ something is actually coming out of my stomach and it’s quite fat and long

Nurse Curls: ‘Oh god it’s always those blue bits which get stuck’

At which I burst out laughing, mind spiralling into overdrive. The last time I had a tube in me (whilst being conscious admittedly – yesterdays operation being the exception) the tube was going up through the vein in my wrist all the way to my heart ready to pop in a stent. So when Nurse Curls said:

“It’s always the blue bits which get stuck!” – my mind graphically and rather beautifully I thought conjured up a manga animation from a film I’d watched called Urotsukidoji. Blue tendril like veins were ejecting from my stomach as the tube left its housing. And as I was on laughing gas this seemed incredibly funny rather than in any way horrific so I removed the mouthpiece and said ‘Please don’t mention the blue bits’ while almost crying with laughter.

She laughed and said ‘That’s why they call it laughing gas!’ I sucked hard and we went in for tube number two.

I was having a massive rush and there was silence both at the same time. I was facing straight ahead and the relief of the tubes being out was euphoric. I now realised why, when I was in bed, that I felt as if my rib cage was being supported on two skewers. The nurses, one on each side of me said ‘Well that was really good, you did really well, textbook.’

They took away the cannister and opened the curtains which had been drawn to surround the bed. I presume the whole thing had been quite noisy. Curtains don’t generally mask a whole lot of noise like that. I remained shocked for a little while and I never thought I’d say this but thank you Janice.

Two chapters up for you tonight so Chapter #14 also up on line for a read – ‘No Rest for the Wicked’ xx

Chapter #14 no rest for the wicked – new model army – 1985

heart surgery

I needed a chest X-ray before I went back to the ward. The thing about private healthcare is that everything comes to you. In a normal hospital I would have had to have located the X-Ray department, taken a deli style ticket and then waited for my turn in a queue. In private land, the whole X-ray picture taking machine was wheeled into intensive care and parked in front of my bed. I had to have the photographic plate pressed up against me for which they managed to sit me forwards even more and prop it in between me and the bed. Job done.

There he was! Finally my knight in shining armour arrived at the double doors. I was bathed, two tubes free out of four and feeling pretty good. Nurse Curls was battling with the sticky tape holding in whatever was going into my neck. She managed to separate the sticky from my now not-so-pretty-and-steadily-matting hair, give it a bit of a clean and applied fresh sticky over the robotic bundle.

Little Mouse was there again. I knew obviously resistance was futile so politely listened to the ‘light bites’ lunch time menu and tried to apply rational thought and went for an omelette. Full of protein-ey goodness surely just what you’d need after a night in intensive care. ‘Any ham or mushrooms or cheese?’

“No. No. Just plain would be wonderful.”

In the wait for the omelette, B calls me beautiful on more than one occasion, which in my state is some deal. And I know he means it. I’m not a corpse for a start, which for the past 6 or so months has been a possibility. I do also know that I’m incredibly lucky to have such an attentive and honest partner. He said that Dr O had phoned him at about 4pm yesterday to say that all was done and that I was currently asleep in intensive care and when was the quickest he could be there. He’d said in about an hour and was there to view me, wrapped in plastic with a deep sleeping face on. He’d told the nurse then that I was beautiful and alive. Good result.

Little Mouse arrived with a plate of omelette. True to style at the Spire we’re not talking a one egg omelette here – this was a plate filler. But I still really didn’t have an appetite. To please Little Mouse I gainfully cut a mouth sized corner and chewed non-enthusiastically. It really was all I could do. The remaining 2 6/7 of a plate of eggs sat sadly on its plate Sorry chickens, I really am, but I have been through a lot.

By this point, they were quite keen to get me out of intensive care. Presumably the next cardio patient would be on their way out of theatre and needing a bed after all. Football guy was in no way ready to give up his berth so I was slowly but surely eased off my mattress, swivelled round and before I knew it was sitting in a wheel chair.

At this point I still had a wee bag, a smaller chest drain, neck attachments and various wrist and arm inserts as well as oxygen being funnelled into my nostrils through two little plastic tubes just like I’d worn in the oxygen bar at Bestival. I think just for a little dignity, while my hospital robe flapped around various inserts, Nurse Curls drew the curtains around my cubicle. She then left Bassalot and myself and the omelette alone while she got paperwork etc together in the main part of the ward.

I kid you not, Bassalots hand came up like a robotic arm, picked up half the omelette and shovelled it into his mouth. I’m not sure if he knew exactly what he was doing, it had been a tough night for him as well after all. I was just fairly pleased the omelette hadn’t gone entirely to waste. When Nurse Curls came back, butter wouldn’t have melted in that big grin-ey and omelett-ey mouth.

The two of us, well fed and made-to-look-presentable were handed over to a porter (one of the guys who’d picked me up the day before) and off we wheeled back to the ward. Bassalot’s phone went off with a ‘ninja’ sample and subsequently he and the porter got onto the topic of Die Antword, otherwise, I arrived ‘home’ without incident.

