Sweetness & Light

One the Whole, I’ve Had Better Nights

A year or so ago, reflecting on his then-recent heart attack and subsequent surgery, an uncle mentioned almost as an aside that the attack hadn’t been all that painful. It was alarming, certainly, and left him exhausted and needing weeks of recovery, but the actual pain of the attack itself turned out to be surprisingly manageable.

From my uncle’s comments, I’d guess his discomfort level to have been around three on a scale of ten—three being equivalent to a persistent headache, five matching the re-election of Victoria’s Labor government, seven replicating the feeling after watching any random thirty minutes of ABC comedy and ten being right up there with hearing US Vice-President Kamala Harris’s laughter.

Spared his appointment with the Reaper,
Tim Blair will continue to appear in every Quadrant.
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You’d take the three every single time. Anyway, not thinking I’d have much use for this information in any brief time frame, I stored it away for revision in perhaps a couple of decades—when I might be either in or approaching cardiac arrest country.

And then, in January, I had a heart attack. At fifty-seven.

It turns out that a near-lifetime of smoking, drinking and eating whatever I pleased had somehow advanced the whole cardiac drama timeline. Who knew? So on January 2, wife Nadia drove a barely-ambulatory me to hospital, grey of colour, with intermittent pain radiating across my jaw and tingling in both arms.

She’d accurately diagnosed the situation’s seriousness and decided to save my life, while I’d aimed to sleep it off. Seriously, that was my plan. It would have been a long sleep.

Hospital staff were also quickly alert to my circumstances, conducting a rapid sequence of tests before guiding me to a kind of halfway operating room—not quite a full theatre, but a few steps up from a basic ward. At this stage my recollection blurs a little, because I was shot up with a dose of fentanyl in advance of whatever treatment was to follow.

Overhearing hospital staff mention fentanyl, an incredibly potent painkiller, was the first direct hint that I was in very deep trouble. That stuff isn’t thrown around for fun, at least in Australian hospitals. The next hint came when a nurse put her hand on my shoulder and advised that I try to stay calm, because “things are about to get really intense”.

As medical predictions go, this was precisely opposite to all those early 2020 Covid forecasts that suggested entire healthy populations should prepare to be erased. Things did indeed get really intense—beginning with the bedside appearance of what looked to be the hospital’s complete staff, a number of whom instantly set about trying to find any veins and arteries able to accommodate intravenous drug lines.

Time being of the essence, they weren’t especially delicate. Quite the contrary. Those determined and physically powerful men and women went at my wrists as though my life depended on it. Which it obviously did, pushing lesser concerns—a certain patient’s wincing and twitching, for example—far aside. Bruising from those initial, frantic arterial explorations lasted for nearly a month.

Frankly, I wish it was still there. If ever I wanted a reminder about the importance of long-term positive results (me being alive) over intense but brief irritation (me carping about a few needles), all I’d need to do is look down. Maybe I should get a bruise-replica wrist tattoo.

Readers who have experienced being hooked up to IVs may be puzzled by all this talk of arterial-searching complexity. For that matter, I’ve previously been attached to IV lines myself a time or two without any associated difficulties, much less any visible and lasting signs of trauma.

But this time was different. Inserting needles is no easy matter when a chap is timing out and his arteries have collapsed due to catastrophically low blood pressure. Picture healthy, blood-inflated arteries as being like properly cooked rigatoni or penne pasta: tubular, and either round or oval in cross section. Even under life-or-death pressure, those are reachable targets.

Well, my arteries had become pasta of a different kind. Those medicos demanded penne, but the kitchen was only serving flat, ribbon-like tagliatelle. That’s apparently what happens to an otherwise serviceable circulatory system when blood pressure falls from a usual 130 over 80 to 34 over an unknown number somewhere south of 17.

There was a problem, for a while, with obtaining the second or diastolic figure. The device’s readout began at 17, and I’d fallen below even that. When my blood pressure finally responded to IV-delivered adrenaline—on the pasta chart, my arteries were now at semi-functional bucatini level—a doctor victoriously declared that I was “on the board”. Always nice to hear.

In fact, much of the chatter back on January 2 was nice to hear. Experienced medical types dealing with cardiac emergencies are, as you’d expect, very good at minimising a patient’s concern. This is in their professional interests as much as it is in the interests of a patient’s wellbeing. The last thing medics need when dealing with these cases is someone in a screaming death panic.

Medic-patient communi­cation—there was a surprising amount, considering the circum­stances—was for the most part usefully calming and upbeat. Even entertaining. I’d occasionally catch darker lines, however, being exchanged between staff. “Are the paddles ready?” a worried-looking doctor quietly asked his colleague at one point, and I don’t think they were planning any post-procedural ping-pong games.

