I am a massive fan of the late writer (and lush), Jeffrey Bernard. Tales of his woeful ill health kept me amused for years. This is my account of my recent near-death experience.
I decided to put pen to paper or in my case, fingertips to keyboard, to document the night without really knowing what I would do with it. Like a lot of people in life, a coping mechanism for me has always been by using humour, even in my darkest of hours. Don’t take my words to heart….what do I know about anything?
The one where dB had a severe anxiety attack.
“How can I help you” asks the lady behind the desk at the local A & E.
“I have pains in my chest and arms. I’m having difficulty breathing. I think I may be having a heart attack, thank you” I tell her, smiling behind my mask because yeah, I might be about to die, but I remember my manners.
Ever so slowly, like there’s a snail somewhere currently running rings around us, she takes my details whilst I try to remain upright. I’m asked to take a seat but not the one with a cross on it.
Neens tells me she’s not allowed to stay in A & E with me. I grip her arm. “I need a pee. Don’t leave me in there alone. I don’t want to die on the bog”. She smiles, calls me a prick and takes me to the toilet where she stands sentry outside to fend off other would-be users, as I’m too afraid to lock the door. Listen, Elvis supposedly died on the toilet and I was not going the same way. Ironic really as I have probably spent more time on the loo than any other person I have ever met. If you were to ask my friends the most probable location of my demise, they would say the loo. By God, I’m classy.
And then the wait begins. I look around the sea of faces in the waiting area and I can’t remember who was ahead of us in the queue when we ‘checked in’ and now Neens is sitting in her car, so she can’t help. I could be number 5 in the queue or number 50.
I have no idea how I’m holding it together but I start to feel like I might pass out. I text Neens. “Mate, I feel faint” I type out through eyes that are rapidly filling up with tears. She texts me back “You’re in the right place to feel faint. Want me to come in?”
I type back an affirmative “yea”. It would appear my impending death has rendered me illiterate.
With Neens now next to me, rubbing my back, she tells me to breathe. I tell her I want the toilet again. Damn you, small bladder. “Of course you do” she says. I know she’s trying not to laugh behind that pesky mask. I go to the toilet on my own this time. I know her. If I’m not back in fives minutes, she’ll have maintenance down here and the door will be off its hinges before you can shout “we’ve got a bleeder”.
Bladder emptied once more (where is the water coming from??) I take a seat back on my cross-less chair. “Do you know how much longer you’ll have to wait?” Neens asks me. I shake my head. My jaw hurts. She moves over to the receptionist and speaks to her. I have no idea what she’s saying. She could be asking if they would make her a cup of tea for all I know. She returns to me and tells me I am number 4 to be assessed by the triage nurse. She has to vacate the area again and so goes back to her car. As I watch her walk away, a nurse from ‘behind the double doors’ appears. Not the triage nurse that does the assessing. No, this one has a whole ‘let’s not bother with triage, I make decisions around here’ vibe going on.
She calls my name. I look at her. Look at the Receptionist who smiles at me. Blimey. I have no idea what Neens said but by God, she put a rod up somebody’s arse. Perhaps she told them she was sick of having to take me to the toilet?
I’m taken into a room where the nurse asks me gently what brought me here this evening. I list my issues but don’t include the small bladder information. I’m pretty sure that would be a moot point.
She puts one of those things on the end of my finger. I don’t tell her that she caught my nail in the end of it. Mum always says it’s important to pick your battles.
She then asks me to roll up my sleeve so she can take my blood pressure. She’ll be lucky! The hoodie I’m wearing is pretty snug around my upper arms, kind of like sausage in its skin, so I opt for removing it. She puts the BP sleeve on and turns back to her computer whilst I sit there in discomfort.
Having read the data (presumably) she gets on the phone and requests a bed whist I sit there thinking should I ask her to go holler for Neens in the car park?
She takes me through to a small ward with a few other ladies in it, all wired for sound on machinery and it’s there that I am introduced to the loveliest, kindest nurse in the whole of Christendom.
