Monday, 28 February 2011

Blog tour

Ow, ow, ow.

The blood test was another three hole affair this morning as the nurse tried to extract blood from a stony-faced author. The big difference with the nurse at the GPs and the guy at the hospital was that the nurse was pleasant throughout and that's pretty much all you can hope for. We all know things are going to go less than perfectly, but that is just when you want some warmth from whoever is dealing with you. We can all be pleasant when things are going well.

Anyway, blood was eventually sucked out of me and will wing its way to the hospital for the tests. Time will tell.

I was quoted in my old paper, the Independent on Sunday, yesterday. When I say 'my' I just mean I used to work there. I did a strip with Chris Riddell at the Sindy for a few years and I took over as political cartoonist when Chris left to go to The Observer (although I subsequently allowed myself to be persuaded by Chris to follow him there).

Inbali Iserles was writing an article about the growth of horror and 'paranormal romance' in teen and YA fiction and asked me for my thoughts - I had many, but she wisely chose to ignore most of them and give more space to Mary Hoffman.

I'm off on a blog tour this week, organised by Ian Lamb, my publicist at Bloomsbury. Each day this week, I will be guesting on somebody else's blog in anticipation of the launch of the rejacketed Tales of Terror series and of my World Book Day flipbook with Philip Reeve.

First stop is an interview today with The Book Zone. The blog post features this little promo from Bloomsbury.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Football

My son went off to football this afternoon. There have been few occasions when I have opted not to go and watch, but I have missed the last two games. Last week - just to spite me - he actually scored. Weeks of standing in icy gales and he scores when I don't turn up.

It was three weeks ago that I had my mini stroke. It feels like five minutes ago and it feels like five months. It is both horribly vivid and yet somehow distant - as if I have already shed the skin of that version of me and moved on.

But of course I haven't really. I don't think I will be able to until my warfarin dose has been sorted out and I have seen my consultant and (I hope) had the all clear from him.

I have a blood test booked for tomorrow morning. The results from that will hopefully show that my INRs have risen to a safe level and that I can cut out the clexane injections.

But I have learned not to get ahead of myself.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Inception


We watched Inception on DVD tonight. Or did we?

Yes, we did.

Inception is essentially a cinematic experience of course, and watching it on an old television does not do it justice. having said that, the good thing about watching a film like this on a small screen is that you are not dazzled by the effects in the way you are in a cinema. You see the plot more - and the holes therein.

It has been likened to The Matrix for obvious reasons, but the movie I was most reminded of while I was watching was The Sting. It is after all a kind of heist movie, and one built up on layers of artifice. But I'm not sure it was as thought through as either of them.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. There were lots of things about it that were great. DiCaprio was very good in the lead role. I liked the fact that the labyrinth maker was called Ariadne. Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos who helped Theseus kill the Minotaur. The Minotaur was replaced at the centre of the labyrinth by the less subtly named Mal (DiCaprio's dead wife).

The scary elements in the movie were not brought out as well as they could have been. The idea that the incidental characters peopling a dream will resent the presence of an intruder and rise up against them was excellent, but having established it, they sort of wasted it with 'trained' projections running around with guns. The children, only ever seen from the back, were very effective.

Mal was very creepy. That was a movie in itself. What a great idea- that this resentful, malevolent ghost would haunt DiCaprio's dreams. It's just a shame that this more compelling personal story was buried under the special effects-laden blockbuster. The Where Eagles Dare layer of the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream was frankly a bit silly.

So not a bad movie - more a frustrating one. There was an absolutely fantastic movie in there, trying to get out: one which understands that dreams are rarely blockbusters in which cities are turned upside down, but are more often strangely skewed versions of the mundane.

That is the disturbing thing about them.

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Road


I finally got round to watching The Road. My wife bought it for me on DVD but it has been sitting on the shelf for a long time now.

My wife hasn't read the book, but I have and it's a book that had a big impact on me. I read it on the train journey to and from Halifax a couple of years ago when I was up for the Calderdale Book Award. I had read several Cormac McCarthy books before and so I was expecting something that was beautifully written. I was ready too for violence - McCarthy's books all have moments of brutal violence in them. But I was taken by surprise by how moving I found The Road. A friend said she found it 'sentimental' but I certainly did not. I found it harrowing.

But how would a movie of this book work? And could it stand alone - as all movies should be able to - without using the prior knowledge of the book as a prop? I wasn't sure.