Keeping things calm was obviously the reason I wasn’t directly informed for some time, despite all the ECG monitoring and other such heart-related activities, that I’d actually had a heart attack. Nadia, in the waiting room, learned about it before I did—thankfully from an expertly gentle staffer.

It was annoying, though, being scooped by the missus on my own story. On the other side of several doors, wondering about my precise status, I eventually thought to ask an all-bases-covered question: “Have I had a heart attack, am I having a heart attack, or are we trying to stop a heart attack?” The response: all three.

Painkillers couldn’t completely blank the full impact of various needles and inserts, but they did have the curious effect, also reported by others who’ve endured this type of drama, of making me feel like a heart-treatment spectator rather than a central and relatively crucial participant.

I’m assuming this was due to painkillers, anyway. For all I know, that sensation of being a little detached from proceedings and not especially worrying about immediate outcomes may have been caused by cratered blood pressure or other medical or even psychological phenomena.

Whatever the reason, I felt able to follow events closely but without much emotional distraction—an experience comparable to watching a high-quality game of football between teams you don’t support or have money on. Again, judging by other accounts, this is far from a unique occurrence.

It could even be a form of in-built protective mental barrier, common to all of us and deployed in moments of unendurable stress. You know, just like the way a human brain allows fingers to achieve extraordinary precision and dexterity when speeding past SBS channels on a remote. A person is only designed to handle so much.

That line about me being able to “follow events closely”; let’s pull that back for review, because I can’t have been all that attentive. I somehow completely missed the turning point, when the combined, enormous efforts of all those medics to keep me viable shifted to a more passive, observational role. They’d won.

I also missed, or simply can’t remember, much of what happened shortly before I was loaded on to a helicopter and sent to a specialist cardiac facility. The team at my local hospital, which is not equipped with all the fancy heart-fixin’ gear, had done absolutely everything they’d needed to do before shifting me on to the next venue. 

They’d kept a few strategies in reserve, too. This I do remember: an attending doctor told me, very soon after I’d been satisfactorily stabilised and was essentially in the clear, that she’d just signed off on the drugs they planned to use “when your heart stopped”.

Thanks to them, it never did. 

Specialist surgery followed, then time in intensive care, then weeks of recovery—still continuing. But it’s all positive, including the latest medical assessments. And now I have something else to chat about with my uncle. For both of us, the least painful elements of our cardiac crises were those damned heart attacks themselves.

Now if only we could find a way to subtract the pain from living under a Labor government, paying for the ABC and hearing Kamala Harris. I guess even the most advanced medical science has its limits.

26 thoughts on “One the Whole, I’ve Had Better Nights

  • norsaint says:

    Mmmm, don’t like the sound of that at all, Timothy.
    They tell me whisky helps keep the arteries wide open and flowing.
    All the best.

    • lbloveday says:

      Spot on, according to a GP I’ve known for decades. Despite the brouhaha about alcohol raising blood pressure, mine always dropped after drinking according to my Omron digital BP monitor. “Of course” he said, “alcohol dilates the veins. That’s why the blood-shot eyes – the dilated capillaries carry more blood”.
      Yes, heavy drinkers tend to have high blood pressure, but that’s because of the calories in booze, the tendency to eat greasy food with/after drinks and the inhibiting effect on desire/willingness to exercise.

  • terenc5 says:

    Glad you’re on the mend. Best.

  • STD says:

    Ah norsaint, a rissole mate of mine put it like this- when you’ve finished barbecuing a steak ,you carve it up and throw the meat in the bin and eat the rind of fat( easy as with a good piece of rump) , his explanation was that fat is like oil- it has lubricating qualities, therefore it can only be good, as it lubricates the heart
    Scotch this thought-the protein L-Arginine and aspirin dilate blood vessels.
    And a dose of any episode of the two Ronnies will hold at bay any Labor party, left leaning cortisol induced anxiety and depression- symptoms of the the two Ronnies induced happiness generally surface as raucous laughter and giggles- warning, any morale boosting actions are scorned upon by the managerial, corporate and political elitist conmen.
    One more thing, any time a leftie or any politician for that matter opens their mouth, just think of plump tomatoes or arrogant looking French bulldogs taking themselves seriously, wearing a toupe’ and a pair of sunnies- this will place happiness and peace back in their proper and ‘rightful’ place!

  • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

    Mr. Blair, hang around for a bit since you would be hard to replace but whatever you do don’t take up abstinence for they tell me that it hasn’t a lot going for it.

  • Daffy says:

    Reminds me of a colleague who, after a long stroll in the bush, felt a little peaky. Drove to the nearest tertiary referral hospital, and feeling even more unwell, just popped his car into the no standing zone sat the Emergency dept front door. The security wallah took one look at him and said ‘don’t worry just get inside’. Yep, heart attack underway.
    And, to Tim’s report: serious medical care is an astonishing thing, is it not? All these people who don’t even know you are spinning on a dime to save your life. Usually successfully. I’m always quite moved by that dedication to the welfare of others.

