Heavy-Hearted

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Good evening, all!

Sorry I haven’t written for a while, but things have been a wee bit busy over the last few months.

Following on from all the medical madness of March, I was back in Wellington for a follow-up appointment in August to figure out if I was going to get an ICD as an insurance policy to guard me from the possibility of future tachycardia.

This trip doubled as our first family holiday away with ToddlerinFrame.

We visited “Six South” – the heart ward I spent almost a month in (the nurses all somehow remembered me) and ToddlerinFrame very adorably said “Thank you for looking after my Daddy” to all of them – So very, very cute!

It was a bit of an emotional trip, with us all visiting the doctors and nurses at the fertility where ToddlerinFrame was conceived. Happy tears and hugs were shared, while our daughter played in the waiting room toy corner, oblivious to the significance of her surroundings.

While there we all went to Te Papa and I toured the “Scale of Our War” exhibit. It is truly breath-taking and not just because you begin the exhibit staring down the barrel of a gun. Well, at 6’8″, I start the exhibit staring down the barrel of a gun – I guess everyone else stares UNDER the barrel…

Considering the purpose of my Wellington visit, it was fitting that you leave the exhibit feeling very heavy-hearted.

It is a stunning take on New Zealand’s World War One participation and a must-see.

Two months later I was back in Wellington having my ICD implanted just after Labour Weekend.

After spending a couple nights staying with our terrific Wellington Twitter friends Laurie and Annette and doing all the tourist things I never got to do during my first stay, I went in for day surgery and a night of observation back in Six South.

The lead-up to the procedure made me a bit nervy, but some rather wonderful sedation drugs (equivalent to a 4{3919f50c199a8627c147b24d329ff0de8aa05e3a462fa3330e11cd9ea56ed948} Garage Project craft Beer on a hot day without any lunch) took the edge off of things (but not all the pain) and I experienced my second defibrillation when they tested the ICD – They put you under for the test, but that whack certainly wakes you up, albeit briefly.

The procedure is quick and you are up and about soon afterwards, so I spent my evening saying hello again and catching up with all my nurses.

It was good to see them all again, even if their parting words were usually “Hope we never have to see you again! (in the nicest possible way)” kind of reminded me of my teenage years…

It’s now a couple months since the procedure and aside from having to delay my cricket season start until after Christmas to ensure things healed completely and the occasional tweak of the surgery scar, I forget the ICD is there most of the time (except when ToddlerinFrame inadvertently whacks it).

Everything going well, the ICD will never go off and I’ll only know about it when I need to get the batteries changed every ten years or so.

Considering everything I’ve gone through heart-wise this year, this was a mere drop in the ocean.

The beat goes on! 🙂

Rest, Recovery and Ryan Reynolds

Bed

I’m cruising through Newtown and over the hill to Kilbirnie. Before I know it I’m launched into the air over Lyall Bay.
The rocks that surround Moa Point, jagged and sharpened by centuries of Cook Strait swells look like the teeth of an ancient, sleeping Taniwha.
I’m sure I see an eye wink amongst the windswept grass – the beast is threatening to rip me to shreds.
I climb higher and slowly turn. I see an unfamiliar, narrow inlet and wonder what it is, before realising it’s the inlet to Port Nicholson – Wellington Harbour.
Despite the channel’s width the choppy waves breaking on Barret Reef make it hard to believe two ships could pass each other through there without both vessels and crews holding their breath.
I soar on. Past Pencarrow Head and around Cape Palliser, heading north.
I’m going home!
I climb higher and before I know it am above the clouds. White, fluffy merengue below, bright blue and radiant sun above.
Is this what heaven looks like?
Should I be disappointed that it all seems a bit clichéd?

Anyway, where was I?

Oh, yes:

“The chief anaesthesiologist says “Right, Andrew, we’re going to start sending you off to sleep now, just relax and breathe.” I relax, breathe, blink and..”

I’m in “PACU” (Post Anaesthetic Care Unit) as it’s called in Wellington Hospital.

A couple hours have evaporated in the blink of an eye.

I don’t know what they’ve done to general anaesthetic these days, but it’s become a narcotic ninja!

I remember operations years ago, where you were aware you were going under – You’d feel woozy or your hearing would go all funny and then “zonk” – Not any more.

