Chapter #2 Over the hills and far away – the mission – 2009

heart surgery

I’d been getting stomach cramps quite badly before Post Office Monday.

For Christmas, the previous year, some friends of mine had given me a mountain bike as a present. It was Pat’s and had been in her attic, not doing very much. Her boyfriend, a keen mountain biker, had given it a more than professional service and they’d handed it on to me. I always cycled to work and my old bike had seen better days so it was a most excellent present.

After the obligatory Christmas day test ride, speeding round the circuit with the other eleven year olds, my new steed had been parked until my first day back at work after the festive period. As I worked in retail this was 6am on Boxing Day morning.

Anyway, as I cycled, I got quite a pain. Just below my ribs on the left-hand side and down my left arm. I was more crouched over on this bike than my last and put it down to cycling in a different position and maybe a spot of, ahem, Christmas indigestion.

However, the pain carried on.

Over time I experimented with altering the seat height, swapping my bag onto the opposite shoulder, cycling slowly, sitting more upright etc. To be honest, I couldn’t really tell if anything was helping or not as I didn’t get the pain every day. When I did get it however, it was usually at the same point of my journey, after a slight incline. This was unusual in Portsmouth as being at sea level it’s mostly very flat. At the point it happened there was handily a bench and I would pull over and take 5 until the pain subsided. After this I’d be fine. I didn’t get the pain at work or when cycling home. Cycling to band practice and then drumming in the evening was also pain free. It was for this reason that I wasn’t too concerned. I very rarely had breakfast and had generally had a beer or glass of wine the night before. I explained it away as some sort of culturus bifidus unusualness which wasn’t really life inhibiting enough to bother doing anything about.

My job at this time was as Store Manager of a health and beauty store in a busy shopping centre. I loved my job. Retail is a pretty thankless and underpaid career. But that doesn’t take away the fact that I, and plenty of others like me, do love it. You get to meet people and play shop, with like minded retail loving suckers. And you get to move stuff around all day which, according to Nick Cave, is something creatives love doing. It can be a really good laugh. Tiring, relentless, hard on the feet, unsociable on the hours, rubbishly paid, sometimes thanklessly demanding from head office as well as the rudeness of some customers. But day to day, it’s a very life affirming real time existence dealing with real things and real people.

One beautiful sunny morning my new area manager Maggie arrived. There were the standard expectant customers, two crates of delivery and a flagon of dirty hand washing water. Just another day in health and beauty retail. We administered beauty treatments on the shop floor to wow the customers with our wares but the sinks on the shop floor weren’t plumbed in. Hence we were forever carrying large water carriers of clean or dirty water between these sinks and the taps in the back room.

Maggie and I went through various things in the office and then she suggested we went out for a coffee.

And there it was – that epiphany moment. Sitting in Nero’s coffee shop opposite Maggie, and having a sudden and striking realisation that I would be losing my job within the next 6 months. I’d had a similar feeling before. Sitting around a campfire drinking cider and realising that my first marriage was over. They were both moments of absolute clarity and presence. A singularity of understanding. Interestingly, although both realisations were devastating at the time, neither of them have actually done me much harm in the long run.

The last I knew from the previous business owners, was that our store was doing really well and I’d been given a pay rise and keep up the good work kind of feedback. Bring on a complete structural change of the company. We’re talking CEO, head of retail, new loss prevention department and a shuffle round of area managers and here I am, face no longer apparently fitting in the new shiny corporate world.

I was being bandied with phrases such as ‘If there was another store we could send you to….’ and ‘I wouldn’t want to lose you but…’ and all the while she kept saying eat your pannini it’s going cold. Eat my fucking pannini! I felt sick to my stomach as all this had come completely out of the blue for me. She’d bought me lunch and was now psychologically unhinging my world. I had no words or appetite. In recognition of the fact that she may have had a human soul immovably encased in her icy neo liberalist exterior (there, I’ve got that out of my system), at one point she did have a tear in her eye. I reached out and touched her hand. I am most definitely my own worst enemy.

