Chapter 10 : The Email

“Most importantly I am very thankful to have you all in my life and look forward to seeing you soon.”

I kept thinking I didn’t want to go through the same experience that I had with my parents every time I told someone about what was happening. It was emotionally draining and I could imagine it being the same; the looks on their faces, a silent pause while it sank in, followed by an awkward conversation. I couldn’t go through that every time.

When I got back to London I discussed the weekend and the despair I felt with my sister, and she suggested sending an email to everyone I wanted to explain things to.  It seemed like the perfect solution so I took some time and late one evening in my studio (I did a lot of music production and my studio had always been my sanctuary) I sat down and wrote the best email I could. I wanted to offer a clear explanation of what I was going through and what was going to happen so that everyone could come to their own understanding of it all in their own time and space.

Here’s a copy of the email I sent.  The subject line read simply :  ‘ :) ’

Yoooooo,

You’ll have to excuse the ‘generic-ness’ of this email but it’s the best way of emailing a bunch of people together to let you know of some news from me.

There’s no easy way of saying this, I have some serious issues with my heart and need to have surgery.

The medical term is a bicuspid aortic valve and servilely over dilated left ventricle.

In the heart there are 4 valves which pump blood from your lungs to the heart and then throughout to the body. On each of these valves there are cusps, think of flaps, which open and close to pump the blood.

You and like everybody else will have three cusps (tricuspid) on your aortic valve where as I have two (bicuspid).

This is something that about only 1% of the population have. It happened whilst ‘the process of life’ was going on in the womb and basically didn’t develop correctly.

As there are only two ‘flaps’ they have been working overtime to pump the blood around my body, they are now very weak so when they open/close they are not shutting properly to seal close and are in effect flapping backwards so blood is now re-entering the heart the wrong way, which is not good news. This means the heart is again working harder than normal to correct this, so whilst all this is going on the heart has increased in size (think of an overworked muscle getting bigger) to what is now a dangerous size. At least I have a big heart! :)

So the cycle goes on and on.

All this has come about after different tests and finally I saw the surgeon a few weeks ago who explain everything and the urgency to operate. I have known what’s going on but not quite how severe until seeing the surgeon.

As he pointed out, you know how you hear about young people just dropping dead, well this why. The heart will have a spasm and that’s it.

So this is where I am, the operation is on the 11/10 and ill be in  St Barts hospital in central (Farringdon)London.

I have done a lot of research and joined forums , checked blogs etc to speak with people who are in a similar way or have had the op etc. I do feel very knowledgeable and aware to all this, I feel a bit of an expert! ha ha

I have a few meetings with the hospital in between now and then and I have already been back to see the surgeon to quiz him on all my questions.

What’s left to decide now is I have two options for surgery. During this procedure they replace the whole valve not the just the cusps.

The choice I have is either a tissue valve or a mechanical valve replacement.

The tissue valve will be from either a pig/cow or human if available and the mechanical made from Titanium.

The titanium valve will ‘out last me’ which is good, although I need to take medication everyday for the rest of my life called Warfarin or another anticoagulant. The reason for this is the blood will form clots on the mechanical valve and for obvious reasons this is not good. They will either lodge there or break off and get stuck somewhere in the body which leads to strokes and other things.

Warfarin prevents the blood from clotting, the term they use is it ‘thins’ the blood. This way there are no clots to form.

This carries other issues as there are certain foods which you can’t eat, possible side effects and you have to change your life to a certain degree. As Warfarin prevents the blood from clotting ( basically stops the development of vitamin K) If I have a cut this could be an issue, bruises are three times bigger than normal, things like going to dentist are a problem and you can’t do anything that involves contact.

I would need regular visits to the hospital to have blood checks so the dose is constantly managed etc.

With the tissue valve I don’t need to take any medication after the post op tests etc.

The only thing with the tissue valve is they don’t last, somewhere between 15-20 years and then the process has to be repeated and the second heart surgery is riskier as you have already been through it so the body has scar tissue and will be going through the whole trauma again which is not recommended, again having to decide on a tissue or mechanical valve.

Having just turned 30 I am very young to be going through all this and to then have another open heart surgery in 15-20 years I still won’t be old! :)

Either way both options are huge life changing things to deal with and I have to make this choice.

As mentioned I have been on blogging sites and spoken with people who take warfarin etc as its not too uncommon.

I could go on and on, in a nutshell that’s it.

If you would like to go over any of this on the phone that’s fine as I am happy to speak about it, in fact I feel very calm.

I am really good and have had time to deal with this, to be honest I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, more the recovery its very long and I will need to be looked after for some time.

I’ll be in Barts Hospital from the 11/10 for a week to 10 days, depends how the body heals. If you do want to come to visit it would be great to see you, in terms of times etc that’ll be sussed out nearer the time.

From then i’ll be at home recovering, Tiana is going to look after me and then my parents. It looks like i’ll be away from work for approx. 3 months.

Whilst I am in hospital if you are looking for news etc Tiana can be contacted on……………….

I should have my mobile on me, not too sure how it will all go though.

I appreciate this will come as sudden news, I felt the best way to let you all know is via email as I can explain fully what’s going on and having this conversation face to face is not easy.

This way I hope you’ll have time to digest and get in contact with me if you feel you want to.

As mentioned I am more than happy to talk about this and the plans in place, if you have any questions etc etc.

Most importantly I am very thankful to have you all in my life and look forward to seeing you soon.

BIG LOVE

Guy

x

I pressed send and the email was done. As people started to contact me in response it was pointed out that the operation date I had stated was in a few days’ time rather than the month that it actually was. Clearly my head wasn’t in the right space so I sent a follow up email correcting the date to 11/11/13.

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Chapter 11 : The Collapse

“…..I felt a bolt of lightening in my chest, as if my heart had twisted itself into a knot with two halves turning in opposite directions…..”

Over the course of the next month I had many appointments and lots of preparation to do for the operation and whatever may come afterwards. Ultimately, I had to make a choice and needed to accept what the outcome may be.  My head was a whirlwind of information but I had a simultaneous sense of feeling separated from reality.

I felt increasingly distant from everyone and everything, as if I was on the sideline looking in.  I felt as though I was observing them all, a hidden presence watching the world go by at a distance. It was as though I was apart from the conversations.  I was physically there but not at the same time. I had a need to retreat within myself to come to begin to be at peace with the choices I made. I felt like a melancholy shadow, my world seemed to only exist within a metre around me. Unless something was immediately relevant and I needed to do something then and there, it didn’t exist to me.