It takes a bit to regain full lucidity, but out the corner of my eye I see one of the head anaesthesiologists who visited me the yesterday before the operation, at least I think I see him – Things are still a bit ethereal and I imagine guardian spirits have learned to wear clothing to suit their surrounds by now.

His presence reminds me of something one of the doctors said and I touch my chest to make sure they haven’t had to crack me fully open – I can’t feel any bandages so breathe a little sigh of relief.

Instead I have a ten centimetre, curved scar just under my left breast, with a chest drain tube inserted into a hole just below that.

(Once the bandages are off it looks like I’ve had a boob-job and then been shot.)

He says the biopsy was a success – In fact, instead of getting three samples, they were able to get four!

I give a tired, even more relieved smile.

We’ll soon know just what this thing is.

I’m kept in PACU for around two hours – Which would feel like a long time if not for the drugs, comfy bed and numerous cups of tea and sandwiches.

I tell the nurses it appears the Wellington real estate market has followed Auckland’s maniacal lead and the bed space I left in the Heart Unit that morning has been bought and sold three times while I have been in theatre and recovery – hence the delay.

Sadly I get no share of the profits, but it provides entertainment.

Throughout my stay I’m reminded of the “Deadpool” movie trailer I’ve seen numerous times (it’s all I’ll get to see until its DVD release as the movie’s run in theatres coincides almost perfectly with my enforced hospital stay) where one of the baddies say “The one thing that never survives this place is a sense of humour” and our eponymous protagonist played by someone as equally chiselled, charming and um… Commonwealthean(?) as yours truly, Ryan Reynolds (he’s a year older than me, but I’m six inches taller than him), replies “We’ll see about that”.

Stay positive, make jokes.

There’s someone out there worse off than you.

I have a couple of the bigger IV lines removed which I am grateful for as they looked big, uncomfortable and, well, “icky” and am eventually wheeled back to the Heart Unit, but put in “Step Down” which is an open-plan room where the nurses can closely monitor six beds at once rather than a more widely spread “pod” of individual rooms.

Having had nothing other than tea and sandwiches since the night before, lunch and dinner are well received and quickly vaporised.

As I eat, though, I keep bending my right arm, which in turn makes an IV line in my arm move and sets off the alarm on the line’s pump. After an hour of sporadic beeping (and accompanied quiet cussing from me) one of the nurses jury rigs the line to my arm with a cotton swab and some sticky tape.

The pain-relieving epidural they put in before the operation has numbed me from roughly armpit to thigh level, so I’m confined to bed for the rest of the day and night.

This numbing poses some extra challenges:

As this this large area under anaesthetic includes my heart, it means the heart doesn’t pump as much as it usually does. So to make up for this they hook me up to a saline drip and basically substitute blood pressure with water pressure – Around ten litres of fluid goes into (and out of) me in roughly 24 hours to try and make up for the depleted pumping.

But this, the nurses tell me, can have a side effect –If your body has too much fluid going through it, it can have the same result as getting too little fluid (dehydration) and cause an electrolyte imbalance and can send your heart into dysrhythmia and TACHYCARDIA!

You must be freaking kidding me!

After all the hoopla of hospital and tests and weeks of waiting – the tachycardia, to my thinking at least, WAS CAUSED BY DEHYDRATION?!

This means the discovery of the growth on my heart was basically just happenstance?

Oh, come on!

I suffer through a night of broken sleep due to the nurses constantly monitoring (and worrying about) my low blood pressure. This is compounded by a lamp on the nurses’ station deciding to join in on my irritable insomnia by somehow positioning itself to shine right at my bed. It isn’t until early morning that one of the nurses moves a curtain and curtails its caustic candle power.

Breakfast the next morning is accompanied by a physiotherapist named Daniel who gets me to get up out of bed and take my first cautious steps in 24 hours.

The movement, breakfast and change from horizontal to vertical planes is just what my blood pressure needs and it miraculously returns to normal straight away (or maybe it was just bored).

That morning my wife also arrives for her second visit of my Wellington stay. This time her trip is funded by wonderful friends of ours (thanks Kim and Reza!)

The next three days are devoted to rest and recovery.

I have my last two major lines (the epidural and a catheter that has been looking after, um, “water flow” removed a day or so after the operation and the freedom it provides (despite having only been in place for a few days) is remarkable.