Maggie proceeded to efficiently fill out three pages of pre written objectives for me:

Thou shalt not make thine own signs for thy shoppe

Thou shalt not request a higher stationery budget per month than thine allotted amount (despite dealing with 80% more customers on a regular basis than the majority of stores in the region)

Thou shalt achieve a conversion of 30%…

This was clever. Conversion in retail speak is the number of transactions that ker-ching through your till as a percentage of the number of people who ker-plunk through the front door. We had two doors. Simply closing one door would decrease the number of people entering the store and up our conversion but I wasn’t generally into playing durty retail to fix the figures.

As Maggie waffled on I really did sit there thinking holy crap, I am being performance managed. I know how this works. I get my objectives and will have a defined amount of time to achieve them. Most of this is pretty achievable but the conversion is cleverly the one thing I can’t see myself changing at my store.

We were well placed in a busy shopping centre. People flooded in all day. 30% of potential customers entering the shop and actually buying something may not seem like much of an ask. But an average conversion for a lot of shops is more like 10%. Ours was currently 16% measured by a footfall counter over the two doors to record how many people entered the shop. We could have 1000 people through the door in a day, in groups of friends, families, coach trips, so to do 160 transactions in a day for luxury and mostly giftable goods rather than anything essential is actually quite a win. And as a team we worked our butts off to get those sales.

I could fight this or I could walk away.

The thing is I couldn’t really see when I’d have time to fight. I was already working way over my contracted hours most weeks just to keep up with the expectations of the company and the shopping centre we were based in.

I went home that night and told Bassalot who laughed and was genuinely really proud of me. For all my coloured hair styles and punk rock drummer attitude I’m actually pretty well behaved and a really hard worker. For me to be performance managed did just seem completely ridiculous and, I guess, was gonna be an experience. I supposed I would have to look for another job. I’m sure B wouldn’t still be laughing when my money ran out and I ‘needed’ more boots…

Maggie left. I hated her. I’ve only hated one person in my life before. Slagwhoreworm, who was the culmination of epiphany moment #1, at the end of my first marriage. Bassalot says hate is a very strong word. And, of course, he’s right. I don’t want to hate any other human being. We’re all getting by and dealing with our own shit in our own way.

But Maggie was so inhuman about her delivery and, now I think about it, she never offered to help or guide me to her way of doing things. Just immediately came in and threw the book at me. I’m not naïve enough to think it was only her decision. My going was part of a bigger strategy in the competitive neo-liberalist world we now seem to inhabit.

But honestly, I can truly say that if anyone deserved a good hating that day, it was Maggie.

Chapter #3, Angel of Death is available now!!

Chapter #3 angel of death – slayer – 1986

heart surgery

Maybe if I lost my job I’d have time to sort out niggling health issues.

The pains I’d experienced were getting more noticeable. As the weather got colder it certainly affected me most mornings. I used to go ice skating with a friend called Freya. I’m not sure we did anything that resembled ice skating but it was good fun to slide round the ice for an hour chatting. I noticed it when I was ice skating as well. Maybe it was the cold.

I made a careful effort to feel exactly where the pain was when it came on. It was always in the same place, just at the bottom of my ribs on the left hand side. A quick google to check my anatomy map told me this was pretty much where my stomach was. So eventually I did go to the doctor and say I had a stomach ache. She gave it a good prod to no avail as it wasn’t actually hurting at the time. She prescribed some anti gastric juices meds and off I went. Freya had had similar pains in her stomach and arm which was acid reflux and on the tablets, her pains went away.

Anyway, the tablets seemed to be working.

Seemed to be. Or it could have been that I was getting a lot of lifts in to work with Bassalot. This was directly because it was less painful than cycling. I loved cycling. Purely as a means of transport rather than for pleasure at the weekend or anything. I loved cycling, like a bat out of hell, especially cutting through the cross wind on Southsea common on the way to work. Sometimes it was so windy that it seemed to whisk the oxygen away from your face as you tried to breathe it in. My point being, that the physical exertion brought on the pain. So, after a while, if I could get a lift, I would.