By now my health was rapidly deteriorating, which I think had something to do with the release of emotions, letting go as best I could, but of course the physical decline was inevitable anyway.

The reality of it all dawned after lunch on what turned out to be my last day at work.  I started to feel very hazy; struggling to keep my eyes open as the world span before me and I felt increasingly weak.

To some degree this feeling had become the norm in the afternoon, they had started as small signs early on and had gradually increased in intensity and frequency. By the early afternoon my energy levels were depleted and I needed to rest. Some of this was due to the catalogue of medication I was now taking; the beta blockers in particular had drowsy and unpleasant side effects.  This time it was different though.

I got up and tried to walk it off, which occasionally worked. Gentling strolling up and down the corridor doing my best to ignore the swaying walls and the river-like curved shape of the floor. I put my hand out to prop me up when I needed it for extra balance.  I went into a vacant room and leant on the wall; I felt exhausted and thin, as if I was fading away. My energy had been switched off, unplugged, there was nothing left. I could feel everything draining away from my body, retreating backwards from my limbs towards my chest like water returning to its source; I was shutting down.

I had pins and needles in my left arm and I was losing balance. Part of me wanted to collapse and give up and another, stronger part prompted me to get my phone out of my pocket. With a sense of denial, I called 111, the NHS help line, explaining how I felt and my condition.  Immediately the operator told me to put the phone down and call 999.

All of a sudden I felt a bolt of lightening in my chest, as if my heart had twisted itself into a knot with two halves turning in opposite directions. Then two very hard powerful thumps hit me and my heart pounded with a huge shock, as if it was going to burst out of my body.  The second jolt was so strong that my legs gave way and I collapsed against the wall.  I managed to get my boss’s attention through a window in the door and he called 999 whilst holding me up.  With tears streaming down my face because of the shock, all I could think was ‘please, I don’t want to die at work’.

An emergency response biker arrived quickly, shortly followed by the ambulance. I was breathing heavily and quickly by this point and had now hyperventilated.  I was instructed to breathe slowly as they ran a quick test, calmed me down and then put me into the ambulance that hurtled towards A&E.  My girlfriend had arrived just in time to get into the ambulance with me and I turned to her with heavy weary eyes, dropping my head onto her shoulder and muttering: “that was terrifying.”

By the time we got to hospital I had calmed down and my heart had returned to normal.  I was put into a room and we waited for the tests to begin.  An Italian doctor greeted us both. He had small round glasses, a roughly shaved face and hair that needed a good brush; in a funny way he reminded me of a young Albert Einstein. I proceeded to inform him what just happened and the condition of my heart.

He got out his stethoscope and listened.  His eyes lit up like an inventor having a eureka moment and he got quite excited. The sound of my heart was abnormal, which to a doctor was most intriguing and quite rare. 

We went into the details of what was wrong and had a pleasant conversation about it all. It became apparent that my heart had started to fail but had, thankfully, kicked itself back into action so they had to do a few tests to check for tears and blood leakages from the heart.

A few minutes passed and the doctor asked if he could bring in one of his students to listen to my heart and see if she could form a diagnosis. I smiled and said; “sure”.  A young, female doctor with blonde hair and a white coat came in. Getting out her stethoscope she placed it on my chest. It was interesting to see the expression on her face change as she listened; a puzzled look came over her and I could see she was scrambling around in her brain for the correct medical term. Could she identify it?  Did she know what she was listening to?

Not being able to find the words the doctor asked me to tell her.  Nodding at me with recognition she offered a forced smile, wished me well and retreated out the room.  I chatted further with the doctor and asked if this meant the operation would be brought forward. He said it wouldn’t but if it happened again or had ‘gone the other way’ they would rush me straight into theatre and operate.

On reflection it made sense; there was only one thing that could happen and anyone who was in line for the operation would be in just as serious a condition so there was no reason I should be moved up the queue.  No one would be having this procedure unless it was absolutely necessary, I would have to wait my turn.

I didn’t remain in A&E long and made my way home feeling very shaken up.

Chapter 13 : Ghosts

“I felt as though I wasn’t talking to a person; I was talking to a screen, a shell of someone I once knew”

Back in London and with only a few weeks to go until the operation I was feeling incredibly drained both physically and emotionally. I felt weaker and weaker and I was permanently operating at fifty percent.

I quite literally needed a shoulder to lean on and very often a simple hug.

It was a strange period where it felt like I was surrounded by ghosts – everyone was just a blank screen to me. It was clear that people were putting on a front with me and were hiding how they truly felt about everything that was happening.  They were not allowing their real thoughts, fears and anxieties to come to the surface for me to see.  I could only presume they thought they had to put on a brave face; keeping up the appearance of being strong in order to be there for me.  However, nothing could have been further from the truth of what I actually needed and put even more of a barrier between us.

I couldn’t get anything out of anyone which made me feel more alone. I felt as though I wasn’t talking to a person; I was talking to a screen, a shell of someone I once knew – like they were ghosts.

I kept thinking that I wished they would just scream if they needed to. Punch, cry, yell, say, do whatever they wanted. I needed feelings and emotions. I wanted them to tell me how they felt not present this false shadow.  I wanted them to show me they were human, show me who they were so we could do this together by helping each other. I wanted them to be honest and break down if they needed to. I could handle that; I could handle them being real. 

Ghosts

I concluded I would have to work this one out on my own.

There was only so much advice anyone could have given me. It was having the choice of operations that made it so hard. A friend of mine commented: “you wouldn’t wish that choice on your worst enemy; it’s such a decision I can’t even begin to imagine.”

I wasn’t in a situation where they could say ‘this is the case and this is what we’re going to do about it and you’ll get better’. I was given a choice and I had to work out what was going to be right for me.

It’s an almost unfathomable decision until you are given it; it meant deciding what sort of life I may have after the operation, depending of course on how the operation went.  I had to base my answer on unknown factors. What was life going to be like and what life did I want?

I arranged to see people as and when I could, generally during the day as I was too wiped out in the afternoon and evening.  I was and still am grateful for the loving friends I had around me who would come to see me. It became quite strange when we were saying goodbye as it could potentially have been for the last time and I had this feeling that I was preparing them for what was coming.

Chapter 18 : Memories

“The hardest part of this period was feeling truly insane and out of it. I knew I couldn’t control the delusion and mind wandering.”

 

I came round with my eyes still closed, feeling hazy, almost drunk and quite giggly. I was engulfed in a warm fuzzy feeling. I felt quite happy and blissfully unaware of the harsh physical reality that laid before me, or rather, was me. I had a tube down my throat which started to make me choke and I did my best to gesture that I wanted it taken out but I couldn’t move my arms, they felt like limp fins on an exhausted washed up sea turtle.  A gentle flap was all I could muster.