The nurse helped me into the chair in the corner of my room and I started to take stock of my new surroundings. I’d changed rooms for a start. I was now room 2 rather than room 3. It later transpired that while I’d been under the day before, pretty much all hell had broken loose weather wise and maybe, just maybe, the windows had blown in on my original room. There was certainly a lot of work going on around that area for the next couple of days.

My new room was fairly identical, small 3D printed Bassalot was standing on the bedside table, Pussy Deluxe was hanging on the back of the door and my fashion magazines appeared to be intact on the table.

I was putting a brave face on it but obviously I was pretty spaced. Despite having devoured half my omelette, B was ready to sample the delights of the canteen so he left me to it to go hunter-gather.

I (not that far removed from the modern world) found my phone and dialled my parents number. I called their landline and my Dad answered, professional as ever, saying “Hello” and then repeating the number I had just dialled. I hadn’t thought that my mobile number wouldn’t necessarily be programmed into their caller display unit so when I said “Hello, it’s Hannah…” there was a long pause as he absorbed this information and slowly and disbelievingly said “Hannaaah – how amazing!” It was obviously the last thing he’d been expecting barely 24 hours after heart surgery for me to be on the end of a telephone. Up until then Bassalot was the bearer of information. Dad probably wouldn’t have expected to speak to me directly for days. I’m so glad I called and will always remember the love and disbelief in his voice.

Before he left, B had tuned my TV on to 6 music which was far nicer to listen to than the bright lights and brash tones of daytime TV. Familiar sounds lapped around my vision as I flicked through the latest editions of Elle and Vogue. Velour pyjamas are big now – wouldn’t you know. Lauren Laverne was inviting people to get in touch and say where you were listening to 6 music from. I did run this through in my mind as quite an unusual listener. Hospitals trump most situations right so I’d probably have made it on air but at the same time I wasn’t sure people would want to hear about a gruesome operation, and did I even have the energy to actually dial the number into my phone. Or feel brave enough to talk live on air.

The Cult, She Sells Sanctuary, drifted from the radio. It reminded me of going to record fairs as a kid and rummaging through flouro coloured self made cassettes of bootleg recordings of gigs. My train of thought drifted to a guy at school who had a complete library of bootleg cassettes for sale. I’d bought many and had made him a mix tape in return. I was visiting my friend in a neighbouring village where he lived and so I posted it to his house. I remember I nearly knocked and for some reason I didn’t.

It turned out that night his girlfriend was missing and there was a massive police hunt for her. A guy walking his dog found her body in a barn a few days later. She’d been suffocated. It was truly awful. A massive whodunnit followed. It’s kind of ironic as the village where I grew up is now one of the locations for Midsommer Murders on TV. Roadblocks were set up and motorists were questioned in all the small villages. It was pretty much decided that a goth had done it and there was a less than convincing photo fit in the local paper that looked like any male goth I might have known at the time. Even more ridiculous as it turned out the ex local police chief’s son had committed the murder.

I didn’t go to the funeral. I don’t like funerals. I presume nobody does. The only funeral I actually want to go to is my own as some sort of finale party with my friends and family (assuming I go first of course and am not the one left at the end).

I thought about Heather. A really good friend of ours who had committed suicide at Christmas a few years ago. I didn’t go to her funeral either. We’d been camping that summer, a big group of us from back in the day and Heather had been there as an integral part of the shared flat brigade.

We had a great weekend with her as we were part of the naughty or no kids corner. The whole weekend was beautifully nostalgic and chilled out with people who we all felt incredibly comfortable with. We’d all shared flats and houses in our 20s so to be honest there were no secrets anymore between us and it was a priviledge to meet up with everyone again. My abiding memories of Heather will be her laughing as she tried to get her salvaged chucka tent back in its bag. And sharing a couple of ciders on a hot afternoon. And (many years before) having my first go on a drum kit ever with her back when she was a chisel jawed guy named Chris. All these memories I cherish and I selfishly didn’t want my abiding memory to be of her funeral but with no Heather present.

I’d indirectly thought a lot about suicide as a kid. Not for myself, but about it as an act. My Dad was a teacher and another teacher at his school had drunk some kind of cleaning product to kill himself and had then presumably been in a supreme amount of pain and told his wife. They rushed to hospital but nothing could be done to save him. I thought long and hard about him, his pain, his thoughts, his wife and the doctors. I cried so much for all of them. It must have been really hard for my Dad too. There was no real conclusion to my thoughts other than that life is not a given. It truly is a precious and incredible thing. And death is final. Absolute. I’ve got no proof of heaven. I just think you stop and am ok with that. But boy was I gonna make the most of the days I did have.

I also thought a lot about the moment when I woke up after my heart bypass operation. Ten past six. As there was just the snippet of the thought in my mind when I went under, that that might be it. And I’d been ok with that too. But now I was back. I was definitely back.