Actually, I think it is quite a good movie. Viggo Mortensen is excellent in the lead and . The challenge in turning a book into a movie is that so much of the pleasure in reading a book is to do with the way it is written - the voice of the author. Stripping that away, you are left with plot and the hope that you can evoke some visual equivalent of the authorial voice.

Or you can chicken out and have a narrator.

There is a bit of narration in The Road. They obviously could not bear to lose McCarthy's voice completely - and who can blame them. But it does throw up the puzzle of how we are hearing the voice. In the book the voice is McCarthy's, not the man's - although the narrator is identified with the man. But in the movie it is Viggo Mortensen's voice and where is it coming from?

The bigger loss of nerve was in the flashbacks. They clearly did not want a movie in which women played no part.

But the incidental music was probably the most jarring thing. This is a dead world covered in ash. It is a silent world - horribly so. It would have been better by far if the only sound had been the squeaking trolley wheels and the trudge of footsteps. But I am probably describing a Tarkovsky movie rather than a Hollywood one.

Stripped of McCarthy's writing, the book seems more like a dystopian sci-fi story than it did when reading it. I don't think McCarthy was at all interested in what caused the catastrophic change in human fortunes. He just wanted to look at humanity pared down. The movie reminded me of Richard Matheson's I am Legend (the novel, not the dreadful movie) - and reminded me again of how good that book is.

But I think the movie does retain some of the books interesting themes, not least the very pertinent issue of how brutal we can become and still claim to be civilised.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Piles of terror


This was always going to be a busy time for me, but my week in hospital has not helped. I am still in the process of editing Mister Creecher with Helen Szirtes. Mister Creecher was due to be published in June but is now coming out in October (twinned with the paperback edition of The Dead of Winter). The change was made before my recent adventure, but it was probably just as well. But it still needs to be finished. I think it is probably the best thing I've ever written.

But what do I know?

Just before I went into hospital I submitted a synopsis and sample chapter of my next book for Bloomsbury. This is a contemporary chiller set in Amsterdam. I am itching to get on and write it. It is called The Mask. I will tell you more about that book soon. . .

In the meantime, the rejacketed Tales of Terror are about to launch and so my advance copies have been arriving. Piles of each of the books have been stacked up on the steps of our staircase in the absence of anywhere else to put them.

I also have a World Book Day flipbook coming out with the redoubtable Philip Reeve. My side is called The Teacher's Tale of Terror (more about that later) and Philip's is called Traction City. It is a small book - but I have many copies of that too.

I need a bigger house.

Monday, 21 February 2011

You'll feel a bit of a prick


I had another pointless (if you'll excuse the pun), grumpy phone call with one of the warfarin nurses who told me to increase my warfarin dose and get ready to get a bit more practice in with the old needle. But I'm not cross with the warfarin nurses.

I'm not cross with anyone really. But certainly not the warfarin nurses. They are only doing what's best for me. It's not their fault they have to tell me to take clexane injections. And it is all too easy to take out the righteous anger you feel about being ill on the person who is most associated with the illness - the doctor or the nurse. It is an impulse to be avoided at all costs.

My second attempt at a clexane injection was not as good as my first, watched by the nurse at the GPs. I though that this was due to having to inject into an area that was already bruised from previous injections.

But my next one was - even though I say so myself - pretty darned good. The next one too. I am definitely getting the knack. Although the pulling out bit needs some work. It's just as well I'm getting the hang of it - my INRs have not moved a muscle and I may be on the clexane for a couple of weeks yet.

The area you have to play with - if play is the right work (and it isn't) - is not huge. You have to inject the stuff to one side of the navel and just below, but not too far away and not too near. Inevitably that means poking the same bit of flab.

And of course the anti-coagulation regime makes you bruise as well as bleed. I rarely bruise normally. I don't know why - I just never have. But I'm making up for it now. The arm where the blood test man flicked and waggled is now a rich damask of green and purple.

So I wasn't exactly looking forward to my blood test at the GPs this morning. Particularly as I had had a really bad night, unable to sleep despite being dog tired.

But my nurse was superb. She could have almost crept up on me and taken the blood without me knowing. She was a stealth-vampire. You really become appreciate of people's needle skills when you have a lot of jabs. Top marks.