I could sense that I had a body but it felt as though I wasn’t wired to it. The connections were just short of each other, like a gap in a bridge.  One by one I felt parts of my body come back to life again; where there was nothing before now a presence occupied that space and I realised I could move a bit more, so now I was more like a very drunk sea turtle, flapping about on the beach with no sense of direction.

I tried to signal again that I would like the tube removed, and was now coughing and spluttering as it became more uncomfortable.  I heard my mother say: “I think he wants the tube out”, and at the same moment it was removed.

My head felt like it was full of stars, a glistening haze of sparkles in a thick warm darkness; I was back in my own head again.  I opened my eyes or at least, I felt as if I did, and all I could see was three vertical strips of colour.  They were red, green and brown from left to right.  There was no outline, no shape and no texture, just three bold stripes. A three-colour rainbow was all I could see and each colour shone with warmth as if lit from behind by a soft glowing lantern.  In an instant I knew that the red, green and brown were Mum, Dad and Tiana respectively and I was reassured by their presence.  With an internal sigh of relief, I felt secure.

There was some talking and muttering; my parents were speaking to the surgeon and I sensed stress in their voice but had no idea what was being discussed. It turned out that the first thing the surgeon said to them was: “we listened to the music, it wasn’t really my thing”

I closed my eyes and I could feel the nurses moving around me.  Once again, all I could sense was the immediate space around me; I became a dome of space which occupied a circumference of one metre around my body. Again I was disconnected from the physical ‘me’. I felt broad and wide, big empty open space was my nature and I felt so peaceful. Then a feeling in my hand started to come back and like an electric current I felt parts of my body waking up and I was back in my body. I am not sure how long this lasted but I could sense I was going between my body in the physical form of it and then back out above it, spread out, overlooking an infinite horizon.

I had a small plastic morphine drip control button in my hand which I had been told about before the operation and I could administer at will to ease any pain. If I pressed it, it would allow a controlled amount of the drug to enter my bloodstream every few minutes.  I wasn’t in any pain but kept pressing it anyway, thinking a few minutes had lapsed each time when in fact it was probably every five seconds given my distorted sense of time.  I didn’t want to feel anything anyway.

Room Two

The next time I came round I was in a room with two nurses fussing over me. I opened my eyes and this time I could see, although it was blurry and I let my eyes adjust. It felt like I was on a ship in stormy seas; my bed was swaying, or was it the room?

Seeing me stir, a nurse came over to ask how I was doing and if there was anything I needed.

I requested a drink, which she got hurriedly.

It felt as though the nurse was continuously fussing over me and saying things.  She seemed like a character in a cartoon who was darting from one scene to the next in a tornado of blurred colour and confusion. Whizzing around me from one end of the room to the other, my bed turned into a boat and spun chaotically it seemed.  I had no idea what she was doing and remembered thinking to myself ‘this nurse is crazy; she seems so frantic. What is she doing moving so rapidly and what is she saying?’ I felt the motion pause for a moment and having a brief moment of clarity I told myself to calm down.

From then on I gave her the nickname ‘crazy nurse’.  It was at this point that I had a personal nurse for twenty-four hours and I have a vague memory of opening my eyes once and then closing them to go back to the familiar blackness where I felt safe.

Room Three

I woke up as I was moving into another room with three other people nearby.  Two of them were my roommates from the first night.  I was starting to feel a lot more with it now, or at least I thought I was.  We were each propped up slightly by the back of our beds, and were facing each other in a diagonal four-bed cross. There were bright lights on us but the room itself was dimly lit in neon green.

There were lots of wires connected to us from multiple machines and the sounds coming from them seemed deafening. There were bleeps every few moments, the sound of air moving, the oxygen tubes in my nose, nurses coming over and sticking things in me every moment or so, lights flashing, the room spinning.  Was I tumbling down a rabbit hole?

It felt like I was in this room for an eternity and it was mental torture.

I looked at the clock on the wall hanging above the door. It was silver with thick, straight black lines on its pale face indicating the time. It felt menacing and as though it commanded the room, like an army sergeant bearing down on me. Slowly it kept time.

I pressed the buzzer in my hand for a nurse to come over and I desperately asked: “can you switch these machines off?  Or at least the sounds, the bleeps are driving me mad!”.

It turned out she was new to her position so went away and asked. She came back and politely said: “no”.

Having then dwelled on it for a few moments I realised it was probably a good idea not to turn them off.  I looked back at the sergeant on the wall, feeling like a few hours had gone by but not even five minutes had passed.

I came round after closing my eyes for a while and had a sudden realisation that I didn’t know what was going on. I felt safe but confused.

‘Something’s wrong I shouldn’t be here,’ I thought. Looking around I then started pulling off some of the wires which were attached to me and to generally unplug myself from the spaghetti junction of cables.  All of a sudden the bleeping sounds were a lot louder and there were new, more urgent ones as well.  A nurse came rushing over seeing me sat half up right and said: “what are you doing?”

In a tone that was perfectly natural and self assured I responded: “It’s alright luv, I’m fine. It’s those three you have to worry to about.  I’m off to the loo, where is it?”  I thought I had been on a big night out and had woken up somewhere strange. I didn’t need looking after, it was the others that did.  I just needed the loo.

Propping myself upright and struggling to move I saw the look of sympathy on the nurse’s face and she gently said: “no, just lie here, you can’t go anywhere.”  Which brought my train of thought to a crashing halt, as if a door had slammed in my face.  “Maybe she’s right,” I thought, and I lay my head back on the bed as I realised where I was and what was going on.

Every few seconds I was passing liquid, trying to close my eyes to sleep and then sharply opening them without warning. I did my best to ignore the barrage of sounds and generally tripped out feeling which was paralyzing.  I looked up at the sergeant timekeeper and couldn’t believe it, only another five minutes had passed.

The hardest part of this period was feeling truly insane and out of it.  I knew I couldn’t control the delusion and mind wandering. My mind felt as if it was tripping out and running away with itself.  I had moments of realisation which felt like coming up for air, a gasp of sanity which then quickly dissipated as I fell back into crazy town.  Without those pockets of sanity, I wouldn’t have known whether I was insane or not. When I came up for ‘air’ it was a welcome relief and offered a moment’s reflection.

Room Four

I came round and we were being moved to another ward. I was very relieved to not be in that room.

There was a window next to me allowing light to come in bringing a sense of warmth and ‘life’ with it.