  • padraic says:

    You were lucky Tim that you got there in time. My father who was a smoker also, developed a heart condition in his late 60s and gave up smoking overnight and made sure he took his tablets. Some people say that exercise and proper diet are the proper way to keep going after a heart attack, but he reckoned the secret was to keep breathing.

  • fozard says:

    Tim (and Nadia) – best wishes from a fan in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sounds as if those medics did you proud. I second Mr O’Hooligan’s opinion, by the way: abstinence is not the solution!

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Sad to hear of distress of one of our more eloquent Quadrant writers. Happy to hear of your recovery and the contributions of Nadia. Geoff S


    A few months ago after the sudden deaths of Shane Warne and Sen. Kimberley Kitching the Australian ran an article by a couple of heart specialists that argued such episodes were largely avoidable with a couple of diagnostic tests, including a coronary CT scan to check the condition of the arteries (including calcification). These can pick up potential problems in asymptomatic people not revealed by ESG or coronary ultrasound. I had the CT done — and it was bulk billed, which showed up some useful information.

    • lbloveday says:

      Coronary Computed Tomography has been around for a long time – I had one at Ashford Heart Scan in 2001 which placed me in the 77th percentile “for an apparently healthy person of the same age and gender” and indicated a high CVD risk. Paid a lot for it, too long ago to remember how much.
      I chose to not follow the advice to take cholesterol-lowering medication and other steps but continued in my enjoyable life-style and am still doing that 22 years later and 20 years older than Tim.
      There is much more to living than being alive, and I’m off to lunch of bacon and eggs washed down with a refreshing beer or 5.

  • brennan1950 says:

    Great to hear you are on the road to recovery.

    You are much loved.

  • Rebekah Meredith says:

    April 17, 2023
    After all those remarks about how drinking is better for you than otherwise, here’s something to think about. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Proverbs 20:1.

    • lbloveday says:

      I like Matthew 11:18-19
      For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’
      The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ BUT WISDOM IS VINDICATED BY HER WORKS.”

      • Rebekah Meredith says:

        April 20, 2023
        In the Bible, “wine” can mean alcohol or it can mean grape juice. The context of Proverbs 20:1 is clearly speaking of alcohol. As the Bible does not contradict itself, and as Jesus is the living Word of God, the Lord would not have indulged in something that His Word condemns in a number of places. His enemies declared that He was a glutton and a drunkard; they also called Him a blasphemer. One statement was as true as the other.

    • terenc5 says:

      Great contribution. No more plz

  • norsaint says:

    STD, I suspect your mate is on the right track.
    Whatever they were trying to push on us 50 years ago now seems to have been stood on its head with regard diet.
    And given the medical ghouls disgraced themselves through the covid hoax, who’d take any notice of any of ’em these days. They’re virtually big pharma employees these days.
    The Two Ronnies, eh? Reckon you’re on the right track. Minder always does it for me, not to mention Pete and Dud and of course our own estimable Sir Les.

  • norsaint says:

    I remember coming across an article years ago insisting that attempting to lower one’s cholesterol after the age of 50 is not only pointless but positively harmful.
    You’re right, being alive is not necessarily living. A quick visit to any geriatric ward rams that message home pretty quickly.

    • lbloveday says:

      I don’t understand why they cling to life so fiercely. Nor do I need to understand; it’s their right, their valid choice, but to me, it’s even truer now than it was 10 years ago when I first wrote “If I can’t be reasonably clever, strong, fit and fast, then I won’t want to be”.
      Recently met a bloke in the pub with whom I’d often exchanged “g’days” as we passed on the jogging track and he reckoned you die when you give up. I’d need something more than the lives I see when I visit a “geriatric ward” to not give up.

  • rod.stuart says:

    I “Ferkin Derya” to try that again.
    Glad you’re still above ground.

  • BalancedObservation says:

    Welcome back Tim.
    Good thing for us all that you survived.
    One of the biggest casualties of wokeism has been the accompanying loss of a sense of humour. Your incredible sense of humour and your hilarious way with words are welcome antidotes to that. Unfortunately there are only a few with your talents brave enough to stick their heads up anymore.
    However no matter how good your humour is they’ll never invite you to the Melbourne Comedy Festival. They don’t do humour there anymore.
    If I win lotto I’ll see if I can buy it out for say one year and have Les Patterson perform wall-to-wall, lecturing the audience on whatever he chooses. Now that would be funny.

    • BalancedObservation says:

      Experience and the odds are giving me a strong hint I’m unlikely to be able to do that.
      But maybe it’s the sort of project Rupert M could take on in the twilight years of his illustrious career. After all he goes back a long way with Les P and Barry H.

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