The doctor sent me for an endoscopy. Wow. Poking a camera down my throat right the way into my stomach to see what was going on. I was more than a little fascinated. I realise by now I had become properly concerned about the pains. So although the nurse thought I was scared about the endoscopy, it was actually the possible results that could come from the procedure that was phasing me.

I was surprised that I was taken into what looked like an operating theatre. I think there were three people in there and they brought in a large can of Nitrous Oxide a medical grade version of laughing gas also used in cream chargers. The tiny metal refill canisters which were generally found littering campsites at festivals. It is called laughing gas after all and the second most commonly used recreational drug in England and Wales after cannabis.

I really failed to grasp the significance of this or how much it would have helped the situation if I’d inhaled a whole lot more that afternoon. They told me to take a few good lungfulls and then they’d feed the camera down my oesophagus and into my stomach to have a good look around. The important thing was to relax. Gottit. I’m pretty good at doing what I’m told.

I had it down. Camera; gullet; literally. Hardcore is my middle name, but honestly, that was pretty intense. They dimmed the lights and I remember being lain on my side and one of the guys actually putting his hand on my cheek. It felt really comforting although he may have been holding me down if I was kicking off, who knows. It felt exactly as you might imagine having a camera on the end of a tube slid down your throat. Mind you I am glad it wasn’t up my arse. But now I get what the nitrous oxide was for and given my time over again I would have had a damn sight more few good lungfulls before taking that on – or in.

After the procedure I was chatting to a neighbour, Janice, who had also had an endoscopy. I told her I had found the whole thing quite uncomfortable, at which point she said ‘Oh I had plenty of gas, I couldn’t feel a thing’.


I was genuinely actually quite taken aback. Janice, to whom recreational drugs would have been a complete anathema had got shit faced enough on laughing gas that she hadn’t felt the endoscopic camera worming down her intestine. Janice, devoted Daily Mail reader and Brexit voter had literally had the hit of the whole fruit compared to me. I vowed to do better.

The result: my oesophagus and stomach were absolutely fine, no sign of any cancers and my stomach lining was peachy. Brilliant! But also left the question, why did I get such bad pains. I’d managed to build it up in my head that this was the test that would reveal all. My maternal grandmother had died of stomach cancer before I was born and, let’s face it, who isn’t drinking too many units of alcohol these days. But I was OK. As I left, one of the guys said it sounded as if the pain might be skeletal. So back I went to my GP’s.

Meanwhile, I was being performance managed to within an inch of my sanity at work. It was almost a laughable situation (were it not so serious). I’d started at this store as an Assistant Manager and then become Manager. I’m probably not really a manager in the corporate understanding of the word. Sure, I can manage things. All my paperwork’s done on time, I’m considerate to my staff and their lives outside of work, I get a kick out of chasing targets and beating them and coming up with engaging ways of doing this as a team. Have I mentioned I love moving things about? In retail this is called merchandising, and without a doubt, this is something I am shit hot at. But, I am not a bitch. And in retail, more and more, this is what you are expected to be as a store manager. One regional manager at a previous post even told me this.

“I expect all my visual managers to be bitches.” I might as well have packed my bags then.

I had my first hearing. Myself and Maggie and a witness and note writer, our new company Loss Prevention Manager. He was ok, I knew him from before as a store manager. I could take someone along myself if I wished. I had joined a trade union, in a bit of a panic, but it was too soon for them to become involved in this case. My rep did give me really good advice though on the telephone. My other option was to take a work colleague. I didn’t want to take anyone who worked with me at my store. I hadn’t told them about my performance management. They didn’t have much love for our area manager anyway and I always resisted making it an us and them fest with head office. It wasn’t productive to the working environment. At work I generally wanted to do a good job and get back to my life outside retail. And the time I got to do this in was getting less and less. I did ask a manager from another store to come to the hearing with me. She was lovely and agreed straight away. At the final hour though I realised I didn’t really want to put her through it either. It was her company too and she’d have to keep working there after I’d potentially left. I didn’t want head office to think any less of her for siding with me. So I repped for myself and did a bloody good job.