'Just a little scratch,' she said as she was putting the needle in. They all say that now. 'Just a little scratch.' Even though that's not really the sensation at all. It's a prick: a little prick. But they don't want to say that. They don't want to come over all Carry On Matron! so they say 'scratch'.

But say what they like, you still feel a prick.

Friday, 18 February 2011

It's easy

I lost my cool yesterday. The reserves of calm and positivity got eaten up in a trice. The smooth running engine of my treatment had developed a strange knock. It was going to be a bumpier ride than I had previously thought.

I allowed myself to get annoyed with the 'warfarin nurse'. I wasn't really annoyed with her. I was annoyed at what she was saying and what it meant. I tried to make that clear but that distinction is a little tricky to make when you are annoyed. She suggested that I write to the Patients' Association. But I didn't want to make a complaint. I don't feel as though I'm complaining. I just wanted her to say, 'Yes - that shouldn't have happened, I'll get right on to that and make sure it never happens again.' But it was going to be down to me to tell the doctor by way of a complaint, or he wasn't going to get told.

The doctor who called from my GP practice did not really understand why I was a little bit taken aback by the news that I was to inject myself. 'It's very simple,' she said. I'm sure it is. 'They are in pre-measured doses,' she said. Or not, as it turned out.

But the fact is that the week before, when I was in hospital, I was told that it was critical that I get my INR up to 2.5. I was monitored every four hours and had my blood tested every day. When I was on clexane the nurse checked and rechecked the dose of a drug she could not give me unless a doctor signed for it each day. I had to wait long into the evening one time because a doctor could not be found.

Now I can get a week's supply from the chemists and inject myself. Now I am seen as safe to measure the dose myself. Now I don't need to be monitored. With the self same INR I was given bed rest and loaded with 10 mgs of warfarin each day. Now I'm up and about and given 3 mgs of warfarin. What was critical last week now seems to be a bit 'Meh'. 'You have to trust that they know what they are doing,' said my GP. 'They are the experts.' Yes - except that one of these experts mucked up my meds. Which experts do I trust now? The warfarin nurses? The consultant? My GP?

'It's easy,' said the nurse as she and the doctor tried to sort out exactly how much of the clexane I had to squirt away to get me down to the correct dose. There are three syringes, I thought. Let's all have a go if it's so easy. It can be my treat.

But none of this was the doctor's fault or the nurses fault and I began to feel sorry for the latter as she began to pick up on the stress levels from me and my wife and clearly started to doubt her own common sense. She and the doctor were - of course - very kind and understanding.

So, after much faffing about we agreed on the dose. I was happy with the reading on the syringe. The nurse was happy. All that remained was for me to stick the thing in my belly. How hard could it be? I'd pricked a sausage before. It had to be pretty similar.

'Just rest the point on the skin and then push,' she said.

And that's what I did. I'm not going to say it didn't hurt, but it hurt less than the guy who waggled away at the blood test department at the hospital. I'm glad that I knew that it was going to sting after a short delay or I might have thought I'd done something wrong.

It was a strange sensation. A tiny moment of resistance before the point breaks the skin. But in terms of pain, really not so bad. Not that I'm looking forward to the next one in half an hour or so. The devils that were holding back the hands of time while I was in hospital are now cackling and spinning the clock hands like a roulette wheel.

And they are putting their scaly hands to their foreheads and making an 'L' for 'Loser'

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Of course it was never going to be that simple. . .

On Monday I went to see my GP. It was the first time I had walked in the open air for a week apart from the brief stroll to Joad's car the day before. The sun was shining. The bird's were twittering. All of that was laid on especially for me, you know. And it was much appreciated.

My GP is another credit to the NHS. She is yet another person who manages the trick of appearing wholly concerned with you and your needs even while you know that can't be true. It's a kind of gift. Doctors are not supposed to be any good at blood tests either, but she was pretty good with me. I hardly felt a thing. Sunlight streamed in. It would all be fine now. It was all just a matter of adjusting to the new routine. She smiled. We smiled. It would be fine.

It's all about the INR - the international normalised ratio - which is the measure of the blood's coagulation. The base level is one - indicating a normal person under normal conditions. My target level is 2.5. In other words my blood needs to be 2.5 times less 'clotty' (a word I have invented) than a normal person. I was loaded with warfarin with a side order of clexane until my level rose.

The trouble is, it rose too high. It reached 3.9. You don't want to be too high otherwise you will get all Sam Peckinpah when you nick yourself shaving. So they cut the clexane. Hurray! I was childishly pleased when they said I didn't need clexane on the Saturday night. I'd never considered the idea of jabbing myself with a needle just to experience the joy of stopping.

