At 4 am Thurs, returning to bed after a bathroom visit, I noticed an irregular heartbeat. This continued for 15 minutes so I surrendered to the inevitable, got up, shaved, packed a bag with things to distract me from the truly awFUL rather than awesome experience of the emergency ward at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. My taxi ride was $18, remarkably swift through the usually clogged main road of Newtown.
I was very quickly shuffled via wheelchair onto a vacant bed, stripped of all the identifiers of citizenship, donned a hospital gown over my 1930’s-swimmer styled knickers. Then the medical analysis began; I am used to the dogwatch from previous employment, so I looked at the islands of calm all around me: except for a bed occupant directly in front, who was moaning, coughing, spluttering alarmingly. When the lights were turned up I could see an Asian guy with terrible facial colouring, I gathered later he was succumbing to pneumonia.
The disgusting procedure of inserting a cannula began, blood pressure was monitored, an ecg was set up. My status of experiencing atrial fibrillation was being assessed. See how the precise vocabulary starts to accumulate, like any trade, tho here its purpose is the intensely serious one of saving lives. One doctor I met soon described my symptoms as paroxysmal. Nuff said.
As I had had a Bentals procedure where an artifical aortic heart valve is inserted, and two ablations to correct my Wolf Parkinson White symptom of palpitations, Doc described my heart as structurally abnormal. He said it would not respond satisfactorily to cardioversion, or having the electric paddles placed on my chest to shock my heart into its normal rhythm. Conversely the chemical method of reversing my arhythmia was to administer sotilol; however he noted that my blood pressure was low. The drug would further lower it. In 2005 I had an episode of AF and was administered sotilol, which I thought disgusting, as it provoked a lingering nausea in my system.
However, the night staff wanted to wait for the morning arrival of the cardiologist who would decide. To allay the boredom, to leave this distressing reality, as I described it to a friendly attendant nurse, I fetched my Ipod and started playing music. When I admitted the contents were 80’s music, she tactlessly described it as coming from a time “before she was born”. So I was prehistoric, SO SHOOT ME! No she was a bit punk/goth, luvely. The ward was a series of beds each with the head to the wall, surrounded on three sides with instant curtaining, for intimate functions, such as collecting a urine sample. Happily the staff were accustomed to bodily functions, though of course they appreciated good manners. I lay there, listening to Beethoven’s exquisite 5th piano concerto. I realised there was nothing in the ward for its aesthetic function, everything had to be replaced by something devoid of bacterial or viral presence.
I complimented the punk nurse who was arranging the curtains as textile columns, as I remarked earlier, a rare sign of beauty in a severely utilitarian room. The cardiologist arrived, friendly, with large dark eyes. He went away to consult my records. A while later an anaesthetist came to my bed, this time with large, amazingly transparent blue eyes, he told me the decision had been reached to perform a cardioversion. Soon after my bed was wheeled into the procedure room, where I was introduced to the 2 attendant nurses and 3 trainee doctors. It was quite a crowded space. A breathing tube was placed into my nostrils, then a mouth/nostrils mask. The anaest began to describe the order of drug administration, but I began laughing. He asked why, and I said I had been listening to the cardio quiz the trainees on safety procedures, which was quite surreal, alarming, shocking [ok cheap pun]. Soon after, the drugs must have taken effect because I woke up, in the procedure room? back in the ward? I was told the procedure had been a success and I would be allowed to go home. Brilliant blue eyes told me I could not drive home; I retorted that I could not drive at all. I thanked them all profusely, waiting impatiently for the cannula to be removed. I dressed, waved goodbye to the other inhabitants and left the building.
When I had practised T’ai Chi in the 1980’s my teacher described the 3 directions that my practice would lead me: teaching, peace-making and healing. The doctors and nursing staff, constantly surrounded by the discords of an intensive care environment and the bleakest of realities, were bodhisattvas, divine beings dispensing healing graces to afflicted mortals. Om Shanti, in the face of weakness, pain and death.
Part of my interaction, direct or indirect, had consisted of listening to the nurses discuss what lunch they would have, food porn. I had been designated Nil by Mouth since 5 am. Suddenly I was free, the wealth of Newtown’s King Street, a well-reputed foodie paradise was at my feet. However, I entered Missenden Rd to the front of RPA where I found quite a carnival atmosphere, booths were laid out everywhere, people were milling excitedly. Drawing near I could see that most of the booths sold food: German pastries and bread, Dutch cheesecake, Portuguese goodies, Quiche Lorraine. I bought this and that, left laden with a delicious array, I found a bus that quickly landed me back in Tempe. I ate lunch then fell into bed. To sleep, perchance to dream.