BackPacking Granny lives to tell another tale

I’m having a heart attack. My left arm aches. My chest feels very tight, I am hot and I feel a strange buzzing in my head. I’m alone. It’s a Sunday tea time and I’m trying very hard not to panic…

Yes of course I’ve googled HEART ATTACK… and I seem to have ALL the symptoms! 

I do occasionally have high blood pressure so, some time ago on the advice of my doctor, I bought a blood pressure monitor. (£20 from Boots). But where in heaven’s name is it? I’m not absolutely sure.

Phew, I found the cuff – of course at the very back of the airing cupboard – and took my blood pressure. To my horror the reading, according to my little booklet’s graph with its risk list, says “seek help immediately”.
I took my BP two more times. I did it on both arms in the hope that, with some deep breathing, it would make it come down – but it didn’t.  As I said It was a Sunday and nobody was in my apartment block. My nearest and dearest neighbour was away. It was about five in the evening and I felt very alone. So I rang 111. 

I have been lucky enough not to have had to ring 111 before so the experience was new to me. I am not a patient person, especially when under stress. It took 27 minutes to get through.  If any of you have an occasion to ring for goodness sake be TENACIOUS.  If you ring off you will go back to the bottom of the queue. Listen carefully to the questions, do as you are told and finally you will get through… to a holding loop which assures you that your call is important and you will eventually be answered.  Fortunately it does not tell you what number you are in the queue!

Of course, it is just when this sort of thing is happening that you realise your phone is out of juice.  How can I keep calm now I’ve got to get my charger and plug it into the nearest socket on the wall which isn’t anywhere near my chair!  I can’t sit calmly let alone relax because I have to sit on the floor in order to hold my phone which I have attached to the power.  I am uncomfortable and worried. “Stay calm and your call will be answered “I’m trying and you are trying too!  I’m told I will be answered and that I am a very important person to them – golly I do hope I am! 

As I say, 27 minutes later, a nice lady asks me more questions. She is not a robot but nor is she a doctor, she is a sifter of information. The feelings of anxiety while waiting to be answered are hard to bear.  You think of all the things you haven’t done – I don’t mean my apartment, that’s always tidy.  But I mean, like did I finalise my fourth attempt to write my letter of wishes  for my will? Lordy I hadn’t even chosen the hymns for my funeral!  Hooray!  There is a click and, at last, I speak to a real doctor. I recount again what’s happening and we go through more questions and hey presto I am told an ambulance is on its way…   

At this point, I realise I really do need some one with me.  I live on the third floor and if I conk out the ambulance crew won’t be able to get in because there will be no one to answer the door. I hadn’t thought to give the doctor the entry code.  

When in trouble, ring a  friend.  I did.  My dear old travelling companion OG (other granny ) came to my aid. She is good under stress bless her and even more fortunately, arrived at the same time as the ambulance crew so she could let them in. 

BackPacking Granny lives to tell another tale  Paramedics leaving ambulance to attend a call out

Up the stairs came what looked like two 16 year old paramedics dressed in their green uniforms, fresh faced and carrying backpacks. They were absolutely sweet and they absolutely knew their stuff. They wired me up to their backpacks and immediately were able to tell what my heart was doing. They even had a roll of paper which gurgitated out the wiggly line of my ticker (which at the time was going boom boom boom BANG). Then of course the paper ran out and just like in a supermarket till, a new roll had to be found and inserted.  Back again Boom boom boom bang.  All the while the delightful young paramedics engaged me in conversation, trying to make me concentrate on something else.  I knew what they were up to but they were so sweet and engaging and YOUNG that I couldn’t help but admire them. 

“I think we will take you in – you have an irregular heartbeat, now bring all your medicines…” “Take your phone and a charger“ said my dear travel companion  “and a toothbrush and your keys oh yes and your Ipad.“  She is ever practical that one.  With that I was whisked into the ambulance, my friend locked up my flat and I was on my way to A&E.

BackPacking Granny lives to tell another tale   ambulance rushing to help

It is discombobulating traveling in an ambulance. You have no idea where you are. You can’t see out or ahead. The sweet young paramedic continued to question me about my life – I was finding it quite tiresome by this time… however being a polite soul, I continued to make small talk.   

Suddenly the doors of the ambulance opened, electric light glared in and I was wheeled into A&E. Pain-filled groaning came from one cubicle, a policeman sat bored outside another, worried relatives lurked, held sick bowls, or scrolled their phones.  There was nowhere for them to sit so they just had to do their best to keep out of the way of trollies and blood and beds and busy staff.

No cubicle being available I was ushered through the ward and on to the waiting room. It was full to the gunnels with every chair taken. The good ladies at reception usually take details of patients but after a 40 minute ambulance ride, my lovely paramedics already knew everything about me including where I’d travelled and the various men to whom I had been married!

BackPacking Granny lives to tell another tale  doctor in hospital

Somewhat unceremoniously I was plonked outside triage and subsequently asked more questions and wired up again by a Singaporean doctor. Then out into the waiting room again. I didn’t fancy sitting near the girl who kept throwing up nor next to the poor old man with blood streaks all down his head – not because he looked awful but because he was trying to engage everyone in conversation and I just wanted to hide. 

I managed to secure a chair in the relative peace of the far corner of the waiting room and there I sat very quietly, not talking to anyone… for the next six hours. I don’t think I’ve ever managed six hours without saying something. But I did feel grim. I was also mesmerised at what I saw.  A tide of injured, infirm, weak, elderly, mentally unstable people shuffled in and out all evening.  People came and went but it always seemed full. Cleaners came in and, like robots, mopped up sick and blood, changed refuse bins and rolled their mops ever onwards to the maze of seemingly endless corridors.

My heart went out to all those that work there. Constantly patient, constantly calm, steadily working through, impervious to abuse, screams and unreasonable behaviour. When they look up all they see is anxiety and questions. Questions they can’t answer.

I’m just watching everyone and hoping I’m not going to die. 

Due to the care and attention of everyone in A&E, I am able to tell you this tale. Of course my heart will really start banging again soon – this time with happiness and excitement when I touch down in Australia and, after three long years of separation, see my beloved family again. 

Watch this space … can’t wait for the long haul. BPG

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Regine Gray
Regine Gray
8 months ago