It's been an "emotional" week I suppose you'd call it. Between my peer group and my family it seems I am surrounded by death, serious illness or depression. It's not the fault of anyone. These things happen but it still leaves you feeling like a black cloud is hovering over you.
Then on Sunday I thought I was having a heart attack.
Rest assured dear reader that your narrator is perfectly okay. This is not a tale where we take knowledge from the destination but rather knowledge from the journey.
The Carling Cup final had just finished on Sunday afternoon and I didn't really care who won but Man U did and that really was okay for me. I was also playing Fifa on the PS3 and just generally enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon.
Then, I felt a "discomfort" in my chest, on the left hand side, near the top.
I immediately thought, "heartburn" as I'm a fat bastard who wolfs food down his throat in much the same way as you see a pelican force feeding itself fish. Trapped wind, heartburn and indigestion are my friends.
You see, in the back of my mind I have this statement which I'm not even sure is true but has served me okay. "If you have a pain the chest it's probably nothing to worry about unless your left arm starts playing silly buggers." It was then that I realised my left arm was playing silly buggers. I can only describe it as the onset of pins of needles.
Now my mind starts racing. I have discomfort in my chest and my left arm is playing silly buggers. But... was the arm playing silly buggers before I thought about it?
You see, I know about the brain and what it does to you. Of course it's possible that after experiencing a pain in my chest I worry about my left arm and so my brain ensures my left arm plays silly buggers. Our brains do this to us all the time and I am certain it's all connected with how placebos seem to work for us.
Now I start feeling a little anxious. But again, is that a heart problem or me just getting anxious? I can now feel that the left side of my body feels "different" to the right side. I start feeling a shortness of breath, mild nausea and dizziness. I want to mention something to my wife but don't want to worry her. Then I figure that if anything happens she at least needs to know how I'm feeling.
I walk into the room and inform her while also stating that I'm sure I'm doing this to myself and probably got indigestion or something equally trivial but deep down is a worry like I've never felt before. A primal fear.
I phone NHS Direct. Their automated system tells me I can fill out an online assessment so I hang up and give it a go. It asked me if I had pain across my chest. I didn't as it was pain in one part of my chest but I ticked it anyway as it was the closest one.
"DIAL 999 AND ASK FOR AN AMBULANCE IMMEDIATELY" said the webpage in bright white writing on a red background.
"Well that's fucking calming me down!" I said to the wife half joking and half pooing myself.
I phone NHS direct and speak to a lovely woman who decides I need to speak to a nurse. I speak to a nurse, she goes through some lifestyle questions (non smoker, social drinker, obese, trying to lose weight but like KFC too much). I'd also been to the gym this week (news that will give anyone a heart attack) and the suggestion was made that I'd possibly pulled a muscle in my chest. However, she didn't want to take any chances and said I would have to go to A & E, that I couldn't drive myself and if I couldn't get anyone to take me to call 999.
Outwardly I complain that I know I'm doing this to myself, that pulling a muscle is the perfect explaination for the initial pain and that everything but the chest pain is psychosomatic. Inwardly, I'm scared. Terrified.
I phone up my best mate Matt and ask him to take me to A & E which he does almost immediately. My wife wants to go with me but with no one else to look after our daughter it would mean her coming too and I saw nothing to be gained in her hanging around A & E with our daughter for four hours. Matt even said he'd wait with me but I rejected the offer. I'm not sure why. Maybe deep down I knew it was nothing. Maybe I just didn't want them to see me scared.
Matt dropped me off and I jokingly complained that he was about 15 yards from the entrance. "Couldn't you get me closer? I might have a heart condition." I thought it was a funny line.
Now A & E in NHS hospitals isn't the best place to be. It's worked out on a priority basis and obviously everyone thinks they should be top priority but in reality your sprained ankle isn't as important as a dying baby. So you walk in, you give your name, address, date of birth and reason for visit and you sit down to prepare for a long wait.
I walked to the reception and explained how NHS Direct had told me to come because of a discomfort in my chest. The woman never asked my name, address or date of birth she just said, "Go and stand by those doors there, someone will come to get you."
I did as I was told.
By this time, I'm feeling quite ill. The discomfort in my chest is there, my left arm feels weird, I'm short of breath and I start feeling really faint. And then, it hit me. No word of a lie, it hit me. I thought...
"I'm going to die. I'm having a heart attack and I'm going to die."
Looking back now it feels foolish but with everything that had happened and what seems to be a black cloud over those close to me I suppose it was natural. Maybe it would have been weirder if I hadn't thought that way.
What shocked me was my next thought processes. I didn't think to pray, to cry or to scream. I thought about my wife and kids, I thought about Matt, I thought about my friends who would probably feel pain that I had gone. Then I realised that I had joked a few weeks ago with my wife about where the life insurance policy was kept so I hoped that she would remember where it was. And there I stood in the middle of A & E accepting of the fact that I was going to die.
The door opened and a nurse called me in. I sat down and went through the same questions I had gone through with NHS Direct while she took my blood pressure. I remember the old days of a doctor manually inflating the machine but this was an electronic gizmo that did it all while she made notes on my job, fitness levels and social life. The machine beeped and displayed two numbers which I tried to formulate into my mind. How do you read blood pressure numbers again? I gave up and just asked, half jokingly, "So am I going to die?"
She looked up, "Eventually, but not on my shift." And she smiled this sweet smile which warmed me. "It looks fine but I want you to have an ECG." I was led into another room and told to strip to the waist and put a gown on. After a while a young guy came in wheeling an expensive looking piece of kit. He asked me some questions which included what I did for a living. "I'm an IT technician."
"Oh really," he said, "what's the best anti-virus to use?"
I found this amusing for rather complicated reasons and advised him while he set the machine up. He then looked at my torso and explained that he needed to put these small stickers on me to attach to the ECG machine. Unfortunately I am quite hirsute so he needed to shave small squares of hair from around my chest and my legs which he did. I then lay there for a while while a series of peaks and troughs danced across the screen. Once it was finished he disappeared for a while before returning to say, "Do you want the good news, or the bad news?"
"It's not your heart."
It was a relief. But what was the bad news?
"You need to wait in reception to see another doctor. I want you checked out by someone else."
That's fine. I was happy. I phoned my wife and sent some funny texts to Matt including one where I explained that his mother and I were getting married, having sex change operations so she would become his father and I would become his mother. I ended the text by explaining that he was a terrible disappointment to his poor mother. (Yes, it was a long text)
After a few minutes a doctor called me in and this time listened to my chest, gave me some strength tests and declared that it's not my heart, my lungs or indigestion. So it's probably a pulled muscle, it's not serious, despite my weight I'm a very very low risk of having heart problems and to go home.
I apologised for wasting his time and felt guilty now that it had obviously been psychosomatic. He said not to worry. They prefer that than for people to stay at home, thinking it's nothing only to then keel over and die. I'd done the right thing.
I left the hospital and walked home because it felt like I needed to walk. I got home and hugged my kids and when my wife returned from visiting her Nan in hospital, I hugged her.
I woke up today and it was a good day. For a while the metaphorical glass has been half empty. Today it was half full. I'm okay because today I will see my kids and my wife.
Today, I still have discomfort in my chest and left arm but I know it's a minor problem. I'm still here.