But when my blood was tested on the Sunday morning, the INR was still high. The nurse that signed me out said 'They are advising you omit warfarin for one day'. Who 'they' were I don't know. But I'd like to give them a couple of doses of clexane just to say thanks.

The GP recommended 2 mgs of warfarin for the nest couple of days as the last test had showed my high INR. I had an outpatient visit booked with the anticoagulation clinic on Thursday where my blood would be tested again.

My wife drove me to Addenbrookes. She has been suffering from frozen shoulders for months and months and this was the first time she had driven in a very long time. She dropped me off and I went to see the 'warfarin nurse' who told me all about my new life with the drug. She also told me that the hospital should not have omitted warfarin.

'You can't do that,' she said.
'Then why did they?'
'Because they don't really understand how it works.'

I went down to have my blood taken. I had to take a ticket like you get at the deli counter and wait. I was number 99. Ping. My turn. My turn to have someone tugging ineffectually on my arm with a needle.

'Which arm do you prefer?'
'I don't mind,' I said.

Who has a preferred arm? I had blood taken every day from arms and hands without pain or problem for a week. This guy did this every day. He ought to be good at it, you'd think. But he tried the left arm. Not the ridge of my arm like the nurses had done, but the smooth bit in the middle. Odd. But he must know what he's doing, I thought. For a while.

Much tapping and fiddling about and he said that the blood wasn't flowing. 'Sometimes it just doesn't.' Hmmm. 'Sometimes'?. I'm going to guess at quite often. Anyway he had a poke around in another vein in my other arm with similar results. Eventually he called in his colleague (I'm guessing superior) who clearly did not appreciate my not seeing the funny side of it all, but got the blood out in seconds. I left with cotton wool taped to the three holes.

Later I get a phone call from my warfarin nurse. The INRs are low - really low. I'm only 1.3 - back where I started practically before I was loaded with the warfarin. 'It's because they omitted you see. . .' She rang my GP practice and one of the doctors - a doctor I did not really know and who seemed very blase about the whole thing - then rang me. They (It was 'they' again) wanted me to inject with clexane. Inject myself. For a week.

Now again - I know lots of people who have had to inject themselves for years and years. I feel bad getting crabby about it. I didn't want to do it, but I actually knew I would cope perfectly well. It's weird but not the worst thing. But it was knowing that it was all unnecessary that rankled. Knowing that whoever suggested that I omit the warfarin - and I will probably never know who that was - not only sentenced me to a regime of injections, but also seriously endangered my health by reducing my INR to a level at which clots were once more a potential hazard and a repeat stroke much more likely than it should have been.

And these are the tiny margins an organisation like the NHS works within: if it is not working perfectly, then something is wrong. No matter how long the good work lasts, it is the bad work you remember. The road can be smooth for a hundred miles, but it's the hole that you notice.

I feel sorry for the blameless doctors and nurses who saw me all that week. If I had managed to escape that Saturday I would never have had that blood test that showed my INRs as high and I would not have been told to omit on the Sunday. My GPs blood test may have shown I was high but I would have simply had my warfarin adjusted. I would have had nothing but praise. But there's that 'What if?' again.

It's always there isn't it?

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.

Just one patient

Blood tests every morning. One arm then the other, then back to the first. Now it's my hand for some reason. And now it's the other hand. . .'You have lovely veins.' Thanks. I think.

On Friday I saw my consultant who said that he was happy for me to leave provided my INR - the level of the clotting ability of my blood - was over 2 for two days running. We had not had the results back from that morning's blood test, but he felt sure that it would be fine and I should be out on the following day. He shook my hand, as he always did, and away he went.

That night was particularly bad. The patient from across the corridor was being particularly persistent in his escape attempts and a collection of security men were called. They all looked like extras from The Sopranos - pale and wide - and I wasn't quite sure what their remit was. They seemed to simply be a human barrier between the tagged would-be escapee and the door alarms. They were like bouncer's outside a nightclub. Except the outside world was the nightclub and we didn't have the right dress code.

