I like the broken bits of me, including the pieces that aren’t all there. My missing pieces are the unconnected things, that make me stare at my life and wonder if I could have done better. The cracks in my psyche and the folds in my skin are akin to lifelines. They keep me grounded and without my history, the so-called wisdom I have gained with age, those flaws I have collected and display daily, I would be far less a man than the one who sits here today.
I could say perhaps that these days, the mirror is less kind to me than it once was. But to be fair, what I could choose to see as the cruelty of time as I am being slowly ravaged by each the tick of the clock, is nothing more than a reflection of a life lived. There is beauty in the worst of me.
These days, Covid-19 has put paid to any ideas I might have had about seeing more of the world, for a while at least. Instead I must live this life within the constraints that bind me to my home for the most part, but so be it.
My crinkles, as my daughter used to call the lines on my face when she was small, have got crinkles of their own, my hair is less fulsome and sometimes the stress of life takes its toll on the windows to my soul. Tiredness shows on my face as does pain, perhaps more than anyone I know. My darling Jo knows exactly when I am struggling with pain, simply by looking at my eyes. She’s not the only one. I try to hide it when things get bad, but my give-away eyes hang me.
Sometimes I look in the mirror and I don’t recognize the auld fella looking back at me. I’ve changed so much and life has left its mark. Some days he looks so tired, other days he looks positively sprightly. Lord knows what my insides look like. I come to this on the back of my latest medical checkup. I was contacted by cardiology last week, cancelling my appointment for Wednesday last, due to Coronavirus. Instead they told me I would have a virtual consultation. That was yesterday.
I’ve never virtually consulted with a cardiologist before and I was rather curious. Normally I go through a barrage of tests which I can’t undergo online, so I wondered how they would assess me over the phone. It seemed likely we could both be wasting our time.
I hate talking to consultants. I always feel like they think I’m lying if I tell them the full story. Better to tell them 50% of the problem, it sounds more believable that way. I swear that’s just what I’m like. If I lost my arm in some terrible chain saw accident right before the consultation, I’d probably play that down as well.
“So tell me Mr. P, is there something wrong with your arm as well?” To which I would reply looking at the shredded, bloody stump hanging from my shoulder, “This? It’s just a scratch. Probably a 3 – or maybe a 4 out of 10 pain wise. It’ll stick right back on.”
When the phone rang yesterday, I sighed. ‘Here we go’ is all I could think, a waste of 5 minutes of my life. The voice at the other end of the line was surprisingly rather pleasant. She sounded young and competent. The voice introduced herself and told me her name was Jess. She explained what I already knew, which was that due to Covid-19, they wanted to do some assessment over the phone. That much I expected.
What I didn’t expect was the thoroughness of her enquiry. She asked all the right questions and elicited replies from me that I am normally reticent to give, specifically… the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In hindsight, I was so impressed with the skill of the doctor that spoke with me. She wasn’t my consultant, she was a S.H.O., junior to her consultant. My experience with S.H.O.’s in Irish hospitals has not been good. Generally, they are over worked and ill prepared for each person who walks into the consulting room. They usually look at test results from whatever barrage of tests I had just gone through, pretty much tell me nothing and are reluctant to do anything other than send a report to their consultant at the end of the day. I always feel short changed and none the wiser. Yesterday, I found someone willing to look at my profile, dig deeper and ask the right questions. She was clear, precise and was up to speed on my current condition. Maybe it was precisely because she didn’t have the usual tools of test results at her finger tips, that she had to draw on a different skill set.
When I came out of the CCU unit 5 years ago, my cardiologist came visiting with a gaggle of students in his wake. He had saved my life, quite literally. While it wasn’t he, that straddled my chest and squeezed fluids into me, and it wasn’t he that had provided CPR mid operation, he was the man who asked one more question, and that led him to sending me for my first heart scan and that ultimately saved my life.
I recall that he told the students about how he first met me and that based on my tests, I was quite a healthy man. He told them that my blood pressure was normal, I had passed my fitness test with flying colours, my diet was good, I was not over weight, I didn’t smoke, there was nothing unusual on my E.C.G and the only significant factors were a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol. In most circumstances, he told them, he would have prescribed medication for my cholesterol and told me to get a recheck in 6 months.
What he then did and I recall it so well, is that he asked them to think about that, given I was recovering in a hospital bed only a few weeks after he had met me for the first time. He told them I could quite possibly have dropped dead on the street had he not done one simple thing. They looked at him blankly as he asked them if they knew what that was. Like the suck-up kid in class who knows the answer, I nearly put my hand up. Luckily, I realized that he wasn’t asking me. They all looked at their feet or at their note pads, hoping not to be chosen to provide an answer they didn’t have.
When no one answered, he simply explained that his decision to look a little deeper came from 2 things. One was experience but more importantly, because experience takes time to acquire and patients don’t have that time to play with, the driving factor was that he had listened to me very carefully and took in all the little details that I had revealed. He had a niggle and that niggle led him to go backwards, to re-question for a little more information on my family history, and ultimately, he made a decision based on suspicion born from a thorough interrogation of the facts. He told them not to aimlessly take notes to pass on responsibility to someone else, but to listen and be present in a consultation and to be a courageous advocate for their patient in deciding what to do. The one thing he had done, he said, was he had listened.
Yesterday, young Jess did all that over the phone. She was monstrously impressive compared to all that came before her. I couldn’t help wonder if she had been one of those students at the foot of my bed 5 years ago. Perhaps she had learned something.
Unfortunately, it means I seem likely to go back into hospital in the near future something that doesn’t sit well with me. The plan begins in exactly the same fashion as it did 5 years ago, only this time I know what went wrong the first time around. I was unafraid the first time until my heart stopped and I ended up in a critical care unit, once I had done a U-turn from the light.
I try to be unafraid always and I think for the most part, little frightens me. But going back to a place where I vividly remember my life passing and all that came with that, no matter how unlikely it is that I could be so unlucky the second time around, is somewhat disconcerting. I have been given no timeline due to Covid-19 restrictions, so I have a wait ahead and I would much rather face the unpleasantness as soon as I can. I write books with stories that play on anticipation to generate fear. I am all to familiar with that notion.
But really, it’s no biggy. I am fine, will be fine and the world will tick its tock regardless. In the meantime, it’s the waiting that could get to me. A time worm, burrowing into my thoughts, poisoning my courage, diluting my self-confidence. If I’m not careful, I will turn up in hospital in a couple of months, with a big fat worry worm resting where my courage once sat. Isn’t it funny, how despite your best efforts and regardless of how much common sense and logic you think you possess, there is always a nemetic thought to unravel your best laid plans…