Mrs Frame goes on supply gathering missions (she is even stricter about me leaving the ward, let alone hospital grounds than the medical staff!) and more Wellington Twitter friends come to visit us (thanks Jim, Morgan and Mike).

As I’ve said, the Wellington nurses are great – and just to prove it, on the day I go home all the ones I have had contact with over my stay come to say goodbye and give me a hug – Four of them line up to do so as I’m leaving, much to the chagrin of my wife and the orderly who is supposed to escort me down to the transport centre.

Before I know it (and, as it turns out, several hours before my wife’s return flight home is due to leave) I find myself cruising through Newtown and over the hill to Kilbirnie in yet another Wellington Free Ambulance with another patient and her daughter, before launching into the air over Lyall Bay (see what I did there?) and flying home in the Hawke’s Bay Air Ambulance.

It will be a week before I find out the results of my biopsy, so what better place to recover and wait than at home?

Operation

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One thing I have been unable to evade throughout my Adventures in Tachycardia is my heartbeat.

That sounds odd, but it’s a mixed blessing.

You can hear and feel it, so you know you’re still alive (which is a good thing, obviously), but it’s also a constant reminder that there, right next to the thing making that “thump-thump, thump-thump!” sound is something that shouldn’t be there – And not even the highly trained medical professionals looking after you appear to have the first clue what that thing is.

Before they let me go home for Easter I was told the hospital would be in touch on “Easter Tuesday” to let me know my travel, admission and surgery details, as I was scheduled to come back down to Wellington on Wednesday for surgery on Thursday.

When I hadn’t heard from anyone by 2pm on Tuesday I called the hospital and was told I had to make my own way down to Wellington on Wednesday – the next day – when I can’t drive and all the busses were booked out.

A frantic hour and a few phone calls secured an Air New Zealand flight down to Wellington the next morning and I made it to the hospital with time to spare, but the $333 one-way price-tag not only gored our bank account, but it galled me personally and reinforced my previously held opinion that we here in Hawke’s Bay are getting absolutely screwed over on airfares.

On readmission I am sent down for a chest X-ray and yet another blood test.

I’ve lost count of the number of blood tests, lines and needles that have been poked into me in the time I’ve been in hospital, but I’m pretty sure there’s a voodoo doll out there somewhere in a great deal of pain screaming “WHAT THE HELL DID I DO?!”

The surgeon who will be performing my biopsy (they have decided to go between my fifth and sixth ribs and take needle biopsies – kind of a medical core sample) visits and runs through how things will go.

He’s part reassuring – It all sounds very clinical and reasonably straight forward..

Part concerning – “As we don’t actually know what this thing is or how solid it is, we may not be able to take a biopsy..”

And part straight out scary – “If things go wrong, we will have the bypass machine there ready to hook you up to…”

He is followed by the anaesthetic team who let me know just what sorts of drugs I will be given for the operation and how many lines and tubes I will be hooked up to for the procedure.

As an aside they brightly inform me just how easy it is to deflate a human lung to provide easier access to the heart – charming!

The day wears on and I eventually make my way to bed, staring down the barrel of the impending unknown early the next morning, with the ever-present “Thump-thump, thump-thump!” quietly chugging away and its silent buddy right next to it.
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My room is at the southern end of the hospital, right above the hospital’s Emergency Department and a short distance from Wellington Free Ambulance’s headquarters, so every once and a while the “thump-thump, thump-thump!” is interrupted by ambulance sirens as they leave or arrive. It reminds me of the line from Don Henley’s glorious “New York Minute”:

“Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail.
Somebody’s going to emergency,
Somebody’s going to jail.”

There is someone out there worse off than I am.

I wake early the next morning, go through pre-op cleaning rituals and before most of my fellow patients are even awake, I’m being wheeled down to theatre.

I’m beginning to get scared.

They wheel me into the theatre itself and I shuffle over onto the operating table where the poking and prodding of intravenous lines begins – some of these lines are quite big and local anaesthetic is used to numb the areas, but a lot of pushing and shoving is still evident.

I’m given a few drugs to take the edge off things and they get me to sit up so an epidural line can be inserted into my spine. There isn’t as much pain or discomfort as they tell me to expect, but the twinges as the line hits a nerve or two certainly makes for an interesting experience.