This particular patient came into our bay more and more during my stay. He was tall, well spoken, bald (scarred naturally) with a high distinguished forehead. He looked like a headmaster or a bank manager or a senior civil servant - or would have had he not been dressed in claret pyjamas. I woke one morning to find him standing over me. He looked like he was judging me and finding me wanting. It was a little disconcerting. Mainly though it was just sad to see a man who had clearly been a figure of some authority reduced to wandering the ward, lost - terribly, terribly lost.

Occasionally he would leave things - a carrier bag, a drink he had taken from a nurse - or borrow things, walking off in my neighbour's slippers one time. Another time he stood at the foot of the same man's bed - he had just had a large tumour removed from his head - as the nurse did his rounds. 'Will he race again?' he asked the nurse.

On one occasion he actually got into another patient's bed, much to the amusement of the nurses. But they were not spiteful laughs. They were so caring towards that lost man. And anyway - who could begrudge them a laugh on that ward. I should think you have to take the laughs when they come.

During my whole time there I never encountered a grumpy or jobsworth nurse. They all seemed totally committed to their jobs and superhumanly patient. More than that - they were simply kind. And can you train someone to be kind?

I was treated with the same seriousness as the far more critical cases around me and they in turn were treated with the same light and friendly touch as me. Even if a patient showed no visible signs of being aware, they still chatted to them and explained every procedure in the same way as they did with me. 'I'm just going to take your blood pressure, if that's OK,' they would say to a man who showed little sign of being conscious. There was something incredibly touching about that. I heard a nurse telling a colleague that she had felt pulled in too many directions the previous shift.

'The thing about nursing is this,' he said. 'You only have one patient - the patient you are with. That's what you have to remember. No matter how many other things are going on. You just have that one patient to deal with.'

I cannot see how I could have had better care from those nurses and their care of the more critical cases around me was fantastic. A man opposite me was being transferred to another hospital after a long stay. A steady stream of staff came in all through the day as shifts changed, all wishing him well and asking him to text them to let them know he he had got on. Another nurse told me she had called in at two in the morning because she couldn't sleep worrying about a patient she had left at three in the afternoon.

I was reminded of a recent piece in The Economist about the proposed sell of of Forestry Commission woodland here in the UK. They visited a forest and talked to volunteers. Wasn't the Forestry Commission an impersonal state bureaucracy? No, they said pointing to someone walking by, it's not impersonal - it's Colin. Well, for me the NHS was not impersonal either: it was Rachel and Silvia and Alison and Gemma and the others too numerous to name.

It was also the round of doctors who all to a man and woman treated me faultlessly, from my consultant to the junior doctor who seemed to be there all day and most of the evening and always - always - had a smile on her face. The registrar who dealt with me most often was great, glasses perched on top of his head, intelligent, professional but warm with it. Can you train someone to be warm?

They were all kind and reassuring to me and to my wife, making eye contact and giving the impression for that for those minutes I was their only concern. They explained everything and understood why that was important.

My father's care in hospital has not always been what it should be and there has been some justifiably bad press about the treatment of the elderly in UK hospitals. But I - still relatively young - had no complaints. I got the impression that the staff on the neurology wards enjoyed their work and found it fulfilling. But I never for one moment felt that I had stopped being me; that I had turned into a 'case'.

They deserve a great deal of credit for that.

A lot of people just drift off

The MRI scan was very strange. It looks a lot like the CT scanner in that it is another white tube that you are taken into on a rolling bed. But this time I was given ear plugs and had padding placed around my head both to dampen the noise and keep my head still. I was told that it did not matter whether I kept my eyes open or closed but a lot of people drift off as it takes twenty-five minutes.

My only contact with the outside world was a small mirror - a periscope that allowed me to see the operators in their booth. That and a tinny voice that would announce 'The next session is about to start. Five minutes for the next one. . .' It all felt like something from a sci-fi movie - but not in a good way. It was like 2001 A Space Odyssey.

'Hello HAL. Do you read me HAL?'
'Affirmative Chris. I read you.'
'What's the problem?'
'I think you know what the problem is as well as I do.'

Dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah. Dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah. Initially I could not see how anyone could drift off under such circumstances. The noise is incredibly loud. DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH. At first it was a series of electronic squeaks and bleeps, like the ultrasound chatter of dolphins and bats. The rest was like some kind of hideously repetitive 1990s electronic dance music - or a pneumatic drill next to my head. DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH. But as it went on, I could see how one might fall asleep. The rhythm is very intense and loud, but also very hypnotic. Tune in. Turn on. Drop out. Solid gone.

