11th August 2011
MY HEART ATTACKS ME OUT OF THE BLUE
It was classic. On a day when I wanted to get back home early from the clinic there was an extra complicated case down from ultrasound. Mrs Wangford and I had planned to drive up to Norwich in the evening after both of us came back from work.
So I didn’t get off early and was late. On my bike, coming up a mild incline I had some chest pain. Went down my left arm. Classic. Then went down my right and I fooled myself it wasn’t a heart attack but indigestion. I’m not overweight, don’t smoke cigarettes, no hypertension, just a prodigious cholesterol level after a lifetime of black pudding and pig parts. Doctors are good at denial. Couldn’t be a heart attack.
Back at Rancho Wangford I spent a restless night telling myself the pain was still indigestion. I didn’t want to spend five hours in A&E wasting precious NHS resources only to be told I had indigestion. Heart attack? Couldn’t happen to me. But Mrs Wangford said my hands and feet were cold. I was in shutdown.
Next morning my GP found nothing wrong but sent me to St Mary’s for a full check. Man of seventy. Chest pain on bike. Check it out.
At the hospital three ECGs were normal. Two hours after my blood tests were taken the Cardiology Registrar came back.
“You’re not going to Norwich. Your troponin is way up. You’ve had a heart attack.”
Twenty years earlier, he said, before troponin testing existed he’d have sent me home. “You’re going straight to Hammersmith. I’ve called the ambulance.”
My pain stayed low grade and ECGs kept staying stable. I saw the top team the next day. They put dye in me to show my coronary arteries. On a huge flat screen above me I watched as they did the catheterisation, angioplasty and stenting.
Put simply, they give you a jab of local in your groin and push a high tec Dyno Rod up to your heart. I watched it snaking up my major arteries. I saw the right coronary completely blocked half way down. The Dyno Rod went in, a balloon inflated and the artery opened up. They put in another rod with a stent, a fine mesh stainless steel tube of scaffolding, to keep it open.
The man thought my coronary was still a bit narrow and put another stent in further down. All I could feel while watching the show on the flat screen monitor was the surgeon’s hand thumping on my thigh as he threaded the Dyno Rod back to my heart. He was coming out finally but decided it was still a bit narrow and put a third stent further down. The coronary, previously thin as a thread, pulsed, filled and emptied with great gushes of new blood.
I felt emotional as they wheeled me out.
“You’re a star,” I said.
“No I’m not, just someone doing his job,” he replied.
Next day they sold me the CD of the operation and let me go.
I’ve been Triple Stented. Johnny Cash had the Triple Bypass so I’ve effectively had the Johnny Cash Lite. Full C&W cred without the sternum splitting. Sure, the full death would have done better for my record sales but I can roll with it.
I feel lucky. This is not from beyond the grave. And my first gig is 16th September at the Second Bridport Hat Festival.
George Jones the great Honky Tonk star and prodigious lifetime drinker fell spectacularly off the wagon after thirteen dry years. He drove his car into a bridge losing his spleen but not his life. At his drink driving trial he said, “Well, I guess the good Lord still has work for me to do…”
And as I ponder my second near death experience of recent times I think “Nice one George.”
George will soon be 80.