While I am having the epidural inserted a very nice, large, bearded English anaesthesiologist has his arm around my shoulder talking me through it.

It is very comforting and it feels like he is giving me a hug, but he is no doubt just making sure I don’t fall face-first off the operating table and onto the floor.

He tells me guys much bigger and tougher than I am have fainted during this stage.

I don’t faint.

They lay me down and start to ramp up preparations.

I’m getting a bit more scared.

I’m scared that I might not survive this.

I’m scared that this growth thing might pop, or start leaking and leave a large hole in my heart, requiring massive surgery.

Strangely I’m not scared about potentially leaving my wife and daughter behind, because I know they are both wonderful, smart and capable.

My work provides a level of life insurance, so I know they will be financially looked after for a while at least.

But I am scared that I will miss out watching my daughter grow up. It’s cheesy as hell, but when it comes to that: “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”.

I’ve been told that no matter how big or tough you are everyone cries when they are going in for heart surgery.

And it’s true – I shed a tear.

The chief anaesthesiologist says “Right, Andrew, we’re going to start sending you off to sleep now, just relax and breathe.”

I relax, breathe, blink and..

I’m Radioactive, Radioactive!

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Apparently I snore.

It’s the day of my PET scan and I’ve been chauffeured (via ambulance) to a private hospital (la-de-dah!) in the hills of Wellington.

I get undressed and into the standard sort of hospital gown you wear for all sorts of procedures, lie down on a bed in one of the ante rooms and relax while being prepared for the scan.

The sugary, radioactive substance they inject you with for a PET scan is attracted to muscle movement, so lying down and resting ensures the liquid is attracted to major moving organs like, in my case, the heart rather than moving arms and legs. They actually prefer it if you have a bit of a sleep, so I oblige.

The transit nurses who accompany me to and from the scan tell me later I snored. Not obtrusively, but just enough to show I was happily out to it.

The scan itself is all rather standard and anticlimactic, in fact I just about doze off again!

I’m zipped and zapped and rolled in and out of what appears to be a giant, multimillion dollar, electromagnetic donut.

The most unusual part comes after the scan when I’m ushered into a (lead-lined) changing room (the doors in this place are all incredibly heavy) and told to wait in there for a while, as “You’re still a bit radioactive”.

Riiiight…

A Wellington Free Ambulance takes us back to Wellington Hospital and I spend the rest of the afternoon sitting around, trying to ensure any temporary, radioactive-induced superpowers I may have acquired don’t irradiate anyone, make anything explode or accidentally microwave food by staring at it too hard.

We get there, sadly, without incident.

The day before the PET scan I was just about ready to start climbing the walls – Not through cabin fever (I was allowed to go for a wander into Newtown and get a shave and haircut at a barber shop a few days before), but just the lack of general exercise.

I want to run, I want to bowl, I’m feigning on and off-drives in the corridors because my arms and legs are getting bored from inactivity, but the ever-present fear of tachycardia returning limits what I can do.

I’m just about to ask the Cardiologist what exercises I can do when he notes there hadn’t been any sign of the VT for at least two weeks, so he’s sending me down to do a fitness test on a treadmill to see if the tachycardia returns under stress / exertion (of which there is sod all in daily ward life).

If I can survive the treadmill test without any arrhythmia it also helps make a good case for letting me go back home to Napier for Easter Weekend! The doctors are aware I’m far from home and missing my family, so every little bit helps.

So later that morning I’m wired up to heart rate monitors and put on a treadmill with a technician and a House surgeon keeping a close eye on me. The test is set to last about 15 minutes, with the treadmill‘s speed and incline increasing every few minutes.

I only make it to about six and a half minutes before my legs give up on me – Nothing heart related, just a lack of fitness and condition after spending the majority of two weeks sitting and lying around being inactive, which annoys me.

The up-side of the exercise, um, exercise is despite pushing the heart rate higher than it had been in weeks, there is no sign of tachycardia! This is a very good sign and gets me closer to home, if only for a while.

“Easter Thursday” arrives and, despite being told the results for the PET scan would take up to ten days, my Cardiologist is able to give me the results right away.

They are: Nothing.

We had been hoping that there was another, far more accessible growth like the one on my heart in me somewhere.