For the next five hours, this nurse is my friend, my comforter, my cheer-leader and let me tell you, she was an inspiration in overcoming adversity. I don’t think it’s right that I tell you what she has gone through but I will say, she had a horrific accident that has left her very badly scarred and yet, in all of that, she is grateful. Grateful to be here. Grateful to be doing her job tonight. And I am grateful too.
“Natasha, I need you to remove your top sweetie so I can get the equipment on you. You do that, I’ll be back in a moment. I’ll be just outside okay?” She says. I love her already.
I remove the hoodie and sit on the bed. Just taking the damn thing off makes me feel like I’ve run 5k. My heart is beating so hard and so fast, it’s making my ears ache.
She returns with a tray and things I will call ‘stuff’ (needles).
“Okay darling, you need to remove all clothes from your top half and I will put a gown on you”. I feel like an idiot for not knowing that. She stays with me as I remove my vest and take my two rose quartz crystals out of my bra before removing it. Instead of thinking I’m a strange one (which I am to be fair) she compliments my lovely crystals.
She tells me she is going to put a cannula in my arm. I tell her I can’t look as I’ll be sick. She laughs and says “everybody says that”. I laugh and say “yeah but I’ll actually do it!”
Jeez, it hurts. I think the elephant who is currently sitting on my chest decides to pick its feet up because it feels so much heavier now. I tell her I’m scared and start to cry. She puts her arms around me and tells me I’m going to be okay.
So here’s something you may not know about me. Unlike the other two, I am a firm believer in God and the power of the Universe and so I pray to them both that she’s right.
Hours later after I have had blood tests, ECG’s, continuous blood pressure and pulse readings and an x-ray, the doctor comes to see me. He tells me I’m fine albeit, I have had a severe anxiety attack. He asks me if there has been an incident recently that could have caused it. I look at him looking at me. I feel sorry for him. I can’t lay all my shit on this poor A & E doctor. I tell him, yeah, some stuff has happened in recent weeks.
Love him. He tells me to try to remain calm. I laugh and he laughs. I tell him that it’s hard to remain calm when you think you’re about to die. I start to cry again. I tell him I feel like I’ve wasted their time. He puts on his best voice and says “you haven’t wasted anybody’s time. I’d rather see you here than in the cardiac ward!”
Then he says the words I have been in denial about for months….”this could just be your menopause”….
Moses, my other nurse, a male one obviously, comes back to get me ready to leave and says the doctor is giving me some medication to take home. In the meantime, he’s going to remove the cannula. He takes it out and its like a bloody waterfall. He laughs and says I’ve got thin blood. I laugh, look, then wish I hadn’t. Moses tells me he needs to really apply pressure to stop the bleeding. Moses has NO idea how strong he is. It feels wrong to complain because a) he’s helping me b) he’s doing his job c) he’s a right sweetie but bloody hell, Moses, loosen your grip mate!
Finally, much to the relief of both of us, the blood stops and I can get dressed. I find Moses to say thank you. Then I find my lovely nurse. I tell her that I’m so grateful she was looking after me tonight and I’m sorry to have been a nuisance. She says some lovely things to me. I want to tell her that I’ll never forget her but it sounds so melodramatic. But the truth is I probably won’t ever forget her. I still remember the lovely nurse who looked after me when I had my tonsils taken out aged 7 in Brentwood District Hospital.
In all of this there is another hero. Neens. In the time I have been in the hospital she has been in charge of ‘telephone calls’. She spoke to my parents and my Russ. And then she came back (she had to go and eat poor love) to collect me. Back home, my beautiful boys are in bed but Auntie Janey is there, having made them dinner and keeping them together. My Xander runs down the stairs as we get in the house and gives me a cuddle. He asks if I’m okay and tells me he loves me. I make my way upstairs so that I can kiss my Jamie. He wakes, I tell him I’m fine and to go back to sleep.
Neens, Janey and I have a cuppa. I’m glad I’m not dead. I love these two. Three isn’t always a crowd.