As I had been given about twenty objectives on epiphany day, I had the exact homework I needed to do. I took each point thrown at me, researched the facts and figures I needed and basically had a well evidence backed answer for everything. And it wasn’t even cocky, flappy or lying. It was fact.

I was given another, much smaller list of objectives and told I would get a date for the next hearing in about 5 weeks time.

Once again I am my own worst enemy. I am infinitely capable but will never push myself forward. In front of another human being mostly, as I don’t see myself as any better or worse or more deserving than anyone else. But I am small and blonde and female and am treated very much as such. I won’t say I don’t play to this as well. There’s a certain amount of I can get away with anything precisely because I’m small and blonde and female. But it really goes against you in any position of authority. People become genuinely alarmed if I start making decisions and the small blonde one becomes ‘difficult’ or ‘feisty’. I think that being capable and good at my job means getting on with it and not shouting loudly about what you’re doing all the time. But you really do have to shout loudly at work or you get walked all over. I think even Maggie started to see that I was actually doing a good job in desperate retail circumstances but it was never going to work out between us. Interestingly, the company managed out the managers from the three highest turnover stores. I was one of a cull. And now not one of those stores is still there.

I would say that from the first hearing I had met every one of Maggie’s ridiculous objectives – except improving conversion. She lowered the goal post from 30% to 20%. This was actually way more achievable, but, like I say, I was pretty much over the whole fight by now. I felt massively unjustly treated like I can’t really put into words. If I think about it too much I am still venomously angry. I knew I was in a very fortunate situation. Bassalot would support me if I didn’t have another job to go to. I don’t have any children or dependants who rely on me and my wages and ultimately I could always go to my parents for money. I don’t, but I know they’re there. I am really aware that not everyone has that and I am so angry that corporations can play with people’s lives. For some people what was happening to me could have been a complete financial and personal disaster.

I told the team at work a limited version of events and that if our conversion didn’t get to 20%, I’d had it. I’d decided to leave by this point anyway. There was no way on this earth that I was going to sit through another hearing and justify myself to that unpleasant human being. My plan was to wait until the date came through for my next hearing and then hand my notice in. The team were amazing! Through fair means and foul our conversion crept towards the mythical 20% and the whole situation was becoming more and more surreal. I was good at this and still being managed out.

Physically I was a wreck. Bassalot says every year at Xmas I finally crawl home on Xmas Eve and he rebuilds me and packs me back off to work inevitably on Boxing Day or the day after to deal with the sales. Normally at Xmas I was a feisty wreck but this year I was a broken wreck. The constant crap I was getting for everything we were achieving was like some sort of bizarre reverse punishment.

The date came through for my final hearing. I phoned Maggie first thing in the morning. There was no answer but she phoned me back and I did the deed and handed in my notice. I arranged to stay until December 20th. My first Xmas not working in retail for about 15 years. Maggie said did I feel better now I’d told her.

In my head:


Some people.

Because I hadn’t really told the team what had been going on, my leaving genuinely came as quite a shock. One girl started crying tears of happiness for me for getting out which was pretty sweet. She left a couple of months later. It was all a bit of a haze. I played the game for the final five weeks. Still conscientiously trying to get everything done. I had no wish to leave any of the team with shit to deal with after I’d gone or the new manager, whoever they might be, for that matter. Maggie got in a new assistant manager a week before I left so I had someone to hand over to. Then Maggie announced she would be coming down on my last day. A Sunday. The Sunday before Xmas.