There isn’t.

Back to the cardio-thoracic drawing board.

On the upside PET scans are primarily used to detect cancer and the scan has detected nothing cancerous either, which is a good thing.

The heart surgeons will have another get together and figure out how they are going to do a biopsy on me, but that will take a few days and it’s a long weekend…

So they’re sending me home for Easter!

The Hawke’s Bay Air Ambulance is bringing someone down that afternoon, so I and three other HB patients get to hitch a lift back home on it.

Home at last!

Albeit for only a few days…

Dames in White Cotton

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I’m sitting in the TV room of Wellington Hospital’s Cardiac Unit doing a crossword when an alarm goes off.

This is far from unusual. Every hour of every day in this unit there are beeps and bops and dings – Heart-rate monitors, drip bags running low, someone needing assistance.

But this alarm is a bit more urgent – not so different as to be concerning to patients, but unmistakeable if you know what to listen out for.

It doesn’t sound good.

Within seconds I hear fast footsteps and three nurses run past my door, heading for one of the other wings, a few seconds after that there is the rumble of heavy, trolley-based equipment being rolled in the same direction.

It REALLY doesn’t sound good.

A few minutes pass with no further urgent noises and one of the nurses I saw running past walks back to her station past me.

She smiles, but it’s one of those looks where the mouth smiles, though the eyes tell a different, far more concerned, story.

I don’t envy the staff here.

They are wonderful, funny, talented, smart, beautiful, professional and capable, but the job they do is not one I think I could do myself.

They are literally dealing with life and death and in cardiology the difference between those two extremes can be a single heartbeat.

“The average age of nurses in New Zealand is 52” I am told by one of my caregivers as we chat on the way to a scan.

Growing up in Napier I can believe that, as you invariably knew someone whose mum was a nurse and in somewhere like Hawke’s Bay, where nursing jobs seem more secure / long-term, the nurses could mostly be described as “Mum age”.

At any hospital you go to, you become accustomed to the Junior Doctors / Registrars / House Surgeons being all about the same age as Doogie Howser (some of them are too young to get the reference).

But the first thing I noticed when I arrived in Wellington Hospital was that the nurses all seemed so young – The average age in the cardiology ward here would be around 25-30 (my initial estimation was closer to 18).

This is no indictment on their level of skill or professionalism, of course, merely an observation of their youth.

It is also a indication to the depth of their character, given the serious nature of their job and the physical, psychological and emotional toll it must take on those so young.

So I asked some of these young nurses what drew them to the profession:

Theresa* (Not her real name) is 23 and has been qualified nurse for a little over two years.

Her father had a history of heart problems and succumbed to heart disease when Theresa was 15.

Having watched her dad go through these issues wasn’t the sole catalyst in her becoming a nurse, but she says it certainly helps her empathise with the patients she treats and their families.

She tells me she has had only one patient exhibiting the exact same symptoms as her father and they passed away on the 8th anniversary of his death.

“That was obviously hard, but if you let these sort of things get to you too much, this isn’t a job you should be in.”

Theresa says she loves helping people and the things she has gone through in her personal life creates an empathy with those she looks after.

The nature of her work and her family’s experiences have certainly changed her perspective on life – She no longer “sweats the small stuff”.

In 2010 Florence* (Not her real name either) was studying biomedical science at university, but started to get the impression that while this was something she really wanted to do, like so many other tertiary students, actual career options on completion of her degree were rapidly drying up.

So, in the space of a week before Christmas, she applied to take up nursing training because it combined two things she loved doing – interacting with people and her interest in biomedical science.

She passed, but while there were plenty of newly qualified nurses and plenty of positions, there wasn’t the funding within the health system to place all graduates – 50{3919f50c199a8627c147b24d329ff0de8aa05e3a462fa3330e11cd9ea56ed948} of her qualifying class got jobs straight away.

She now works on-call across a range of wards – Cardiology, Medical, Oncology, Orthopaedics and Urology and Surgical disciplines, waiting for her ideal permanent position to come up.

“I know I’m going to have an awesome career, I just don’t know what I’ll end up as”

And when Florence says this, like all her colleagues I talked to, she radiates a certainty, a determination and a passion for their work that makes you certain they will do wonderful things and those they look after will have the best possible care, because they care so much about what they do.