I could feel that things were getting better and the sense of urgency was diminishing. I was on the level below where I started and knew that the next stop would be back in the original ward.

I had a new nurse looking after me called Matt. He was slightly overweight with a few days growth of stubble which was encroaching on his goatee and looked Filipino. At first I thought he was a doctor and I addressed him as such to which he quickly corrected me. He was extremely attentive and calm. On one occasion I remember the look he gave me after I asked the same thing ten times in an hour. It was a look of ‘Oh dear, you’re really not with it’ softened with a smile. He had the wonderful patience to provide the same answer in a clear and calm manner again and again. It was from his expression I then realised I had asked him a few times already and chuckled to myself, “Oh dear” I thought.

I had a few more visits from various doctors and nurses. A young female doctor seemed to have been assigned to me who had long dark hair, a pretty smile (which reminded me of Julia Roberts) and warm light chocolate skin tone. She wore glasses that highlighted rich brown eyes and despite the ‘white overcoat’ everyone was wearing, she had a bright coloured shirt underneath which shone through adding a welcomed warmth. I took an instant liking to her, she was kind and caring whilst being professional.

Another time a different doctor was joking and laughing with me. He was of medium height and round shaped with a bubbly demeanour seeming to bob along as he walked. With small glasses perched on his nose he reminded me of a mole.

He recalled a story when he was in training to me and some nurses. “Part of the learning process is to understand how things feel to a patient, what their position is like. When we were learning about the ECG process we had to have the wires attached to ourselves. I have a very hairy chest, so if these wires were stuck to my chest and ripped off, well, that would be painful. So I chickened out of trying this!”

The nurses and I chuckled as he told the story, sympathizing with him.

Room Five

I was moved to the last remaining ward and all I could think of was two o’clock when visiting hours started.  It was the only thing I could look forward to and the clock wasn’t moving fast enough.

I tried to kill time by going for a hobble around the room which the nurses actively promoted. A snail’s race was more exciting than me cranking the cogs of each limb. However, slow as it was it felt good to move and particularly to stand upright.

At the end of the room on the left there was a big window looking out over London. The sun was shining and bathing the room in bright light that reflected off the ceiling and walls. The heating in the ward was set to desert temperatures and along with the sun it was hot but soothing.

The Wards
The Wards

I sat up in bed and looked over towards the window to see a huge swarm of flies buzzing in a giant ball of organised chaos just inside the window. With military accuracy they stayed fixed to their position.

“That’s not good,” I thought and looked back around the room to see what was being done about it.

Everyone was calm, lying in their beds being seen too by someone and the nurses were doing their checks as if everything was normal. A pleasant murmur of chit chat filled the room.

I thought to myself how strange it was and when I looked back at the window the giant ball of flies was still hovering in mid air; a bustle of darting confusion and noise. I glanced back into the room and again saw that no one was paying any attention to it and it struck me that I was hallucinating.

Feeling fragile I stared at the end of my bed; it was more comforting.

Throughout the rest of the day I started to notice other patients were losing it too. In a bed opposite and slightly to the right of me was an elderly gentleman who was starting to break up.  I could see he thought people were out to make it hard for him; he was being held against his will and wanted out. Everyone was his enemy it seemed. Our eyes met on a few occasions and all I could see was despair.

With a vacant stare, his pupils were large and misty black. His eyes looked like they were popping out of his head, being pushed forward as though his mind was trying to break free. A series of creases cut into his forehead in intense, compact ridges, creating highways of thought on his skin. The pressure was evident on his face.

I imagined he just wanted to get out of here, as I did, but the drugs had consumed his sense of normality. 

I found it distressing to see someone being restrained by the nurses and then having to remain in the same environment as them. I took comfort in the thought that at least I wasn’t like that and sympathised as best I could.

It is only from then that I remember seeing visitors. My family had come in during the first two days but I have no recollection of it.  Apparently I was sitting upright, quite alert and chatting away to them.

The below image was taken on the fourth day in hospital before I was about to leave.

Scar BW

Chapter 19 : Music

‘The most amazing part was being operated on the Tuesday morning and four days later on Saturday afternoon I was at home; I still can’t believe this.’

 

The following day in the morning I was lying in bed wishing the time away for 14:00 until I could see my family when this big tall dreadlocked dude came over with a wheelchair and the biggest smile I had seen in a while. He bounced over with enthusiasm and said: “I’ve come to take you for some X-Rays, let me help you get in the wheelchair.”

I stood up with his support and got into the chair while he wrapped two blankets around my legs and one across my lap telling me: “it gets cold in the corridors and it’s quite a way.”

This was a refreshing thought; the ward felt like it was constantly at forty degrees and rising.

We set off down a labyrinth of corridors – the kind that only hospitals seem to have; an endless maze of shiny metal pipes covered the ceiling and jutted out at sharp angles without warning.  There were arrows of all shapes and sizes pointing in various directions; words I’d never heard of were plastered across the walls in varying sizes, the lighting was dim and flashed on occasions. It reminded me of those movie scenes in underground bunkers and connecting tunnels.  We went further down in a cargo style lift, deep into what felt like the belly of the hospital. I lost count of how many doors we passed through; codes were entered and cards were swiped to gain access to the next corridor.

I sat taking it all in and we got chatting.  I mentioned what a nice smile he had and how all the doctors, nurses, carers, cleaners; everybody I had met was truly wonderful. I was in awe of them and very grateful for the attention I had received.

“You can’t come and work for the NHS without having a smile on your face, it’s part of the job to care for people and you need to turn up showing that,” he said in a confident manner.  Naturally this brought a smile to my face and I thought to myself: “he’s got it”.

We carried on chatting and he explained his love of music and that he still goes searching to find ‘that record’; “it’s all about the hunt in vinyl shops!” he said.  He then continued: “I used to go into Shoreditch in East London until it all moved on. The area has changed so much. I now go for weekend trips to Brighton with my partner to check the record stores out. There tends to be a good collection to be found”.

This was quite literally music to my ears and something I could relate to. The search for ‘that record, that tune, that next feeling’ is what it’s about.  It was at this point he asked me what I did and I explained my passion for producing music and DJing.

“Ah! So I’m going to see you up there collecting your awards on TV then,” he exclaimed. 

I smiled and acknowledged him, feeling just as assured.  He was spreading joy with his own happiness which I felt deeply. After having my chest X-rayed he returned me back to my bed and I felt very positive about the future.