'Daisy, Daisy. . .give me your. . .answer do. . .I'm. . .half crazy. . .' HAL's slowing voice in my head as he is being disconnected.

The registrar who had seen me earlier returned when my wife and son were visiting to tell us that the MRI scan showed that there was indeed a carotid dissection. This was an immense relief to me. I had a dread that they would find nothing and go on some long fishing trip round my body to discover the cause of the clots. It had a name. It felt smaller immediately.

My wife almost fainted as he described the dangers of a repeat of the incident and my son looked like he did as I was leaving the house for the hospital. They both looked pale, tired and overloaded with stress. I wanted to wake up and find it was all a dream and felt angry with myself when I thought of the friends and family members who had endured far worse hardships recently. Get a grip.

I had been walking around and popping downstairs to buy myself a paper and a coffee and fully expected to leave hospital that day. All that was to end. I was prescribed bed rest and told to take it easy. They were going to keep me in. Had I suffered any more ill effects? If I noticed a loss of sight in my left eye - like a black curtain descending - I had to let them know immediately. I assured him that I would.

So far I had been on a regime of aspirins in the morning and statins at night. On the Tuesday I was given my first dose of anticoagulants. One was in tablet form - warfarin (I lost count of how many times I was told that this was originally marketed as a rat poison) - and the other in the form of an injection of clexane - to the stomach.

Warfarin has the perverse property of actually being a clotting agent initially and so clexane has to be administered until you have enough warfarin in your system. While the clexane injection is not so bad, I hated lying there and letting someone stab me in the stomach with a needle. I wanted to grab the nurse's wrist. And it was one of the few times I wished I was fatter!

Also the injection really hurts afterwards. In fact it is very like a wasp sting in its effect. But I had only to look at my two neighbours to remind myself that I had very little to complain about in terms of discomfort or pain. And the effect doesn't last long. Even so - I came to dread those injections. How weak I am.

My son went down with a sore throat and cold and so could not come in to see me. Whilst he certainly did have a cold, we think it was also the stress of seeing me taken into hospital and of seeing the shocking state of those around me. The cold meant that he was banned from the ward and it was probably no bad thing. My wife's stress was merely increased though, as she now had to go back and forth between us, tending to our differing needs, and getting lost and exhausted in the process. 'I'm half crazy, all for the love of you. . .'

The days went by. Lights out at ten or ten thirty, woken at six for blood pressure checks, blood taken at eight or so, warfarin tablets and a clexane jab in the evening, statins at night. Marks & Spencer salads and homemade sandwiches from my wife for my lunch and tea. Texts and phone calls to my friends and family. Look at the paper or read a book. Watch a little TV. Play solitaire on my mobile. Wonder whether we would be offered a biscuit with our tea.

And what type of biscuit would it be?

Brain flakes

On the morning of Sunday 6 February I went to my computer to look up the route to my son's lunchtime football match on Google maps. I reached for my cup of tea and found that my arm felt heavy and weak, and I did not quite trust it to carry the cup over the keys without spilling it.

I felt a numbness in my face - around the mouth and on the right side of my jaw. It tingled as it does after being given anaesthetic at the dentist. There was a long moment of refusal - of refusal to accept that this was happening to me; a pathetic attempt to mentally run away from the reality of it.

Then I got up and went downstairs. My wife walked towards me in the kitchen and what I wanted to say was 'Don't panic. Don't freak out. But there's something wrong with me and I think it may be serious.' But what came out was slurred and garbled by my anaesthetised tongue. I couldn't speak.

My wife rushed to ring 999 and they told her to get me to lie down and wait for the paramedic who seemed to arrive within seconds of the call. He examined me and I think it was he who first let the word 'stroke' float out into the air like a black balloon, though it had been with us all the time.

The ambulance arrived whilst the paramedic was still running his checks. My speech had mostly returned while the paramedic was there, but had gone again by the time I was leaving the house and getting in the ambulance. This transience was somehow more frightening. My wife came with me and we left our poor, startled son back at the house on his own.

I lay on the bed in the ambulance watching the trees and rooftops going my, trying to keep a mental note of everything. It was a strange, dreamlike view of a route I knew so well. I tried to fill the awkward silence by chatting to the ambulance men, but I just could not form the words. My wife mouthed the words 'Don't talk,' and I gave up.