I read a newspaper article the other day about New Zealand’s ever-developing cult of “#Celebrity” (yes, the headline included its own hashtag) – Those half-pie, “reality” TV, 15-minutes-too-many-of-fame “stars” famous for, well, nothing really.

I thought “We MUST be able to do better than this!”

There are people out there doing FAR more for others, who are FAR more deserving of attention and praise than those being deified as a by-product of scripted reality, product placement and creative editing”.

There is already a song dedicated to “(K)Nights in White Satin.”

It’s time we had more praise for our “Dames in White Cotton”!

Hello From the Inside

“Hello, Can you hear me?
I’m in Wellington Hospital dreaming about how life used to be
Just weeks ago I was in Hawke’s Bay feeling young and fit and free,
I’ve forgotten how it felt before the world fell out from under me..”

(Sorry, Adele, Please don’t sue!)

Shortly after you last you heard from me, I was flown down to Wellington Hospital by Hawke’s Bay Air Ambulance for the next stage of my “Adventures in Tachycardia”.

My own private plane!

My own private plane!

The flight was very nice, with calm weather and we enjoyed magnificent views of Hawke’s Bay, the Central Plateau volcanoes, Wairarapa, Kapati Coast and Wellington. We could even see the dark, almost-equilateral triangle of Mount Taranaki on the opposite coast to our own.

It added further levels of perspective and scale to what were massive personal issues.

A similar course of events to what happened in HBCCU ensued over a day or two, culminating in the scheduled MRI scan which revealed….. Not a lot more than we already knew:

There is a growth on / as part of the wall of my heart on the left ventricle, but they were still unable to tell what it is.

The next step was to get a biopsy, but there are issues there too:
(Please note, the following descriptions are what I have gleaned from information available to me and reflect only my interpretations of said options)

Option One:
To get an internal biopsy, they could go in through the femoral artery in my leg and up to my heart and take a tissue sample that way BUT, as I’m 6’8″ tall, the distance from my groin to my heart (via artery – don’t be smutty!) is a VERY long way.

The longer the wire, the less control you can have guiding it to take a small tissue sample and, as the left ventricle looks after your extremities (fingers, toes, etc.) there is a lot of pressure in there, which makes maneuvering even tougher and increases the chances of hitting / scraping the inner walls of the heart (not recommended at all) or missing the growth completely.

Option Two:
Making a small incision between a couple of my ribs and doing explorative key-hole-type surgery. More invasive than going through an artery, but a far shorter distance.

Even from this direction, the growth is still quite tricky to get to (a lung and some other stuff in the way) so they’d still be going in reasonably blind.

Option Three:
Open-heart surgery – Crack me open like an Easter egg.

Obviously this way is massively invasive and pretty over the top action for a small biopsy.

While they had me open, they might as well remove the growth, but not knowing fully what it is, its structural make-up, or just how it is interacting with the heart is far too risky.

It takes about three months for your ribs to heal from this sort of procedure, so recovery time would interfere with any further treatment and vice versa.

But before any of that, they devised on more option:

During an MRI scan they inject you with a dye / “Contrast” which helps show up different things like blood flow. The growth showed up more when this contrast was added.

Sooooo….

Option Four:
Put me through a full-body “PET” scan, inject me with the contrast that the growth showed up on (or similar) and hope there is another growth somewhere on me that lights up in the same way, but is far easier to get to and take a biopsy of that!

I’m starting to feel like an episode of “House”.

In the meantime I’m still an enigma.

Surrounding these occasions of high tech medical marvelry are long periods of bugger all.

Doing absolutely nothing can be horrifically exhausting.

But there are highlights.

As has been said, there are patients here far worse off than me who need stents, multiple bypasses, valves and pacemakers. Due to their issues being more blood-flow related, for their own safety they are not allowed to leave the ward.

While still monitored 24/7, I’m allowed a bit of a longer leash and can go for a wander down to the hospital atrium / cafeteria / shop and have even been for a a wander outside into Newtown, but only within 500 meters of the hospital because, while it hasn’t returned in two weeks, there’s still a chance that the VT could return and drop me there and then.

No one wants to play medical chicken.

When not on one of my brief “free range” breaks social media has not only helped keep me insane, but has been an invaluable window to the outside world (watching or reading mainstream news and media at the moment is enough to tip you over the edge..).