There was a moment in hospital where I took some time to reflect on everything. Half upright in my bed I sat in contemplation.  A brief moment of calm and clarity came over me and I felt very safe and serene. The noise of my surroundings gentle quietened. No machines humming, nurses asking questions, the sound of shoes skidding along the vinyl floor down the hallway had all been silenced. Somehow I had switched these outside disturbances off and I was deeply in tune with myself. I felt the peace of having my eyes closed and an expansive presence spread through me. It was at this moment of silence two records came into my head as an audible experience:

Bill Withers, Let us Love (Live in Carnegie hall album)

Otis Redding, Love Man

They were from the playlist I had created and I was projected back into the operating theatre. I remembered a sensual experience; hearing them in the operation.

The time spent in hospital, the procedure and various incidents along the way were incredible and left me feeling awestruck.  The most amazing part was being operated on the Tuesday morning and four days later on Saturday afternoon I was at home; I still can’t believe this.

Chapter 20 : The Process Of Recovery

“I hadn’t realised …….. the amount of pain and discomfort that was kept at bay in hospital by the drugs. All across my back it felt like I had taken a pounding with a baseball bat; a pummelling all over.”

 

When it was time to leave, my dad and girlfriend came to collect me from the hospital. After a wait for the medication, my own small pharmacy of fourteen daily pills, to be signed off, I was on my way home.

When we arrived I hobbled slowly from the car, up the few steps to the front door and I was in and very grateful to be out of the mental institution.  My sister, mum and Gizmo the family dog were there to greet me; I was home, I had made it.

I hadn’t eaten a thing in hospital and was very weak. The food was disgusting and I didn’t understand why. It may have been produced en masse but I didn’t think it was an excuse because it seemed that the most important thing for me, and everyone else on the ward, was to eat healthy food to regain strength and start to heal whilst also keeping any infections away. 

I was never very hungry after the operation; it was something to do to break up the monotony of the day and on the odd occasion where I had felt like eating it would have been nice to have something that didn’t resemble cardboard.  I had been confused about why the hospital hadn’t put more emphasis on providing healthy (or even edible) food, my tastes buds may have been off with all the medication, but it was still horrible. All I had managed was a sandwich the day before I left, which Dad had brought in.

An added issue as a result of all this was that a particular nurse had constantly nagged me, saying that I needed to pass solids before being allowed to go home. I explained to her that I hadn’t eaten in four days so there was nothing to come out!

That evening I sat down to eat a wonderful home-cooked meal which Mum had prepared. On the plate in front of me there happened to be an array of green vegetables and in particular I noticed the cabbage. Looking at the plate I smiled and lifting my head I quietly said to everyone around the table: “I couldn’t have eaten this if I had chosen the titanium valve,” and feeling reassured I ate the whole plate of food, enjoying every mouthful.

Another thing that added to the sense of insanity that surrounded my experience in hospital was the lack of sleep. At best I had been passing out through sheer exhaustion and intoxication; it was never natural sleep.

The first night I was at home I started to settle down in bed which, a very slow process where I moved at a sloth’s pace, if that, because everything was so uncomfortable.  I had instructions to lie on my back and not to roll over onto my side or front for twelve weeks to allow the ribs to fuse together and avoid extra pressure to the chest but I found myself unconsciously starting to roll over in the night and would wake up mid roll to correct myself.

It was hard and very uncomfortable as I preferred sleeping on my side. I had pillows propping me up because I struggled to breathe when I was lying completely flat; it felt like someone was sitting on my chest and the pressure would become unbearable. I didn’t get any sleep for a long time.

I hadn’t realised until I got home the amount of pain and discomfort that was kept at bay in hospital by the drugs. All across my back it felt like I had taken a pounding with a baseball bat; a pummelling all over. It was the ache of many small hard bruises constantly tweaking. I had thought my chest would hurt but it didn’t once.  I had to get extra strong (pass-out-strong) painkillers to cope for a few days and nights.

Of course the pain was a side effect of the procedure.  Sawing through the rib cage to get access to the organs, the ribs had to be put somewhere to stay out the way, so they ram each rib cage to either side of the body which then causes massive pressure on the back muscles which are squashed together.

Something else I didn’t realise was the extent to which I would have to encourage myself to breathe deeply to open up the lungs and reach full capacity again.  They had been deflated during the operation so that now only a small amount of their volume was being used. The nurses advised me to take big deep breaths and inhale as much as I could to inflate them again. As soon as I would start to inhale more air I felt full up and out of breath at the same time.  It was like going for an intense training session and really pushing yourself to the point of gasping for air, only I couldn’t inhale enough and when I did I was full.

This gradually got easier as the lungs started to stretch.  My gulps for air became longer until I built up to holding my breath for a few seconds. I used daily walks (for want of a better word), twice a day, to practice this deep breathing and get the most out of being outside.  On the first walk I managed ten metres to the tree outside my home and I remember saying to Dad: “that’s ok for today,” then turning around and coming back.

The first steps
The First Steps

Each day I would look forward to my morning and afternoon strolls as it was a chance to be outside and feel the open space. It was the most important part of my recovery to start being active as soon as possible. I enjoyed the feeling of my body moving, even if it was at a snail’s pace, the important thing was that I was moving.

With each walk I would make sure I went that one step or a few paces further, so by the end of the week I had reached the top of the street.  There would be a point whilst walking when I would suddenly have no strength and I knew it was time to turn back. It wasn’t a gradual loss of strength; it was immediate, as if I had used all the energy my body was going to provide and a switch had been flipped telling me that I was done for the day.

It was slow going but never felt that way. I stayed focused on just doing the task at hand, without any distractions. All I had to do was walk as best I could and take some deep breaths.

My parents had been looking after me for the first week I was at home and quickly worked out that the day would be based around when I was not passed out, which would happen at any instant.

I would be up early and relaxing on the couch, then I would drift off for a while and then come back around for a bit. I was never fully with it because I was still taking a lot of medication which gave me a strange spaced out feeling. I couldn’t make any decisions, all I could do was be awake for a while and then pass out without warning.

I have a wonderful memory of watching Clint Eastwood films with Dad in the afternoon; it felt so special just spending time with my parents with nothing to do but get better.

Mum’s cooking and both my parents’ love was what I needed and it helped more than I knew.

The following week my girlfriend was there to care for me; it was still a full time routine of helping me shower, get dressed and then general support when I was awake.

She had started her dream job only a few months before and I could sense a struggle in her between wanting to do well at work and passing the probation period as well as giving me the care that I needed.  She had never been emotionally strong and it became clear that it was all too much for her.

One day we went for a morning stroll as normal, reaching the park common at the end of the road by now, and as we turned to head back I recognised a figure coming towards us; it was my friend Ben. 

