Saturday 15 October 2011

Well now

First off, thanks to the folk who left kind comments on what turned out to be a short-lived post on here a week or so ago. By way of explanation, it was cobbled together on my new phone, using what I understand is referred to by young persons as a "Blogger App", and I didn't entirely realise that I had published it rather than drafted it at the relevant moment. Or, indeed, at a subsequent relevant moment, that I had deleted it. It was also a rather attention seeking-sounding kind of thing, and it wasn't really meant to come across as that. In my defence, I was on quite a high dosage of morphine at the time. ;0)

At risk of further "look at me" type behaviour, I decided it would probably just be acceptable to set out on here the reasons why I've not been at my work for the last three weeks. That's mainly because this blog was always intended to be a genuine online diary - and it's been an eventful wee period - but also on the off chance that it might be mildly informative for any other folk of a certain age who find themselves compelled to wander into their local A&E department suspecting that the chest pains they're suffering from cannot, for once, be written off as indigestion.

It started with a wheeze, to coin a phrase.

I'd been crackling a bit when I was lying in bed of a morning for a few weeks, and it was also happening for the first half hour or so of my more recent hillwalks. Now, normally, because I'm a middle aged Scottish male, I'd have ignored such modest symptoms entirely, but I kind of knew something wasn't happening as smoothly as it should so I'd bravely arranged an appointment with my GP for the 30th of September. That was a Friday. On the Wednesday I woke up at 4am feeling like some ne'er do well had their hands round my throat, doing their level best to squeeze my tonsils up into the roof of my mouth. This singular sensation was accompanied, for good measure, by a crushing pain in my chest, which seemed to be radiating through to my shoulder blades."Oh aye." I thought, perceptively. "That's unlikely to be anything good."

I held the thought for the next couple of hours. There wasn't much else to do, given that I certainly wasn't about to fall asleep again. You know how somehow if you close your eyes these sore things pass, and you're fine once you get up? Well, that didn't happen. My powers of ignoring the patently obvious are well honed when it comes to personal health issues however, and when the alarm went off (not that I needed it) at 6 o'clock, I took the view that sticking to the normal routine of walking the dogs meant that I'd get a breath of fresh air, and everything would be hunky dory after that. This Plan B didn't pay off either.

In an effort to compromise/refuse to overload the NHS/act like a 24 carat idiot, I drove to work, and phoned the GP surgery to see if I could maybe bring my appointment forward a wee bit. To her eternal credit the nice lady at reception pretty much explained to me in words of one syllable that the symptoms I was relating to her warranted a fairly swift visit to the casualty Department at Monklands Hospital rather than popping doon to see my GP. So I drove down forthwith. I couldn't get parked anywhere, so I drove back up forthwith. I then walked down to the taxi rank on the main street. (Now, even I would accept that this brief wander was a tactical error, because by this point I was having extraordinary difficulty in breathing.) By lucky happenstance though, not only was there a cab free at the rank, but the driver was able to share with me that he himself had been the recipient of a heart transplant a few years ago, and based on the obvious nick I was in at the time, he fully expected that I'd be fine... "eventually". He stressed - wisely, I feel - that I should keep telling the receiving staff at A&E that I had chest pains. "Trust me", I rattled, with pained expression, "I'll no' miss and hit the wall about that".

The staff at Monklands were great. I particularly liked the observation of the young doctor in the "Emergency Receiving Unit" who said - with a straight face - "you see, you look like exactly the type of guy who should be having a heart attack, but for some reason I'm not convinced yet". I would have laughed at that myself, had it not been for (a) the excruciating pain, and (b) the fact that I didn't have the strength to pull the oxygen mask off at the time. It was however right around then that the morphine made its first appearance, and things were just fine after that. :0)

The next couple of days were more of the same; the good folk at the hospital doing their utmost via a battery of tests to work out whether I had actually had - or was perhaps still in the throes of - a heart attack, or whether it was Something Else. And broadly, as they made abundantly clear, just about any kind of Something Else is preferable.

The Wednesday night was officially no fun. They obviously have to keep checking your blood pressure, and monitoring your heart, and about 9pm the nightshift doctor said that they were going to transfer me to Hairmyres Hospital (the local "Coronary Centre of Excellence!") because there were a few odd things showing up in my most recent set of results. An hour or so later they told me the Hairmyres consultant had looked at the tests and I didn't need to go then, but I did have to get a special room of my own along the corridor. Full of high tech equipment, merrily beeping, hissing and bristling with alarms. For added effect, it was right next to the night shift nurses station. "Just in case", they told me. Even the morphine - which was now being dispensed liberally - couldn't quite tempt me to the land of nod against that background.