I’ve been very thankful for visitors, too.

My wife came down for three days last week (Toddler in Frame remained at home – the logistics and demands of bringing her down were a little too much under the circumstances and, being so young, isn’t too keen on hospitals in any case).

I have a number of Wellington Twitter friends and some of them have been to visit too, bringing supplies (PIZZA!) and even loaning me some tech to help do some writing (hence this update). So thanks, Laurie and Annette! 🙂

I’ve even had workmates, who were in Wellington to see the Te Papa Dreamworks and World War One exhibits pop in to visit, which is very nice and shows that my work still cares.

But I have to give special thanks to my old school friend Lisa and her family.

Lisa lives just up the road from the hospital and has been wonderfully supportive, helpful and gave Mrs in Frame somewhere to stay while she was here.

So here I am – still in a holding pattern, but grateful for the help and care I am receiving.

The big question is, when they do eventually figure out what it is is that growing on my heart, “What’s next?”

Owner of a Broken (but not Lonely) Heart

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When last we saw our ruggedly deluded protagonist he was in the Coronary Care Unit of Hawke’s Bay Hospital having been defibrillated after having Ventricle Tachycardia for over 12 hours.

The day after I was admitted to hospital, the cardiologist visited to check up on me and let me know what was going on.

The news was good and bad.

Good in that I was alive and very fortunate to still be here after such a long cardiac event.

Bad in that I would be in hospital for about a week or so to ensure the VT didn’t make a reappearance, and if it did, I would be in the right place for immediate treatment (so technically “good”).

I would likely end up being fitted with a mini pacemaker-like device called an ICD (“Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator”) that would shock my heart back into line if it started miss-firing again.

So that was kind of bad (operation, pain, more recovery), but also good in that I would then have new awesome cyborg parts!

But more shockingly to me, I would not be allowed to drive for six months.

SIX MONTHS!!

I love my independence and my work is a 15 minute drive away, with un-flattering hours, so not being able to drive anywhere for half a year was a bit of a blow to say the least.

Hell, not being able to bugger off out of the ward and go home to my wife and daughter for a week was a big enough blow.

The driving ban was mainly precautionary. If I was driving and had another VT event I could blackout / die at the wheel, crash and cause untold carnage – hardly the sort of picture NZ’s health system would like to paint – so while crippling it was understandable.

I was scheduled to have various tests over the following days, so the main thing I had ahead of me was lots of waiting.

In Coronary Care “Waiting” is practically a competitive sport, because everyone is doing it.

But the gold medal is for Humility and everyone in the ward deserves a medal for that, and not in a wishy-washy NCEA, “Everyone gets a prize” way.

In Coronary Care the level of humility is a wonderful thing.

There are people needing stents to open blocked arteries, new heart valves, pacemakers, heck, even multiple bypasses – medical conditions that so little as 20-30 years ago were still largely lethal.

But rather than focusing on their own problems, the constant theme and saying amongst patients is: “There’s someone out there worse off than me”.

That is quite something.

The other thing that being in this situation opened my eyes to is the kindness of others – There’s a lot of help, love and chocolate out there.

My wife and daughter visit regularly, of course, which is a necessity for my sanity, but also bitter-sweet because then they have to go again and I’m once again alone.

I was only in the ward for a day before my work colleagues sent me a gift basket full of goodies – fruit, sweets and a crossword book to fill in time with.

One of my wonderful nurses sensed I was getting cabin fever and offered to escort me down to the cafeteria while she got some lunch. It was only a short trip, but just being able to re-enter the “big, wide world” for a bit was gloriously refreshing.

My wonderful Facebook and Twitter friends – many of whom I have only met 140 characters at a time were offering their good wishes, help and more food (I like where this is heading!).

Attitude and positive vibes are a large part of being in a situation such as mine, so these well-wishers have certainly been a big, positive part of the process.

And I would need it, because there was more news on the horizon and it wasn’t too good.

During one of my scans they noticed two things:

1/ My heart was a bit bigger than usual – I wasn’t too surprised by this, because I’m 6’8” tall, so a slightly larger heart made sense in that there was more body to pump blood around

But, more concerning:

2/ A growth had been picked up on or near my heart – they couldn’t quite tell its proximity, but it was obviously of concern. This could explain an increase the size of the heart and the dysrhythmia, from the heart being irritated.

