Monday, March 4th 2013
I am writing this on my Blackberry in hospital. To be precise, I am lying on an examination couch in the Accident and Emergence (A&E) department of University College Hospital (UCH), connected to a monitoring machine. I expect to be released to go home in an hour or two.
Why am I here? If you mean for what reason did I come here, I can tell you that, but if you mean what health problem brought me here, then that is a little more difficult to answer.
On Thursday afternoon, I became aware of my heartbeats. Normally, you are not aware of your heart beating so this struck me as odd. Every few beats, at a regular interval, the beat would be stronger than the others, enough to be noticed when just sitting normally.
I thought this would be a momentary thing, the heart “skipping a beat”, but when it continued, I began to feel a little worried. Should I seek medical advice or was this something unimportant? I did not feel unwell or have any pain.
The “beats” were still there on Friday morning and I considered asking for an emergency appointment at my GP’s surgery but in the end decided against this. We were busy over the weekend and this distracted me sometimes from the problem and its consequent worry. I determined, however, to seek an emergency appointment at my GP’s surgery on Monday morning (today).
I secured an appointment for 9:20am this morning and went along in a state of trepidation. I no longer worried that I might be wasting the doctor’s time and instead was anxious about what the diagnosis would be. The doctor took my pulse, agreed that it was irregular and had no doubts about what I should do next: take myself to A&E. She seemed to think that I might have suffered a heart attack even though I could recall nothing that I could recognize as such. If anything, this increased my concern and so I went off to UCH forthwith.
At A&E I presented the chit issued by the doctor and took a seat in the waiting room. All around me other people were waiting, some with obvious injuries, like the young builder’s labourer with a bandaged hand who had cut himself at work, and others with no overt signs of distress. A&E departments in the NHS are notorious for the long waiting times. The joke is that you either get better or die before you are attended to. Looking around at all those people and calculating reasonable consulting times for each, it seemed I might have to wait a long while… unless heart problems are prioritised. Perhaps they are because I just had time for a quick visit to the loo before I was called.
A nurse took me to a cubicle with two beds in it. There she instructed me to take off the clothes on my upper part, and put on a hospital gown. After a while, someone came and wired me up for an ECG. They also took my blood pressure, fitted a cannula too my arm and took some blood samples.
I felt relatively comfortable and cheerful at this point and joked with the various people looking after me. After all, if there was something wrong with me, I was in the right place for it to be diagnosed and sorted out – or so I thought.
A doctor came and questioned me in detail about the circumstances of my “beats” and about my medical history. As the questioning proceeded, I began to get the idea that my story was not producing a consistent picture in the doctor’s mind. As I said above, the reason for my coming here is obvious but the nature of the problem that has driven me here is less easy to specify. The scans, tests, examinations, and questionings have not so far provided a diagnosis. There will be more scans and tests to see whether these turn up something not found so far.
The good news is that there is no sign of a heart attack. All the doctor can say is that my heart rate is unusually slow (he asked whether I had regularly engaged in athletics, to which the answer was a definite no!) and that the “beats” occur periodically as the heart catches up on itself.
It is all very mysterious. On the one hand it is reassuring to know that my condition is not immediately life-threatening but annoying, and still a little worrying, to feel these continuous “beats”. There will be more tests later with a cardiologist and there is always a possibility, either that the condition will clear up by itself or that it will turn out to be the start of something.
In the meantime, I am alone, resting on my cot, with my Blackberry for company. As well as writing this account, I am sending blow-by-blow accounts to Tigger by email.
I have now been disconnected from the machines, instructed to get dressed and been sent to a seating area to await the results of the blood test. I still have the cannula in my arm, apparently in case they need to take further samples.
I am now on a number 73 bus heading along Euston Road towards the Angel. The blood test turned out satisfactory and a cardiologist, when shown the ECG scans apparently pronounced himself “happy” with them. A nurse removed the cannula and the doctor brought me a copy of his report. One will be sent to my GP but mine serves as a backup in case the other goes astray – a not unheard-of occurrence.
I feel both relieved and anxious at the same time. I have been told my condition is not immediately life-threatening but, on the other hand, they don’t know the cause. And the “beats” are still there. It looks as though I will have to get used to them unless and until they disappear of themselves or the cause declares itself.
Suspecting that I might have to spend time in hospital, where valuables are at risk, I reluctantly left my camera at home. As it happens there were not many opportunities for taking photos, anyway. Unwilling to let my day out be completely “dry”, I took a few photos with the Blackberry’s camera. Here is a small selection. None are very exciting, I’m sorry to say.
UCH is a huge glass and metal building in which the colour light green predominates. If this is not my favourite architectural style, I also have to admit the it is better than some modern buildings. The entrance to A&E is quite small though there is a bigger entrance around the back where the ambulances deposit their passengers. This is the street entrance for the walking wounded.
When I emerge from UCH, the bus stop seems the symbol of freedom. The road here is divided by an underpass so, although the bus stop is visible, it is not immediately accessible. You have to detour around the underpass.
Here we are at the bus stop at last, with a sense of freedom regained. If you are wondering what the red machine is, I will explain that it is a dispenser for bus tickets. In order to speed things along, you are not allowed to buy tickets on the bus in certain parts of London. You have to obtain your ticket beforehand and show it to the driver as you board the bus. You can either invest in a rechargeable Oyster card or buy single tickets from the machines.
The Blackberry camera performs reasonably in bright light, though I find the preview screen hard to see in sunny conditions like today. It is not so good in low light, when grain and false colour become a problem. Also, strangely, if you zoom the image, the camera for some reason reduces the size of the picture making the resolution so low that the photo is virtually useless. A very strange “feature” (or is it a bug?).