Ben lived nearby and happened to be going through the common so came over to say hello. He remarked that when he had first seen me from afar he had thought I must have been a very old, crippled person because everything looked like a complete struggle.  It was only when he got nearer that with some shock he realised it was me. We smiled and chatted for a few brief moments and all of a sudden, as usual, the switch had flipped and my energy drained away, so we said goodbye and started to make our way back to the flat.

Park BW
The Walk Back

On the way Tiana asked how I was doing and if I knew whether I would like some food when we got in as she wanted to get some work done.  I said that I wasn’t sure and that I need to get back to the flat to see how I felt and go from there.

She pressed further asking if I could give an indication and saying: “I need to know to plan the day and to get things done.”  I let her know that all I could do was focus on walking and getting home as I felt very weak, and asked for a moment to just do that first.  In an instant she became annoyed and seemed wound up asking: “how do you not know? Can’t you answer this?”

I started to feel unsure about what was going on, I felt as though I was surrounded by a tense cloud of confusion.  I explained that at that moment it was a struggle simply walking and it was taking all my concentration, anything beyond that was unanswerable until I was back in the flat. If she could just help me to get home and we could go from there.  Muttering under her breath she impatiently walked a few steps ahead and said: “I think you’re being selfish.”

I froze on the spot and stared at the pavement in front of me in disbelief. I couldn’t comprehend what had just been said; it seemed that my slow walking and lack of clarity had got to her.

We got home and I didn’t speak to her. I tried to do things for myself; making a cup of tea and even getting into the shower to wash but it was a waste of time as I couldn’t lift my arms more than a few inches from the side of my body.  Not only did I not have the strength to lift them, but I also wasn’t allowed to raise my arms that high as it would stretch the skin across my chest, opening up the wound and splitting the ribs underneath as they healed. For the same reason I couldn’t turn my body appropriately to wash; unable to bend down I was still rigid and feeble like an old man.

She was in the lounge on her laptop and tried to speak to me when I came in but I ignored her. She tried to talk to me a few more times but I didn’t know what to say and sat in silence. My head was spinning with confusion, like a whirlwind it was a complete emotional mess.

There was now this void, like a glass wall separating us as I sat on the other side of the lounge.  I tried to understand the reasons for her reaction. Perhaps she felt the operation had come at a bad time. At last she had something to work for and was extremely interested in; not just a normal job, and taking care of me had come at the worst time for her.

She had spoken to her boss and he was happy for her to take a week off to care for me, saying she could do some work as and when she could.

Looking up from the laptop she said: “I can’t do this, you won’t let me help so there’s no point being here.”  I was still in shock and barely acknowledging her I shrugged my shoulders and she went downstairs to pack her bags.

My sister was in the flat and about to leave to start her shift at work. She came into the lounge to say goodbye and immediately sensed something was up as I sat there.  She was late and rushing out the door so went downstairs to leave. I heard voices from downstair and then the front door opened and closed. There was a long pause and I waited to hear my sister’s car start.

Tiana then called up the stairs to say she was leaving.  I didn’t know what was going on and I desperately wanted to. Not knowing if I had imagined the whole thing or done something terrible to upset her. I mustered all my strength and cried out: “what’s going on? I dont know whats happening, please, am I imagining this?!”

I heard the door close.

There was a short pause followed by the sound of footsteps coming slowly up the stairs. Tiana came into the lounge and sheepishly sat on the end of the couch with her bag.

Looking at her and feeling as though I had finally lost my mind I explained how confused I felt and that I didn’t know what was going on. I carried on to say that I understood the job was very important to her and that I was sorry I couldn’t be more specific about how I felt: ‘‘I’m tired one minute, hungry the next, then passing out, feeling sick, exhausted, emotional, in pain; it changes so quickly. That’s why I can’t tell you that I’m going to sleep or that now is a good time for you to work, I genuinely don’t know. My emotions and body are all over the place, everything is really hard right now and I can’t think constructively, or at all. I just need some help please; to be looked after.’’

She timidly nodded her head in acknowledgment, heading downstairs to unpack her bag. Perhaps I needed to explain all this for her to understand how I felt and what was going on.

My sister checked in with me shortly afterwards and I let her know everything was ok and that she didn’t need to come back from work as Tiana was staying. I later realised she had hung around outside in her car for a while to see if Tiana left.

Chapter 21 : Stitches

‘‘I think what really happened is you’re an undercover spy and you got into a fight with someone very dangerous, and these wounds are the outcome.’’

 

Towards the end of the second week post op I had an appointment at the local doctor’s surgery to have my last remaining stitches removed. There were two large holes made between the bottom of my ribcage and the top of my stomach for tubes which allowed all the excess liquid from the operation to be drained out. 

I can remember seeing them in hospital as they were not taken out straight away, and the odd feeling of witnessing a couple of tubes sticking out from what seemed like the centre of my body. They resembled two clear hosepipes; images of The Matrix sprang to mind.

I also remember having the tubes taken out. As the nurse began to pull on them I felt the strangest sensation from under the skin, like an itch I could never quite reach moving along inside me. I then heard a ‘blop’ sound, like pulling a cork free from a bottle of wine, to signal they were clear of the body. The subsequent holes were large and needed a while to heal, hence the stitches.

I sat with my girlfriend in the waiting room and looked around, I thought about how you never know what people are going through. Here I am at thirty having just had open heart surgery two weeks ago and I am sure to everyone in the room I just look a bit dishevelled.  The thought lingered for a moment as I contemplated how impossible it is to know what people are going through; major surgery, cancer, divorce, financial ruin, any one of these could be the reason for someone’s behaviour and reactions towards you or another. They may do something that seems completely uncalled for, out of character and unjustified but there is normally a reason for it; they aren’t simply like that. 

I contemplated it for a while, and the thought had brought a deep sense of calm and respect towards everyone around me.

I was called through and left Tiana in the waiting room as she didn’t want to see the stitches being removed. A young nurse was sitting waiting for me in a bright and airy room. She had blonde hair, a welcoming smile and was wearing clothes unlike any nurse I had seen before. She looked quite civilian in that sense and if it wasn’t for the name tag around her neck I would have thought I had walked in on another patient.

Gesturing that I should sit down she started reading through my notes and we talked for a while.

By now I was used to feeling a little hazy and having a general sense of sleep deprivation; thanks to the painkillers I had grown accustomed to a generally spaced out vibe, but even in my warped state I could never have imagined what the nurse was about to say.  She turned to me and quite sincerely said: ‘‘well, I’ve read through the notes and understand what you have just said but I don’t believe you. Are you sure that’s what happened?’’