I couldn’t feel anything different – in fact I felt (and still feel) fine, which added to a general sense of detachment in not knowing it was there at all – The tachycardia might have been a good thing after all.

The growth is unlike anything my cardiologist has seen before which, believe it or not, I take as a good thing, because it means its not something he knows is immediately bad.

I was the headline act in HB Hospital’s weekly teleconference with their Wellington coronary specialists, who are equally intrigued – at this rate I might be the Mr April centrefold in the next edition of The Lancet!

But mainly I just hope I survive.

So I’m on a bit of a roller-coaster at the moment – Ups and down, highs and lows and even the odd corkscrew.

I don’t know what to expect, other than next week I will be flown down to Wellington Hospital by Air Ambulance (My own private plane, Woo-hoo!) undergo more tests, a biopsy and.. who knows?

Sometimes in quiet, dark moments the bad things and possibilities creep in. Other times I just miss my family, or being able to simply get out into the big wide world that I can see through the window next to my hospital bed.

But I’m keeping positive as much as I can.

There are others out there worse off than I am.

Not for the Faint of Heart

Lead

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to sit down and do some writing, but now I find I have a fair bit of spare time and not a lot to do, because I’m in the Coronary Care Unit of Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

Last Saturday I was playing cricket (well, when I say “playing” I mean I fielded for 30 overs and umpired for another 30 – total number of times I physically exerted myself = <5). We lost by one run, but rather than being stressed or nervous I was a bit bored and disappointed that I didn’t get to bat. It was very hot and I had been out in the sun all game, so when I felt a bit crap sitting down in the dressing rooms after the game and noticed my pulse was going a bit fast I thought I just had heat stroke. I went home, had dinner, went to the clubrooms for our club’s regular after-match speeches and came home. Toddler in Frame had a broken night, so I was up and down a few times to give my wife a break and still felt ill, but managed to have some sleep. On Sunday morning I was feeling a little better, but not a lot, so went to the medical centre, where the nurses quite quickly had me on a bed, hooked up to monitors and soon afterwards two St John’s Ambulance staff arrived and I was taken to the Emergency Department of Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

Not a good sign.

My heart was indeed racing – going at around 200 beats per minute – my usual rate being closer to 80-90bpm.

I was suffering from something called “Ventricle Tachycardia” and had been, it seems, for over 12 hours – There didn’t seem to be a member of the medial fraternity who wasn’t reasonably impressed by this over the next few days. They kept saying it must be my “youth and fitness” that helped me stand it for so long.

I have no idea what those two words mean.

If I had been in one of those whiz-bang medical-soap-drama TV shows they would have been running around, yelling I was in “V-Tach” (in America) or said I was in “VT” (everywhere else) getting “Crash carts” ready and “paddles charged”.

As we are in New Zealand, things, while still very professional and serious, felt a bit more laid back (this could have just been the drugs, of course). I was put into an ED bed, hooked up to even more wires and lines and given drugs to try and slow my heart rate but told, if that didn’t work, they would more than likely sedate me and shock, or “Defibrillate” (yup, that thing they do with the paddles – “CLEAR!” to people whose hearts had stopped) – my heart back into its regular scheduled programme.

I got the shock, but sans sedative.

Because after around 14 hours of VT my body decided it had had enough of this medical marathon and my blood pressure dropped, I suddenly felt even crapper (No bright light, or long tunnel, btw, just REALLY dizzy and sick)

The ED staff sprang into action and Renee, the head ED doctor said “Ok, Andrew, we’re going to shock you now”, I had just enough time to grunt a “Huh? / Ok” and someone hit me in the chest with an ethereal, electrified baseball bat.

For the record (and not solely for theatrical effect) I did lift off the bed with a loud grunt.

What passes for “normality” in the Emergency Department then resumed, my heart rate returning to a more regular rate and things quietening down.

A guy in the next cubicle came in with the same thing as I had, but had the time and benefit of sedation before he was zapped and had no recollection of it.

After some blood tests and a chest X-ray I was eventually moved to the Coronary Care Unit of the hospital for overnight observation, hoping / expecting to be released the next day.

Things never quite seem to work out that easily in real life.