I was moved from ambulance to wheelchair and we waited in the reception at A&E until someone came to collect me . The emergency doctor in A&E was exactly the kind of person you want in a situation like this - he was kind and thoughtful, making sure that he made eye contact with me and my wife and explaining every part of the process, and he gave off a comforting aura of being very, very good at his job.

I was back in a bed now and now and had a cannula put in my arm. Pads were stuck all over me and wires connected to them for the ECG. The first of many blood tests and blood pressure checks were taken. I was given a large dose of aspirin and swabbed for MRSA.

The doctor went through a whole set of strength, coordination and spacial awareness tests. I had to push against him with my fingers, with my clenched fists, with a bent arm, with a straight arm - and then I had to pull against him. I had to do similar things with my legs and toes. I had to follow his moving finger with my eyes and he checked my peripheral vision by waggling his fingers above my head and down at his sides and checking if I could see them. He tested my reflexes with a rubber mallet and ran the point of the handle down the soles of my feet (which is excruciating!). I had to point to finger clicks with my eyes closed. I had to touch my nose with my eyes shut with alternate fingers. I had to touch my thumb rapidly with alternate fingers of the same hand and 'play the piano'.

And there was a definite difference between the two hands. My right hand - the hand I use - was slower, weaker, clumsier. The doctor told us that some sort of mini stroke seemed the likeliest explanation, but they needed to take a CT scan to confirm.

The CT scan involved lying on a moving bed with a socket for my head to rest in, that rolled me into tube. I closed my eyes on entering the scanner - as instructed - but wasn't sure whether I was allowed to reopen them, so kept them shut. All I could hear was an escalating hum or roar - like a kettle coming to the boil beside my head.

I was then warned that I was about to have water injected into my arm via the cannula I had been fitted with in A&E. A small voice inside the machine said that the injection was about to start and then I felt warm water go into my arm, spread up my shoulder across my head and chest and then down my abdomen and thighs until I felt as though I had just wet myself. One of the strangest sensations I have ever experienced.

A neurology consultant came in to see me and went into the booth to look at the scans. I was taken back to A&E and to my wife who was still waiting there. The consultant followed me down and we had a chat about what may have caused what they could now see was definitely a stroke.

In someone of my age and fitness, one of the probably causes of such a mini stroke is a carotid dissection, or tear to the arterial wall, resulting in the production of clots that are sent up into the brain. It could also be the result of a narrowing of the artery and depending on what caused the stroke, I was told that I may have to have surgery to replace the artery or to put a balloon inside it to widen it, or I may get away with the condition being controlled by drugs. To find this out, I would need an MRI scan.

And so I took up residence in my hospital ward. I was in a bay with two other men, both of whom were neurosurgery patients and in far worse shape than me. The night was filled with noise: the voices of the nurses as they went about their tasks and chatted and laughed outside my door, the shriek of monitors followed by the sound of running feet, the door alarms set off by a tagged patient and his frequent attempts to leave and his angry protests at being prevented from doing so.

I was wakened at six the following morning by a nurse saying, 'Where are you?' This threw me completely.

'I'm sorry?'
'What is this place,' she said. 'Are you at home or in a hospital?'
'Sorry - I have no idea what you are talking about,' I said.
'This hospital,' she said. 'What is the name of it?'
'Addenbrookes,' I said. I felt like I had tumbled into a Kafka short story.

She smiled, satisfied. She had simply been checking that I was not confused. By confusing me utterly. In fact I thought she was confused and was beginning to be concerned that she was in charge of the drug trolley.

The dreaded routine of the hospital kicked in. Six o'clock and I would have the first of my blood pressure and pulse checks. They would be repeated every four hours during my stay. Cleaners swept and mopped. I was given my morning dose of aspirin and then the breakfast trolley arrived. Nurses did their handovers at seven. The clock on the wall would have seemed broken had it not been for the blood red second hand juddering round. Time dragged.

'What would you like?' said the Polish lad who delivered the breakfast.
'What do you have?' I asked.
'We have cornflakes, Weetabix, brain flakes. . .'

Brain flakes? Did he really say 'brain flakes'?

'I'll have bran flakes,' I said. How could I resist?

He went to get them and handed them to me.

'Here are you brain flakes,' he said - then shook his head and hurriedly corrected himself. . .'Bran flakes.'

Was he simply mispronouncing the word or was he trying so hard not to say the work 'brain' that it blurted out? I don't know, but it cheered me up immensely every breakfast time.