Heavy times but all good. Definitely back next week too, 6.10pm, 18th November with next chapter #15 ‘Paper Thin’. Have yourselves a good week 🙂 xx

Chapter #15 Paper Thin – hot water music – 2001

heart surgery

The first forty-eight hours in that hospital bed were a regimented cycle of visiting nurses. There was Celeste whose real name I have to use because how cool a name is that! It really suited her as well. She was supremely elegant, like a ballerina and drifted around as you would imagine the Marie Celeste to be drifting into a moonlit pirate cove. There was no fussing with Celeste, just calm.

Then, so you didn’t get too calm, there was kung fu nurse. She strode into my room, full of business. Whereas really you’re encouraged to do as much by yourself as possible, as I tried to sit up she magnificently hooked my neck in the crook of her elbow and swung me upright as if I were a rag doll. It felt completely professional, if a little unexpected. She brusquely told me that one pillow was in no way enough and would be back with another two. She soon was and laid them at the top of the bed, each beautifully slightly overlapping the previous one in a line. She was so believable that I was convinced this was going to feel amazing. Although when I did actually lie back it didn’t feel as if I’d lain back at all and was in fact, still in a seated position. I slowly got rid of one pillow and then the next over the course of the night, slightly terrified she’d return and hook me into another position of punishment that I could do nothing about. She also talked loudly on the phone for most of the night outside my door.

There was a slight Korean nurse who loved my little cute mouse slippers but was terrified by the wildlife noises coming from the trees outside my window. And the lady with the convincing Transylvanian accent who had first asked me about ‘the bloodz’ was also a regular carer.

Every four hours I would have my temperature checked via my ear, my oxygen levels would be read, blood pressure checked and the amount of fluid in my chest drain flask measured. Also medication. I was on regular doses of paracetamol and sometimes Tramadol and anti nausea drugs as required. It was a strange pain when it filtered back as the drugs wore off. As if a massive weight was pressing down on my chest. I guess even though I was asleep for the operation, my muscles were still feeling the effect of being held apart for a few hours so access to my heart was possible. It was a pretty real feeling that I had actually been ‘open’ and now had been pulled back ‘closed’ again.

I could operate the bed by buttons on the side. I wasn’t allowed to push myself up or support my body weight in any way with my arms so had to raise the top of the bed fully to the upright position when I wanted to sit up or get out of bed. Then I could swing my legs round to the side and shuffle on. As I said, with a catheter and no poo yet, I really had very little to do except to reflect on the sorry state I found myself in. It was pretty much at this point that I thought I might write it all down…

So, my wee bag. The nurse called it a catheter, and it worked differently to a bladder and going to the toilet normally. Until it was taken out I didn’t think to check how it was accessing my bladder. As I say, I’m generally ok with medical stuff, I just don’t need to look at it too closely. I just know I was constantly dripping into the bag, fairly gushing when I drank a cup of coffee. I do drink a lot of water anyway, hence the constant drip but I was amazed how big and heavy the bag looked in no time. Surely that’s my bladder under normal circumstances, I suddenly had a healthy respect for what a bladder has to go through. When I’m out on the pints, I kid you not, I can go all night without needing a pee. I am, jokingly, bladder of steel. While my friends are commenting on just how many times on a standard night in the pub they need to go to the loo, I very rarely do.

As your bladder is constantly emptying into the bag you never actually feel as if you need to go the toilet. And it’s quite liberating not to be tied to such basic biological functions. Also, following a hectic bout of general anaesthetic my intestines were completely asleep so there was no chance of anything more solid either – bliss. As I do drink a lot of water, the nurses couldn’t have been happier with the amount and colour of my urine – top of the class!

My other attachment was a smaller chest drain. A container the size of a small flask into which was literally draining reddish bodily fluids. At each check the nurse would see how much fluid had drained into the flask (there was a measuring gauge up the side). Luckily, I’m guessing, not much was. Hopefully all my bodily fluids were contained in the inner workings of my body and newly revamped heart rather than swishing around in my chest cavity. These two attachments had to be carried everywhere with me. Although as I didn’t need the toilet at all, and was properly dog tired from all the anaesthetic in my system this was literally from the chair to the bed.

Lying in the hospital, my heart beat too felt surreally different. I’m guessing it was wired up slightly differently to how it had been, and could now flow freely. If I lay back too flat in the bed I was so aware of the new beat that it was unbearable. Really powerful in my chest. Had my heart really been rubbish for that long? When Bassalot put his head on my chest he said he could hear an off beat. Certainly never had one of those before. More just a constant BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. Probably explains why I’ve never really got on with Reggae music. I don’t hate it but it doesn’t make me want to move. My friend feels the same and calls it being Reggae indifferent.

I read magazines, ordered food, barely ate food, watched TV, tried to read a book but my concentration levels really weren’t having it, and slept – a lot.

If you want to – tune in next week for a horror style dream sequence – ‘Welcome to my Nightmare’ – you’ve been warned! Sleep well… xx