My Grapple with Death by Trevor Plumbly

A Hearty Lunch

Housework done, washing out and the cryptic crossword knocked-off; with the Morriston Orpheus Choir at full volume (try it!), I contemplated lunch. Healthy, I decided was the way to go, having had meat pie and chips the previous day. Delving into the fridge, I struck some pastrami, which with a bit of Cheddar, pickled onion and a lettuce leaf to balance the books, so to speak, sandwiched up nicely. I had scarcely finished this creation when the pain kicked in. It wasn’t your rolling around the floor gasping kind of pain, my life didn’t flash before me, which was just as well, as some of it doesn’t need a replay. It was a sharp, burning ache across my chest accompanied by dizziness and a racing pulse that I could just about hear above ‘Land of my fathers’. Fearing the worst, I decided that a bit of a rest might put things right, but once I got up things repeated themselves. I went through this exercise in futility a couple of times and decided that a trip to the doctor’s might be a good idea. My daughter-in-law, after one look, took my pulse. She’s a midwife and, whilst I realise that I’m no toddler, I imagine that the basic principle’s the same. An ambulance was summoned and we sat expectantly, she, calm and organised, me, chewing aspirin and wondering if I would make it to the pub that night.

Off to the Emergency Department

Looking back, I’ve decided that ambulance officers must have a whole range of personalities they can call on to suit the emergency; mine, not being fatal, required a sort of matey jocularity combined with a no-nonsense efficiency. Tests were taken and we toddled off to the Emergency Department at a gentle pace where they handed me over to an orderly and left, taking the jocularity with them. Hospital orderlies are, I discovered, in a word, orderly; they don’t do patter or matey jocularity but have a committed approach to things rather like “The Mail Must Go Through” ethic of old. I was carefully wheeled to a small cubicle and handed over to a male nurse. This guy was bloody good, chatting away, eliciting information from Pam, Sarah and me, at the same time as sticking needles into me, taking my blood and its pressure and attaching all manner of sticky thingies to my upper body before moving on. Nobody, I discovered, does stationary in the Emergency Department; they all sort of float on and off stage as if performing cameo roles in a TV medical soap. Next up came the doctor. I have a long held theory about doctors: I reckon the majority perfect the air of calm reassurance to Shakespearean standards long before confronting a patient and I want to take this opportunity to say… IT DOESN’T WORK! For me there’s something ominous about medical calm, it suggests that he or she either doesn’t know what’s wrong or doesn’t fancy telling me.

A Night on the Ward

Sometime later, after countless blood pressure checks, X Rays, morphine loaded drips and all sorts of diagnostic dabbling, it was made clear to me that what had happened to me wasn’t really clear to them, so overnight observation was the best option. I was carefully trundled off to a small ward, slightly reminiscent of a World War 2 bunker, and left to settle. It might have been the morphine, but I was starting to feel upbeat about things; I could become a medical curiosity, peered over by eminent specialists, bereft of calm reassurance, challenged by my mystery ailment. Reality kicked in with tiredness: the bed, I discovered, was designed for those under six feet, which left my ankles and feet homeless, it also had a sort of rise and fall pillow thing that required Samsonian strength and an engineering degree to adjust. Sleep did not come easy that night. Of my roommates, one had emphysema, another had a medical history that he was anxious to discuss with everybody present and those lucky enough to be contacted by cell phone, while yet a third found it essential to buzz the nurse at fairly regular intervals.

Thanks to all Medical Personnel

In the morning the doctors arrived stage left with the news that there was no news. But…they had a plan. The plan was to put me through some exercise to see if there was any heart reaction. The exercise lady arrived, a pocket dynamo bouncing on the balls of her feet like a tennis player awaiting a serve, excitedly explaining the procedure and what was expected of me. After my nine minutes on the treadmill, she calmed down sufficiently to gleefully announce the success of my blood pressure recording to the others; a muttered conference was held before I was pronounced fit to be discharged. Feeling a bit like a Lotto winner as I sat back at home reflecting on the experience, I realised how lucky all of us are who live in a health caring country and how few of us express real gratitude to those concerned. It was impossible to thank all those involved in looking after me, so all I can do is hope that some of you read this and pass it on. Excuse the humour, it’s just my way of shining the spotlight on you; take a bow folks, you’re all stars!



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