Thursday was Ultrasound day. It had good and bad points. The good bit was that it was quite relaxing, drugged up as I was. The other good bit was that they didn't think the scan showed evidence of a heart attack. The less good bit - well at that stage - was that it seemed to reveal that there was an enlargement of the aorta. Now, as it all turned out, this was absolutely nothing to do with the problem that had taken me to hospital in the first place; it was entirely coincidental. It's still not something you necessarily want to hear though when you're waiting for a diagnosis, and it's only the morphine that's getting you through the day.

Thursday night was the worst of all, for some reason. As the day wore on, the pain in my chest not only increased, but it also spread up into my left shoulder. You've got plenty of time to ponder things in hospital, and my ponderings led me to liken the pain to a situation that might prevail if pirates, rather than having parrots on their shoulders, opted for golden eagles, and then spent hours tormenting the self same eagles, so that they dug their talons in and tried to simultaneously take flight...that would come pretty close. Suffice it to say that I couldn't lie down, never mind try to sleep. On the plus side, I was able to sit on the edge of the bed, desperately gripping onto the frame so that I couldn't move an inch from side to side, and concentrating on not allowing my chest to rise or fall more than imperceptibly while breathing.

I've had more restful nights.

Friday dawned. Eventually. The morning routine was enlivened just after they took another ECG, and said I was being transferred to Hairmyres immediately for an angiogram. They stressed the word "immediately", but by this time I was feeling rather better than I had been (guess whether I'd had more morphine) so the bubbling-under sense of urgency was somewhat lost on me. It was an interesting half hour trip in the ambulance. They didn't actually turn the blue lights on, but the paramedic was staring at me with a degree of nervous intensity throughout the journey, and I choose to believe that his hand was hovering above the relevant button.

Those angiogram boys are fantastic. The whole experience is not unlike what I imagine you go through when you're captured by aliens and probed on the mothership. It's all lights, whirring machinery, extendable hydraulic booms and video screens. And a big remote-controlled needle burrowing its way up a vein in your arm. At least it was my arm - often they go in through your groin. They're also very matter of fact about it - "we'll go in, take a look, and if it has been a heart attack and the valves are damaged, we'll just fix them while we're there." You really can't ask for more than that, let's face it. The jet fighter pilots of the coronary care world, that's what they are. Mind you, I'm probably biased, because after the procedure was complete - and it only lasted about 15 minutes - they were able to tell me definitively that it hadn't been a heart attack. It's remarkable, although probably not surprising, how getting that news can cheer you up. Dr O' Rourke (or Maverick) did remark, mind you, that it wasn't surprising that there had been an almighty rush to get me over from Monklands given the "impressive anomaly" there had been on that morning's ECG. Hmmm. Still - what you don't know doesn't hurt you, eh?

Thereafter, things kind of got better - or certainly less fraught. The diagnosis, tentatively made earlier but only able to be confirmed post angiogram, was pericarditis

The great joy - aye, right - of that particular condition is that it is, as my consultant said, self limiting. In other words you treat it with drugs and it's likely it'll just go away. A heart attack, au contraire, is not self limiting, and it can have a variety of outcomes...or indeed, in a vivid turn of phrase used by the doctor, "no outcome". I'll take my chances with the self limiting ailment, I reckon. (Oh, and there was fluid on my lungs as well, but that can be caused by the pericarditis. Or it was just another unfortunate coincidence. Get your Lucky White Heather here).

On the Sunday, they sent me for a CT scan, but by that time it was less to do with the pericarditis than the enlarged aorta picked up by the Ultrasound. The scanner's an impressive piece of technology as well, albeit not in the same sci-fi league as the angiogram machine. How can I put it? If they added big rotating brushes to it, it'd be like a car wash on the starship Enterprise.

Another couple of days of observation, medication involving 33 separate pills per day, a gradual lessening of pain, and I was eventually liberated to the bosom of my family - and dugs - on 3rd October. Under strict instruction to avoid stairs, dog walking, excitement...everything really, until the last day or so. Hoping to get back to work at the start of next week, although I'm conscious I'm hardly firing on all cylinders quite yet.

