Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Linger on

I had some great visitors during my stay in Addenbrookes. We all want to feel our absence has been noticed. My studio mates John, Andrew and Lynette all came to see me. I had barely been into the studio lately. Had I seen Andrew or Lynette since New Year's Eve's Mad Men party? I'm not sure. It was lovely to see them. I was genuinely moved to think they had made the effort.

Big ball of energy John was full of excitement at his upcoming TV appearance and brought me a book and sketching equipment. It was great to see them all. It is pathetically touching to look out along a hospital bed and see familiar faces. I don't see enough of my friends. I retreat into myself through work. Do I do enough to deserve this concern?

My lovely neighbour Jim came in, witty and wise as always, amused in a kind way that my son had taken to his dressing gown in sympathy with his poorly father. My old friend Anne came too. We've known each other a long time now - is it really twenty-five years? - and we've shared some bad times as well as good and will no doubt share some more. But in the end that is what friendship is isn't it - a letting down of guards and artifice. It is not having to pretend. Pain and joy.

It is part of what makes me a poor social animal. I am not very good at small talk. I don't really see the point of acquaintances. But of course its a stage you have to go through. Vulnerability is one of those 'Show me yours and I'll show you mine' kind of things. You have to trust people to allow them close. And you have to win trust. This will bring me closer to the people who know about it.

My wonderful wife (who had to field all the telephone calls and emails) continued to come in every day, but eventually only once a day, because my son, recovered from his cold, came in on the bus by himself bringing me a cup of coffee and my lunch. One day he brought a book of wildlife photos and we looked at every page. Another day he brought his You Are the Ref book and tested me. . .

'At half-time in a non-League game you notice one of the goalkeepers going into the ladies' toilet. You approach the manager who admits the keeper is female. The opposition manager demands you abandon the game. What do you do?'

He also brought me in some drawings, much admired by the nurses. 'He's only 13? Wow! He is very talented.' Yes. Yes he is. Oh how good life can appear when the normality of it is threatened. How sweet it seems next to the bitterness of stress and discomfort.

Gregor came to see me too quite early on. I take his son to football training most Thursdays. He plays for the same team as my son. Gregor is a doctor and works in A&E. I had complained to him a week or two back about a severe pain in my neck. That, it turns out, was the pain from the tear in the artery. But a visit to a GP would have produced a prescription for painkillers and nothing more. No one would have guessed what it was. I did not have to feel stupid or guilty. It could not be helped. Sometimes you just have to take the cards that you are given. Pain and joy.

You spend a strange amount of time reassuring people as a patient. You don't want to be a burden to the nurses, you want to please the doctors, you don't want to worry your visitors. 'I'm fine, really.' It was a day or two into my stay before the shock of what had happened hit me in the way it had already hit my wife. I suddenly felt very fragile, very vulnerable.

What if I had been driving my son to football when it happened? What if I had been asleep? What if it had been worse? What if it happens again? What if, what if, what if?'

I think I'm right in saying that Jean Paul Sartre said 'What if?' is the most redundant phrase in any language. It is certainly one of the most insidious. It can stop you seeing the good fortune you've actually had and make you concentrate on the bad fortune that you might have suffered under different circumstances.

I was lucky. It's something to be glad about, not suspicious of.

Though I had hoped to be out on Saturday, I didn't escape until Sunday. This was really the only glitch in the whole proceedings. I ended up spending another night in hospital and taking up a valuable bed on purely administrative grounds. I had not been prescribed my meds. We all knew what they were and what the recommended dose was, but because the registrar had not actually prescribed them, I could not have them and so could not leave.

This situation looked in danger of repeating itself on the Sunday, until a senior nurse stepped in and took control. Joad had come in to visit me with his son and was luckily on hand to take me home. The lost man came into the day room and after trying to walk through a mirror thanked us for letting him sit in on our meeting.

Then all at once we were signed out, walking to the car and getting in. Joad started the engine and the stereo started up. It was Lou Reed, singing Pale Blue Eyes. . .

Thought of you as my mountain top,
Thought of you as my peak.

Thought of you as everything,

I've had but couldn't keep.

I've had but couldn't keep.
. .

Linger on. The first phase was over.


  1. Our younger daughter was only 8 when hubby had his heart attack. Luckily, she was too young to really understand its seriousness. Every day after school I took her down to the hospital to visit and she took in her bedtime book so she could have the next chapter read to her, in an attempt to keep part of her world 'normal'.
    The first phase may be over but it can feel like a long hard slog to recovery. Remember it comes slowly - and don't think a bad day is the end of the world.

  2. Good advice I'm sure and much appreciated. And yes - children want their world to stay the same, don't they. I suppose we all do.

  3. Chris, thank you for taking us with you on this remarkable and profound experience. Life won't be exactly the same anymore, but then it shouldn't. Profound experiences such as this come along to shift us - it may seem like a strange thing to say - but embrace it.
    And take it easy and keep getting better - give yourself that time.

  4. Thanks Nicky. You are absolutely right. As Bowie so wisely put it in 'Changes' - 'Turn and face the strange'. Everything is amazing if you look at it from the right direction.

  5. Hello, Chris. I'm just back from abroad, and have been catching up on your blog. So sorry to hear about your health problems and your stay in hospital. Glad to hear you're on the mend and all good wishes from me.

  6. Thanks Sue. Good to hear from you.

  7. Just catching up with events! What a shocking interruption to your life, and a frightening reminder of our mortally. Any thoughts from the Dr's as to why this all happened? causes etc? Does life need to be different now or can it continue as before? Do you suffer lasting effects?

    I smiled with the comfort of familiarity, when I read the bit about not being very social - sometimes I think it's just me :)

    Strangely, with things like this, the shock and coping comes after the event - you could be thinking about the 'what if's' for weeks, even years.

    Positive thoughts coming your way from a Brit in the US!

  8. Am so glad you posted about getting out ( always the best bit of hospital) When I was up to it, and meds had begun to control my wayward heart, me and the kids did and emergency life savers course with St John ambulance - it was my son who had to deal with me in a state of collapse and he was only 9 at the time - it gave all of us a bit more confidence, sense of taking control, just a little....x

  9. Thanks Joanna. The cause could be relatively minor. It can be a sports injury, but it can also be retching or sneezing. I have no recollection of what caused the damage, which we hope will heal on its own and leave me just needing a course of meds. But it's not a lifestyle warning. I'm pretty healthy. Ironically.

    And Kathryn - of course you'd be tender-hearted! How shocking for your son. We just don't think of the machinery until the springs go twang do we? Hope you are looking after yourself (and being looked after, of course). Yes - control. That is key isn't it? I hate that loss of control. But then maybe that sense of control is fanciful anyway.