#3 – It’s still about me…

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Last Tuesday, after whingeing at my GP by email about the inordinate length of time and multiple appointments(8), I had undergone, still without resolution of my angina problems, I received a surprise phone call from my cardiologist’s secretary, saying they could finally operate to insert a ‘stent’ in the artery of my heart as an urgent procedure that Friday (15th) at 7.30am at the Manchester Royal Hospital. “Yippee” quoth I, had they finally cut-to- the-chase after seven months of, what was to me, wasting time and NHS resources on a condition that was already identified and quantified. My cancer consultant and my GP had both made clear the need for speed at the outset, because of the likelihood of me requiring chemotherapy imminently. But seven months and eight inconclusive appointments had so far not resolved the matter and it looked as though another few weeks waiting was likely.

But nonetheless I was delighted to be finally getting ‘done’. So as Friday 15th August dawned at 5am, Jane and I drove from our Peak District home to the hospital in central Manchester, arriving 20 minutes before my 7:30am appointment. There followed a day plucked from the script of the TV series ‘Casualty’ in which, you’ll be pleased to hear, I only played a bit part.

Act 1 saw us waiting an hour for a BED(!) in the Manchester Coronary Care Unit (CCU). I was then pre-opped as a lovely nurse filled in seemingly endless forms covering every aspect of me, my life and condition. This ultimately raised the story of my blood platelets (of sacred memory, a bit of an issue last year when they dropped inexplicably then bounced back up to my normal 100’ish level). Communication with the cardiologist highlighted his concern on operating below a reading of 90, and a fax from my cancer consultant showed that my last check in July had read 86. A blood test was taken which showed a current reading of 76! It looked annoyingly as if they would have to cancel my operation today.

However, my cardiologist, Dr Malik, then came to see me on the ward, still swathed in his anti-X-ray lead suit, resembling a Samurai warrior minus the very sharp sword! Dr Malik of course knew the importance of the stent to maximise my heart function prior to the expected further chemo. He told me he was inclined to proceed with my op on the understanding that I was fully aware of the increased risks of bleeding with my low platelet count. After a pretty detailed Q&A session I decided the benefits outweighed the risks and agreed to go ahead with the stent operation. After all, I had had an almost identical angiogram op only a month earlier, with absolutely no bleeding issues and I was confident the same would be true this time. Dr Malik then returned to theatre with me next on his list. It was now 2.30pm and we had already been there 7 1/2 hours. Poor Jane was tired, anxious, bored, frustrated by the delay, but obviously apprehensive at the talk of high risk. I was hungry! I was on ‘Nil by Mouth’ since last midnight and actually hadn’t eaten since 7pm the previous day; even the cling film covered dishes of grungy hospital food being consumed by fellow patients seemed almost edible – were that possible.

After chatting with one of the nurses about how relatively quiet the CCU was, all hell seemed to break lose, as three urgent heart attack victims were hastily admitted one after another in completely unrelated incidents. We couldn’t see much behind the screening curtains but that did little to dampen the audible drama going on as very distressed patients shouted and groaned and those iconic words, “Stand Clear” were heard more than twice as defibrillators did their shocking work. This drama played out over some hours as the poor patients were rushed first to the cardiology lab, where I was supposed to be, then on to Intensive Care.

It was around 6.30pm that an exhausted Dr Malik returned to my bedside, still in his Samurai-like attire, apologising for the long delay and saying that unfortunately he would not be able to carry out my stent procedure today. The emergency patients had obviously taken priority. However, he had arranged for me to be ‘done’ by the senior cardiologist at the MRI, but not before next TUESDAY!!! Meanwhile, he wanted to keep me in for the next five days monitoring my pesky platelet count with daily blood tests. Oh Joy, another extra-long weekend enjoying hospital food; my cup runneth over!

So here I am yet again collecting material for the ‘John’s Guide to Fine Dining on the NHS‘. If they keep sending me to different hospitals this will be a weighty tome full of hints and tips on the toothsome delicacies I discovered therein, although to be brutally honest toothsome delicacies are non-existent as the microwaved muck perpetrated by that evil empire SODEXO has infiltrated the NHS to its core. Sodexo are the same people who fed our schoolchildren Turkey Twizzlers, before Jamie Oliver’s high profile assault on the filth that used to pass as British school dinners. And today their sweaty offerings are fed to NHS patients. Can this be right? If you ask me, hospital meals ought be treated as secondary medicine; nutrition is crucial to health and a bored patient, often in pain with little appetite, has only mealtimes to which to look forward. These vile offerings from this apparently obdurate multinational should have no place in our health establishments and we are fools to allow this farce to continue as it has for decades. I watched James Martin and several well known TV chefs demonstrate at several hospitals in their BBC television series on hospital food, that really good, nourishing, locally-sourced and tasty meals can actually be provided in quantity AND within budget by applying a modicum of imagination, communication and logic. Rise up Oh bilious patients and wrest the right to decent grub from the pocket-lining plutocrats that are stripping our NHS of millions and our many fine quality food suppliers of their rightful business. Government: this is one of the drains down which the billions poured into our fabulous NHS is sluicing. Stop this idiocy NOW!

Good Lord, I needed a good rant! Does one the power of good, so it does.

So after four days of almost total boredom denied communication by wifi or cell, 6am Tuesday morning saw me finally being prepped for my stent procedure. I was pumped full of blood thinning drugs, supplied yet another blood sample, denied all food and drink and dressed, fetchingly I have to admit, in voluminous paper knickers and the ubiquitous hospital gown with its back-to-front rear opening. A quick twirl in the mirror confirmed my fears for modesty as I shrugged on my dressing gown. At 10am I was marched to the ‘Cath Lab’ where I was to be ‘done’. The ‘doer’ was Dr Vaz, one of the senior cardiologists, and in a highly efficient process involving about six staff I was soon lying on a very narrow table surrounded by tracks and rails and heavy equipment and many, many monitors in a great bank to my left. To my surprise, after the angiogram via my groin, they were going to use my right wrist as access to my arteries and this area was swathed in protective sheets, prepped and injected with a local anaesthetic. After that things proceeded with reassuring efficiency. Dr Vaz orchestrated a symphony of machines and acolytes and I could just see in the bank of monitors the progress of the thin tube toward the restriction in one of the arteries supplying my heart. Strangely I could feel nothing but the slight pressure and small manipulations of my wrist. As the vital work was being done deep in my chest I could feel absolutely no sensation whatsoever, and after about 35 minutes Dr Vaz said “All done” and happily, “……all things being equal, you’ll be going home later today!”

And so it came to be. After another six hours of recovery, where the ‘wound’ such as it was, was monitored under a very clever, clear plastic, pneumatic, pressure cuff, I was allowed out and walked all the way to the car, about 1⁄4 mile, without so much as a pant! That’s more than I can say for poor Jane as she lugged my bag, refusing all assistance – she may be petite and beautiful but she’s such a tough little cookie too!

Anyway we came home, flopped onto the sofa as a lovely sunlit evening wained and delighted as a red deer hind and its Bambi-like fawn gambolled in the meadow just behind our home. Was I pleased to be home? Oh yes!!!

More later as a newly-stented me hopefully races forward with renewed vigour and a good deal more puff! Thanks as ever for your many replies, advice, humour and the usual abuse – all greatly appreciated.

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