MY TURN (PART THREE)
It had been a wonderful dream of childhood times. Perhaps I just imagine a tear on my cheek as I awake in my hospital bed, 14 years older than my Dad when he died.
I became aware that I am in a small ward of only four beds, two of which are made up and empty. The other, in the far corner, holds a sleeping male with more cables on him than a pre-war telephone switch-board. The room is silent until a young nurse walks through the door and sees I am awake.
I weakly bid her good morning and she responds with a broad, pleasant smile. She answers in the affirmative when I enquire if my wife will be coming. I am still washed out and tired, but this is cheering news.
She takes the clip-board from the bottom of my bed and studies it as she turns the pages.
She is surprised when I answer positively to her query as to whether I have private health insurance. Looking over her shoulder to ensure she cannot be overheard she goes on to confide that there are no heart specialists in this hospital. I will remain in this ward for a further 42 hours before joining 20 other patients in rehab. After a week, if I remain stable, I will be prescribed some pills, then discharged with advice to let them know at once should my condition worsen.
So this is the National Health Service. I am shocked. I have to get out of here. Quickly.
After about an hour a doctor examines me and a half-hour after that I am in an ambulance with two attendants speeding to the private hospitral, just a further three miles away.
There, I am placed under the care of three specialists and am housed in a single room with all mod.cons. including TV. telephone and Room Service.
I undergo many tests, including the ‘miracle’ of an angiogram. This allows me to see a TV screen showing my own heart at work and also the offending blockages in my arteries.
I survive a further two mild heart attacks during the following week, by the end of which, at 9pm on a Friday evening, my wife is with me when I receive a visit from the heart surgeon.
He advises that the tests have indicated I need a triple heart by-pass as soon as possible. I nod in agreement and ask him when it may be. I am shocked when he replies, casually: “8am tomorrow. Any delay will prove fatal.”
The specialist leaves and my wife and I hug. I phone Noelle, the most beautiful and loving daughter a man could ever have. On hearing my news she breaks down and cries, uncontrollably. Up to this moment my emotions have been fine, but as I hear her sadness I, too, break down, and we weep together so that further conversation is impossible. Val takes the phone and soothes our daughter for a minute or two before hanging up.
Almost immediately the telephone rings. I am still sobbing so Val answers and it is my son, Gavin, a big strapping man, 30 years of age, who has the same temperament and strength as my father. She speaks until I gradually regain control and then hands the phone to me. I put it to my ear and simply say: “Hello son”. He sobs and we are unable to converse. Val finally takes the phone from my hand, consoles my son, and slowly hangs up.
We are unable to contact my younger son, Scott, who is away.
Later, after my wife has gone home, I am left to my thoughts in the empty room.
The kids had wanted to visit but, on reflection, it was decided it was very late in the day and their presence would not alter the course of events. The right decisions had been made. We had arranged for Val to be notified of the result of my surgery as soon as it was known and she would convey the information on.
I was probably the only member of the family that slept soundly that night.
I had faced death before.
For three successive nights the bombs had dropped around us. Each morning we heard of neighbours who had perished and the thousands who had died in our town. (It was later announced thatBootlehad been 80% bomb damaged – the worst damaged town in theU.K.) Rows of houses had vanished overnight and had been replaced by craters of smoking, stinking rubble and fires were everywhere.
I was 7 and I slept well every night, without fear.
I was as certain then, as I am now, that I will awaken tomorrow.
Around 7.30 I will receive an injection and all will go black. After that only one of two things can occur – either I will wake up or I will not.If I do not awaken I will have died the most comfortable death available.
But I know I will awaken it will be fine.
Over the past week I have discussed arrangements with my wife and tried to cover all eventualities. Worst scenarios have to be covered, however painful. Val is convinced everything will be alright but my kids are devastated.
Their sorrow has been contagious.
I have come to realize that although I still have no fear of death I have developed a dread of the effect my death will have on my family. I love them dearly and do not want to be responsible for their tears.
I come from total blackness into a grey mist. Two indiscernible figures are at either side of my bed. I slowly realise that the person holding my uncovered left hand is my lovely daughter. She is talking quietly to the other person, my wife. I try but cannot move or communicate. I need to tell them I am fine but am only able to squeeze the hand that holds mine.
I hear her weep as she says “Mum. He is squeezing my hand. He can hear us. He is okay”
I am satisfied and drift back to the darkness.
I have learned that my athletic youth and abstinence from smoking has been paramount in helping me to survive these heart attacks. I also have learned that I have unusually narrow arteries so that blockages are more likely.
The condition is hereditary on my father’s side.
Prior to this event I was always able to control my emotions. Afterwards I developed a liking for opera and classical music, experiences that had been foreign to me. I have developed sentimentality and weep when ‘Lassie Comes Home’. When I first saw the film many years ago, it failed to touch me.
Also, like my father before me, I can cradle a tiny, blanket clad baby in to my arms, smell the protective talc on its warm, pink body, and weep tears of happiness as I look down at its innocent face.
Recent medical research has revealed that the heart contains brain cells. Perhaps, when the surgeon repaired my heart physically, he may have also ‘touched’ my inner heart?.
However, the good news is that after my heart surgery the surgeon advised me I was good for ten to fifteen years. The bad news is that it was ten years ago.
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> A day in my life