I paused for a moment thinking ‘’err…’’ and smiled at her uneasily.

She continued to say: ‘‘I think what really happened is you’re an undercover spy and you got into a fight with someone very dangerous, and these wounds are the outcome.’’

She nodded her head as she went through the notes again and said: “I imagine they came off worse. Let me see what I can do to help.’’

The cheeky smile on her face reassured me and I relaxed. It was nice to have someone play with the whole thing and not take it too seriously.

She came over and leant down, removing the stitches with a curved shape knife that looked like an extremely sharp fishing hook and I barely noticed her doing it. We continued to chat about the other appointments and how I was doing. As I got up to leave she said: “be careful on those streets!’’  and I left feeling a little bemused.

I walked back with Tiana and told her what the nurse had said and she seemed to be in as much disbelief as I was. Then I realised she was actually annoyed because the nurse had really been flirting with me.

Chapter 22 : Revisiting the Wards

“the last time I saw you, you were on your back and barely alive!” 

 

I was scheduled to have a check up with the surgeon six weeks after the operation but as it was Christmas in between it had been pushed back a further two weeks.

It was the first appointment I had back at the hospital and it was simply to see how I was doing and to run some tests.  It felt like a day of reckoning; if it went well they would sign me off and I would just have yearly check up scans to go to.  If it didn’t go well and something was spotted a course of action would have been planned.

When the appointment was only a few days away I thought about someone I had met in hospital.  He had to come back a few weeks after surgery because his heart rate was not returning to a normal rhythm.

It was faster than it should have been so they were going to give him an electric shock to see if it jolted it back.

He was with his wife and seemed fine in appearance; I couldn’t distinguish anything out of the ordinary other than the patient gown he was wearing.

We had spoken briefly and he seemed fed up about being back in hospital again. He was taken away and after his wife kissed him goodbye she turned to me and said: “is this the part when I’m supposed to cry?’’  She sat alone in her chair with an empty space next to her where her husband had been a moment ago, started to cry and then left.

I was both excited and nervous.  It was great to be at this stage of recovery, feeling good and happy, but I also felt cautious about going back to the hospital and anxious about whether everything would come rushing back. That was the last thing I wanted, to relive it and have flashbacks.

I decided to get to the hospital early and visit the wards I had been on to see the nurses, doctors and staff in general so I could thank them for all their help. I took thank you cards with me and left a personal message of gratitude in each of them. 

I had three in total, the first for the main ward, the second for the high dependency ward and the third for the surgeon and his team.  I addressed each card to the whole team of people and hoped I would see them when I handed them out.

As I arrived at the front entrance of the hospital where I had once said goodbye to my family, I felt anxious. It was a familiar place and yet the memory of that day was already vanishing.

I got in the lift and went to the second floor where the high dependency ward was located. The door was locked shut and I needed to be buzzed in.  As I peered through the glass pane in the door I could see a nurse coming down the hallway towards me and I instantly recognised her as ‘crazy nurse’.

As she opened the door she gave me a slightly puzzled look and was about to stop me from going in when I smiled at her and explained why I was there. She paused and then grinned back saying she did remember me and told me how well I now looked: “the last time I saw you, you were on your back and barely alive!”  We had a brief chat wishing each other well and she went on her way.

I got to the reception desk and didn’t recognise the nurse who also gave me a bemused look. Upon reflection I don’t think anyone was meant to be on the ward unless it was absolutely necessary.

I explained that I had been a patient, had come back for a check up, and while I was here I wanted to thank all the nurses for their help and would she mind taking this card and giving it to the right people. She asked me the date of my surgery, duration of stay and my name so she could check the records and give to the appropriate team of nurses.

It was lovely to speak to her, especially as having told her what had happened and why I was here she gave me the biggest smile and firmly promised to make sure the right people got the card.

I then went up to the main ward on the third floor. I went through the double doors and the hot temperature hit me square in the face with a heavy rush of air similar to getting off a plane in a hot climate.

I started to walk down the corridor and instantly felt lifted, as if I had grown in height, and I marched along with newfound vigour. A feeling of peace and happiness flowed through me along with an air of confidence.

I passed through another set of double doors down the corridor with various rooms on either side of me. A few doors had been left ajar and I could see the pain, exhaustion and insanity of the patients inside. That familiar look of despair I had become so used to. I felt relieved and assured; I was beyond that!

I arrived at the reception and recognised the nurse, who instantly remembered me. She had a bubbly character and was one of the main nurses who checked on all the patients on the ward. She was the maître d’, the mother hen in charge of the flock of nurses.  We chatted and I explained how grateful I was for everybody’s help and as a gesture of thanks, here was a card, asking if she could make sure it was seen by the other nurses.

Opening up the card, a wonderful smile appeared across her face and I could sense the other nurses’ curiosity about what was going on. They leaned in on the conversation as they walked past with some peering over the reception desk to see what the fuss was about.

All these smiles were becoming infectious and a buzz of conversation filled the air. I felt so happy to be able to share my sense of joy and gratitude with them.

She said “you look so well!  I can’t believe the progress you have made. You’re young and that’s of great benefit look how quickly you are recovering!”

I didn’t stay for long as I had my appointment to keep and felt the need not to linger. It was long enough to appreciate how well I was doing.  By going back and expressing my gratitude to them it had made their, and my, day.

I walked back down the corridor a free man, head held high with life and all its possibilities before me.

Chapter 24 : Fawlty Hospitals

‘‘You’re five foot and twelve inches’’

 

My next appointment was a week after my trip back to Bart’s, and it was at the local hospital to meet with the nurse who would be working with me on my rehabilitation programme.  The hospital wasn’t too far away from where I lived so I decided to walk to it as part of my daily exercise routine, and my friend Ben came along to support me.

As we got nearer the hospital there was a low mist covering the streets. Despite being daytime the streetlights were on and added an orange tinge to the fog. It was the height of winter so there was that grey gloom in the sky that’s typical of British weather at that time of year. With the mist, orange haze and grey sky overhead it all added up to an eerie atmosphere as we walked.

The hospital was a lot smaller than Bart’s so it didn’t take long to find out where to go.  I wasn’t sure what to expect; I’d been told that we would be discussing an exercise regime with meetings on a weekly basis.

We settled down in a small and cramped waiting room and a nurse came along shortly after our arrival and called my name, gesturing that we should follow her. She was quite short and had an air of bewilderment about her. We stopped in a hallway next to the waiting room and she said:

‘‘ooohhhh you’re very young, are you still at college?’’

