The next time my heart started beating at three times its resting rate I knew what caused it. We were staying with friends. The previous day I’d had a hard bike ride, then we’d driven up to Cumbria, and him now known as Renman and me had sat down late at night to finish a bottle left over from supper and then, you know how it happens sometimes, drifted into that state where duty, however painful the consequences, prevents one going to bed until every available bottle has been emptied or one falls lifeless.
The next morning, Sunday, J and I went for a walk on the shore, I walked up a sand-dune, and bingo, rat-ta-ta-ta-tat.
Four hours later, and this time I really did need persuasion, I ended up in a doctor’s surgery in Wigton, though the doctor was not a man of Wigton, he expatiated on what he told me were dissident but undoubtedly correct Russian theories while he spent an hour or so connecting me to his laptop. Then he spent another twenty minutes looking at the screen before suddenly muttering a name I didn’t catch, sending for an ambulance, and fiercely listing all the pleasures of life known to man, finally thundering that they were not for me, no more, not one, not ever.
After ten minutes of this the paramedic and ambulance driver entered with a wheelchair. I said I had already walked about three miles in my present condition and could for sure make it to the ambulance. They spoke of regulations, they were liable to be sued and sacked if I didn’t comply, I sat in the wheelchair, was wrapped in a blanket, tied in with a leather strap in case I fell out, totally invalided and infantilised in ten seconds flat, wheeled twenty metres to the ambulance. Which I was allowed to enter under my own locomotion, put on a bed, connected to a beeper, given a tablet which I had to keep pressed against the roof of my mouth, and we set off for Carlisle with J following behind in the car.
Somewhere on the way I dozed off for a minute. When I came to my heart was beating normally. I told the paramedic my news. We could stop, transfer me to the following car, we could all go home.
This was not the case.
Instead I ended up in a room of my own in the hospital, looking out through the window onto a ward where people of both sexes, most of them getting on a bit, were lined along the walls in beds so close together it was a wonder the nurses could work between them. My room was spacious and full of high tech equipment to which I was connected by many wires.
My heart was constant at about seventy. I felt fine. Nurses moved around me. One, a short young woman, had a clipboard and was asking me regulation questions. She came to religion.
“None,” I said.
“No,” she said, “what religion are you?”
“I’m not,” I said. “Honestly.”
She started to rise slowly and smoothly into the air. My eyes were fixed on the successively revealed zones of her body, waist, hips - when her shoes went past I would know, but I didn’t want to leave it that long.
“I’m whatever religion you are,” I gabbled. “Your religion, that's what I am.”
She seemed irritated. I looked away. The whole room was rising. Or rather a nurse the other side of the bed had pressed a button and my bed was slowly and silently sinking on its big metal slider.
“OK," I said, "no religion.”
She stabbed the clip board with her pen, sighed, and departed.
A houseman came to see me. We hit it off, one of those easy relationships that seem to have been there for ever, though you’ve never seen each other before and never will again. He looked at the computer analysis. “There could be, just a chance, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. I’ll go and see what my Registrar thinks of that.”
In his absence an elderly auxiliary with another clipboard came and asked me what I would want for supper. I said I wouldn’t need any, I was going home.
“You’re right” she said, “you don’t want to eat here. This is a PFI hospital. It doesn’t have a kitchen. The food comes up the motorway from Manchester in containers. The scrambled egg is frightening.”
The Houseman came back. We chatted a bit more. Then he sighed. “My Registrar thinks nothing of the Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome hypothesis.”
I began to commiserate. “No, no he said, "it’s excellent. He’ll come and see you, then you are free.” He gave the impression that no such joy was in sight for him.
The Registrar was very like the Houseman, but older, at least thirty, and wearier. He gazed at me objectively for quite a few seconds. “People like you” he said. He paused to let the unsaid sink in. It sunk in like this; my heart had probably cost the National Health Service - what? - £1-2,000, half of which would have gone in accountancy fees, management costs, failed management severance allowances, PFI repayments, PFI re-mortgaging for profit withdrawel, headquarters costs, the cost of transporting warm scrambled eggs in sealed containers the 170 kilometres from Manchester.
I started to say that it wasn’t my idea to come to the hospital, it was the women in my life, it was the doctor in Wigton...
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said, “with his Russian theories.” I had already realised that whatever I said was just digging the hole. He told me a couple of things to do if it happened again, basically a sudden compression of the thorax, coughing or trying to suddenly expel air while holding your breath. “Bye,” he said. He too was a pleasant man.
I thanked the nurses and J and I walked out through the long PFI style ward with its beds of old people too close together for the nurses to work properly. When we got back to our friends she who is now known as Renwoman had cooked a delicious, convalescent friendly fish pie, with which I drank only a small glass of wine.
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1 year ago