Which is why I felt I should gauge my ability to handle intense excitement by returning to the world of blogging first.

So - the pericarditis should clear up in due course. With the aid of the modest 8 different pills a day I'm on just now. The aorta thing is just to be kept under review - and I'd have known nothing about it without the unrelated hospital visit. Part of the recommended recovery regime is plenty of walking. That fits. Plus I've been off the drink for three weeks now, so on one view it's saved me a lot of money.    :0)

It is rather embarrassingly "look at me" this, isn't it? Ach well, go for broke...

I need to stress again how fantastic the folk at Monklands and Hairmyres were. And it was awfy nice of all the people that came to visit me, and phoned me, and sent cards - it was much appreciated. And this award isn't just for me, etc, etc.

Here's to good health, eh?



  1. Bugger! I am glad to hear that you survived all that - must have been quite frightening.

    I'm off to Addenbrookes in a couple of weeks time to have large needles needlessly stuck into my nether regions. Apparently it won't hurt, unless it does. And if it does then and only then should I worry quite a bit.

    Get well soon - I did find the fact that you tried to find a good place to park your car quite up-lifting whilst possibly having a heart attack. It's good to know that there are responsible people out there.

  2. Cheers Alan. Good luck with your nether regions.

    Hospitals seem to know what they're doing with needles, if my extensive recent experience is anything to go by.


  3. Jeez, you don't do things by half, Scott! It is good to know that you're on the road to recovery, however long the journey may be.

    Maybe they should stick all the ailing bloggers "of a certain age" in one place so that they can compare notes... Alan with his nether-region needles, you with your cardio-crisis, I'll join you later after my impending rear-end "grape-harvesting" op. Bagsy me the soft seat by the fireside :-(

  4. Good to have you back "hale and hearty". I love the fact that the recommended recovery regime is to get out and walk! I'd be doing so much recovery work it would be weeks before I'd be back at work!..........J

  5. Holy fuck! I thought you'd just buggered up your blog and couldnae find the keys to get back in :o) All the best for a speedy and complete recovery :o)

  6. Cheers gents. Onwards and upwards, that's what I say!

    Not sure I would swop pericarditis for "rear-end grape harvesting" incidentally.

  7. Dearie me. Hope the road to recovery is a smooth one...

  8. Blimey Scott, you certainly had me going there. Pericarditis is no' funny by any stretch, but better than the other option.
    It's good to know your Taxi Driver was able to 'cheer you up', but it's damnable that you couldn't get parked in the right place to start.
    Here's to the NHS and the good folks that work for it.
    Glad to hear you're on the mend. Once you're feeling up to it, I'm sure you've plenty of 'recovery work' planned.
    Take care m'dear- a speedy recovery to you.

  9. PS.... BG and Alan- good luck with your forays into the world of needles, nethers and grapes.

  10. Getting there Fraser, thanks.

    Aye, the taxi driver was doing his best to be supportive Flaff. It worked too, because I felt obliged to give him a good tip. ;0)
    Thanks for the kind thoughts. Re the recovery, I've been pottering into work in the afternoons this week, so definitely improving, albeit a bit more slowly than I'd expected!

  11. Steps in the right direction then, eh, Scott? Take your time and look after yourself. No point in rushing things.

    @ Flaff: Cheers for that. I've enquired about the possibility of me saving the grapes to make some wine for a gaffer that I used to despise :-)

  12. Glad to hear things are progressing ok Scott.

    Given the above comments there would appear to be an unsettling trend involving bloggers and hospitals. Maybe the Almighty is trying to tell us something. I think I shall invest in a medical dictionary asap.

    AND...Good luck Alan and Stef. Hopefully these ailments cannot be contracted by commenting on the same post...that would be a bit of a bummer, eh.

  13. West of Scotland man in heart scare sensation !
    Whatever next ?

    At least you should be fit for the Monklands winter sports, or chucking bricks at the gritters as it is elsewhere known

  14. Indeed. In darkest Lanarkshire an angiogram is less a medical investigation than a rite of passage.


  15. Now you're over 21 you'll have to take it easier for a bit Scott. Fingers crossed for a steady improvement. (A rite of passage... LOL)

    @BG PMSL! that'll wipe the smile off their face.