I was surprised and not sure if she was joking or trying to be nice.  I responded playfully with ‘‘I’m thirty years old, do I look seventeen? That’s quite a difference,’’ and glanced at Ben who was chuckling to himself. 

She responded abruptly with “oh, well you never know these days!” before going on to say: “you Western lads have it all; cars, houses, mortgages and so young. It’s not like that in Africa.’’

I turned towards Ben who was looking back at me with a bemused expression to match my own as we wondered what she was going on about and where the comment had come from.  Hesitating I asked what she meant: “It’s easier over here and I’m just never sure, as you do look so young. It’s the way things are,” came the response.

I stood in the hallway not sure what to expect next and felt an awkward pause. Not knowing what to say I remained silent and waited for her cue.  She continued without a fuss as if the previous conversation hadn’t happened: “ok, I need to measure your height and weight, please stand here against this wall,” she said, gesturing accordingly.

I turned to have my back against the wall and she got out a measuring tape, lining it up against me and in a definitive tone said: ‘‘You’re five foot and twelve inches’’.

I paused, then chuckled and coughed at the same time in amazement, looking at Ben who by now had his head in his hands, and I said: ‘’do you mean six foot? I thought I was five foot eleven inches so maybe I gained some height in hospital!’’

Muttering under her breath she said: “oh yes, well, it’s all the same,” and rolled the tape measure up quickly. She then asked me to step on some scales and I wondered what she was going to come up with next.  Thankfully she confirmed my weight as 67kilograms.

‘‘Right, follow me into here please,’’ she said and we went into a long but small room which had a low ceiling. It felt like an afterthought in the architect’s design.  By now I wasn’t sure what to expect so thought I’d let this play out and see what happened.

We sat down and she asked me how I was and what procedure I had.  I paused for a moment in shock and despair. I could feel the disbelief in Ben who was standing over in the corner.  She had carried into the room and placed on the table next to her a big folder with my name on it, which clearly contained all the notes from the past few months.

“Don’t you know?  Haven’t you read the file and been briefed?  Isn’t it all in there?’’ I asked, pointing to the folder.  Nonetheless, I was taken aback by this and immediately thought I had better tell her to save any confusion. So I summed up the operation, the type of valve and what had lead to all this.

“So you went for the tissue valve and not the mechanical one?  Oh dear that’s not what is recommended.’’ She said.

I chuckled and refrained from reacting to her. I suppose it made sense for this to carry on in the same the manner it started.

‘‘It’s a personal decision and I felt this was best for me.’’ I replied.

I think Ben was banging his head against the wall at this point and about to demand that we saw someone else.

She told me the rehabilitation sessions would take place at a centre nearby and didn’t feel that I needed to start at the hospital with the first round: “the majority of patients start at the hospital where you have lots of help and go through all the different exercises very slowly to begin rebuilding the movement and strength,’’ she said, but as I had walked to the hospital she could see that I was already beyond phase one and so I could start at phase two.

I quizzed her more on this, not feeling too comfortable with the advice after the charade that was the previous fifteen-minutes: “It’s fine, you needn’t worry. The sessions are every Tuesday from 14:00 and here is the address,’’ she said.  Handing me a letter she continued: “the exercise routine is followed by a discussion from someone who comes in to speak on various topics, a medical expert, psychological expert etc. to help and offer advice.’’

The idea of meeting people who had gone through the same thing as I had, and then experts in different fields helping with advice on medication, adapting mentally to the situation and how to deal with things emotionally appealed to me greatly.

Ben and I then left and walked home, discussing and laughing about the last thirty minutes: ‘‘it’s a good thing you didn’t go there for any confidence building or support, because that’s the last thing you got! I mean, what the hell was all that about?’’ he said.  All we could do was laugh in amazement between ourselves. If Ben hadn’t been with me I would have thought I had imagined it all.

We walked through the fog and as it started to lift we mentioned how the whole situation could almost have been another reality that the fog had taken us to, it was so surreal.

The meeting reminded me of scenes from the TV show Fawlty Towers, so I decided to nickname the nurse Manuel.

Chapter 25 : Cracking Chest

“I hadn’t realised…. I now had metal rings up my ribcage, holding it in place….These metal rings along with a cow’s valve are now part of me.”

 

During my recovery time I was concerned about how well my chest was healing. The wound looked fine, as fine as a scar all the way down your chest can do, but when I moved or got up it made a cracking sound which was very unnerving.  I would hear a snap coming from my chest and I was anxious that the bones hadn’t fused together and were jarring on each other or could split further and worse, pop open!  So I managed to arrange an appointment back at Bart’s to discuss this with the team.

I saw the same female doctor who greeted me with her big smile and colourful outfit as well as a practitioner who was the surgeon’s ‘number one’ in the operating theatre. He was a tall man in his late forties whose hair had started to whiten.  He wore square glasses that matched the square frame of shoulders and upper body. He looked stereotypical and without his shirt and trousers he would have been indistinguishable amongst the other staff.

Like all the professionals I had met he had an air of certainty about him, just like the surgeon.

I felt reassured seeing them, they both had a lot of involvement in my case and knew me well. They were welcoming, although a little unsettled about why I was there.  I explained my concern over the cracking sound coming from my chest. Placing his index and forefingers on my chest the  man moved them up and down around the edge of the scar in a clockwise motion, asking how it felt as he pressed down firmly on the skin.  I didn’t feel any pain and couldn’t even really feel the pressure he was applying, it was all still numb and the scar tissue was dense.

‘‘It’s fine,” he said with conviction, continuing: “with a procedure of this nature it takes the body a long time to heal. It feels good to me as there is no movement. Just allow the body to heal, it does take time.’’

He was reassuring and told me exactly what I wanted and needed to hear.  What I hadn’t realised was that I now had metal rings up my ribcage, holding it in place as it simply wouldn’t be held together by anything else.  They would literally spring open without the clamps that had been used to seal me back up. 

The below images show before and after surgery.

Pre surgery Xray
Pre surgery Xray
Post surgery Xray
Post surgery Xray

These metal rings along with a cow’s valve are now part of me.

It was a pleasant conversation and we discussed a lot of things. I had a fond memory of him checking on me on the third day after the operation and saying he would do his best to get me out within a few days, which was just what I had wanted to hear at that time, so I had instantly liked him.  He asked if I would like to come back to Bart’s for my yearly checks instead of the other hospital, to which I answered: ‘‘definitely!’’

The other hospital hadn’t instilled much faith in me, not just because of my meeting with Manuel but because when I had been there it felt like the whole place was full of crazy people.  Although, I should have been getting used to that by now.