I know people have real traumas that they have to go through in life. Bassalot’s charity, Music Fusion, is testament to some of the circumstances that young people have to grow up in. However that Sunday was genuinely one of the worst days of my life. By this time I was empty inside. Actually hollowed out. Maggie arrived with chocolate and flowers. Really?? I just sucked the whole thing up. We did a hand over and store walk with the new assistant manager. We needed signs for the post Xmas sale and Maggie said, just print some up. Print some up??? Her own objectives meant so little to her now. I was lost for words. I don’t think I heard anything else she was saying and within half an hour she’d left anyway. I had a bit of a sob in the loo. Nobody, and I mean nobody, reduces me to tears. Way to go Maggie.

I stepped out to greet life beyond corporate retail.

Heart stuff gets a bit more dodgy next week – chapter #4 Evil Magnet, here Monday 16th September xx

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 #6 sugar coated bitter truth – slaves – 2013

heart surgery

It was about a week before I received the letter.

It said after discussing the results of my angiogram with colleagues at Southampton, a by-pass operation would be a better form of treatment for me than stenting and I had been referred to a consultant at Southampton. Pretty conclusive then.

I had another appointment at the brain clinic although by now we pretty much knew what the problem was. My seizure was described as provoked, secondary most likely to some kind of cardiac event leading to syncope and a head injury. And my brain MRI was normal – hooray, just my heart then. We did purchase a CD though with my brain scan pictures on it. Spooky stuff, seeing the profile of your own face with your brain behind it.

It was probably about time to google heart bypass operation. I was, vainly and with no apology, fairly preoccupied by the scar that I may have after this. I’ve got three tattoos, the latest one I had done this March. Building up to it I’d been watching a programme called tattoo fixers on TV. A lady on the show had been in to the pop up ‘studio’ having had heart surgery several years before and had had a delicate rose tattooed over her scar. Heart surgery to me then had sounded pretty serious and she had a long scar reaching from her mid chest, straight down her cleavage. I hadn’t thought much then about what had happened beneath the scar.

So the first thing I googled wasn’t actually heart bypass operation but heart bypass operation scars – images. Well, google doesn’t deliver bedside manner images. If that’s what you ask for, that’s what you get. Realms of them. Mostly on guys and, I now know, mostly quite fresh as given 12-18 months many scars fade to barely noticeable. I read an account by Arnold Schwartzenegger who, when he was told he needed heart surgery, had said to his doctor just book me somewhere in Mexico and have done with it. If I tell my wife she’ll want to talk about it all the time. Then she’ll tell her Mum who’ll want to talk about it all the time. Just do the op and then I’ll go home. His doctor had pointed out that he would have an 8 inch scar down his chest and possibly his wife would notice so maybe he should tell her in advance.

I thought about the scar for a long time. I mean, days, weeks, not just hours. Way more probably than actually considering what would be going on under the scar. Weirdly, I actually quite like my boobs and chest. I’m not particularly a cleavage girl but was aware that 90% of my wardrobe would show my scar. There were various articles on line about how different women felt about their scars. Generally, as a guy I would imagine, it’s quite a macho thing to have a massive chest scar. As a woman, not so much. However, as an alternative woman and a drummer in a punk band I kind of came round to the fact that it was gonna be and look pretty damn cool – and was, of course, a tattoo opportunity for the future.

So, what exactly did a heart bypass operation entail? It’s pretty much like a road by pass and diverts blood around narrowed or clogged parts of the major heart arteries. A surgeon will use a blood vessel from another area of the body and graft / sew this on around the damaged area. The original artery remains in place. Literally a by pass is created.

I didn’t realise this before my operation but I actually had a severe blockage of the left anterior descending artery. This artery supplies the heart with 80% of it’s blood and runs down the outside of the left hand side of the heart. It is the main heart artery and heart attacks involving it are sometimes called the widow maker. I’m pretty glad I didn’t actually have this much information before I went in for surgery. Or if I had I may not actually have moved for the time between diagnosis and surgery. The whole thing is pretty fascinating though. If I was younger, being a bit handy with a needle and thread, I might well have considered retraining to be a surgeon. As it was though, 7 years at med school now and the cost alone, window dressing seems by far the easy option. I couldn’t find one female heart surgeon out there though. Not that I wanted too particularly, I just find these things interesting.

The part I most had to accept / deny was the cutting through the breastbone. I knew I’d be heavily sedated. I’d had general anaesthetic on two previous occasions so had no worries about waking up mid op or feeling anything. Before my first operation, to remove a gangleon from my hand, a work colleague had described a general anaesthetic she’d had as feeling like the best sleep she’d ever had. I have to say she was right and it was good advice for allaying any fears. But it is typical that to get to my heart, the surgeon would have to saw through my sternum for fucks sake. That’s just not a good thought. I don’t even think it would be a good thought for a heart surgeon if they had to have a heart operation. It’s possibly one of those things you shouldn’t have to consider as a human being. I was quite fascinated as a kid by the Aztecs sacrificing their victims by pulling out their still beating hearts. It was all seeming a bit too close to home now.

However, I do take my hat off to the older guys I’ve known and who my parents and friends have known who’ve had to go through any sort of heart surgery. It seems kind of accepted that a percentage of older guys will have to have heart surgery, they’re usually the demographic. But I now feel bad that I’ve never known what a heart by pass was and it must be just as bloody terrifying for them as it is for me now. Cutting through your sternum is gonna require a saw, right? Just before going into hospital I’d bought the Slaves new album and I think the track’s called ‘Play Dead’ and at the end there’s the sound of a chain or circular saw along with a guy demonically laughing – still makes me feel a bit queasy…

My other slightly interesting development was having to take medication every day. I know, I know loads of people do but I never have. I only take paracetamol or ibuprofen for a particularly hectic headache or period pain and the thought of being on pills every day now was quite strange. I put off starting to take them for a few days. Then I sat down with all the cautions and side effects and worked out which ones needed food and particular times to take them. I would take my statin, bisopropalol and half the angina tablet in the morning. The aspirin had to be taken with food and as my breakfast habits were a little sporadic I decided I’d take this one in the evening with the second half of the angina tablet.

The pharmacist at the hospital had said the angina tablets worked by keeping the blood vessels open. However, this wasn’t just in the heart but all over the body. Especially in the head so I could potentially expect headaches. Well, yes, I’d call that a headache. Not like a normal headache tho, really even and distinctly pharmaceutical in nature, and wrapped around the bottom of the back of the head. Also, annoyingly, this was the tablet that I had to take in two halves over the course of the day so once in the morning and once in the evening I had to swallow something that I knew was going to cause pain. It was a bit like a Pavlovian puppy response. I was caught in a loop of just shifting the headache then having to start another one. It seemed worse at night when for about three hours it would take a grip and I’d just have to lie there, awake, knowing it would shift at about 3am to have to start it all again in about 6 hours time. And drinking. Med taking has certainly shelved that little habit. Basically it just makes you feel pants. Light headed, like drunk really quickly and not in a good way. More headaches, hot flushes, dry mouthed – fun, fun fun!

But don’t get me wrong. I am supremely grateful to modern medicine as I haven’t mentioned the best thing of all about all these tablets. I don’t get my chest pains anymore. I mean, it feels incredible, after possibly 18 months of intermittent pains, to have been diagnosed correctly and for there to be pills out there to reverse my symptoms until I can have an operation to properly sort it out. I fully salute science and doctors for being on it today and for many years previously that I am able to benefit directly. And also to the many patients who didn’t make it in through the exploratory days of heart surgery so that I can survive today. Even so, I do feel pretty wiped out. The headaches remained severe every day for about three weeks and then gradually they started to recede. The hot flushes were really hot and took me by surprise every time when they came on with their severity. I still wasn’t entirely sure they weren’t menopausal as my periods by this time were almost non existent but the thought of tackling a menopause with the doctor right now as well as a heart condition was too much.

In all honesty menopause – you can wait.

Chapter #7 Waiting for the Nightboat available now!!

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